The Incredible Smokie Man

Humour

HUMOUR —There is a time of night when it is so late or I am so drunk that I must buy grease-infused food. I use the loonies and toonies that remain in my pocket after a night of gallivanting around town (read: trying to play glow-in-the-dark golf or rescue the goats from the Beacon Hill petting zoo).

For one night a week last year, my empty stomach would turn to a mouth-watering morsel of pizza from Second Slice. At least, it seemed mouth-watering at the time of purchase. After chomping down on some kind of cheesy bread with strange, square-shaped sausages, I would instantly regret the decision. The employees referred to the food-like substance as “crack pizza” for a reason. Eventually, I stopped buying the $1.50 slices altogether and would only take a couple bites from my boyfriend’s pizza, justifying his purchase of two slices on our weekly nights of revelry. But I still yearned for food, and the kitschy posters displaying exquisitely laid-out pizzas mocked me in my intoxicated state. Then, one night, everything changed. I don’t remember how it started, but it has been a tradition for me ever since. Now, I visit the Smokie Man.

No, the Smokie Man cannot leap tall buildings in a single bound. Nor is he faster than a speeding bullet. Yet, when I’m drunk, he is my Superman while I play Lois Lane. Much like Darth Fiddler, the Smokie Man is an icon of Victoria, but perhaps a little less known due to him wanting to keep his secret identity. You’ll find him on Yates Street beneath a white tent in a Coney Island dreamscape, where 1980s pop music and the smell of hot dogs fills the air. Many nights, I have been drawn by my olfaction to his stand, only to end up singing Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love,” just a little too loudly. Every Friday, I give this man my $3.50 to get a wiener loaded with the greenest relish I have ever seen, as neon as kryptonite. While I wait for the professional smokie guru to work his magic, I have the same conversation with the Smokie Man as I always do. I learn that this is the Smokie Man’s second job; he actually works all day as a security guard. Thus the Smokie Man has two identities, just like all the great superheroes. As I look down at my steaming dog on the grill, I realize that this man must get no sleep, as he fights crime during the day and then starts this life as a superhero for the drunken and desperately hungry. Bobbing my head up and down as he speaks, I wonder if the Smokie Man’s missing teeth came from a fight between him and his arch-nemesis, Vegetarian Man. Then I am reminded that the Smokie Man’s ability to caramelize onions can keep any vegetarian at bay.

When the Smokie Man hands me my hot dog, I instantly take a bite, but it burns my mouth, the cool relish providing no relief from the pain. However, I find comfort in one of Smokie Man’s other superpowers: the ability to cheer even the most drunken soul with his knack for stories about his busiest day of the year. On the patriotic day of July 1, the Smokie Man takes on the full-time career of the food hero. He himself hardly gets to eat because of the never-ending lineup at his cart. His profits are highest on Canada Day. But it leads the man — who wears an iridescent vest as his own personal cape — to sleep for two days straight from exhaustion.

I like to imagine that the Smokie Man lives in a cave filled with Canadian flags and Nathan’s Famous Frankfurters paraphernalia, much like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.

When I finish my hot dog and wipe the dripping relish from my fingers, I want to stay just a little longer in order somehow absorb the Smokie Man’s superhero status. He gently wraps another customer’s dog in two layers, as if it is as precious as a newborn. I wave goodbye to the Smokie Man; he has once again saved me from horrible, drunken munchies. The Smokie Man nods at me, as if there is no need to thank him. He was simply doing his job.