For over ten years, Gary Alameda has toiled to feed the late-night crowds of Charleston and has amassed a loyal following along the way. He's the purveyor of Gee's Infamous Hot Dogs & More — a cart that sits on Ann Street, near the Music Farm, Wednesday through Saturday. Alameda hails from New York, so he wanted to bring the flavors of the big city to the Lowcountry.
While working in Atlanta, Alameda spotted a hot dog vendor outside of the Lowe's and questioned why he couldn't do that in Charleston. In 2003, he bought a cart and set up downtown. "I'm blessed," he says. It took some time to figure out that evening crowds were more profitable than daytime customers, but now, Alameda, or as he's know, "Gee" (pronounced like the letter "G"), is a King Street fixture.
Ask anyone who goes out downtown, and they've probably had a hot dog from Alameda. Most people make the cart their last stop for the night. Alameda experiences the craziest moments of drunken masses, but he keeps them in line. "Everyone has to respect each other here," he tells me, "Most of my customers are cool." I spent a night at Gee's Infamous Hot Dogs & More and saw first hand what it's like to work the cart. Here's my evening with Alameda:
10:15 p.m. Two guys walk up to the cart and perform the chest bump handshake combo greeting with Alameda. "I promise, I won't start any fights tonight, Gee" one says. Apparently, the bro in khakis cut the line last time he visited, and the rest of the patrons weren't happy. The duo are on their way to a bikini contest at Mynt.
10:20 p.m. First customer! Order: a brat with grilled onions, peppers, and spicy mustard.
10:29 p.m. A woman asks the price of a plain dog. Alameda tells her $3, to which she frowns. He ponders and decides if she doesn't want any toppings, she can have it for $2. She's super happy about this dollar discount.
10:30 p.m. Two well-dressed gentlemen stop by after attending a charity event. They are calling it an early night and want two hot dogs each before heading home.
10:35 p.m. The manager of Thai place Basil stops by to chat with Alameda.
10:50 p.m. A father with a very sleepy toddler in his arms stops by the cart on the way to the car for a dog with mustard and ketchup.
Less than an hour into this adventure, I realize you are frequently asked directions if you're standing on the sidewalk in downtown Charleston. So far, I've told passersby how to get to Closed for Business, Republic Reign, and the nearest parking garage.
10:58 p.m. A guy in his twenties saunters up and is pumped that there's no line at the cart. He says he's always wanted to try a hot dog there, but the mass of waiting patrons kept him away. He orders a brat with spicy mustard and ketchup.
11:06 p.m. A local musician, who is finishing a gig at Republic Reign, runs over to order four chef's specials (chili, cream cheese, onions, and cheese sauce). He promises to come back for them in 15 minutes.
11:10 p.m. A pair of women finishing their night at hookah club Priya ask Alameda about his use of cream cheese on the dogs. They decide tonight is not the night for experimentation and settle on two regular hot dogs.
11:15 p.m. A bachelorette party goes by chanting. One lady in a tiara remarks, "That's the most attractive hot dog man I've ever seen."
Being near LGBT club Pantheon, Alameda sees plenty of bachelorette parties, twenty-first birthdays, and anyone looking to get down. Pantheon is one of the few dance clubs in downtown Charleston.
11:18 p.m. The first line forms. It's four people looking for food.
I'm happy to report that at this time, everyone walking on Ann Street has been relatively sober.
11:19 p.m. Never mind. We have our first drunk girl. She's having trouble keeping her dress down and her head up. Her friends are helping her home. "But it smells amazing," she screams as she's being carried away from Gee's Infamous Dogs. Her companions lie to her and say there's a hot dog waiting for her at home.
He's like the calm eye of the hurricane that is Upper King at night.
11:24 p.m. A fast-talking man in glasses and a baseball cap walks up with, "How much is a dog? You from New York? $3? Damn. But, I understand." He orders two.
Alameda likes joking around, but keeps a serious face while working. He's like the calm eye of the hurricane that is Upper King at night.
11:25 p.m. People are noticeably more tipsy at this hour. "Chili, cheese, mustard, and ... onion?" is the next order. The guy adds, "You don't have cigarettes, do you?" No, Alameda doesn't sell smokes.
Alameda always thanks everyone and tells customers to get home safe at the end of his transactions with them. Cabs line up near his cart to make sure this happens.
11:30 p.m. The local musician is back and tells me, "I've tried all the other carts, and Gee's is the best." He appreciates that Alameda buys the best condiments and makes his own chili and cheese sauce. "This ain't no canned Hormel shit," he says.
The cart becomes a gathering spot for people. Alameda serves as a therapist for many after they finish their last round. They tell him all their secrets. Alameda offers up dogs instead of counsel. He's a magnet for the eccentric, the jubilant, the drunk, and sometimes the lonely.
11:51 p.m. "I'm hungry," declares a girl who is arguing with her boyfriend to trade shoes with her. "Oooh, my God, I'm so excited for the hot dog. I love you," she tells Alameda. "Who doesn't order cream cheese when there's a squeeze bottle of cream cheese," she chides her male companion after he orders.
11:52 p.m. "Two of my customers, who met in line, are now married," Alameda tells me. "My cart is better than Tinder." Apparently, when the line gets long, people get to talking, and usually end up going home together.
