Yes, as the post’s title reflects, there is wine involved. But this simple, value infused story of Willy completely transcends the bottle of Rias Baixas blended white varietals I presented to him a few mornings ago in our annual Christmas gift exchange (I always get his wife’s heavenly spiced papaya dish) on a beach we ritually retreat to near San Juan, Puerto Rico.
At the end of 2009, I shared a story via WineZag about certain personal manifestations of authenticity, passion, and honesty. The post received a significant amount of traffic and motivated me (and gave me enough courage) to share this two-part video interview with Willie Garcia, who to the unknowing eye is just a “hot dog man” making a living for the past 38 years from a pushcart umbrella stand on the same 6′ X 6′ patch of sidewalk that meets the Island’s north coast sands. But to those that know him, he is a Zen master, achieving enlightenment through repetitive meditative action, self-contemplation, and intuition from his post on the beach.
The location of the stand is anything but trivial, casting a constant, cooling, shaded time-out on this Isla Verde beach and creating a stage for Willy’s developed personal peace, passion for community building, and authentic communication. Willy is respected and loved, almost in grandfatherly fashion, by fans of Isla Verde waves. He has knitted a community of followers; surfers, residents, local laborers, and repeat tourists who hypnotically seek out their own “Playa Karma” through a visit to Willy for a hot dog, steak sandwich, hamburger, and a few words; all mixed with a touch of salty air and sandy underfoot, delivering the same tastes and memorial sentiments year to year.
Willy is 72. I have known him for 25 of those years. He held my children when they were born and fed their grandparents with smiles and hot dogs alike. His outlook has been chiseled from a life of hard and honest street vendor toil. As a direct result of this surf-side community engagement and accompanying clean beach air, Willy is of sound physical and mental health, far beyond most men or women that any of us will have the chance to meet in our lifetimes. He revels in life’s simplicity and thinks with intoxicating clarity.
Here is a two-part interview with Willy. I hope you can enjoy and connect with Willy just a little, even without meeting him in the flesh. He is embarrassed by his English, learning most of it at the hot dog stand. I told him that I thought it was just great. Isn’t it? This first part will introduce you to the simple Zen he practices on the beach of Isla Verde. Click on this image of Willy pointing to his beach.
The second part of the video is about the hot dog. These are not your everyday hot dogs. First of all, they are chicken dogs that sit in clean, hot water until ripe. Then, they meet bun and a host of homemade ingredients that Willy’s wife prepares every day of the week, filling his cart with before it hitches to his vintage station wagon to be transported across Puerto Rico to his revered spot on the beach. I have eaten the best hot dogs in Chicago, Coney Island, and elsewhere. Nothing compares to a Willy dog. It simply slides down like velvet showing subtle complexities through the finish. It is the Lafite of Hot Dogs! Watch closely by clicking this image of Willy and the wine bottle.
To all of the Willy’s that have touched our lives, thanks for the pleasures and lessons of knowing you.