how did we spend $28 on hot dogs and diet coke?: an investigation

Two weeks ago, Kate and I accidentally paid almost $30 for four hot dogs and two Diet Cokes. Here, we attempt to explain the actions that led to us doing such a dumb thing.

Kate Lindsay: Hi, Maya.

Maya Kosoff: Kate, henlo. Thank you for responding to my manic text this morning in which I asked you if you’d like to write an oral history of the time we spent almost $30 on hot dogs and Diet Coke together.

K: Honestly it kind of felt like I’d been waiting for that text ever since this whole thing happened, because a day has not gone by when I haven’t thought about it, and I think we both just really need to unpack this.

M: I agree. The fact that Snapchat is currently best-known for a dancing hot dog filter is like a constant reminder that I’m an idiot who once paid $14 for two hot dogs and a can of Diet Coke on Wall Street. It haunts me.

K: Right, and I know people probably have a lot of questions coming into this, so let’s just clear up the first one: Yes, we had been drinking sippy cups of rose.

M: Thank you for addressing that so I didn’t have to. I’m going to take this back to the beginning: it was a week and a half before the Fourth of July weekend, and, having noticed Facebook’s horrific new colorful status update feature, I decided to use it to crowdsource beach plans. It is hard to get people to come to the Rockaways, but I figured like, one weird person on my Facebook friends list would be down to go if I just asked.

K: Exactly, and I was delighted to be that weird person. You suggested taking the ferry, which I’ll admit I was skeptical of because I had never heard of it, but once the hour and thirty minute line was over and both my shoulders had already been slightly burned and the rose was flowing out of sippy cups, I was game.

M: I will also admit I was a little wary of this entire setup; you seemed delightful, but we had never really hung out before in person, which is mostly my fault because I got pneumonia right before your birthday party over the winter, which is theoretically the only other time in recent memory we would have been in the same place at the same time. But I figured someone who would be ok with waiting in line in the blistering sun and heat on Fourth of July weekend for a $3 ferry to Queens would probably be an ok person to go to the beach with.

K: Thank you for taking responsibility for your pneumonia. I was wondering if we were going to address the new-ness of this whole situation, which, looking back, might have exacerbated my willingness to go with the flow and pay $14 dollars for what was, just to be clear, two single hot dogs from a place that also served schwarma, and a vending machine Diet Coke. But I’m getting ahead of the story here. Maya, please continue.

M: No, I think it’s important to remember that we spent the equivalent of two brunch servings of avocado toast on hot dogs and Diet Coke. Anyway. I met you in line for the ferry on Wall Street, and an hour and a half later, we made it onto a boat. The ferry was great! We sat on top and drank sippy cups of rose. I had packed a cooler full of La Croix (flavor: lime) and snacks (contents: a baguette a man had bought me as, I think, a romantic gesture; grapes; apples; cheese). We eventually got to the beach, and hung out with your cool friends. The people behind us on the beach seemed fun, and were listening to Stars Are Blind by Paris Hilton.

K: Yes, Beach Mom Maya was well stocked, so we were not short on snacks or alcohol. I also think it’s important to point out here that Paris Hilton voted for Donald Trump. Anyways, I think the first mention of hot dogs was actually on the ferry ride back, when we got the desire to eat hot dogs the same way everyone does: apropos of nothing.

M: I remember standing in line for the ferry to *go to* the beach, and seeing the line of food carts under the highway by the pier where the ferries are. It was noon — an acceptable time to eat a hot dog — but I still felt like we didn’t know each other that well, so I couldn’t act upon my impulse to go get a food cart hot dog. I wasn’t going to ask you to hold my spot in line while I got one. It seemed rude, and weird. What if we didn’t have fun at the beach and afterwards you told everyone that I was a weird girl who loves hot dogs? I don’t know. Anyway, hours later, we were on our way back from the beach, and we were sitting across from each other on the ferry, and I think you had fallen asleep, and I remember thinking “hmm, I still want a hot dog.” Then you woke up and I asked you how you felt about getting hot dogs for dinner. At this point, several hours in and both with really bad sunburns, I felt like we’d appropriately bonded.

K: Right yes, exactly. And we had also made plans for the rest of the night, for which we had discussed really needing to rally. We needed sustenance, but I’m trying to remember when we both decided we each needed *two* hot dogs, because we definitely did it the same way a group of wine moms decides to order fries.

M: Yep. I remember the boat taking a REALLY long time to pull up to the pier, and I remember this specifically because I spent an entire ferry ride thinking about eating a hot dog. I was ready for the hot dogs! I didn’t care what it took; I was going to eat two hot dogs and sip a frosty Diet Coke for dinner on a bench in the Financial District, and you were going to join me. It was the perfect ending to a beach day on a partially nude beach, frankly.

K: So we got to the cart, and this is where I think it really behooves us to take it second-by-second.

