Woodrow Barlettani is the one-handed, bearded, sonorous-voiced impresario of a hot-dog vendor who’s often seen down by the Truckee River. He’s been an ambulance driver, clothier, all-around hippy, underground railroad operator for runaway kids, and now he’s the official cartoonist or the online newspaper The Nevada Observer, www.nevadaobserver.com. Woody, as his friends know him, says he’s in the hot-dog business for the long haul.
So when did you get started selling hot dogs?
Three years ago, when I came back from Virginia City.
What were you doing there?
Tending bar, selling cartoons and selling Western wear.
How are hot-dog sales? Are there times it’s better to sell hot dogs than others?
Not particularly … [Phone rings] Oh, good, an interference. Is there a better time? No, there’s no better time to sell hot dogs. It’s a continuum, a social gathering.
What made you choose hot dogs?
I was in ice cream before, and I got tired of kids climbing on the ice cream trucks. I always wanted to do hot dogs. I thought it was a more versatile product. And being that I don’t care for ice cream personally, I got into the hot dog business.
How many hot dogs do you eat a day?
I try to only eat one—maybe.
But you’re not sick of eating hot dogs?
Oh, no, no, no. There are hot dogs, Polish sausage, Italian sausage. There’s all different kinds.
You’re an artist, too. When did you get started drawing cartoons?
In fourth grade. I won the Davey Crockett. Walt Disney came around to the schools and wanted a little cover for the 45. I did this Davey Crockett scene. Davey Crockett was popular at the time. They used it for the sleeve on the 45. In sixth grade, I won the California dental student award bullshit.
Then you got into the alternative press. Who were you working for?
We were working for ourselves. We were the OK Comic company—underground. That was 1970. In ‘71 we were busted. Our last issue was ‘73.
What did you get busted for?
They changed the rules. Used to be the cities could decide what was obscene, instead of a general state rule. So the city of Pasadena decided our little tabloid was calling everybody names, and expressing our right to free speech was obscene because we ran these little Tijuana 8-pagers, which were dirty stories about Popeye.
You worked with some famous people.
[R.] Crumb, although we didn’t deal directly with him, he was an arrogant guy. Gilbert Sheldon did a little work. Robert Williams, he was very, very good, he contributed with us. These are obscure people that unless you’re in cartooning, you wouldn’t know.
Didn’t Bukowski do some work with you?
Charles Bukowski used to do the “Notes of a dirty old man.” He contributed back when he was being discovered by everybody. We kind of worked with the L.A. Free Press; they’d just started their thing, we were just starting our thing, so we kind of shared some things. Robert Williams was doing the Coochie Cootie.
You don’t remember, “Grab your ass, America; this is Coochie Cootie”? You were in Omaha, they didn’t have Coochie Cootie in Omaha. Robert Williams, he’s very famous now. He does Juxtapoz, now. I did a little work at the Berkeley Barb before I went to L.A. I was in and out with the Berkeley Barb and other alternatives.