“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.

Oh, Wait!

You can’t tell from this picture. It’s an ugly day. I sit on my very familiar hard metal chair and look out the serving window at the driving rain. There are no customers to obstruct my view.

Cars slosh through Plank Road puddles 25 yards away while, behind me, I hear anxious autos screech to a stop on Rt. 36N not fully aware a red light – which has been there for years – just made it’s way from yellow. The hustle hasn’t stopped amid an early November rain storm. I may not see the hustle here at this very busy intersection today, however. So, I sit.

I sit and wait. It’s ok. Folks see my business differently in bad weather. They aren’t in a food-festive frenzy if the sun isn’t shining … especially when it comes to concession trailers, trucks, and carts. Seasonal is pretty much the best way to describe what we do … although, it’s somewhat limiting. We’re weatheral and crowdal more than seasonal. Give us foodies good weather and sizable crowds? … We’re stuffing our buns all the way to the bank.

That’s what makes today one of the “You’ll have days like this” days. “Suck it up, buttercup”, wet, damp, what-am-I-doing-here kind of slow tick-off the minutes slosh through days. Days when I can comfortably type off hundreds of words without looking up through a concession window – knowing I probably didn’t miss a hungry customer.

Enough about my waiting moments in the here and now. What I do now, and what I’ve done the past fifteen years, have always been for the future. Which makes me think about today … eight days after a very contested election. You remember … that whole Presidential thing we did last Tuesday?

We voted for the future we wanted. We wanted something to change OR for what we liked to stay the same. In either case, it was for the future of America. Nominees Biden and Harris were change and incumbents Trump and Pence were same. Pretty close to half our country voted one way, the other half voted opposite. Without getting into the weeds here, that was what the little bubbles on the ballot were for and, eight days later – for the most part – we have our answer.

… and that answer is:

We spent months, prior to November 3rd, looking out our political, ideological, philosophical, and spiritual trailers at some really nasty campaign weather … waiting for calm, sunny weather that we could take to the bank. Ideas that most of us – left and right, Democrat and Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Atheist and Christian – could deposit together on November 4th.

Instead, we have arguments about ballots, fraud, state tampering, Republicans squealing about election abuse that seemed to be o.k. four years ago, Democrats wanting unity after 4 years of nothing but the opposite, and a Congress, in general, that is as inept as my $0 balance in the register.

If you’re sensing my independent and stubborn streak here, welcome to the “Why is Doug looking at me that way?” club. I adore my friends and have a high level of respect for their opinions and beliefs. I’ll listen to other opinions and consider changing my mind. We have to co-exist. We need to get along. I’m a middle child as well with an older sibling who is a take-charge personality, and I have a younger sibling who is more stubborn than I. The appeasement gene is strong in my blood, too. I adapted early on.

All this to say, we’re going to be ok, but it’s not going to be easy for a bit here. For the next few months, all of us should be patient while we sit in an uncomfortable chair, looking out at some rather nasty political weather these early winter months. I thought, maybe, November 3rd the skies would clear, but they didn’t.

Here’s hoping January 20th will be sunny … and I’ll be looking out my concession window at a long line of hungry customers. Ain’t happening now.

Oh, wait!! … I see a customer!!