Weird discoveries not always for sale at Cross St. Market

April 25, 2003|By DAN RODRICKS

EACH TIME I go to Cross Street Market, I discover something new and different - a new vendor, a new kind of sausage, an exotic fruit or fish I'd never heard of, or maybe carnations in a foreign color. Yesterday, I noticed a couple of interesting signs in a stall that sells herbal and organic remedies: "Deer Antlers Enhance Your Sexual Ability" and "Death Begins In The Colon."

I saw another thing that struck me as out of the ordinary - something like a Frankenstein neck peg blinking a cobalt blue light and hanging on a customer's ear.

It was sticking out of Pat Wolff's left lobe, and as I engaged the fellow in conversation I was almost afraid to ask about it, concerned that Wolff had a medical condition that required his wearing the device.

But it was a battery-powered ear decoration, that's all, and it was held to the lobe by a magnet. Wolff, who wore a black beret and tinted glasses, seemed to like the attention the lobe-strobe drew. He said he wears it until the battery dies, throws it away and replaces it with a fresh one. And he never runs out of fresh ones because he apparently buys them in bulk. He gave me his pager number should I want to order one for myself, which, I thought, was nice of him.

Hot dog! It's spring

Spring reveals itself in many old, familiar ways around here - the fragrance of Bradford pear trees, the aroma of Boog's Barbecue, the smell of wild onions chewed by lawn mowers, the odor of hot tar from roof-repair trucks. There's the cacophony of music issuing from the open windows of the Peabody Conservatory, the click and smack of lacrosse sticks, the ping of aluminum bats. The people who hang around Lexington Market remove their winter coats. The sign on Walther Avenue for the grand Arcadia yard sale goes up. Citizens motivated to clean out garages heap fresh mounds of bulk trash on the curb.

But, you know all that.

People have their own way of affirming the fact they've lived to see another April, and a friend of mine goes by the Hot Dog Lady of Locust Point. You know it's spring, he says, if the lady with the extraordinary hat appears on Key Highway.

So we looked for her yesterday.

We asked a guy in a tank top sitting on the steps of his rowhouse - another sign of the new season - if he'd seen the Hot Dog Lady yet, and he immediately pointed to his right.

When we looked to the west, down by the Riverside freight yard, we saw her - all balled up in a lawn chair, reading a paperback book, the visor of her remarkable chapeau shading her eyes. We went over for a closer look.

The Hot Dog Lady sat next to a vending cart, a large white cooler and a table set up with condiments. She put down her book, Isle of Dogs by Patricia Cornwell, and smiled broadly at the prospect of three customers. Her hat is probably the envy of street vendors everywhere, a white baseball cap crowned with the great American icon - a dark brown, sausage-shaped cloth cushion between two light-brown cloth cushions shaped like a hot dog roll. There was a zigzag strip of yellow atop the hot dog to evoke mustard. This was a genuine work of folk art, a Baltimore original, and perhaps the only thing constructed in recent years in Locust Point that Bill Struever had nothing to do with.

"My husband made it," Gloria Earnshaw, the Hot Dog Lady, told me when I asked where she got the hilarious hat.

She also mentioned other family members in the business of street-vending hot dogs, and their various locations - near Domino Sugar and, of course, Camden Yards. They sell dogs and sausage, Polish and Italian, and hamburgers. You won't see the sign "Death Begins In The Colon" here.

The Hot Dog Lady is durable and dedicated. She stayed on the street through January selling her wieners to truck drivers.

But the winter of 2003 was too fierce, she said, so she retired to her home above a construction company office on Hull Street and waited for April. And here we are, and there she is, and happy spring.

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