How a Hotdog Changed My Life
Proust had his Madeleines, Wimpy his hamburgers, but my moment of culinary epiphany involved a hotdog that made my earth move.
This discovery began about twenty years ago at the advertising agency where I worked. One day during our usual lengthy and always entertaining conversations a stylish female art director extolled the delights of a quirky ice cream and grill shack in Amagansett: “The Snowflake”.
She pointed out that inside the restaurant there were many signs that had strict behavioral guidelines written with a casual attitude towards spelling and punctuation. i.e. “Do not let your children sit on the counter.” “Please throw away your trash.” “Please control your children.” And the totally related and all-important: “The bathroom is outside, customers only.”
What really sparked my interest was the fact that the people who take your orders are very serious about their jobs. They write it all down as if one were requesting coq au vin or the very specific temperature of a sirloin. Apparently the ice cream was sublime. And the centerpiece of any order were the hotdogs.
She suggested that a visit to “The Snowflake” be combined with a stop at Asparagus Beach. She told me that for a very long time this beach has been known as Atlantic Beach, but to locals, it was called Asparagus Beach because people used to stand like so many stalks in the sand and observe the attractive people.
The following Friday morning my husband Don and I got in the car and headed east. I was filled with anticipation. Soon I might be one of the people being looked at.
“There it is!” I shrieked when I saw the ocean.
We parked the car and began unloading an inexplicable amount of items. Did we really need four towels, a cooler, chairs, umbrellas and a blanket? How many creature comforts does one really require for two hours?
My floppy hat kept blowing off as we walked towards the water. I was forced to chase after it while the canvas tote bags I was carrying smacked against my back. All this running caused my sandals to slip off my feet. The hot sand burned my toes. When I bent over to rub them my sunglasses fell off. I stumbled and bumbled my way into the Hamptons. And, people were indeed watching me.
My arms were aching and I felt cranky and hot. It took some time for my shoulders to relax and for me to actually see where I was. What a lovely beach; the ocean shimmering and sending up white water signals as it met the shoreline. My book lay unopened and unread on my lap. I sighed audibly, observing the children screaming as they urgently ran into the surf with their sprinkling cans and buckets as if this would be their one chance to fill them with water. Perhaps this would be the only wave that would crash upon the pristine shores that day. The sky was cloudless, endlessly summer blue, the sun bright and golden. Diamonds sparkled on the surf and light danced upon the water.
It was a Technicolor day, vivid and perfect. However, eventually we got hungry and remembered what had prompted this trip in the first place. We dragged our sandy bottoms into the car.
There was our destination in all its humble glory. It was basically a weather beaten shack with a screened in porch. The interior was rather barn-like with ceiling fans that failed to cool the place off much. The garbage cans were overflowing with paper plates and ketchup stained cardboard trays. Happy groups with noisy kids sat at picnic tables inside. Some were lucky enough to find a seat at the few outdoor tables. Soft serve ice cream cones melted into irresistible streams of chocolate and vanilla even as they were being handed to the customers. Women in tennis dresses delicately licked the bottom of cones trying to prevent drips onto their whites.
We walked up to a window and greeted the efficient-looking woman who was wearing a light blue T-shirt. We ordered our hotdogs with relish and relish. Also mustard. I cannot remember if either of us had fries. Or even, if they served fries. But it is easy to conjure up the smell of the suntan lotion on my arms, the hot sizzling hotdog in its bun and how the whole day tasted. One dog was not enough. Each of us ordered a second. We sat inside and took it all in. Neither of us could bear to leave yet, so we drove around Amagansett. The architecture of the beach houses just amazed us.
“That one looks like a boat.” “This one’s like a sand castle.” “Wow, so many windows!” “Look at that view.” “Imagine waking up to this every morning.”
Our journey continued east until we ended up in Montauk.
“I feel as if I’m on vacation, “ one of us would say occasionally.
It was mesmerizing to watch the boats in the harbor. They drifted past us as if in a dream. Montauk refers to itself as “The End.” We didn’t know then that it was also a beginning.
Feeling completely sated, tired and relaxed, I tried to figure out how to repeat this experience. It occurred to me that I could probably do some serious writing in this setting. However, it was the last of my Fridays off. Summer was winding down, slipping out the back as autumn coolly sneaked up.
I mentioned how much I had enjoyed our day to a radio producer.
He said he rented a house out east with his family every summer. When I learned how much he paid, my head felt a little dizzy. However, he said there were fall rentals for a fraction of the price and that September and October were desirable months as the crowds disperse and that many days are still quite warm.
So armed with this sketchy information, I presented it to Don. I made up a number that I pulled out of the vapors but was what we could afford. He agreed.
And eventually through fate or dumb luck we did end up renting the, “This one looks like a boat,” house for glorious falls, winters and springs. In fact, we stayed in Amagansett for many years, renting the same house, until the owner found a buyer for the oceanfront property. It was simply out of our price range. One digit too many. We had made dear friends by then. They lived next door and down the block and moved directly into our hearts.
Time washed over us and eroded our rough edges the same way the sea turns a broken bottle into gentle sea glass. We had had that time to share with these friends and become precious to one another. Now we needed to determine if we wanted to commit to the area once and for all. By then a friend had bought a newly constructed home in Amagansett. It was the kind of house that just welcomed you, and we wanted one for ourselves. And so we hired his builder, John. He created our house in Montauk that still feels magical and new.
This is the 13th summer that we will be welcoming loved ones. We now have grandchildren, two amazing little girls. They splash in the pool and shiver their way into the outdoor shower. It is our privilege and joy to have this time in this place with them. And they are the only ones I ever really want to look at.
Of course, timing is everything. And destiny. If we had learned about a fun ice cream place a few years later than we had, the outcome might have been very different. An older carb-monitoring, Cabernet sniffing, kale roasting, quinoa salad discovering me, might never have deigned to drive several hours for that lunch.
“The Snowflake” is long gone, having endured several updates, owners and iterations. A far more chic eating establishment has replaced it. They have no signs advising us about the conduct of our children.
Occasionally we are asked what initially drew us to the east end.
“It was a hotdog,” I reply. This remark is usually met with bewilderment. I always point out, “To be clear, it was a really good hotdog.”