When I visited the University of Pittsburgh as a mere high school senior, my Pittsburgh-native stepdad pointed out The Original Hot Dog Shop on the corner of Forbes. “The O is gonna to be your favorite restaurant here,” he said.
I took in the tacky neon lights, the decrepit façade, and the greasy smell, and honestly thought he was kidding. Then I peeked through the dingy windows and saw a few hot dogs covered in what looked like cheese wiz and watery chili and knew he was kidding.
I could not have been more wrong, stupid, uninformed, or asinine. As any past, present, or future Pitt student will tell you, THE O IS LIFE CHANGING. You heard me — it will change your life.
More specifically, it will change your life at 1:30 AM on a Friday night (Saturday morning?), after three hours of drinking warm keg beer in a dirty basement has left you starving and in desperate need for mass amounts of food.
Despite what the diner’s name suggests, you won’t go looking for hot dogs. Oh no, you’ll stumble down several blocks, take five wrong turns, and half an hour later finally reemerge from the deep depths of South Oakland in great pursuit of the best cheese fries in all of Pennsylvania.
When you’re finally handed your bag of fries, it all becomes worth it. A small order contains enough food to feed four people to capacity. When both cheese and ketchup are included, the dipping sauce game is on point.
Going to The O is a full-blown event. It’s run down, the employees will freak you out, and the line is always out the door, full of your drunk, starving peers. The wait time gives your intoxicated mind plenty of time to wander. In order to properly convey the experience, Pitt students revealed every thought that goes through their minds before ordering at The O.
It starts out as a stream of consciousness.
“How did I get here and how am I getting home?”
“Why is the entire population of Oakland in line ahead of me???”
“I’m really bonding with the girl in front of me over how badly we both need fries right now. I think she’s my new best friend.”
“I’m pretty sure some guy was shot in the head upstairs a long time ago.”
“It sure looks sketchy enough in here.”
“I think I matched with the girl ahead of me on Tinder. I wonder if I should buy her some fries?”
Then, you begin to realize how much you’ve actually had to drink.
“There’s no way I’d be doing this if I was sober…”
“I love drinking.”
“Does she know I’m drunk?”
“I wonder what this would taste like sober?”
After several minutes in line, you begin contemplating your order.
“Should I have gotten pizza instead?”
“Why don’t they sell pizza here?”
“No, cheese fries are the move.”
“Their milkshakes are bigger than my head, but I’m sure my stomach is bigger.”
“Okay, so two larges and one small order for five people, right?”
You just can’t stop thinking about those condiments.
“Cheese. Cheese. Cheese.”
“Lather my body in ketchup.”
“Not sure if I’ll be destroying this cheese sauce or my dignity.”
Reading the menu prices makes you a little angry.
“Why the hell am I paying $7 for cheese fries right now?”
“They make you pay 45 cents for extra ketchup?”
“How can I get cheese without paying for it?”
“Do I use my remaining Panther Funds for cheese or laundry?”
When they hand you the bag, its sheer size both terrifies and excites you.
“I’m gonna have to take a nap halfway through finishing this bag.”
“I’ve blacked out from eating The O cheese fries more times than I’ve blacked out from alcohol.”
“How much will I hate myself tomorrow if I eat this entire thing?”
“I will most likely throw this up later, but it’s all worth it.”
As you walk out the door, some lingering thoughts surface.
“I don’t think the fry lady put all 6 of my extra cheeses in the bottom of this bag. I can only feel, like, 2.”
“Will anyone judge me if I go up and ask for another cheese????”
“How do I monopolize the whole bag without anyone noticing?”
Once you get the bag home, the fries don’t stand a chance. Friends turn into savages as everyone lunges for handfuls of crispy, salty, cheesy goodness. After several minutes of animalistic behavior, people begin to tap out one by one. What once gave you such joy is now giving you the biggest stomachache of your life.
You may slip into a cheese-induced coma, and you’ll almost definitely swear off The O for good. Give it two weeks, and you’ll be back as if the traumatic event never even happened. The cycle starts all over again, and you’ll find yourself thinking the same thoughts every Pitt student has while waiting in line at The O.