Tale of the Little-Dog

When my son and his wife visited with their daughters last week, the consensus for dinner was hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill.  These choices were noteworthy in that I honestly can’t remember the last time I ate a hot dog.  Sweet Italian sausage?  A couple of times a month cut up into a stir-fry of vegetables.  Beer brats?  Also delicious, hot off the grill with a little mustard.  But a hot dog is child’s play by comparison.  Or should I say, a “dachshund sausage”?

It’s true.  The Germans, who by all accounts can take credit for the invention of the hot dog (five hundred years ago!) nicknamed their frankfurters “dachshunds” – or “little-dog” sausages because, well, they looked exactly like the dog breed.  The only history Americans claim is the re-nickname “hot dog”.  Even the hot dog bun – which really took hold at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 – points back to the Germans, who always ate their sausages with bread.

Are hot dogs a staple in your diet, or like me are they simply a distant memory?  If they weren’t hot off the grill in the backyard or at a summer picnic, perhaps you had one at a baseball game (but not so much football or basketball, go figure).  You’ve probably also seen hot dogs on the midway at carnivals and county fairs.  Wherever you get your franks today, they’re just not as likely to come from established restaurants.

In the 1970s, America seemed to have hot dog stands on every corner.  The most popular of these was the distinctive drive-thru Der Wienerschnitzel’s, but you also had – at least from my California-based memory – Pup ‘N’ Taco, Ben Franks, Tail o’ the Pup, and the walk-up Hot Dog on-a-Stick booths you’d find at amusement parks.  Today’s retail hot dog is at a Sonic Drive-In or the food court at Costco.  If you live anywhere near New York’s Coney Island, you can also include “Nathan’s Famous”, or at least the annual hot dog eating contest of the same name.

A hot dog may be “a cooked sausage eaten in a long, soft piece of bread”, but its secondary meanings are less definitive.  “Hot Dog!” is something you used to say when you were VERY happy about something else (“used to”, meaning sixty or seventy years ago).  A “hot dog” is also a person “who makes fast, skillful movements in skiing, snowboarding, or surfing to make people notice them”.  That last definition still stands.

Speaking of “used to say”, we also used to sing about hot dogs, didn’t we?  Oscar Mayer’s jingle convinced us we should BE hot dogs (so everyone would be in love with us).  But the better song came from Armour, which asked us what kind of kids eat Armour hot dogs?  Per the lyrics, “…fat kids, skinny kids, kids that climb on rocks… tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox…”  Today’s version of the Armour jingle would probably be censored just for using the word “kids”.

“I wish I had a million dollars. HOT DOG!” (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and “It’s A Wonderful Life”)

Hot dogs will always be a childhood memory more than a dietary preference in my book.  My mother, raising five hungry boys, developed several dinner recipes when time and ingredients were in short supply.  These included canned baked beans and weenies (two ingredients = dinner!), and a truly odd creation from the Betty Crocker cookbook made up of hot dogs, mashed potatoes, and cheese (three ingredients!).  Whether it tasted good or not – I honestly can’t remember – dogs, mash, and cheese conveniently covered the protein, carb, and fat categories, all in one broiler-blasted casserole.

The Oscar Mayer “Wienermobile”

My most vivid childhood hot dog memories are not the dinners mentioned above.  Instead, I can’t forget snacking on raw hot dogs from the refrigerator (which sounds awful now, but hey, I was a kid).  My mother was faithful to the Oscar Mayer brand so I ate a lot of their hot dogs raw.   Speaking of Oscar Mayer, here’s the better memory.  They built a motorized advertisement which to this day may be the coolest vehicle on wheels.  The “Wienermobile” cruised the streets of Los Angeles, stopping every now and then in a parking lot so you could view it up close.  The driver handed out tiny plastic replicas of the vehicle, appropriately labeled “Weenie Whistles”.

(Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures and “The Santa Clause”)

Let me conclude with a solved hot dog mystery.  Your grocery store sells most brands in packages of ten.  They also sell hot dog buns but in packages of eight.  Why?  Because hot dogs weigh about 1.6 ounces, which makes a package of ten a convenient sale of exactly one pound of meat.  On the other hand, hot dog buns are baked in trays of four, which work best with conveyor belts and processing.  An odd number of buns – trays of five – is a model of inefficiency.  So until one or the other manufacturer changes their standard, you’ll always have leftovers for snacks.  Or better yet, for your dog.

