“Go. Be You”

“Are you Doug?”… A question I am asked more often here than anywhere else.

This is Saint Francis University’s JFK Student Center. Well, the front entrance, anyway and my smaller cart nestled in behind a peek-a-boo light pole. Yes, a weekend night appearance, again, for Doug’s Dawgs. Sometimes Friday … an occasional Saturday … always a most pleasant experience. The students and faculty could not be friendlier, the facilities are welcoming, and the drive from my hometown is beautiful regardless of the season.

I’ve handed out food through snow, rain, wind, and bright, sunny wonderfulness. Although the latter is hardly a normal pattern for Loretto, Pa. when there, I still enjoy the drizzly dialogue between the students and I when they walk up to be served. So polite, they are … Every. Single. Time.

“Thank you, Sir.”, “May I have one of each, please?”, “You are so kind for coming up …”.

These complimentary phrases haven’t stopped over the years. Sometimes I think visits are so eagerly penned into my datebook because I need affirmation, not an income. Granted, the swipe of a credit card after hours of sandwich making is nice, but my real reward is when a student mentions how he anticipated Doug’s Dawgs arrival that week. That hope. That small reward at the end of a difficult, perhaps celebratory, study week is something special. I’m so glad to be a small part of it.

The most recent numbers put the enrollment at 1,600-ish. I’m not sure how accurate that is and can assure you I don’t slab that many burgers and dawgs. They come cubed, three-by-three, most times and few order only one sandwich. The process is quick and efficient as no money exchanges and my no-bean latherful chili, drippy nacho cheese, and cooked down sauerkraut is always at the ready. Boom-boom meat in the bun and off they go …

… With smiles and happy shuffles – off to other activities planned by coordinators very proficient at their jobs.

And then it happens, almost like clockwork, every time I’m there … Three/four times per appearances.

“Are you Doug?”… “Yes, I am!”… The comeback reply is equally predicable: “Oh, wow! We get to meet the real Doug!”

Look, I’m no Brad Pitt here. Superstar stickiness to my chest should never be assumed. I’m just a piano-playing hotdawg salesman who writes a blog once in a while. Gotta say, though, when that last sentence blows across my ego, it feels really nice. Really nice.

For a moment, I have an extra spring in my tongs. Burgers on the grill nudge a bit closer to their dawg friends. Everything about the cart lightens up as concerns lift off my smoldering shoulders when unassuming “real” Doug words prop up and affirm what I am doing.

It is an identity confirmation. The students are making a passive comment. Sure, they don’t mean anything other than “It’s nice to hook the cartoon character on the decal with the live, breathing humanoid who happens to have the same name”… I get that. They know little of the struggles or successes in my life, but I do and I’m making the leap from their words to my brain.

We are “real” individuals. The real you is always here. We forget who we are and what we’ve accomplished in life sometimes because living, itself, gets in the way.

I have a lot going on now. Personal and professional stuffiness jam my schedule. Covid is popping up and forcing my eraser to work overtime … still. Just yesterday I had an event cancel due to three positive cases. Nothing … nothing can be assumed or taken for granted anymore. Money and relationships can be lost and gained in a heartbeat. Health-related issues will peek around a tree whenever you least expect them. Friends and family will bless and disappoint you on a regular basis.

Even with all that, happy phrases can make a small difference if you’re available and open to hear them. They don’t have to be nine words long from really nice college students. You know how a kind word or two from a stranger in a grocery store line can turn around your lousy day, right? Say a kind word to someone, too. Tell them they’re the real deal, wearing a nice shirt, or drive a nice color car.

It’s a small University tucked away in a really tiny town. I love going there. They help me to be more of me than they know. I’m Doug and I own Doug’s Dawgs. “Yes, it’s me. Yes, I am.”

Go. Be you.

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