Hot Dogs, Ulysses and the Unknown

George's Coney Island on Southbridge Street in Worcester

A Worcester fixture since 1929, George’s Coney Island is a hot dog haven and photographer paradise for those craving an American classic with secret chili sauce. The 60 foot neon sign was added in 1940, modeled after George Tsagarelis hand, famously grabbing a hot dog dripping mustard.

Aperture: f/4.3
Focal Length: 11.7mm
ISO: 400
Shutter: 1/30 sec
Camera: COOLPIX S6200


“I’m Sorry.”

“Well, it’s close to Boston.”

In 2000, I went to college in Worcester.  More often than not, I’d hear one of the two above comments on a regular basis when I explained where I lived.  When I chose to dwell in the Woo after I graduated, some were more perplexed that I stayed an extra year.  Then in 2010, I moved back after living in Somerville and Salem.  For those who didn’t live here or those whose background on the city came from Adam Sandler’s “Tollbooth Willy” comedy skit, I recall being greeted with ball busting jokes, or perhaps clicking tongues; as if living in Worcester warranted a reaction on par with sucking air through gritted teeth when lemon juice gets into a cut…gawwhaf!  It got old quickly.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. And I’ll get to the hot dogs eventually, but like every good story, you need to be introduced to the main characters first.

The first post of a blog is always an awkward one to write.  I’ll admit that this is my fifth (attempt at writing a) blog.  Setting the scene, mood and focus,while captivating and hooking readers makes a neurotic over thinker like me second guess why the hell I’d write anyways.  Who’d read it?   Some of the blogs I made I never posted to the public because I  judged their worthiness before publishing.  And into the ethereal trashcan on the interwebs they would go.  Yep, I’d never blog again.

Never say never.

If everyone has a story to write about, what the hell is mine?  I honestly don’t know. But what I do know is that at this time last year, I could not have predicted what happened this year.  We all have hopes, dreams, fears and doubts.  Predictions.  But they never truly self actualize into what we expect.  At times, that which we feared was overreaction.  And that which we hoped for was dashed.  Things we never dared dream or fear come to fruition.  We learn.  We cry. We laugh.

We go on.

Perhaps that is what is so appealing about a photoblog.  Sure, it’s just an amateur photographer wandering around the city of Worcester taking random shots of the city. But I don’t know what picture I will try to capture tomorrow.  I don’t know where I will be in a month, six months or this time next year.  I’m curious to see what photos take me there.  As I focus my lens, what part of me will connect to the subject.  How can I, woman who identifies with Tennyson’s Ulysses, “for always roaming with a hungry heart…how dull it is to pause”, restless and always looking ten steps ahead take the time out of my schedule to stop and look around me?  As of late, I’ve realized that stopping, breathing and connecting are not a luxury, but a necessity.  I’m going to do that here in Worcester.

Thing is, I love this city. Truly.

Worcester is not a luxury destination.  If you were to get off the Pike at exit 10, take I-290 east and headed north on 495 to New Hampshire and Maine or headed south on 495 to The Cape, you wouldn’t get it.  You’d miss it.  You’d see the trains at Union Station, various corporate buildings, St. Vincent’s Hospital  on your left, the tripple deckers of Vernon Hill on your right and on your way you’d go.

Worcester is not a city built only on its exterior appearances.  Its got grit.  Heart. Tenacity.  A don’t-take-shit attitude that makes you wonder if the New England mentality that parts of the country stereotype could be true; are we mean, cold, isolating and resistant to change?  Maybe.  But beyond that stereotype of New England is a city with manufacturing roots that has at the same time kept its spirit while adapting.  This city survived. Knocked down by economic hardships, loss of industry, it continues to move forward. Its citizens, diverse in heart and background, build community with outreach astounding of the human spirit.   Worcester’s a city that remembers it past while innovating for the future.  It is dirty, beautiful, vibrant, quiet, architecturally amazing whilst falling apart; it is alive. It’s the heart of Massachusetts.  Tough real love.  Indescribably Worcester.

So the first photo to emulate this city is George’s Coney Island, embodying that grit and passion this city holds, that I value in myself.  I can’t think of a better symbol to kick off  these images of Worcester, with its 60 foot neon sign, it almost doesn’t seem to fit in with its surroundings, as if the Art Deco structure was transported from the 1930s, frozen in time.  As you go inside,the line of people wait at the counter with plastic trays for their dogs, be them “The Works”: chilli, yellow mustard and onions or plain.  Perhaps a bag of Wachusett chips and a half sour pickle completes the order.  Wash that down with a Polar soda, or even an RC (I can’t believe they still make RC!) or Moxie.  Beneath the mint green and peach colored walls sit wooden booths with chrome lined red tables which have endured decades of change.

Encapsulated in this wood are years of carved initials of purveyors of the past, marking their one time visit, or perhaps young lovers eternalizing their promise to be together forever.  Maybe some of those in 1940s actually did stay together.   The Telegram and Gazette reported of the late co-owner Catherine Tsagarelis that, “Mrs. Tsagarelis frowned on the writing of new graffiti, but hesitated to have the old carvings erased or covered over. “I don’t think I should,” she told a reporter. “I’ve seen men bring in their grandchildren to have hot dogs and show them the initials they carved into the booths when they were kids themselves.”  She and her husband George purchased the hot dog landmark in 1929, which had originally opened in 1918.  Coney Island was and is what it is because of the life blood poured into it from George and Catherine.  Though times changed, and businesses, restaurants and buildings have come and gone, Coney Island survived.  While others moved out, it stayed.  When others changed for change sake, Coney Island kept its 1930s interior and exterior.  Its Worcester. Its who I hope to be.


This entry was published on November 2, 2012 at 11:30 AM and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “Hot Dogs, Ulysses and the Unknown

  1. You have a great voice, Jackie!

    I love the way that you describe the city that I grew up in and look forward to future posts.

  2. GREAT stuff. 🙂 I love your personal life mingled with the history of Worcester. 🙂

  3. Deirdre on said:

    You have the voice of a writer Jackie. Your descriptions of yourself and Worcester made me feel like I was reading the beginning of a book not a blog! I too look forward to reading more posts! 🙂

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