John D. Pierce

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"Footlongs and False Advertising"




It would be hard to calculate the many times my family drove from my childhood home just over the Georgia line to my maternal grandmother’s house in the Highland Park section of downtown Chattanooga, Tenn. The drive included passage through the Missionary Ridge Tunnel that ended with an impressive view of Lookout Mountain and the city below.

After descending the ridge, we would drive a short distance to 1103 South Willow Street where my grandmother, “Nanny,” and “Aunt Edie” lived. Two landmarks signaled we were within a couple of blocks of their house.

One was a Nazarene church and the other was small drive-in with a sign touting “foot-long hot dogs.” I could not imagine a hot dog so large. “Eating out” was not something we did very often. But that didn’t keep my brothers and me from begging every time we passed.

To our surprise, one day, my dad announced that he was going to go over to the drive-in and bring hot dogs back to my grandmother’s house for lunch. We were ecstatic at having our first, first-hand experience with a foot-long hot dog.

I’m sure the plan was for us boys to split the hot dogs — since we even split six-ounce Cokes back then. But at least we would witness this incredible, edible wonder of the world.

Dad finally returned with the sack full of dogs — with the aroma of chili preceding him. We gathered around as if someone were unveiling a commissioned work of art.

As the cardboard tray was pulled from the paper wrapper we could not believe our eyes — two regular old normal-sized hot dogs placed end-to-end! We would have been less disappointed if real dog’s tail had been in there.

“What happened to our foot-long hot dogs!” we demanded to know.

Our outrage led Dad to return to the drive-in for an answer. It was simple: “We were out of foot-long hot dogs, so we just replaced them with two regular ones. It’s the same.”

No it was not the same! Not to us. We could not believe our long pursuit of foot-long hot dogs had failed. We had gotten so close.

Recently I paid about seven bucks for a foot-long hot dog at Turner Field and felt no guilt. I’m making up for lost time.

[An unpublished essay © John D. Pierce]