With the annual battle for the Mustard Belt (well, the fake Mustard Belt, anyway) set for tomorrow, our thoughts turn once again to Coney Island, which poet Federico García Lorca called “The Landscape of the Vomiting Multitudes.” We hope there will be no urges contrary to swallowing (as the Major League Eating rulebook puts it) tomorrow, and you’ll want to hit the original Nathan’s Famous stand on Surf and Stillwell — in which case nursing student and trusty counterperson Tamica Gazson will be there to dog you.
Besides the people who come for the rides, do you get regulars?
This man, he come up every day. We make a bet with the new people: “We bet you, after we give him his change, he puts the dollar bill in his mouth and counts the money.”
Do people make requests beyond the usual mustard or mayo?
I had one request — the guy wanted one with sauerkraut and cheese and no hot dog. This one lady asked, “Could you chop the hot dog up and put it on top of my chili-cheese fries?” Some of them, you ask, “What kind of drink you like?” They say, “Could you mix all of them up together?”— Coke, 7-Up, lemonade …
Do you get people who have been coming to Nathan’s forever?
They’ll be like, “I remember when these hot dogs were ten cents or five cents.” Some of them actually say, “Mr. Nathan was a nice man.” Some of them tell me the stories about how when he first started, he just had a cart in the middle of the sidewalk — it wasn’t even a store.
Have you befriended any of the carnies?
I know the guy who works at the Cyclone — the old guy who be sitting behind there with the cigar. He’s like, “You should come get on the Cyclone.” He makes sure he comes to me —he ordered six hot dogs at one time for himself. With mustard.
How are you going to handle the crowds during the hot-dog contest?
I was so nervous. I kept asking my manager, “What should I do? What should I do?” They said, “Just take it easy like it’s a regular day.” They said it would be a lot of people. Probably over a million people!
Ever get weird characters late at night?
Not to call people freaks, but they be like freaks. Oh, my God. There’s this guy, I don’t know if he’s drunk or high — he comes every night and says, “Can I get two bags and two cows.” I be like, “What?” He says he needs two milks and two sugars for his coffee.
There’s a story that when he first opened, Nathan Handwerker paid vagrants to eat hot dogs to make the place look busy. Do you still get your share of them?
There’s this guy who’s been out here since the winter. He be like, “Can I have one French fry. You can’t give me one French fry?” I thought he was homeless, but people say he’s not homeless; he just likes to be in the street.
What do you think about the redevelopment of Coney Island? Have you been talking about it on the job?
Business is probably going to slow down at first, but I was looking at some show, and they were showing how they were going to be rebuilding, and I think it’s going to be great.
Related: Show Me the Coney [NYM]