An Ode to Summer’s Last Footlong


The last footlong of summer — click to enlarge it to full size.

People without imagination find the last day of summer on Labor Day, when they lament the return to the routine of school, or the last summer-hour schedules at work. More poetic souls see signs in the first day you put on a jacket in the morning, the minute pumpkins arrive in the farmers’ markets, or when the first leaf on the gingko right in front of your tenement window turns from dark green to pale yellow.

But my harbinger this year was the last footlong hot dog on the Jersey shore. Well, not quite on the shore, but in Freehold, where Bruce Springsteen grew up. I’d decided to take Rte. 9 northward, rather than the Garden State because I wanted to linger in the hamlets along the way, to check out the old motels with their rocket-shaped signs, and streamlined metal diners still jammed with churchgoers on this Sunday morning.

I picked a hot dog place I’d never been to before in a mall just west of town. It had the dubious name of New England Hot Dogs – but then any weenery when first visited requires a certain leap of faith. Maybe I should have turned away when I saw a sign that advertised kobe beef frankfurters, but I persevered to find a Massachusetts franchise that had yet to take off, featuring not only several kinds of wieners, but also kielbasy, bratwurst, and a dozen other sausages with so many optional toppings it took a long time to read them, and many sounded absurd.

I got the footlong, had it topped with chili, onions, and hot mustard. Sitting down in the window of the place, the very length of the dog seemed to extend summer, if only for a few minutes. Jumping back into the car I propelled into a massive traffic jam, the Snookis all having abandoned their shore bivouacs as the weather clouded up and promised rain.

Too many choices — pick the footlong or the corn dog.