On the corner of Conti and Bourbon Streets in New Orleans, Mark Clin scoops chili onto a hot dog with expert precision. “I do this six days a week,” he said without lifting his eyes. “I pretty much have a feel for it.”
Clin has operated a Lucky Dog cart on-and-off on the same corner for 30 years; he assuredly knows what he’s doing behind the wiener-shaped vessel as tourists and French Quarter employees alike trade cash for the legendary drunk food.
“This is so, so good! You don’t even know,” slurred a woman with a halfway full hand grenade, shoving the dog in my face as a gesture of good will. I politely declined as Clin laughed.
One of roughly 15 Lucky Dog carts to hit the area each night, the former full-time, self-proclaimed “carnie” has seen his fair share of rambunctious behavior over the years. Clin talked to First We Feast about his three decades of dog slinging and people watching as an iconic member of New Orleans culture.
FWF: How long have you been working here? Are you from New Orleans originally?
MC: About 30 years, on and off. I’m originally from Decatur, Illinois. I’m a third generation carnie [carnival worker] and I’ve been doing this in the winter time, the off season, for three decades. I do it full time now.
FWF: What was your job in the carnival?
MC: I grew up in food concessions. I went to side shows when we had freak shows still, then I ended up working in games. The “lobster boy” side show was one of the strangest. It’s a birth defect, their hands and feet look like lobster claws. Side shows ended about the mid-1980s.
I don’t go to any strip clubs. I’m out here for one thing only: to work and go home.
FWF: How long have you been working at the cart full time now?
MC: I just came back mid-November of last year. I’d been gone about 13 years overseas touring Europe with the carnival business. European carnivals are a lot cleaner.
FWF: How has New Orleans changed in 13 years? What’s different on Bourbon Street?
MC: There’s a lot of different bars. Down in the 500 block [of Bourbon] Rick’s Sports Saloon used to be Big Daddy’s. I used to work for them. It was a strip bar. I don’t go to any strip clubs. I’m out here for one thing only: to work and go home. I don’t come out here after work.
MC: After 30 years, I don’t find anything exciting on this street anymore. All I find is drunks.
FWF: What was exciting about it to begin with?
MC: Nothing. I’m not a drinker. I don’t drink.
FWF: What’s the craziest night you’ve witnessed on Bourbon Street?
MC: The dumbest thing someone’s ever done has fought was an officer. They threw punches. It doesn’t happen a lot. This happened last Saturday night.
After 30 years, I don’t find anything exciting on this street anymore. All I find is drunks.
FWF: Are things tamer here on Bourbon St. than they were 13 years ago?
MC: They’re about the same, really.
FWF: About how many hot dogs do you serve a night?
MC: It varies. It’s hard to say, because some days you can do 200 and some days you can do 400. People really seek it out when they’re drunk.
FWF: What’s your favorite thing to eat on a Lucky Dog?
MC: Chili and ketchup together, never apart.
FWF: How long have you worked on this corner?
MC: I’ve had this corner off and on for 30 years. Sometimes other Lucky Dog vendors are discouraged to come out because of the weather but not here. It’s right in the action.