De-escalation Technique from a Former Hot Dog Vendor

Charlie is a transmasculine artist with short dark brown hair and fair complexion. Here they wear an embroidered jacket, holding a saw instrument and smiling at the camera.

Charlie Petch (they/them, he/him) is a disabled/queer/transmasculine multidisciplinary artist. A poet, playwright, librettist, musician, lighting designer, and host, Petch was the 2017 Poet of Honour for SpeakNorth national festival, winner of the Golden Beret lifetime achievement in spoken word with The League of Canadian Poets, and founder of Hot Damn it’s a Queer Slam. They have been featured on CBC’s Q, were long-listed for the CBC poetry prize in 2021, their poetry book “Whey I Was Late” (Brick Books) won the 2022 ReLit Award, and Petch’s libretto “Medusa’s Children” launched with OperaQ as a film in 2022. Find out more at

Welcome to my hot dog corner.

I see you’ve found me at one of the most heated of times. Here we are at the cossroads of we’re fkd and we’re totally fkd. Let’s not give up yet though, like any being left on earth, we are tenacious survivors, and the space we occupy is getting smaller all the time. As the world burns us together, how do we protect our most vulnerable, and ourselves as our psyches erode?

Like the bits that make up a hot dog, we cannot ignore the ugly parts of what makes up a human. Nor can we escape the wonderful smell of them at around 3am. Hot dogs, I mean hot dogs… I swear.  

a blue graphic with white rough lines that sketches a crossroad sign where one road is called we are fucked and the other is called we are totally fucked

Here’s a little bit of what being a street vendor has taught me:

1 – People adore risky things that give them temporary joy; like a hot dog, or taking masks off in indoor public spaces during a pandemic. 

2 – Street workers are excellent at developing de-escalation technique.

3 – There is nowhere to go when you live outside.

4 – Vegan hot dogs are made of the worst part of vegetables

5- If I had not been white, I may not have survived.

I’m excited to develop a workshop called De-escalation Technique from a Hot Dog Vendor with TPM in the future, as kind of a second step to my play No one’s special at the hot dog cart. So much of that period of my life was spent in TPM’s neighbourhood, living in booze cans, hitching taxi cabs, working in clubs, sleeping on rooftops, and joining the ranks of street workers, the most badass people you’re likely to meet.   

How are you doing right now, dear reader/listener? Do you try to sleep, but instead end up imagining our future like some slipstream sci-fi “Mad Max” hellscape? Are you afraid of people, because people? What do you like on your hot dog anyways? 

Perhaps I can interest you in one of our most desired condiments – self preservation.  While you should probably avoid most preservatives, one must learn how to preserve themselves, and do so in a way that observes a community. So here, my dear hot dog lovers, is why I think we all need de-escalation technique to guide us into this future with less mayhem. 

First of all, who doesn’t have anxiety at this point? Is anyone able to look at the past two years, and feel being around humans is in any way comfortable? Have you had a meltdown in front of virtual strangers? How would you like to be treated the next time you do? 

various hands with various hotdogs are collaged onto the blue background. One hotdog has tons of mayo. Another hotdog has ketchup being squeezed onto it.

I remember learning that an entire small town in America learned CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) and in doing this, their mortality rate decreased by 80%. Could you imagine a city that all had de-escalation technique training? What that would do for our collective anxiety? How this could improve the lives of so many people who live in fear of their worst moments happening in full view? How that would help our underhoused population?

In writing my play No one’s special at the hot dog cart, my true aim was to train my audiences to perform the de-escalation techniques I learned at my street job. Since then, I’ve been a 911 operator, an emergency room worker and hospital bed allocator, but when I de-escalate a situation and a co worker notices asks me “where did that come from?” I will always credit Hot dog vending as being it’s best teacher.


The thing about being a hot dog vendor is: you have nowhere to go.

Everyone knows you have cash somewhere, you cannot leave your spot to go to the washroom until your boss visits, or you can trust someone to stand there for you. The thing about being a (back then) female presenting hot dog vendor is – you’d better learn to help yourself not get stalked and assaulted, because no is scared of you. 

So I learned. I learned that you should keep eye contact with someone when they speak, or this may be read as opposition. You should meet anxiety with compassion. If they are ranting at you, let them finish, let silence happen so that you can return them to a normal tone. Most people just need to feel heard, and when you give them that very small consideration, you both become safer in what could have been a greater incident. It’s not your job to argue someone’s perspective. That acceptance is everything, but boundaries can sometimes suffer.

These past few years of the pandemic have demonstrated how dangerous the western ideals of individualism are for our health care system. We are at a tipping point where we have been separating into two lanes, one being individual based thinking, the other is population/community based thinking. Having an option is, a privilege.

Being in a community is how we become strong, how we have a future, and if we can admit that a hot dog is delicious, we can move along to the next thought, which is that our worst parts need acceptance. It means some of us will come with warnings, it means speak directly to each other, it means let people be upset when something has happened. It means harm reduction, that everyone deserves care. It means prison abolition. It means we, as communities, need to learn how to have discussions with those who cause harm. 

You don’t have to like every part of what makes up a hot dog, but it helps to admit none of us are perfect angels, or complete monsters and we all carry parts we’d rather not ever be consumed by. 

Collaged images of a small toy old-school hotdog stand with a yellow and white patio umbrella, and two hands from the side holding a hotdog and squeezing mustard onto the hotdog.

And now, what you’ve all been waiting for. A completely random list of hot dog condiments and the personality traits they definitely indicate:

Crispy Onions – Aren’t you wonderful

Sauerkraut – Not to be left alone in foyers

Hot Peppers – Excellent road trip DJ

Hot Mustard – Will stop your bleeding with their own shirt

Dijon Mustard – Likely caused the bleeding

Regular Mustard –  FTP

Ketchup –  Loyal as a rescued dog

Fake Bacon Bits – Drum aficionado 

Chopped onions – Unafraid to cry, but quick to blame 

Olives – A lover, a keeper

Corn Relish – The clown of choice

Regular Relish – How fkng dare you

Pickles – Trailblazer

Caramelized onions – No one has time for that

Cheese – Car leaser

Hot Sauce – Cold looks

Mayonnaise – You’ve let your father down

And if you’re wondering… ketchup, hot mustard, hot peppers and sauerkraut. Never leave me in your foyer. 

Charlie's photo of him holding a saw and a bow, is collaged beside a prop in their play, which is an old school hot dog stand recreated as a small sculpture

No one’s special at the hot dog cart is part of our Buzz in-development program at Theatre Passe Muraille: A series focusing on creating an artistic process that places the art and artist at the centre. We do this in various ways including: workshops, dramaturgy, public presentations as well as in ways which cannot yet be anticipated or defined. We aspire to empower the artist throughout their development in methodologies that work for them. 

Coming up soon: Industry Events

This year we are offering various ways for artists to connect with Theatre Passe Muraille! Check out our three programs below!