Just over 25 years, I’ve eaten those hot dogs, on that corner (though there were the occasional road dogs), at all hours, with I don’t know how many different people, me in every condition imaginable (plenty of them not so good), and at times without enough money to pay for anything, and I do mean anything else.
December 30th, 1988. Yes, I actually remember the date of my first visit, because there was a Dead Boys show at The Ritz that night, Stiv Bators’ last time playing in New York if I’m not mistaken. Had the money to get in, had nowhere else to be. DIDN’T GO. I have a vague memory now, brought up after decades by today’s events, of the friend I had with me either getting bored, tired, or having to be home right as we got to Cooper Square. I also don’t think it totally registered with me that, after a couple of years of listening to Stiv at home, I could’ve walked a few blocks and SEEN Stiv, or I might’ve fought harder for it, but I think my friend had just about had it, so it probably would’ve been a tough sell. I’ll beat myself up a little less now that I remember that much, but missing that show is still a Top 5 regret in a life full of ’em, plenty of which I probably should regret more than missing the show. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.
My recollection of things is that Gray’s Papaya was the first place my friend and I went, the very first time we got off the E train at West 4th without anything even remotely resembling adult supervision. Two 14 year old wanna-be punk rock kids from Jersey. Didn’t know shit. I still don’t (lost track of him), but you can imagine. We were hungry from the trip up, and 50 cent hot dogs seemed like the best idea anyone ever had. (That part, we did have figured out.) Had our dogs there (went with kraut on mine, as I usually did; don’t remember what I drank), then went to Venus Records, It’s Only Rock N’ Roll, Revolver, Postermat (Loved that place; met girls there, lied about our age…), Psychedelic Solution and like a billion different head shops, just looking at everything: records, t-shirts, postcards, jewelry, drug paraphernalia for drugs we didn’t do yet, you name it. Noticed the outside of Electric Lady for the first time. (Still never been inside.) Saw the 8th Street Playhouse for the first time, but never ended up there (not quite a Dead Boys-level regret, but it still sucks). Think I bought some stuff but I’ll be damned if I can remember what. I just remember taking my time and looking at everything really closely, because I’d been to that part of town before with an older friend, but never in a situation where I wasn’t following their (admittedly pretty cool, and still hugely influential) agenda. For the first time, I could just roam. Obviously I didn’t roam very far at all, but that’s hardly the point, is it?
A few of the head shops may still be around dating back to that time (those stores can be a blur because their stock’s so similar and they were so close together, so it’s hard to say) and while I didn’t go in, Electric Lady’s still there, but with the closing of Gray’s, every other place I went into on 8th Street that day is gone. I mean, everybody has those stories past a certain age or a certain time in a city’s lifespan. I’ve seen more places close in New York in general and the Village in particular than I can even remember anymore. This one’s quite possibly the toughest, though, because to the best of my knowledge, trivial as it may seem to some, having a couple of dogs at Gray’s Papaya was one of the earliest decisions I made in what became my adult life, and for so long, more than half my life now, the place was just there for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll definitely put the effort into visiting the uptown Gray’s now that it’s the only one (never been a Papaya King guy for some reason), but it will be an effort. The 70s have never been my usual part of town. Maybe I’ll try to roam some more when I get up there like I used to, though the New York I find when I roam anywhere in town these days is very different to the one I just described.
So yes, for those of you keeping score at home, the closing of a hot dog stand did make me cry today.