Wednesday, August 30

End of an Institution

I eat one chili dog a year. Or I guess I should say I ate one chili dog a year. At the Minnesota State Fair. At a place called “Jim and Jo’s”. A chili dog with onions, some sort of ersatz cheeselike stuff and liberal amounts of Tabasco sauce. You can bet that I told the person creating my Jim and Jo Chili Dog that it was my one chili dog of the year, so make it a good one. But they would have anyway. Most years, my annual chili dog was the last thing I ate before heading home from the fair. Madeline and Peter often ate one with me. Sometimes shared one, though it was one fair food item that I was reluctant to share.

My buddy Richard, who joined me for a Jim and Jo’s chili dog one year, was so moved by the experience that he wrote a poem about it, which I reprint with permission:

jim & jo’s

since 1946
jim & jo’s have proudly sold their chili dogs
at the minnesota state fair

from a trailer hard by the midway.
limeade is the only drink served – and is
“made with spring water”.

while the midway has lost its burlesque (lap dancing having
gone mainstream), its freak show, and even its fat lady –
jim and jo’s have soldiered on
in a crusade against… bad chili dogs.

and this may be more noble than it sounds.

foot longs with everything: chili, cheese, onions.
you may add ketchup and mustard
if you must
but jim & jo won’t. in the same way a
barkeep in London refused me a “black and tan”
years ago – “take your bleedin’ tourist ass else-a-where’s.”

the only condiment proudly offered is Tabasco;
the one and only god worshiped here at jim & jo’s.
the one god that has not abandoned us -
that still revels in pain as pleasure,
that knows Eve
knew not
and doesn’t care.

Oh Tabasco! you bastard, you
sideshow shill, you huckster extraordinaire,
bless this frank.

then Jim, grinning through a cloud of foul cigar smoke,
surveys his supplicants,
and, wiping his greasy hands on his pants,
counts all the chili stains

as tithes.

- richard russeth

Was a Jim and Jo’s chili dog great food? I don’t suppose you can really say that. It was a great chili dog – because at least to me a chili dog is more about the experience than the food. Kate, for whom food quality is paramount, devours a Donna’s Pork Rib Sandwich at the fair but for the most part leaves the chili dogs alone. She’s right that a Donna’s sandwich would be good food anywhere, even at a restaurant with a tablecloth. A Jim and Jo’s chili dog would be out of place. It’s all context and situation with a chili dog. Until this year, the Donna’s sandwich was my alpha food – beginning the state fair eating experience. The Jim and Jo’s was my omega food – admittedly without any Omega-3’s, at least as far as I know.

And this year, as our abbreviated fair experience was winding down and I went for my chili dog – Jim and Jo’s was gone. According to my sources, it fell victim to an administrative snafu. Both Jim and Jo have died. Their children were carrying on the stand, I’m told. And now, after 60 years, Jim and Jo’s is no more.

Change is always hard. But I usually deal with change pretty well. I believe, along with most Buddhists, in the concept of impermanence. I think I even understand it somewhat. Things do change. Inevitably. But I find it easier when the thing changing is a computer, or a style or even me. Not an institution. And Jim and Jo’s didn’t evolve. It just wasn’t there.

What wasn’t there with it – at least for me? Memories of my mom making me 3 or 4 or 5 chili dogs when I came home from work at Hy-Vee at 9 p.m. in the late ‘60’s. The fun of the years when I would spill a little chili from my Jim and Jo’s dog on my running shoes. Accidentally the first time. On purpose thereafter. Just for a laugh. Peter never joined in that tradition. He respects his shoes. Does he understand that things change, including shoes? That a chili stain can be an amelioration, not necessarily a degradation?

Will I seek out another chili dog stand at the fair to replace Jim and Jo’s? No, I won’t. It appears that my chili dog days of summer are over. I’ll shift to a turkey leg or a smoked pork chop as my Omega food at the fair. Or I’ll have another Donna’s sandwich to end the day. My state fair traditions will evolve in some way. But I will always wish that Jim and Jo’s were still there, providing me with a “link” to my past – and a little heartburn on the side.


country girl said...

If you do decide to go with the turkey leg you will be buying it from our cousin, Tom Hansen. Richard and I don't see much of him; he's sort of the black sheep in the Russeth/Coakley/Hansen family. Kathy

Unknown said...

This so so sucks. Or a minikabob over by the beer hall... that's our cousin tom's stand as well. don't tell'em we sent you or they'll charge you double.