A girl steps up to the hotdog stand on the northeast corner of Kincaid Street and 13th Avenue, and asks if she can pay with a debit card.
Robert James-Alexander Hamilton pulls out a hotdog and with a big smile explains that he doesn’t take cards, but she can just pay him back.
Hamilton runs the stand, One Bad Dawg, and across the street on the Duck Store flies a banner: “Heroes aren’t defined by their victories.”
I first encountered Hamilton on that corner. It was one of those rare sunny spring days, and Hamilton, 30, was relaxing near the stand, having sold out of hotdogs earlier that day.
“I’ll give you the Cliff Notes,” he said, grinning.
Hamilton spent his childhood in Inglewood, California. His parents were firm — they pushed Hamilton and his brothers to succeed.
“My dad, when I did math homework,” Hamilton said. “… if I had eraser marks on my paper, he’d rip it up. ‘Do it over.’”
The reinforced ambition stuck, and not just in school. Hamilton also succeeded on the gridiron.
“Soon as they hike the ball, it’s me and the quarterback,” Hamilton said. “No one else is back there. I grabbed his facemask, I didn’t know what to do. I let him go, he rushes for like 20 yards. Coach pulls me outta the game … 17-year-old me is like ‘Coach, is it supposed to be that easy?’”
Hamilton worked hard on and off the field, his only goal: Get out of Inglewood.
He did exactly that when the University of Oregon Athletic Department offered him a full-ride scholarship to play football in 2002.
Don Pellum, the linebacker coach during Hamilton’s recruitment, was struck by Hamilton’s appearance in film and was further taken with his personality when they met.
“That was Rob, his smile, the person that he is, a warm person,” said Pellum, now the Ducks’ defensive coordinator.
Shortly after, Hamilton came to Oregon as a linebacker. He started training immediately.
“I didn’t know anything about [being a] linebacker when I came here,” Hamilton said. “And I studied my butt off.”
In practice, before the season began, Hamilton tore his left ACL. He spent his 18th birthday at Sacred Heart Hospital. But Hamilton wasn’t going to let it stop him — soon he was back on the field.
“When Don Pellum said, ‘Robert Hamilton, next play.’ … That’s all there needs to be,” Hamilton said. “The next play I was up and I got in the game. And that’s all that mattered right there.”
However, within a year Hamilton tore his other ACL.
“He was down, but he got better and came back out,” Pellum said. “The second ACL was devastating.”
In January 2005, head coach Mike Bellotti told Hamilton that his injuries wouldn’t allow him to remain on the team.
He graduated from UO in 2007 with an ethnic studies degree, and two years of experience working with Primerica, a Eugene-based counseling service which helps families gain financial independence.
“I feel like he’s always had three jobs,” said Ryan Holder, owner of Cheba Hut on 11th Avenue. Holder hired Hamilton seven years ago, shortly after they met. “He asked me for a job here at Cheba Hut and I threw him on there without a doubt.”
Hamilton has been a bartender at Rennie’s for six years — a job he found through Sarah Thompson, a close friend who also worked there.
“He’s super charismatic, he’s really friendly, he’s kind, he’s polite,” Thompson said. “He’s the kind of person you want to work with … Rob’s definitely special, for sure.”
But Hamilton doesn’t consider his jobs to be work.
“I haven’t worked in like eight years,” Hamilton said. “I just get paid for shit I like.”
How does he have time for it all? His response was that there are 24 hours in a day, and he naps when he needs to.
The stand is a recent venture — one that comes with its own verb coined by Hamilton’s friends: ‘RobDogginIt’.
Hamilton’s story might sound tragic to the outside ear – football player turned hotdog slinger, athletic aspirations torn down in a twist of fate.
“Most people, when you put that much time or effort into an activity, it begins to define you,” said Daniel Kim, an old coworker and friend. “When you lose the ability to do that, most people would react to that very poorly… I’d be confused, I’d be bitter, jaded. He lost scholarships, he went to multiple surgeries and he’s still so happy.”
Kim lit up when he spoke about the way Hamilton’s positivity changed his life for the better.
“He never feels sorry for himself, he’s never having a bad day, that’s the one thing I respect about him the most,” Kim said.
When Kim had a bad day at work, when he was having problems with a girl, Hamilton would always have one piece of advice — walk it out.
Perhaps it seems strange to seek all this success in Eugene, but Hamilton disagrees.
“I can have that brand,” Hamilton said. “Some people know me from football, some know me from Dutch Bros, some know me from when I was sweeping floors at Taylor’s, some know me from Rennie’s, some know me from when I worked at Fathoms, some know me from when I worked at Side Bar … I cut hair too.”
For Hamilton, it’s always been about the people you meet, not what you’re doing when you meet them.
“I have so much room for improvement,” Hamilton said. “I feel like I haven’t even accomplished that much. It’s early.”
Although his family remains in California, Hamilton keeps them close.
“My dad wants to come out here and run the hotdog stand in the summer,” Hamilton said. “This is my international headquarters, man.”
The stand is something he looks forward to passing down to a family of his own, when the time comes.
After my first meeting with Hamilton, I left with more stories and follow-up questions than I knew what to do with — his presence seemed impossible to capture in words.
For a man who spends his days slinging hotdogs, his story is complex.
This uncertainty must have shown on my face.
“I believe in you, man!” Hamilton called after me.
With Hamilton’s shout of encouragement ringing in my ears, the words over the Duck Store seemed to beam a little bolder.
“Heroes aren’t defined by their victories.”