Former Democratic congressman and likely presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke posts journals of his life, his thoughts, and his travels; only some of those make it to the web. We’ve imagined one that got lost along the way. Welcome to the Beto Diaries.
Wandering the aisles of a Piggly Wiggly in Muldrow, Oklahoma. They have fresh fruit here. Sliced bread. Milk, too, in cartons and in jugs. There’s a whole wall of cheeses, some grated, some wedged, some in blocks not unlike the state in which I find myself on this windless winter morning. I think of that Clash song “Lost in the Supermarket” and smile. I remember the bread and fruit and cheese of El Paso and Juárez. I feel at home. It is America. We are American. So is some of the cheese.
I’m wearing a jacket with a zipper, and it’s cold enough to use it, to secure my torso, still weary from the campaign, in a cocoon of down and fleece. But it’s less cold in the truck, and the truck is where I’ll be.
Last week, the truck and I drove north out of El Paso. North. Up. Towards something. New Mexico specifically, but more than that. Pressed play on the Spotify playlist. Fugazi, Billy Joel, the Buzzcocks, Paul McCartney saying it’s “getting better all the time,” which is inspiring, because it’s been a weird, workless couple of weeks. Time to get out and start seeing people. Learning about their homes. Talking with them about mine.
Stopped at the Valero in Carrizozo, New Mexico, for a snack. Watched the hot dogs sweating and rolling under the heat lamp. Sausages. First mentioned in The Odyssey, the book that’s guided me most of my life.
As when a man beside a great fire has filled a sausage with fat and blood and turns it this way and that and is very eager to get it quickly roasted.
Hot dogs. Turning this way and that. Met the clerk behind the counter. Beverly. Had been working at the station for almost two years but waitressing most of her career. Misses the tips but not having to work for them. You can be yourself at Valero, she says. Told her about Charles Feltman, who opened the first hot dog stand in America. In Coney Island. 1870. Used to call them Coney Island Red Hots. He was German. Immigrated here when he was fifteen.
These hot dogs were shorter than the footlongs Feltman peddled, but they were still red, still hot. Turning this way and that. Bare under the lamp, each a blank canvas. Mustard. Ketchup. Both. Your choice. In Chicago they reach for relish and celery salt. In Texas we douse them with chili and cheese. Out west, in Arizona, they wrap the frank in bacon, grill it, and adorn it with pinto beans and onions. A Sonoran hot dog, they call it, because it originated across the border, in Hermosillo, Sonora.
It’s no surprise that places all over the country would have divergent takes on wiener dressing. We are a diverse nation in ethnicity, religious practice, experience, and thought. At present our contrasts are striking, but we’re more alike than we may acknowledge, bound by a common set of ideals. Decency. Progress. Freedom. Tolerance. In many ways the Seattle dog (with cream cheese) and the Atlanta dog (just coleslaw) could not seem more at odds. But underneath the cheese, the peppers, the guacamole, or the sauerkraut, a hot dog is a hot dog, and the hot dogs came via Ellis Island. Because we let people in.
All that talk of hot dogs, and I ended up getting a blueberry hand pie and eight chicken taquitos. Met an amazing young man named Eric as I finished filling up the truck. He had a shortboard with him. “Hey, man. You shred?” I asked. I gave him one of my ’quitos. We skated. We talked. He told me how his maternal grandma used to spend hours driving the bumper boats at the Pillow’s FunTrackers Family Fun Center in Ruidoso. She had grown up on the Texas coast. Whole family of fishermen and fisherwomen. She came to New Mexico as a young wife and she cried. Landlocked. The bumper boats always felt like home. Eric liked the go-karts. They both loved Skee-Ball.
I leave the Muldrow Piggly Wiggly with some water, twenty ounces of Dr Pepper, and six bags of chips. Sour Cream & Onion. BBQ. Cool Ranch. Chile Limón. Flaming Cheetos. Original Fritos, perfect as is. Missed call from Oprah’s people. Lorne Michaels texts again, begging me to host. I ask him how he got this number. Before he has a chance to respond, I turn the truck on. Press play on Spotify. “Androgynous” by the Replacements comes on, and I turn up the volume. There’s something so familiar, so comforting, about that steady, sweet piano that it opens with. I pull out of the parking lot and head out of town. Not sure where I’ll stop next, but I think I’ll keep heading north, towards something, for now.