Old Home Café: The Next Generation

By Edward Floden, based on characters and situations created by William D. Fries, Jr.

Episode XXIII: Fast Food, Part Two

(Originally published in The Legend-News of 2003 September 2.)

Harry Parsons unfolded the biggest brochure that Jon had ever seen. This wasn’t your fold-it-in-half-and-stick-it-in-your-pocket brochure; this thing began at a folded size of 8.5 inches by 11 and finished as a monster at 34 inches by 22. Heck, it wasn’t a brochure, it was a poster.

And a well-used poster, at that. Circles and arrows and short paragraphs pointed to and described the features of the Auto-Dog, from the five-gallon water tank to the four sausage modules and the twelve condiment dispensers and the three bun compartments. Refrigerated storage bins at the bottom, propane-fired steamers in the middle, and a giant umbrella on the top.

But unlike the typical hotdog pushcart, the Auto-Dog wasn’t designed with the idea of one-man, one-dog in mind. Prominent on the side of the unit was an LCD touch-screen controller, listing all of the available sandwich options on the unit. Want an all-beef Vienna? Press the red-and-yellow “Vienna” button. Regular or foot-long? Press a button for one. Mustard, onions, cucumber, mayonnaise? Press a button.

“Mayo?” asked Jon. “On a hot dog?” He shuddered, as if someone has dumped Heinz 57 on a steak.

Harry shrugged. “Beats me. Some people have been known to order it. Worse than ketchup, in my opinion. Now, horseradish sauce…”

“Stop right there,” said Jon. He examined the brochure more closely. “So, this thing is an automated hot-dog assembly line?”

“Pretty much,” said Harry. “You, the operator, need to refill the compartments as necessary, from the supplies stored in the base. The customers, on the other hand, make their selections from this front panel” — he pointed to the LCD screen — “and then confirm their choices. The sandwich assembly begins automatically at the bun end of the cart, and proceeds along the center conveyor to the operator station at the other end, where you stand, ready to take their money.” And like a prize presenter on a television game show, Harry waved in the direction of the operator station on the brochure and smile broadly.

“Fascinating,” said Jon. “What’s the speed, though? Regular dog, poppy seed bun, mustard, relish, onion, sport peppers, start to finish?”

“Ignoring the time required for customer input,” said Harry, “that would take approximately fourteen seconds.”

Larry, who had been looking over the Auto-Dog’s features while Harry spoke with Jon, piped up. “I can make that dog in twelve seconds.”

“Probably you could,” said Jon. “But our current equipment isn’t this portable. And for the Firemen’s Ball, we were planning to grill the meat, not steam. Can the Auto-Dog do open-flame cooking, too?”

From his dispatch case, Harry pulled another brochure, similar to the first. He spread it open on the counter. “Of course! Using the standard propane module, the steamer unit can be replaced by a grill. And, if you’re using the grill, the addition of these hamburger modules can turn the Auto-Dog into a hot dog and hamburger barbecue machine.”

“One more question,” said Jon. “How much?”

Harry grabbed a napkin from the nearest dispenser on the counter and scrawled a number on it and gave it to Jon. “That much,” he said. “I know, you need time to think. Keep these brochures, and here’s a CD-ROM with a QuickTime movie showing the Auto-Dog in action. And if you want, I can arrange for a demonstration unit to be here in a few days.”

As he packed up his case, Harry thanked Jon for the opportunity. “And if you’ve got questions, just call me. Here’s my card. I’ll be in the this area for a few days before heading east. Call me,” he reminded Jon, as he walked out the door.

Jon looked at the price that Harry quoted. Was it possible? Time to crunch some numbers.

To be continued…

Next: A demonstration

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