Ron probably smiled a little more than you or me; probably trusted fate a little more than we do. Ron wasn’t even sure how he got to New Orleans that spring. Events just sort of carried him along. There was a pizza joint in Cincinnati, a job as a bouncer at a jazz club in Memphis, and a promise from an old friend in New Orleans. Turned out the old friend had changed quite a bit, gotten himself in trouble with drugs and that’s one thing Ron never got near.
Ron found himself walking around the French Quarter looking for something he might like to do. He liked the music in New Orleans, liked the locals, too. Some of the “locals” reminder him of acquaintances back home in Chicago. Ron had been a salesman most of his life and a damn good one. He always said, “As long as I have something to sell, I have something to do.” He had sold about everything—vacuums, encyclopedias, fasteners, prophylactics, –told me he made pretty good money with the prophylactics.
Anyway, Ron was walking around down near Bourbon and Rampart St. when he saw a man sitting on top of a hot dog cart. It was about 1:00pm and business should be pretty good along about then, but the man had no customers and how are you “gonna” sell hot dogs if you’re sitting on top of the cart and no one can smell your wares?
Ron walked over to the fellow and introduced himself, “How’s the hot dog business?” Ron asked.
“Not too good.” The man replied.
“My name is Ron Mc Owen, what’s yours? If you don’t mind my asking, Ron said.
“Larry, Larry Landers.”
“Where are you from, Larry?”
“Cleveland, and I sure would like to get back there.”
“Well, why don’t “ya”. Any thing holding you back?”
“Not a thing save for this here hot dog cart. I”ve a good mind just to leave it right here and take off.”
“Well, don’t do that,” Ron said. “I might take it off your hands.”
“Mister, you give me $200 and you’ve got a hot dog stand plus inventory.”
Ron replied,”$150 and you’ve got a ticket to Cleveland.”
“Consider it done. Of course, you’ll have to go over to City Hall and get a permit—the thing is $45.” And that is how Ron got in the hot dog business,
Ron got his permit, cleaned the cart up, waxed the shiny stainless steel and bought a bell to attract attention. He also picked a radio/tape player up. Now he could play old New Orleans jazz and blues songs or listen to the Cubs games on WGN. He was set.
He worked hard, putting in long days and nights. One of his favorite spots was out in front of St. Louis Cathedral, on the square where all the artists work. He could watch the artists, sell his hot dogs, converse with pedestrians and customers and just generally have an interesting day.
One particular Thursday, Ron was at his favorite spot, in front of St. Louis Cathedral when around the corner came a “lady”. I say “lady” because Ron made a distinction between females and ladies. The ladies were not necessarily more beautiful but they had a certain look about them, a certain class. They had a way of walking and a way of smiling that kind of took your breath and made you tip your hat and nod your head. If you didn’t have a hat those ladies made you wish you did. They could be twenty-five years old or seventy-five years old, they all gave off an aura that said they were special.
Ron smiled at this lady and she paused and smiled back. She had about the prettiest smile Ron had ever seen. He quickly offered her a hot dog, a Chicago dog with mustard, pickles, onions, tomatoes and relish. She politely refused, saying she had to meet someone, and went on
Now, Ron was not someone to believe in love at first sight, but this was about the closest he ever came to it. He couldn’t get her out of his mind. The following Monday, Ron was working away, having a good day when he heard a voice behind him say, “I’ll take that Chicago style hot dog now.” Ron turned and it was her!
He put together the nicest hot dog you’ve ever seen. He gave it to her and directed her to a park bench near his cart. He positioned his cart so he could see her and talk to her. They commenced to have about a three-hour conversation in twenty minutes. They would have gotten more talking in but they were laughing too much.
She finally took her leave. Ron asked her to stay but she said, “Another time, don’t worry, I’ll be back.” She walked down to the corner, turned, waved, and disappeared down the side street. Ron waved back and just sort of stood there. In just a half of an hour, this lady had made Ron forget about his beloved Elizabeth for a few minutes. Elizabeth had been the love of Ron’s life—his everything. She had been killed in an automobile accident coming home on a rainy night two years ago. No one’s fault, just fate
It was almost like Elizabeth had found this lady and brought her to him. Ron came back to this spot for many days after but the lady never returned. Every once in a while, Ron would think he saw her crossing the street or walking towards him. It was never her. He would get confused with the memory of Elizabeth and not be sure whom he thought he saw. It was at these moments he would pull out a tape from underneath his cart and play it. It was always the same tape. The artist was a deep-throated, sad sounding, black blues artist named, Mr. Solomon Burke. The song was entitled, “Only the Strong Survive.”