The hot dogs I served my granddaughters last week were comically advertised as healthy: no fillers, no preservatives, and so on.  They weren’t very good.  Maybe the worst part of a hot dog is what makes it taste so good?  Or maybe hot dogs have simply lost their appeal to me?  No, wait, that can’t be true.  Anything my granddaughters ask me to eat has instant appeal.

Guess I haven’t eaten my last little-dog sausage just yet.

Some content sourced from the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) website, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

It’s All in the Cards

Back in the Boy Scouts, my troop-mates and I memorized statements designed to make us better young men. The Boy Scout motto was, “Be Prepared”. The Scout slogan: “Do a Good Turn Daily” (help others). The Scout oath – several sentences stated with a raised right hand (fingers forming the Scout sign) – included obedience to the twelve points of the Scout law. Recently I’ve been thinking about Point #2 of the Scout law, Loyalty; showing care for family, friends, and country.  But what about care for merchants?

Customer loyalty programs – those structured marketing ploys designed to tempt continued shopping at particular businesses – are standard retail procedure these days.  The use of plastic and punch cards, account numbers, or scanned apps is as common as pulling out your Visa.  I get suspicious when a merchant doesn’t have a loyalty program.  It’s all about the points, and the allure of discounts or freebies through accumulated spending.

American Airlines, credited with starting the first full-scale customer loyalty program in modern times (1981), had no idea its “frequent fliers” would become the trendsetters for countless programs to follow.  But the drive for customer loyalty started way before AA.  Anyone who remembers pasting S&H Green Stamps into collection books, clipping Betty Crocker coupons straight from the product box, fishing prizes from Cracker Jack caramel corn, or joining the Columbia House Record Club (“8 CD’s for a penny!”) has dipped their toe into the customer loyalty pool before.

I took a quick inventory of my own customer loyalty and the numbers surprised me.  I carry eight cards in my car.  I have another eleven apps on my phone and another ten on-line accounts.  That’s 29 unique programs, and over 30 if I include the couple of credit cards where my swipes eventually equal cash back.  For someone who rarely shops on impulse, that’s more attention to spending than I’d care to admit.

If I did a little spring cleaning, I’d likely reduce my loyalty programs by one-third.  Many sit gathering dust because I haven’t used the merchant or service in years.  Others accumulate points at a snail’s pace.  Fill my inbox with special sales alerts or saturate my voice mails with pleas to “buy now!”; it won’t matter.  I purchase on my own terms.

Here are two recent loyalty experiences; the reasons I chose this topic today.  Last September we took a weekend trip to Aspen, settling for a Westin hotel in nearby Snowmass (Aspen is over-the-top expensive to us commoners).  When I went to Westin’s website for the booking, I discovered their loyalty program (Starwood) was merging with Marriott Rewards (now Marriott Bonvoy).  Hallelujah – my Aspen getaway gets me points! But not so fast.  Logging into Marriott Rewards, the home page alerted me to the fact the program merge was still in progress, and a Westin stay might not result in Marriott points.  Long story short, I called the hotel, spoke to the front desk, and had them book the reservation for me instead.  Yep, you can still do it the old-fashioned way.  And you still get points.

My other recent loyalty experience involved Nicholas Mosse Pottery (Kilkenny, Ireland).  Mosse makes beautiful handmade plates and bowls and the like, and we’ve been collecting a few pieces at a time since visiting Ireland a few years ago.  Points for me (ha) for joining the Mosse loyalty program from the get-go.  Just this week they alerted me me to my quietly-amassed rewards.  I then purchased a $70 plate for virtually nothing.

My Mosse experience is the perfect example of my casual approach to customer loyalty.  I don’t keep track of points until they equate to something significant.  Sure, I favor certain products and services, but I’d still favor Marriott or Starbucks or Costco without their loyalty programs.  For someone who tracks every penny, there’s something very satisfying in the surprise of unexpected discounts.  That’s how it works best for me.

Here’s my advice.  Don’t let customer loyalty programs drive your spending habits.  If you do, the merchant “wins”, because you’re likely spending more along the way than whatever discount or freebie you end up getting.  Loyalty = showing care; yes, but with retail that should only mean preferring one store over another.  Despite what they’d have you believe, it’s not all in the cards.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”, and from the Wall Street Journal article, “Inside the Marriott-Starwood Loyalty Program Turbulence”.