Dog Day at the Fair - by John Sealander

Dog Day at the Fair

Nothing stays the same very long in Dallas. Restaurants last three or four years if they're lucky. Banks merge and change their names at least every once every five year. Entire neighborhoods change almost overnight. Actually, about the only constant I can think of is Dog Day at the Fair. Every year, one week before the State Fair of Texas opens to the public, my dog Spot is treated like royalty by the concessionaires at Jack's French Fries. This has been going on for the past ten years. It's odd to think that a bunch of people working in a State Fair concession stand could be a source of stability in a city where close friends, favorite restaurants and even thirty story office buildings disappear with alarming regularity. It's true though. In a city that practically reinvents itself every five years, Dog Day at the Fair has remained exactly the same.

I walk Spot in Fair Park every Sunday morning. In fact, the only time during the entire year when we don't visit Fair Park for these regular walks is during the three weeks in October when the Fair is open for business. The fairgrounds bustle with activity during the entire month of September as hundreds of workers rush to assemble the city of tents, arcades and concession stands that dot the fairground.

The people at Jacks French Fries are among the first to arrive in mid-September. They own three concession stands at the fairgrounds, serving everything from fries to fajitas. Burgers are the mainstay though. And that's where Spot comes into the picture. One day ten years ago, when Spot was just a puppy, I notice that the grill at Jack's is up and running before the Fair is open for business. There's still a week to go before the Fair officially opens, but people putting the fair together still need to eat. So, Jack's is already up and running, serving burgers and fries to the carnies and construction workers. I ask one of the cooks if I can buy Spot a meat patty, thinking it would be a nice treat for him. Everyone at the concession stand is amused, and not only cook Spot a burger to order but insist that it's their treat. They won't let me pay a thing.

Every year since then, Spot has gotten a free hamburger from his friends at Jack's French Fries on the Sunday before the Fair officially opens. Since I've spent most of my career in ad agencies, I'm used to a lot of employee turnover. I would have thought that there would be an entirely new crew of cooks and concessionaires at Jacks every season. Surprisingly, this isn't the case at all. There same people who fed Spot his first burger are still working the grill today. It's kind of amazing. We see them start to arrive with trucks filled with canvas, construction materials and restaurant equipment about three weeks before the Fair opens. They always see us walking as they are setting up and remind us to come back as soon as they're got the gas hooked up and the grill running. On the designated Sunday, they usually spot us about fifty yards away, waving and shouting Spot's name.

Each year we stay a little longer, swapping stories with the cooks and the manager as Spot eagerly eats his burger. Some folks don't talk much, but others fill us in on the eleven months when we don't see them. A lot of them have other jobs during the rest of the year. Judy, the manager, takes care of her Dad's small farm and forty head of cattle when she isn't serving burgers and fries to fairgoers. She talks about the joys and frustrations of living in small Texas towns, about raising chickens and about her own dogs in short year-by-year segments as Spot eats his annual burgers.

By year three, we are a familiar face at the concession stand. By year ten, we are an institution. Jack himself came out one day and decreed that Spot is to get not one, but two burgers. Each year Dog Day at the Fair grows a little more elaborate. We stop and talk a little longer and Spot gets more and more to eat. It's not a simple little patty of welldone ground beef any more. It's a feast. One of the cooks even brings out a big bowl of water so Spot will have something to drink with his meal. If this all goes on much longer it will turn into a block party.

I often wonder what it is that makes dogs such great goodwill ambassadors. These same people wouldn't give me a passing glance if Spot wasn't on his leash right beside me. I see this all the time on our walks around town. Without a dog, I am a suspicious guy to watch silently behind the venetian blinds. You never know. A guy walking down a quiet residential street alone has got to be up to no good. A dog changes everything though. Especially a friendly hamburger loving Dalmatian. The mayor of Dallas wouldn't get the royal treatment that Spot gets every year at Jack's French Fries. I'm glad Spot lets me hang out with him. I get to see a side of people that is normally hidden. Spot is like one of those canaries that miners used to take down in the pits with them. He doesn't detect poison gas though, he detects the basic goodness hidden away in all of us. Dog Day at the Fair certainly isn't a national holiday. It is special though. I don't remember anything else in Dallas lasting this long.

If you enjoy these stories and would like to help this wonderful breed of dogs, please consider making a donation to Dalmatian Rescue of North Texas. Your donation will help Dalmatian Rescue continue to rescue and rehabilitate the hundreds of Dalmatians that are abandoned in North Texas every year. To help give a deserving Dalmatian a second chance, just click on the button to your left. You can use any major credit card to make your donation instantly and no matter what you choose to give, you can feel a little better knowing that you have helped a dog very much like Spot find the one thing it really needs: a home.

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