A slice of Americana

Hot dogs and lemonade on the 4th of July
by Annette Montalvo

On a national holiday like the 4th of July, other than a Norman Rockwell painting, nothing celebrates small town USA more than a mom-and-pop lemonade stand that also serves hot dogs and watermelon slices.

Ruth and Bob Hornickle have been vendors at the Takoma Park 4th of July parade for the past three decades.  Their hot dog and lemonade stand is a familiar fixture on the parade route at the corner of Philadelphia and Maple Avenues.

Despite the 95 degree heat, the Hornickles, along with area residents, came out to share in Takoma Park’s 121st Annual Independence Day Celebration.

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“[The vendor] over here told me that someone was already asking,
‘Where’s the hot dog lady?’ before I got here today,” said Mrs.
Hornickle as she stirred the lemonade, finishing the pre-parade
preparations for her booth.

“They know where to come every year,” said Mr. Hornickle as he set out
plastic cups, napkins, and condiments.  “They sort of expect us.”

The couple has been married for 41 years, and now in their 60s, are
both retired and living in Silver Spring.  The Hornickles began this
one-day-a-year business almost thirty years ago, and try to get the
same site every year.

“We began [the booth] in the late ’70s,” said Mrs. Hornickle.  “At that
time they didn’t have [anything], and it seemed like a good idea.” 

The Hornickles arrived at their spot along the parade route around 8
a.m. yesterday morning.  They unloaded their minivan, which carried the
necessary items of the day: a tent and poles, folding tables and
chairs, a propane grill, plastic tablecloths, American flags,
silverware, cups, condiments, Nathan’s hot dogs, half-smoke beef
sausages, dozens of buns, 35 pounds of ice, 10 gallons of lemonade, and
two watermelons.

“We allow ourselves enough time to set up, have the [health] inspector
come around, and then the crowds start coming around,” said Mr.
Hornickle, dressed for the Fourth in a USA logo T-shirt, denim jeans,
and blue apron.

“You can’t sell a hot dog–anything–until the inspector says ‘okay,'”
said Mrs. Hornickle, nodding her head in the direction of the inspector
at the booth next door. “We pass with flying colors every year,” she
said, pointing to the permit hanging in the back of the tent. 

The Hornickles’ stand was just as simple as a kid’s neighborhood
lemonade stand–a banner on the left that said “lemonade,” and a banner
on the right that said “hot dogs,” a five-item price list hanging
overhead, and American flags serving as a table skirt.

Lester Villalta, the Hornickles’ neighbor who is also a chef at
Samantha’s in Silver Spring, has helped the Hornickles with their booth
for 25 years.  Villalta, also dressed in stars and stripes, began
grilling the first hot dogs and half-smokes of the day. 

By 9:30 a.m., the hot dog and lemonade stand, along with the Hornickles
wearing matching stars-and-stripes baseball hats, were ready for the
day’s first customers.   

“It’s a tradition to be here,” said Caitlin Warner, who grew up in
Takoma Park and now brings her family to the parade.  “The kids are
hungry,” she then said, explaining the breakfast of hot dogs and
lemonade. 

The Hornickles sold approximately 150 hot dogs their first year.  “But
you can bring 500 and take 300 home,” Mrs. Hornickle said.  “You never
know.”

“This is not the way to become a millionaire,” she said, shaking her
head.  “That is not the case.”  Even before the Hornickles have sold
their first hot dog, they’ve already spent $300 on permit fees and the
site rental.

“People complain and say, ‘$3 for a hot dog?’  I say, look.  You go
downtown to a Nationals’ game and see what you pay for a hot dog,” said
Mr. Hornickle.

They try to keep the prices the same every year, and say as long as they break even, they’re happy.

When the parade ended around 12:30 p.m., the Hornickles and Villalta
disassembled the booth.  They reloaded the minivan and moved from their
spot on the parade route to a spot on the baseball field at the Takoma
Park Middle School, where the fireworks would be held in the evening. 
In the midday heat, they reassembled the entire hot dog and lemonade
stand, and waited to pass inspection once again.

“It’s a very, very hectic day,” said Mrs. Hornickle.  “At the end of the day, you’re dead.  Trust me.”

“We’re getting older,” said Mr. Hornickle.  “I wouldn’t say we were
kids [when we started], but we were in our 30s.  It just takes more
effort now that we’re older to do the same thing.”

The Hornickles’ night ended shortly after the end of the fireworks, around 10:30 p.m.

“Tomorrow we will sleep,” said Mrs. Hornickle, “and finish the cleanup.”

“A little ‘R and R,'” said Mr. Hornickle, echoing his wife.  “I can
deal with one day out of the year.  It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun at
the same time.  You become part of the community.”

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