In every town I’ve lived, there have been the regulars. In cities, there were the old men who daily smoked outside the front door of their apartment building. Or, the group of teenagers hanging about the corner for hours. Regular dog walkers. Early morning joggers. Solo folks saddled up to the bar having a bite to eat before heading home. All our lives connected through something bigger than any of us.
Living rurally, we may not have the corner shop or the local bar, but we do have a cast of characters. The tall man with the curvy walking stick who leads visitors to places on the moors always stops to greet Millie and Brock. The local couple who are busy tracking and recording migratory birds to the area, dressed in camouflage and draped with more than a few pairs of binoculars routinely stop by to say hello. There are our regular egg buyers, dog walkers, bird watchers, or trail runners who are all part of our lives, even if we don’t always know their names.
There is one, who remains a mystery to me. I’ve never met him. And up until recently I had never seen him. To catch a glimpse of him is akin to spotting the mythical Sasquatch or The Loch Ness monster. If there were Dartmoor Trading Cards, he may be perhaps the most valuable of them all. A vintage Babe Ruth. Michael Jordon’s 1986-1987 Rookie Card. The 1954 Ted Williams. Or, a mint condition Wayne Gretzky.
It all began when we noticed a maroon and green van with a sky-blue top sheltered in various lay-bys on Dartmoor. We’d spot it any time of the day, but most often it was parked very early in the morning, or towards evening as the sun would begin to bruise the sky with a sunset. There are probably similar vans and campers moving about on Dartmoor, but this one is unique. In addition to its earth and sky colour theme, the side of the van shows a painting of a golden sun with radiant beams. In large letters across the top is written, “Vegan Hotdog”.
I ask around, “Have you ever seen that van?” “Do you know anything about him?” “Does he sell vegan hotdogs?” “Does he live in the van?” “Is he nice?” “Is he an activist?” Almost everyone I ask looks puzzled, save a few who have also seen the van and entertained similar questions. One friend mused, “I wonder if he does a good trade selling vegan hotdogs on the moors?”
I search the Internet and find little more than a story about a vegan hotdog receiving a 95% approval rating. There is also a moderately interesting story about a woman who ordered a vegan hotdog at a big international store, only to discover it had meat in it. Like any Internet search, there is a rabbit hole of articles. And yet I uncover no information, not even a photo, to shed light on my local mystery.
This past year, Roger and I began reporting our various sightings of the van, sharing with one another where we saw it parked and looking abandoned. Occasionally one of us would see the van on the move. In the distance, just over the crest of a hill, the bright blue roof would appear. We slow our car in order to catch a glimpse of the driver, this Vegan Hotdog Man.
He has a big white beard, but so does our friend Steve and I’m certain this is not a separate identity for him. The Vegan Hotdog Man seems to be driving alone in the van. I have never seen a dog or another person riding shotgun.
Who is he? What’s his story? Since we don’t have Dartmoor Trading Cards, there are no stats to glean from this hard to come by collectable.
With the new year upon us, I’ve turned my attention to making positive steps. I’ve upped my exercise, not as a new year’s resolution, but just to get it back to what it was before my Dad got ill last year. I’ve carved out more space for relaxing with a good book or listening – actually listening not just as background – to music. Brock and Millie are back into my school of obedience training, a casual but necessary school. And, as I do at every start of the year, I’m working on a clear out. Clothing that has holes. Paperwork which is no longer needed. Books long since read, which someone else might enjoy. And the growing pile of things to take to the local tip.
With Roger’s help, we packed the car with recyclables and I drove to the tip. As I rounded the corner to find a strategic parking place for easy off-loading — metals in the metal bin, plastics in the plastic bin, glass in the glass bin — I spy the bright blue roof of the Vegan Hot Dog Van.
Can it be? Is he here at the tip? Should I introduce myself? How do you start a conversation with a mystery?
I’ve had this overwhelming sensation before. Being in an unusual place, spotting a celebrity – greater points awarded if they are a B-list celebrity – and not knowing my next move. Do I interrupt their privacy with a friendly “Hi? Don’t I know you?” I’ve done this: A still yet unknown Benedict Cumberbatch at the National Portrait Gallery; Laurie Anderson in the women’s restroom at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; and Colm Meaney at a hidden lake in Connemara, Ireland. Colm and I spoke about the beauty of the landscape and drank the water from the lake, but I chickened out at saying “I love you as Miles O’Brien on Star Trek: The Next Generation!” That felt too needy.
As I walk past the Vegan Hotdog Man, I clutch my bags of recycling and slow my pace. He’s slender and tall, his white beard is thick and bushy. Beyond this, there’s nothing notable. Either that, or I’m a bad witness or easily distracted. Almost as soon as I see him, I turn my attention to the van, taking a casual passing glance inside the open door. But he’s doing what I’m doing and off-loading things at the tip. There’s no more information to be had about him than anyone else at the tip with our vehicles full of things to drop off in the appropriate bins.
Perhaps one day, I’ll have an opportunity to introduce myself. Maybe we’ll meet at a party. Or, his van will be slightly blocking my car and I’ll need to politely ask him to move, sparking a casual series of questions.
Who are you?
Or maybe, some ingenious person will produce a series of Dartmoor Trading Cards. The elusive Vegan Hotdog Man among the many collectables. Having just recycled several things, I don’t really want a collectable trading card, I just want to meet this man in the flesh.