This story is by Christine Jackson and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Hey Mister, your mustard is empty.”
“It’s Chicago. What else would you expect?” Jason said replacing the empty yellow bottle.
Jason watched the customer in the three-piece suit with a London Fog overcoat squeeze a copious amount of the vinegary paste onto the grilled hot dog. Funny, he used to be that guy. Almost that guy. His own suits were bespoke, indeed not ready-made.
Just like the customer, he would style his hair slicked back, nice and tight to his head. Tuesdays at 10:00am sharp the barber would come to his office on the 34th floor of his Class A building to trim his hair and give him a shave. A luxury for sure but one he felt necessary at the time. After all, the board members expected nothing less from their Chief Communications Officer.
Shaking his head to erase the memory, Jason filled the order for the next customer.
“Can I get extra relish please?” She asked, dressed to the nines wearing a gray on gray pantsuit.
Typical woman fashion for the corporate world. Smart looking too. Her blue eyes held no sparkle, and the corners of her mouth were turned down. He was sorry for her. His eyes held a sparkle of excitement for the first few years of corporate life. It didn’t take long for him to achieve a level of success that was beyond his wildest dreams. But no one tells you the cost to maintain that level of achievement.
“Hello Jason, can I get the usual?”
“Hey, Sam, grilled onion and peppers with extra mustard?” He knew what Sam’s usual hot dog order was and threw a handful of raw onions and green peppers on the grill. The grill sizzled when he added butter.
“That’s it,” Sam confirmed. “Hey Jason, McDougal is hiring. The CFO asked me to come to talk to you. There’s a position on the executive floor. I can get you an appointment if you’re interested.”
Jason smiled, “No Sam, I’m quite happy selling my dogs.”
“Come on Jason, surely you can’t be satisfied selling hot dogs on the street corner. You’re better than this. This is a shoe-in for you. Even you can see that this is a gift not likely to come twice.”
“Making hot dogs is therapeutic for me, Sam. I don’t want to give this up.”
Jason looked past his street friend, pointing to the lady behind him to take her order. Street friend because he would never have made friends with him before. Before; when he was a part of that other lifestyle.
Jason handed the lady a hot dog slathered with melted cheese oozing off the ends, refried beans and topped with pickled jalapenos, “Here’s your Nacho Dog, Rosie. Just the way you like it, extra cheese.”
“Thanks, Jason. See you tomorrow.”
Jason nodded and waved her off, while his assistant collected the monies.
His previous lifestyle hardly allowed time to meet and keep real friends. How could he when his driver dropped him at the private entrance to the building that held his offices? No, he would have quickly passed Sam on any Chicago street without a second thought.
With the flat metal spatula, Jason expertly turned the peppers and onions over, mixing them up. A pillow of steam rose off the grill and billowed into the air.
Sam said, waving off the steam as it wafted towards his face, “Jason look I know what happened to you was terrible. Dust off the stank of that hostile takeover. This position at McDougal is sure to get you back in the game. I bet with enough hours, you’ll have the corner office in no time.”
Jason laughed, “Sam, look around you. I already have a corner office. My hot dog cart is sitting on the busiest and best corner in all of Chicago.”
Sam shook his head, “You know what I mean, Jason.”
Jason smiled pointing the spatula towards him, “I do know Sam. I used to think like you do. I used to think that the poor schmuck selling hot dogs on the street corner could do better than that. As a matter of fact, I tried to get that guy to come work for me. His name was Arnie.”
“What happened?” Sam asked. “Did Arnie ever get hired on?”
“No, he didn’t.”
Jason shrugged, “Arnie would laugh at my job offer, and then he would say, ‘Jason, anytime you want a job, just come see me.’”
That was three years ago. At the time, Jason didn’t understand why the offer to hire the street cart hot dog vendor was turned down every week. Who wouldn’t want a car and driver, regularly scheduled tee time at the club and world travel? But Jason didn’t want to help Sam drive home his point.
“I am content, Sam. I laugh at the horns blaring as the cars squeeze through the intersection. Everybody in a hurry to get somewhere. I get to enjoy a conversation with you. I mean really enjoy our conversation. Today, I make hot dogs for anyone that is hungry.”
That corporate world was in a blink of an eye. Jason lost everything because of a blasted email. An email that without the thread of the other messages was incriminating. An email that he should never have written.
Sam said, “Yeah but Jason, you could have everything the way it was before. Let me schedule a meeting for you with the board. You’ll see, it’ll be like riding a bicycle.” Sam indicated the bicycle messenger that flew past them to a destination unknown.
“Sam, you seem to think I have aspirations for the corporate world still.”
“What would I do with the business that I have built?”
Sam said, “I don’t believe this. Sell this thing or better yet, give it to the next customer. You can have the world again. What do you need this cart for? Get out of your own way so you can be successful again. But this time, I will be the Robin to your Batman. You won’t have to worry about some corporate backstabber. I will have your back.”
“Sam, most corporations are set up to be competitive. It’s the nature of the business to end up with the same scenario.”
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t do that to you.”
“You don’t know that. No, Sam, I’m going to keep my corner office right here.”
“I just don’t get it. I don’t understand how you could reject the meeting. Just come to hear what my bosses have to offer.”
“You know Sam, there’s a couple of things I’ve learned since I fell from that pedestal. One is, it’s a long way down, and it hurts when you hit bottom.”
Sam chuckled, “I guess it depends on the height of your pedestal. What’s the second thing?”
“Selling hot dogs has given me new-found independence. I feel proud to have accomplished this undertaking. And I’m pretty successful. You want to know what my biggest threat or worry is?”
“The health department?”
“Okay, that’s my second biggest worry. No, my biggest worry is that I will have to relocate one of my hot dog stands.”
Sam shook his head, “Did you say ‘one’ of your stands? What do you mean? How many do you own?”
“Yes,” Jason laughed, “I have 14 hot dog stands throughout the entire city of Chicago.”
“How did you do that?”
“When I lost my job, I went to work for Arnie. Now, do you still think I need to meet with your executives?”
Sam rubbed his forehead, “No but if I ever need a job, can I come to see you?”
Jason chuckled, handing him the steaming hot dog, “Yes Sam, you can come to work for me. As a matter of fact, I’ve got a unit with a great view overlooking the town lake.”