There is a famous hot dog stand in Reykjavik that is beyond legendary. No matter time of day, no matter what the weather, there is always a line up waiting for these deliciacies. That in and of itself is a mystery as there is nothing observably special about these dogs.
They are store bought weiners. They are boiled in water. They are served in a cheap white bun. The toppings are ketchup, dijon mustard, mayonnaise, chopped onions and cooked crispy onion crumbles. I pass on the ketchup personally.
Still, it’s almost indescribable to illustrate the incredible taste of these let alone the mouth drooling anticipation as one stands in line. And while I did have an apartment during this trip, and shopped at a local grocery store, buying eggs, green veggies and fruits primarily, I decided on the first night of my trip to indulge myself and waited with the crowd to get my two hot dogs.
After a lengthy bit of time, I had my prize and was walking away from the famous hot dog stand, smiling, breathing in deeply of the sweet aroma, with the plan to head back to my apartment and enjoy this Icelandic treasure.
Then I met “Dave”.
I put Dave in quotes becasue firstly, that isn’t his real name, and secondly, I learned later that week from someone that David is the second most common name in the world after Mohammed.
Dave sat on the side of the street. Dave was homeless. As you may recall, part of my Icelandic experience this trip was to gain new perspectives from strangers, and as this was my first night back here, I thought Dave might be a perfect candidate.
I politely approached him and offered him a hot dog. There was clearly a communication issue as he reached for both, and I obliged with only a trace amount of sadness. We then sat together, and despite some small language barriers (his English was still far superior to my Icelandic), I found myself laughing easily and engrossed in his tales. His ability to weave a story was spellbinding, and I asked if we could take a picture together. No pictures. No name. Thus … Dave.
I spent time with Dave every single day of my trip; always with two hot dogs in hand. It was a small price to pay for his company. There were days he moved me to tears at the tragedies he had experienced and seen in his native country over the last fifty or so years. There was also more laughter. I honestly can say I learned more about Iceland and European culture from Dave in one week than I think I could in a lifetime of tourist visits abroad. He was definitely one of the most interesting people I’ve met in recent memory.
On my final day, today, Dave and I sat together at the hot dog stand. Some stared, some ignored, some didn’t care, and I found myself a little sad adding one more friend to the list of those I’d be leaving behind in Iceland once again. Dave surprised me and asked for money, something he hadn’t done to date, and I think that may have been part of why I kept coming back honestly. I was a little put off.
I’ve never been big on giving money directly to homeless people. That’s just me. Judge away.
I gave it some thought, and since I was leaving and wouldn’t be needing it, I decided to break my own rule and gave Dave the last of my Icelandic money. Now understand something about what happens next. Downtown Reykjavik is small. The hot dog stand, the liquor store, Dave’s step, all of them are within a five minute walk of each other. So as I wished Dave goodbye and started to walk away, I decided to see if he was immediately going to get booze. Within seconds me being “out of sight”, the liquor store was exactly the direction Dave went, and I followed from a distance.
Dave stopped not far from his step and spoke with another homeless guy I hadn’t seen previously, probably to gloat about the money score he had made from a gullible tourist, and was inviting him to go drinking or some such. I felt betrayed, a little angry, and hugely disappointed – both with Dave, and with myself.
Then they walked back towards me. I felt my heart jump, though I don’t know why it would matter if I had been seen, but I retreated back towards the hot dog stand. Moments later, Dave stood in line, bought two hot dogs, and gave them to his friend.
It would seem that sometimes I’m still a judgemental dick. Maybe believing the best in people isn’t the worst way for me to keep living. One more life lesson Dave taught me this week and will never know.