When John Meier says he went through quite a route to get here, he's making an understatement.
The middle-aged man behind Tsawwassen Town Centre's unassuming hot dog stand has experienced a hundred people's share of misfortune and success, yet his story stands alone.
Meier was born in Flushing, New York, which unravels the mystery of how an iconic slice of the Big Apple—Nathan's Famous frankfurters—arrived in Tsawwassen.
"They are so juicy, absolutely delicious," describes Meier. "I'm addicted to the bloody things."
His summer diet consists of eating four or five hot dogs a week. And it could just be an anomaly, the result of Meier's early exposure to food cart cuisine on the East Coast – but at a recent physical his doctor said his cholesterol levels were really good.
It's a clean bill of health for this eccentric character who started amassing adult-sized stress as a teenager. Meier didn't choose the laid-back Tsawwassen life, his family was forced to live in Canada. And this area was the closest climate fit for a family who arrived here by way of Southern California, Las Vegas and Australia. They were unimpressed by West Vancouver, which bested Delta in the rain deluge contest.
"Since I've lived up here I've had no desire to live in California," says Meier. "We live in paradise, I really love this area."
Paradise amid chaos
Paradise for the Meiers was found in the midst of chaos. Equipped with an aerospace engineering background, his father, John Meier Sr. had been a scientific advisor to billionaire aviator, motion-picture producer and business tycoon Howard Hughes.
That status catapulted Meier Sr. to an equally illustrious life by association. Heads of state, those basking in the top echelon of the world's wealth, and celebrities were among his friends.
News reports of the day referred to Meier Sr. as Hughes' right-hand man—and the man who brought down Richard Nixon.
"We had to come up here [to Canada], dad witnessed a million dollar payoff to Nixon," explains the younger Meier. "They wanted my father assassinated."
Leading up to the 1972 Presidential election, Meier allegedly fed misinformation to Nixon's camp by saying he released documents to the Democrats revealing Nixon's illicit dealings with Hughes—the precursor to the Watergate scandal and Nixon's subsequent resignation as President.
In 1979, Meier Sr. was arrested after returning from a beach outing with his family – and extradited to the U.S. to face fraud and obstruction of justice charges relating to a $20 million mining transaction in California and Nevada. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison, serving 21 months.
A teenager at the time, John Jr.—who played father figure to his two sisters and brother while their dad was incarcerated—doesn't think about those days that often. But he admits that experience has helped shape his character.
"I think probably my perspective on things is different than most people," he says.
Preserving Canadian literature
In Meier's basement, stored on special light-blocking bookshelves, sits the completed collection of first English language editions of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction dating back to the inception of the prize in 1937.
The president of the W.A. Deacon Literary Foundation, Meier has organized national tours of these works, spending hundreds of thousands of his own dollars to share his labour of love.
The collection, compiled over a decade, includes uncorrected proofs, trial dust jackets, advance review copies, author copies, letters and sound recordings—most of it signed.
A huge amount of leg work was exercised in order for Meier to build his literary masterpiece. He contacted more than 50 publishers, sent 2,000 to 3,000 emails—and scoured second-hand book stores and antique shops all over the world.
He went to the ends of the earth for GG Award winner Franklin D. McDowell's copy, with author's notes, of The Champlain Road.
"I basically tracked the family down," explains Meier, adding it took six months to negotiate the deal.
Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson was impressed after viewing the literary splendour in person.
However, that endorsement hasn't led to any financial support from the Canadian government to help Meier display his collection publicly.
"Canadian Heritage has told me to stop promoting Canadian literature and culture and give my rare book collections away," says an incensed Meier. "The literary arts are insignificant in this country—there is just no interest. I find it so mind boggling."
Still, Meier plans to press on with his efforts to mark the 75th anniversary of the Governor General's literary prize with an exhibit at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in Toronto this November. However, he will need the support of the community, he says.
"I need to raise enough money to ship the books back and forth in custom-made containers," he explains.
To that end, Meier plans to host an intimate dinner fundraiser, for bookish types, at his house sometime in the fall. He also leverages his lucrative hot dog stand to help feed the cause. Like any best-selling author, Meier has found his hook.
East Coast cravings
Perhaps it's East Coast transplants craving nostalgia from back home or first-timers devouring a traditional frankfurter—possible explanations for the frenzy around Meier's food cart around mid-day Thursdays through Sundays.
Word of Myrtle's Famous Hot Dogs— an homage to Meier's grandmother who took him to Coney Island for his first Nathan's dog when he was four years old—has even spread to Southern California. Meier recently met a San Diego man at his cart who made a special detour to Tsawwassen while on business in Vancouver.
Others compare eating Meier's hot dogs to a religious experience, bringing their friends by to be converted. Some customers learn the hard way to show up early or be disappointed when Meier—who has sold as many as 400 hot dogs in a day— runs out of meat. They cringe when offered vegetarian dogs.
For all the attention he gets Meier remains modest, saying he is not re-inventing the wheel. Case in point, his Chicago dog topped with mustard, super green relish, a large dill pickle—in some cases almost as long as the bun—sweet onions, hot pepper, celery salt and tomato wedges.
"These are the classics I'm doing basically," says Meier.
The franchise word has come up, which is a discussion Meier is putting on the back burner until later this year.
"I'm still thinking about it," he says. "I'm trying to find people with the same personality type as me—outgoing and hard-working."
But he also alludes to doing something completely different at some point during the next decade—perhaps a childrens' novelist.
What Meier ultimately hopes to create is a literary and culinary legacy so up-and-coming readers can still touch paper instead of a screen when thumbing through the classics. Or maybe one day a Tsawwassenite will be at a food cart on the streets of Chicago or New York and see the "Delta" dog he has been busy perfecting.
"Obsession usually leads to something good," says Meier.
If you are interested in attending Meier's literary fundraiser, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ggawards.ca.