Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Madalyn, The Hot Dog Lady ...

Madalyn is a part of what is right in the world.

For as long as I can remember, she has sold hot dogs from the southeast corner of the square in Crown Point. But she is far more than a vendor. She is an institution. She was once the grand marshal of the Fourth of July parade. She is a fixture of many childhood memories.

Seeing her blue and yellow umbrella for the first time each season is a joy. The buzz begins. "Madalyn is out!" People flock.

She is part of our vocabulary. Many are the days when my mom calls me to ask, "Do you want a Madalyn?" We don't get hot dogs. Hot dogs can come from anywhere. We get Madalyns. Only Madalyns.

There is almost always a line at her cart. At the height of the lunch rush, the line stretches around the corner. There are two other hot dog vendors in town now. They never have lines. They often don't have customers. But people will wait for Madalyn's hot dogs. They will wait a long time. Because they're worth it.

We always get the Chicago-style dog. The hot dog, really, is incidental. But the brown mustard, the onion, the cucumber, like tissue paper it's sliced so thin, the perfect tomato, the pickle spear, the sprinkling of what I presume is celery salt, are a little salad symphony. But the star of the show is her relish. Her homemade relish. It is exceptional.

Everyone tries to figure out what's in it. Some think it's cucumber. Others think it's zucchini. But it is the entire reason to get a Madalyn if you're any kind of foodie. Anyone can spoon some ketchup onto a dog in a bun, and she will, for kids, if that's what they want. Adults, too, I suppose. But Madalyn's dogs are works of art, the Chicago especially. It's a shame to not appreciate her masterpiece.

(Word has it that she makes her own ketchup, too; I've never gotten anything with ketchup on it from her, so I wouldn't know. But I don't doubt it.)

On September 11th, my mom and my niece and I went to see Madalyn. The three of us sat on the steps of the courthouse and ate our hot dogs, a few moments of normalcy in an unfathomable day. Never has a hot dog been more important.

This year, though, the corner remains vacant. Everyone has been wondering when Madalyn will appear. And then, a few days ago, this group popped up on Facebook:


Details are sketchy and unverified, but the page suggests that Madalyn has run into some strife. Perhaps she's having trouble renewing her permit? I don't know.

What I do know is that in the few days since it launched, the page has gathered nearly 3,500 members. And that warms my heart. Not a few hundred people have taken the time to join and show their support, no, a few thousand people have taken the time to join and write a note.

Because Madalyn isn't just a hot dog vendor. Madalyn is a part of our lives. She knows many of us by face if not by name, but makes everyone feel welcome. Her husband helps her, and sometimes her son, and we hope that all of them return.

Crown Point just isn't Crown Point without her.

[I borrowed this image from the Facebook page. It's a couple of years old - her prices have gone up. : o ) My thanks to whoever posted it.]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hot dog ladies are worth saving, no matter what town they are in.
Save Madalyn! And it's celery salt. That's the essence of a Chicago dog (that and the neon green relish ... Madalyn's dog isn't quite authentic with her own relish, but probably tastes better). And no self-respecting Chicago dog EVER has ketchup on it.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

If memory serves, she does smear on some "regular" pickle relish, too, thought she uses the stuff that's actually pickle-colored, not that weird green.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great blog! Madalyn has NO IDEA what kind of impact she has on people all over the U.S. When you eat that hot dog, there is not a care in the world - total abandonment of all things in the world - for just a few minutes. Thanks Madalyn! Please come back!!!

4:05 PM  

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