Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Tube City

Tube City was the name of your hot dog stand. I guess the Armageddon of Entrepreneurship would have been too big to fit on the sign. How about: “The home of the hundred dollar hot dog.”

I only know this time of your life by anecdote. The secret industrial knowledge of the all meat casing passed me by. I wish I could have worked the stand with you. Then I would have seen the Low riders beat you for the tab, or the wide bodied Buick ladies hammer the slump stone corners of the restaurant as they lurched out of the drive through lane. Of course, it all started at Cupid's. The dream of an independent restaurant with nothing but dogs and drinks… and the dogs would have the snap of an all meat casing.

Cupid's Hot Dogs are still part of my pilgrimage when I'm back in L.A. The snap may be gone from the casing but Cupid's still serves the best dogs I've ever bitten. Yes I enjoyed Nathan's, east coast, spicy, special, a dog lover’s delight. I frequented the Nathan's stand when I was at Berkeley, but Cupid's wins out head to head, or better yet: dog to dog. Nathan's was like Berkeley, dark, spicy, vaguely dangerous. Cupid's, like the time I associate with consumption of these epic dogs, embodied the clean, safe, open, nature of growing up in the valley in the 50’s and 60’s.

We'd usually go to the Cupid's on Lankersham Blvd. I imagine that touring North of Lankersham these days, especially late at night. is begging for a gang bullet, but then the frontier wasn't so hostile, and Cupid's was neutral ground. Good things happened there. It was food well worth the moderately long wait in line.

In line we'd chat, the order was easy to compose, there weren’t a lot of choices at Cupid's. I'd get 2 with chili. You'd get 2 with chili, mustard, relish, the works, everything! Add two cokes and plenty of napkins. Cupid's was always good for a meal and it was easy to calculate the cost in your head. (I remember being shocked every time the price went up. Not that I ever paid when we went together.)

Stepping up to the window you could see and smell the wonders of Cupid's. The wooden dog racks, 8 scallops of smooth bread board wood, ready to hold a big order. The counter guy had a flourish to his preparation routine, riding the dogs through thin air, dipping and pouring the chili with a subdued sense of showmanship. The stainless steel bins held the moist steamed buns, perfectly soft, adding a homey, yeast based smell to the spicy, tangy, slightly damp atmosphere that wafted from the open window.

The counter man’s fast hands, laid out the slightly soggy buns, then the dogs, then quick ladles of chili overflowing the bounds of the buns. A flick, a snap, a twist, and the dogs were caught in wide white, industrial strength wax paper. Rack 'em up in a cardboard box. Add the cokes, pay the tab, off we'd go to a tin metal table under the L.A. sun-heated awning.

Epic fast food. First bite, the snap, the spicy hot chili drenched taste, delicious, best dogs in the world. Those all meat casings were a state secret in the restaurant biz, a secret you were determined to discover.

I guess once the secret was out Tube City was inevitable. Now Tube City is gone, so are Cupid's all meat casings. The seminal store in North Hollywood has been bull-dozed.

I'd still like to sit with a couple of chili dogs & a coke and share an afternoon there with you.

I'll pay this time.

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