M: I want to emphasize that there was no decision-making happening in this moment and we weren’t very choosy; we walked off the pier and onto mainland and bolted to the very first cart we saw. We weren’t discriminatory. I feel like my thoughts during this moment were pretty much: “Does this place have an illustration of a hot dog on it? Ok cool.”

K: Right, and at no point were we ever like, “How much is a hot dog?” Because we were certain we knew the answer: $2, tops. This was, I think, our hamartia.

M: To your credit, you were very confident. I remember you walked up to the hot dog cart and IMMEDIATELY ordered two hot dogs. At no point did we ever ask how much we were paying for these hot dogs; we just wanted the hot dogs, and the men behind the cart were going to give them to us, no questions asked.

K: I asked for two hot dogs and a Diet Coke, and I remember hearing “$14.” Like, I want to be up front and admit I HEARD them say “$14,” but I was convinced I had heard incorrectly, or that that they were anticipating us both ordering the same thing, and the total was $14. But then YOU ordered.

M: I was a lemming. For the record, I also heard them say “$14.” Maybe I just thought I misheard them, or that $14 was going to be the cost of both of our meals. Nevertheless, I persisted and also ordered two hot dogs and a Diet Coke.

K: I’m kind of reflecting right now and wondering that if, knowing what I know now, I would have acted differently, if I would have, you know, expressed some kind of disbelief, or even objected, but one time I was waiting for an elevator and, when it opened, people were inside, and I heard myself apologize for being in front of it. Like, I wasn’t in the way. I was just apologizing for someone having to witness me occupying any kind of space at all. So no, I paid $14 for two hot dogs and a Diet Coke.

M: After I realized the grim reality of the situation — that we were both on the hook for $14 to pay for a meager meal that ultimately wouldn’t sustain us anyway — a thought flashed in my mind. What if we bartered the price down? I realize, in retrospect, that this was a foolish thing to think. I apologize to people for things that aren’t my fault regularly. During my semester abroad in college, I went to El Rastro, the big weekend flea market in Madrid, and I bought a leather purse and somehow instead of haggling the price *down*, I paid 5 euros more than the man selling it initially wanted. This was not a language barrier problem, but a me being an idiot doormat problem.

K: Yes, I think there’s a bigger conversation about our self esteem to be had here, and, ultimately, feminism and its role in this modern society — and I do think we are the two women best suited to speak on that at length — but I digress. It was a short walk from the cart to the nearest bench, and I think you were the one who first voiced what we had both been thinking: “Did we each just pay $14 for two hot dogs and a Diet Coke?”

M: I think I verbalized this in disbelief as I counted my $6 in change. My first thought was: I could get a decent entree at my favorite Astoria restaurant for $14. My second thought was: we could have just bought a pack of hot dogs, buns, condiments, and a case of Diet Coke for less money than we collectively just paid for this dumb meal. We ate the hot dogs and drank the Diet Cokes anyway, and I hate to say this, but it was a fine dinner. Was it great? No, the hot dogs were boiled. My soda could have been colder. But in that moment I stopped being mad for like, 90 seconds.

K: I remember feeling great after. Like we had been dragging, we weren’t sure if we were going to make it to a party later. But after the two hot dogs I remember feeling lighter in both body and spirit. I think I said the words, “Wow! It is amazing what food does.” And it really is.

M: Kate, I need to ask you some questions: do you think those men just thought we were dumb? Do you think if we had spoken up and argued, that they would have held our hot dogs hostage, or given them to us at a reduced cost? I can’t help but wonder what we could have had.

K: I’m glad we’re asking these questions because this really is the crux of the matter. Either they jack up prices in general right outside the ferry because they know hungry people are getting off of it, or they clocked us specifically as we approached the cart like two feral animals and knew we were hungry enough to pay pretty much whatever they told us.

I’d also like to note something that I think was a full circle moment for this story: On the actual 4th of July, myself and two other friends went to a hot dog cart in Williamsburg and each got a hot dog, and I got a Diet Coke, and I literally think we paid $7 total.

M: I was really upset when you texted me to tell me this. I knew as soon as we bought our food that we had been played, but that confirmed it. But no matter: we had had our dinner, and it gave us enough strength to continue on to a party that night. Overall, it was a good day and I’m glad we hung out and ate hot dogs together, even if we got ripped off to an incredible degree.

K: I’m literally about to go buy a hot dog.

M: Every time I walk by a food cart now, I think about how we spent almost $30 on hot dogs.

Now I think we should close this out by reflecting and talking about what we learned from this. What lessons, if any, do you think you or our readers should take away from our experience?

K: It’s weird, because as much as I’d like to cap this off with an anecdote about standing up for what you believe in, in the future I’m just going to go to the hot dog cart directly next to that one, and hope for the best. And if they asked, I’d probably still pay them $14.

Written by

i’m a freelance writer and editor. you can also read me in places like the new york times and vanity fair.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store