Every family creates their own little stories, has their own in-jokes, traditions, legends, and such. For the last few years, we all have been fascinated with HOT DOG MAN. Hot Dog Man is a guy who stands on a local busy corner near the highway interchange in a large hot dog costume, with a sign that points toward the hot dog restaurant. No matter what the weather is, he is out there waving at passing cars and shuffling his feet to someone unknown beat. In the pouring rain he holds an umbrella, his happy Hot Dog Face always smiling despite the miserable damp, with trucks no doubt splashing him with filthy oily road water as he attempts to convince their drivers to stop for a bite to eat.

As we all saw him for the first time, the question arose: how does one get to be Hot Dog Man? How do you get to the place where you are dressed in a dirty decrepit sweaty representation of a dubious meat product to earn a living? Were you a dropout from Crackton High? Didn't make the cut at Disneyland? Have incredibly limited communication skills, the apex being the ability to stand upright and move your limbs? Oh, Hot Dog Man, Hot Dog Man. What is your story? We agreed, as we passed by him as he soaked up great qualities of rain and perceived fail, that it would be a good thing to try to work hard in life to avoid his fate. To be fair, I did mention that it was a good thing that he was working, for working as Hot Dog Man is infinitely better than sponging off the state, your grandmother, your girlfriend, or just laying around watching Maury give Paternity Results #30004. Hot Dog Man certainly earned his minimum wage. That is honorable and good. But I kind of guessed this wasn't tops on his 1st Grade list of "What I Want To Be When I Grow Up."

So today, on a sunny and mild winter day, we passed by him on the way to, yes, the Hot Dog Restaurant. His costume, we remarked excitedly, was new! Gone was the sad and faded Hot Dog and in its place a jaunty new costume with a rich brown bun, deep vibrant red ketchup, and a mini hot dog for a nose. Sadly, the food at the Hot Dog Restaurant is not very good; it is no better than you would get from a steam cart or, worse and more accurate perhaps, a school cafeteria. I ordered a bratwurst, which came with a mound of bland chilled sauerkraut plopped on top, which made the whole thing cold and under-tasty. I ordered a side of baked beans, which actually tasted like the metal of the can they were poured out of. The meal excelled at only one thing: it contributed to my Daily Caloric Intake so that I was able to live yet another day. I knew before I went that it wasn't going to be good, but you know how that goes, sometimes you just eat at crappy places and go oh yeah that was crappy again, yeah.

As we were finishing up the unsatisfying beef and/or pork tubes, my daughter spotted with some amount of awe and pointing, HOT DOG MAN coming into the restaurant. OH!! This was quite a moment. Would we finally see who was the man inside the dog? The woman behind the counter said, "HI, WIENER!" in a jaunty greeting, and my daughter pounced on that immediately: "Did she just call him WIENER???" Wanting to avoid her endless giggling over grade-school penis jokes, I distracted her with a potato chip.

Hot Dog Man shuffled his way back behind the counter and to the tiny kitchen. Not wanting to make him more uncomfortable than he must've been already, I kept my glances furtive and low-key. But I wanted to KNOW. WHO ARE YOU, SIR?

My question was answered a couple of minutes later. He walked out from the kitchen to use the bathroom, minus the costume save for the matching brown Hot Dog Pants, with a white thermal shirt on. Hot Dog Man was Hot Dog Boy! He was just a teenage kid, with a mess of black shaggy hair, and didn't even look as old as my 17-year-old son. Ahhh. Just a kid on the weekend earning some extra bucks.

I should not have judged Hot Dog Man, Boy or not. I just wished he waved people over for better food. Damn, that place sucks.