One Heck of a Hot Dog

Volunteering with Jody and friends.

It starts before we even leave the house. My breathing becomes short and rapid. I’m fidgety. “I’ll meet you in the car,” I tell her. I insert the key into the door lock.

“You can’t hurry me,” Jody responds. “I’ve got 5 more minutes.”

In the car we high five. “To a good game.”

This cheer is needed. We will spend the next 6-10 hours together fundraising for Juan and Crystel’s education.

Jody, Crystel, Juan and I began volunteering in April to serve food and beverage at concession stands. We’ve worked at the Excel Center, Target Center, US Bank, Allianz, Huntington Bank stadiums, Canterbury Park and others.

“Did you just push me?” Jody asks as we step out of the elevator. I thought I was guiding her through the security gate towards the check-in stand.

You learn a lot about yourself and each other at these events.

I will be amped up until we return to the car for the ride home. I’m in a flight or fight mode to get the customer his/her/their slice of pizza, hot dog, chicken tenders, or fries.

Jody feels the same adrenaline rush. We both become serious and determined. Sometimes we must remind ourselves, It’s just a hot dog.

There is no bigger distraction or challenge than working an event. From the time the doors open, and you serve your first customer until the ball is touched in the 4th quarter, 3rd period, or the hour before the venue closes, you will do nothing else besides attending to the task in front of you.

Usually, it’s a brief 20 second pleasant interaction with a customer.

Sometimes it doesn’t go well.

“Is this how big this all-beef hot dog is?” I was asked at the Vikings Cardinal game. The customer held high his still foiled hot dog. It did look especially small in his large fist.

“Dude, I’m a volunteer. I don’t make the hotdog.” Don’t squeeze it, I wanted to add. You’ll just make it smaller.

I’m not always at my best. At a Twins game, this guy and his two friends, who’d all had one too many, kept beeping the register scanner without waiting for his payment to go through. “Motherfucker, stop doing that,” I told him. He looked at me. I looked at him. “I guess I shouldn’t call you that,” I said. “I could get fired from my volunteer job.”

It can get a little dicey at alcohol cutoff time when a customer isn’t ready to be cut off. At the Minnesota hockey game against North Dakota, a customer demanded that I call my boss. She knew about these things she said loudly. She had worked in concessions before. A hard cutoff was not really a hard cutoff.

“I’m just a volunteer,” I said. I busied myself restocking as she explained to the concession managers how these things worked.

Sitting in our living room, Jody and I will go over the event. Laughing until we cry. Sometimes it’s about how we acted towards each other during the evening. Me telling her how important it is that she marks a Twin burger a Twin burger and not a Capitol burger. She in turn will tell me that I need to stop putting the pizzas in the oven one after another as she doesn’t have enough time to take them off at the other end.

The challenge, the unpredictability, volunteering with friends, and the variety of social groups we encounter make concession fundraising enjoyable.

Not a bad way to spend an evening. This year, we are well on our way to raising tuition for both Juan and Crystel’s education. Now that’s one heck of a hotdog.

My Sixties Echo My Twenties

Volunteering, embracing new ventures, and self-learning described my twenties. I ran marathons, took week-long bike trips with Jim Klobuchar (Jaunt with Jim), and was flooded with personal insights. Not long before this, I was a two pack a day smoker, didn’t own a bike, and hadn’t yet begun any inner work.

Springing into my twenties, I embodied two mottos: “Say Yes! to everything if it isn’t illegal or dangerous,” and “Don’t let fear stop me from doing things alone.” Do it anyway. Outer and inner work was simultaneous. I was desperate to understand myself. I wanted to be my own wise person. Seek my own counsel. Only then could I really be free to live my best life.

I rollerbladed marathons with a nephew. Volunteered at a week-long Christmas pageant, dressed as a Shepherd, herding live sheep. Often, I cat, and house sat for others while they were on vacation. After many attempts, I quit smoking.

Going it alone opened my world to many possibilities. If I wanted to do something, I could do it. I didn’t know anyone on my initial ‘Jaunt with Jim’ bike trip. By week’s end, I had lifelong friends.

A sense of déjà vu came over me the last week of March when I volunteered to be a Brand Ambassador for the Title IX Celebration at the Mall of America. There were eight days of family-friendly activities, games, and performances to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

I stood under the basket on the Fastenal Sport Court in the Rotunda shagging balls for the free throw contest.

I still hadn’t learned. Just like I biked over a rumble strip on my inaugural bike trip, spilling out, scraping my arms and legs, I was hit twice in the face with a basketball before I determined that positioning myself under the hoop was best left for others. I came home with black eyes.

My next volunteer assignment was the selfie booth. That might have been a mistake on the organizers’ part. The only person taking selfies was me. I can still entertain myself. That hasn’t changed one bit.

A familiar fear came over me when I started strength training. Crystel helped me over the hump and accompanied me on my first BodyPump group training at the YMCA. Sometimes, it’s good to have a friend. After one group session, I realized that my weights were not evenly placed on my barbell. No wonder I was unbalanced during the class with one end going up and coming down lopsided. I thought something was off.

Teresa, Crystel, and I volunteering concessions at Twins game.

Last week I started volunteering at Achieving Dreams. The program is entirely comprised of volunteers. All proceeds are focused on our mission to help families afford meaningful and positive experiences in organized activities and education. Jody, Crystel and I, along with friends are donating our time to fundraise for Crystel and others’ educational expenses.

How much time do I have left in this life? 10 years, 15? A day?

What’s next? Perhaps, biking across Iowa on my electric bike, grey hair askew, steering away from rumble strips, lifting my legs up when I go through puddles.

I’ll figure it out. I’m my own best counsel. I’m living my best life.

The Real Reward

I help teach English to adult immigrants. Recently, the teacher I work with asked what kind of gift card I’d prefer as a thank you gift for volunteering. I didn’t want to make a fuss—I know the gift card is well-intentioned—so I chose one. But the truthful answer was that I didn’t want a reward.

What’s weird is that if I were a volunteer coordinator, I would think it was very important to acknowledge and thank volunteers. Finding a suitable way to please a disparate group would be hard. I would probably land on gift cards, too. I’m not criticizing the gift options or the school’s impulse to thank me.

I think my discomfort has more to do with how I was raised. My parents set an example with their many volunteer activities—they did far more than I ever do. Their outlook was that you’re supposed to pitch in and help. It’s just what you do.

Another value that my parents conveyed was that it’s even better if you donate your time or money without any public acknowledgement. For years, they were secret angel donors for the parish grade school and the church choir. If kids didn’t have money for supplies or a field trip, or if the choir needed more funds for a tour, the principal and the choir director knew my parents would cover it. Hardly anybody knew my parents did this. My father mentioned it to me once, and the scope of their contributions only came to light when they died.

What I had trouble putting into words when asked about the gift card is that volunteering is as much about my needs as it is about theirs. The world at large can be dismissive of people who are 60 and beyond—assuming that we’re clueless, set in our ways, etc., etc. Volunteering is a way of reminding myself that I’m knowledgeable and have something valuable to contribute. I feel seen, useful, and appreciated. That’s what makes volunteering worthwhile.

I don’t think I deserve a medal (or a gift card) for putting in a few spare hours a week. Corny as it sounds, acknowledgement comes every week in the form of students who make a point to thank me at the end of class. Also gratifying are the students who return after completing the class to share their excitement about landing a better job—one requiring good English skills. Plus, the teacher often asks my opinion about her proposed lesson plans and always thanks me for coming. That’s good. That’s plenty.