At Mark McCarthy's portable hot dog stand in downtown Buffalo, you can get two dogs and a pop for four bucks.
The rumors and outspoken views on all things Buffalo are -- along with the pickles and mustard -- free.
"He's one of the true characters of downtown Buffalo," said defense attorney Robert N. Convissar. "I go to him because he has great hot dogs, great rumors and great conversation."
And McCarthy -- considered by some as downtown's version of a "town crier" -- enjoys putting out his opinions. He does so in a distinctive, high-pitched voice that often catches the ears of local judges, lawyers and elected officials.
"I love Mayor [Byron W.] Brown, but I worry about him," McCarthy said one recent afternoon at his longtime post at Franklin and West Eagle streets. "He has too many people around him giving him bad advice. There are too many cooks putting their hands in the soup over at City Hall."
Erie County Executive Chris Collins is "a very nice gentleman and a great businessman," but McCarthy doesn't agree with all his policies.
"I gave him a piece of my mind the other day, and I don't think he liked it," McCarthy said.
Kathleen C. Hochul, the recently elected congresswoman from the 26th District, is "a tremendous campaigner and very intelligent, sweet person."
"Kathy used to walk up to me and say, 'What's the word on the street?' " he said. "And after she won, she came up and gave me a big hug."
Speaking of the candidates Hochul defeated, McCarthy sees Jane L. Corwin as "someone who can't relate to the average Joe Schmoe" and Jack Davis as "a guy who belongs in the 'Grumpy Old Men' movies."
"Jack Davis has more money than God, but I've never once seen him smile," McCarthy said.
The 52-year-old South Buffalo resident has worked the same corner for 26 years. During that time, he's picked up quite a following -- and not only because of the tasty Wardynski hot dogs he broils.
A sure sign of summer for downtowners is seeing McCarthy out in the sunshine, bantering with his customers -- not just the prominent ones -- and barking out his opinions to those passing by, including an occasional news reporter.
"If I'm doing well with Mark, I know I'm doing well with the community," said District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, a regular customer. "He has his finger on the pulse of the community."
"The guy is always one or two steps ahead of everyone else," said State Supreme Court Justice John F. O'Donnell, another of McCarthy's regulars. "He's out there all day, talking to people. If he tells you a rumor, it usually turns out to be true."
Can you actually make a living selling hot dogs in Buffalo?
You can, McCarthy said, but it means long days on your feet, sometimes in nasty weather.
"I'm out here every Monday to Friday from 8:30 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon," he said. "People ask me, 'Does anyone buy hot dogs at 8:30 a.m.?' I always say, 'That's a dumb question. I wouldn't be out there if people weren't buying them.' "
McCarthy won't say how much he makes but confides that on a good day he sells "several hundred" hot dogs and sausages. He won't be more specific than that.
He grew up in South Buffalo as the youngest of eight siblings.
McCarthy describes himself as a devout Catholic, and he serves on the finance committee at St. Clare Church on Elk Street.
He said he is especially proud of being the founder and president of the Imperial Court of Buffalo, a charity that raises money for AIDS victims and research.
He said he used to work as a clerk in an accounting office but decided to go into the hot dog business after helping out a few times at a hot dog stand.
"I'm out here because I can't stand working inside the same four walls every day, and I love talking to people," McCarthy said.
While he considers many judges and government officials friends, McCarthy said he is not a fan of the late Mayor James D. Griffin or former gubernatorial candidate Carl A. Paladino. Both men upset him with gay-bashing comments, said McCarthy, who is openly gay.
He is a huge fan of Buffalo, though -- its architecture, its sports teams and, especially, its people.
"We have the most wonderful, loyal people you'll find anywhere," McCarthy said. "We have so much to be proud of in this city, but I have to say we're a very self-defeating city. We have a lot of great ideas, but we never know how to clinch the deal."