Alameda serves as a therapist for many after they finish their last round.
11:55 p.m. Alameda exchanges a handshake and hug with a pair of guys in designer jeans. They are trying to decide where to go, and Alameda tells them about the bikini contest at Mynt.
Alameda is the unofficial mayor of Upper King. If you talk to him, he can tell you what's happening that night and where to avoid (or at least what his customers have told him).
12:02 a.m. Three guys, ending the night, stop for dogs.
12:16 a.m. Alameda's entourage is building.
There's a few characters who like to hang out at the cart. Usually, there's Robert or "Old School," who is pretty quiet, and William, who likes to talk music. They help fetch ice, sweep the sidewalks, and make sure the more inebriated customers make it to a cab. They like hanging out with Alameda — who wouldn't? Others stop by to hang out as the night goes on.
12:26 a.m. The line is at six people. A girl with hiccups curls up next to the cart. She's a regular, and she's not really drunk, she just wants a place to wait out her hiccups. Once she's calmed her throat, she requests a dog with "cheese, onions, and chili, please."
12:31 a.m. It's the time of night when people point to the tube they want on the grill. A girl on the way to a taxi asks her friends, "Can we stop? It smells so good."
I hear this repeatedly as the night goes on. "That smells awesome." "Ohmygawd, do you smell those hot dogs." "Ugh, that smells so good, I want one." Alameda tells me the onions and spice mix are the best advertising for his cart — you can smell them up and down the street.
12:37 a.m. A regular brings her out-of-town friends to meet Alameda. "Gee! Meet my friends. This is Gee. I came here after my twenty-first birthday, and we exchanged birthday gifts." She's really excited for her group to try the dogs.
I'm amazed that Alameda remembers so many names and personal information of everyone stopping by. He really has a talent for making people feel welcomed at the cart.
12:42 a.m. "Are you Gee? We were told to find Gee," a group tells Alameda. "The guy at Stars told us to come here." "I got you," he tells them.
12:43 a.m. The first gluten-free order of the night. No disruption in service — this isn't an odd request for Alameda. "I just want the sausage in my mouth, no bun" she declares.
Are you Gee? We were told to find Gee.
12:45 a.m. "This is our honeymoon dinner," a couple tells the people in line. Advice for marriage goes around. A guy standing by himself laments the lack of blow jobs after nuptials are said.
12:51 a.m. "Two dogs and one water," seems to be the sober-up order for the guests.
Gee's Infamous Dogs & More is possibly the most diverse location on the peninsula. Old, young, well-off, homeless, all ethnicities, gay, straight, and everyone in between come for a bite on Ann Street. In that moment, everyone gets along — well mostly, if you cut line, or talk about someone's boyfriend, then you might not be well-received.
1:08 a.m. A group asks what time the cart closes. Alameda answers, "5:00 a.m.," and everyone high fives.
1:10 a.m. The line is growing, but people are happy to wait patiently.
1:25 a.m. "Gee's the fucking man," a passerby tells me.
1:29 a.m. A man in a pink shirt and haze of booze fondles Alameda's arm, "Look at this arm," he says to no one in particular. While waiting for his dog, he sneers at another customer, and Alameda tells him to be nice. "I'm sorry, Gee. I love you. I'm sorry," he apologizes. A member of the cart entourage helps the befuddled fellow to a cab.
1:41 a.m. "I want whatever you recommend. And do you know Faith from James Island?"
It's this time of night that Alameda is really in the zone. Dogs are turning, condiments are flowing, and transactions are swift. The line swells to 25 people.
1:44 a.m. A patron in queue exclaims, "I mean, I'm gay, but not that gay, right?"
1:45 a.m. A woman in line asks, "Fine hot dog man, hey fine hot dog man, do you take debit cards?"
Ladies are leaning against the Music Farm to remove their shoes, while friends wait in line for a hot dog. People are bumming smokes, and others are giving tips on how to twerk. The line is staying steady at 30 people. Alameda tells me later that this was a slow night.
... hey, fine hot dog man, do you take debit cards?
2:04 a.m. Cops hang out across the street. No one is acting rowdy. People just want a bite to eat before heading home.
2:06 a.m. Two luxury vehicles pull up and a few men hop out to get in line. They are illegally parked, but the police don't seem to care. Perhaps they understand the need for a 2 a.m. snack.
2:08 a.m. There's a couple making out while waiting for their food.
Alameda is completely composed as he works through all the orders. He is the ninja of tube meats.
2:27 a.m. The line dies down, and King Street chefs stop by Gee's after closing their restaurants.
2:30 a.m. Alameda's significant other, Jessica Metts, pops by for a visit. She tells me that the cart is designated as a safe spot for many of the sororities in town. If girls have too much to drink, they know they can stop by Ann Street for a haven and help home.
2:54 a.m. After their last fares are home, cab drivers park nearby for a dog. Bartenders who weren't stuck with closing duties make their way to the cart. Many of them hug Alameda.
3:05 a.m. A bartender in a midriff-bearing shirt inquires, "Got any brats left, Gee?"
At this hour, the customers have slowed, but Alameda will stay out until 5 a.m. to make sure the last of the King Street employees have a chance for a meal before they slip off to bed. It's at this time, this editor calls it a night and sneaks off with a chef's special hot dog before biking home. And, yes, it is delicious.