David Sandoval sells hot dogs, but it’s where he sells them that makes his job downright entertaining some days.
Every weekday, he sets up his hot dog cart outside the 11th Street entrance to the Stanislaus County Courthouse in downtown Modesto. He encounters people from all walks of life.
Some of them are heading to jury duty; others are on their way to family court. Many others are defendants, showing up for hearings in their criminal cases.
Sandoval has seen and heard a lot outside the courthouse – spouses arguing over a divorce, defendants complaining about the justice system, and even a scuffle here and there. It’s never dull.
He actually has another job, working at a Del Monte Foods processing plant. When he has free time, he helps his cousin Brenda Ortiz, who started the Top Dog hot dog cart business.
Sandoval and his cousin have been selling hot dogs outside the courthouse for about 10 years. They have another hot dog cart on weekdays at the downtown transit center.
They get a steady stream of customers at the courthouse, starting about 8:30 a.m., when most hearings are scheduled. The cart stays there until about 4 p.m.
The Bee asked Sandoval how business is at the foot of the courthouse steps, and what kind of craziness he encounters.
Q: Why was the courthouse selected as a spot to sell hot dogs?
A: It’s a busy area. It’s the center of town.
Q: What makes this spot more interesting than others?
A: Some people share their stories with you. You just let them talk; you let them vent. Everybody has a story to tell.
Q: What sort of disputes have you witnessed as people enter and exit the courthouse?
A: It’s crazy, because people go to divorce court and some show up with the new girlfriend or boyfriend. You just know there’s going to be problems.
Q: What’s the atmosphere like when high-profile criminal cases draw attention from several media outlets? How do people react when they see TV news trucks and camera operators outside the courthouse?
A: It’s like watching celebrities. You see them on TV, then you see them in person. It’s like you’re watching them live.
Q: You recently saw a man stopped by police for jaywalking in front of the courthouse. What happened when you tried to warn a woman that she could receive a ticket for jaywalking?
A: She told me to mind my own business. She walked into the street, and then you hear a siren. It was kind of funny watching her get a ticket. Well, funny for me; not for her. I try to be helpful.
Q: Have you ever had any really strange requests from courthouse visitors, other than the occasional person wanting to buy cigarettes?
A: Yeah. I’ve had people ask, “Can you hold my dope for me while I go into court?” “Can you hold my pipe for me while go into court?”
Q: What’s your answer to them?
A: It’s a definite no.
Q: Have some courthouse visitors shared details about their cases that were a little too revealing?
A: You hear a lot of stuff that can change a case.