If you spend much time in Memphis, you’ll find him standing by his little hot dog cart. You’ll recognize him by the infectious smile and gregarious demeanor. He plays with the kids and strikes up intelligent conversations with the adults. And he provides the most excellent customer service I’ve ever seen. Johnny the hotdog vendor looks as though he doesn’t have a care in the world.
“I just LOVE what I do!” He is emphatic about how much he enjoys selling hotdogs on the street. Five bucks will get you a dog, chips and ice cold canned soda. Not a bad deal. He doesn’t skimp on the products. Only the best, Nathan’s all-natural hotdogs will do for his customers. People wait in long lines for his combo and he sells out at every event. Last Saturday at an event at the downtown public library, I bought the last one for a homeless deaf man.
A closer look at Johnny’s life revealed he is happy by choice. A very bright man, he worked twenty years for the same company servicing and repairing x-ray equipment. One day his boss in this family owned business told him he would have to let him go to make room for a family member. Family came first, even in business. Johnny was left high and dry with a family to care for.
As was with many Americans during that time, he could not find a job that would keep him home with his family. So Johnny decided to create one. He took money out of their savings, bought a hotdog stand, licenses and supplies and set up on the street corners of Memphis. He’s been there ever since.
“I have the best job in the world! I get to meet all kinds of people every day. I deliver what people want. It makes them happy and that makes me happy. I work and take time off whenever I want. And, at a big event, I make two weeks salary at my old job in a single day.”
Johnny’s zest for life is infectious. He prepares each hotdog to order and, unlike the workers at the national chain fast food places who slop the ingredients on haphazardly, he places the condiments on the dogs with precision. No mess. No worry about dripping when you try to eat one. He really cares for his customers, the tie they’re wearing and makes sure they don’t spill mustard anywhere.
Five years ago, thousands of Americans were faced with suddenly being out of jobs. Many of them lost their homes, cars, families, health and wound up in desperate circumstances. Some did not survive. But Johnny is a shining example of the American spirit, that tenacity that finds a way where there seems to be none. When times were hard, he picked himself up by the bootstraps and instead of trying to follow the same road that got him in dire straits hoping it would change, he blazed his own trail.
Saturday as I stood in the distance devouring the best hotdog I’ve ever eaten—and normally I don’t eat them at all—my heart was filled with pride, and joy as I watched Johnny the hotdog vendor joyfully dispense fun and food. My heart was filled with peace knowing that as long as there are citizens like him, the heartbeat of America will continue to be alive and well.