And when I say job, I don’t mean I’m getting paid. There’s a notion that if we make a profit, we split the dough.
But that is currently just a sweet fantasy designed to get us out of bed on 2 Saturday mornings every month.
Rebecca and I run the food concession at a local horse show, except when they’re cancelled due to bad weather. (Interestingly, bad weather in Tennessee means “rain”, it does not mean “hotter than hell” – that’s where, along with the definitions of “short drive” and “funny”, Tennessee and I agree to disagree).
I know what you’re thinking: That sounds…fantastic! I would love to be a part of something like that. I’m a team player, I don’t have (m)any criminal convictions…so where do I sign up?
Not so fast. Hold your horses.
There are some things you need to know about the horse-show-food-concession-business before you go jumping headfirst into it:
Please allow me to qualify your enthusiasm with some pointers from a seasoned professional.
You should be comfortable around horses
I’m not into horses. My in-laws have more than a passing interest.
I don’t have anything against horses. They’re just in the same category as Harry Potter, hedge funds, cricket, CSI. I’m aware of all these things, I don’t deny them, but I’m not interested.
You don’t need to have your own horse. You don’t need to ride a horse. In fact, doing anything with the horses would probably be frowned upon.
But it’s important, I think, to be open about the fact that there will be much horsiness at a horse show, and you will be treated to many stories about just how dangerous, impossible to control and downright mean horses are.
So don’t get cute with them. No tickling, no banana-skin style practical jokes, and definitely no setting off firecrackers.
I know, I sound like an equine professional, but really, I know just enough about horses to get by.
A car to transport your food and equipment
You will need an iron horse. I recommend the 2008 Dodge Caliber (pictured) because it is just-not-quite-large-enough to transport the folding tables for your concession stand. If your vehicle is larger, then you will miss out on the migraine-inducing panic five minutes after you were due to set up your very first concession and realise you have nothing to put your food on.
It’s important to realise that transporting the foods necessary to feed horse show participants will make your car smell like the kind of food horse show participants like to eat. This means your car will smell like barbecue. Some might say your car will in fact stink of barbecue.
I would never say that. I would say, however, that you can forget about removing the smell. No amount of air fresheners, harsh chemicals or scrubbing will get rid of it. So you need to be Zen about that one.
Choose your menu carefully
Take advice from those around you. Listen carefully. Consider well their years of experience in the horse show business.
And then ignore them.
Horse show cuisine is impossible to get right. There will always be someone asking for iced tea in 50-degree weather, just as there will be someone amazed that you don’t have hot coffee in 90-degree weather.
Customers will devour your nachos one Saturday and then ignore them the next. They are fickle and they are unpredictable. Whatever brainwave you come up with, you will end up eating it yourself for the next week.
There is a reason why no one else wants to do this job.
Choose your grill carefully
It must be old and without working vents. It must look like junk.
Small boys will ask to help with the grillin’ because their daddies let them do so at home. Do not let them near it but be grateful that there is at least one human on this planet who envies what you’re doing.
Once you’ve cheated and used easy-lighting coals and managed to cook the meat, don’t put burgers on burger buns. You put burgers on kaiser rolls. Then you put barbecue on burger buns. And barbecue is a food, it’s not the thing you cook your food on. That’s the grill. And if you didn’t know all that already, you’re an idiot. Just like me.
You will need a lot of these. Although they are fickle and impossible to predict (see whining above) you can’t do this job without them.
Be glad that they like horsesiness enough to come out on a Saturday and watch their kids/partners trot around a dusty arena.
They are decent people and they have an awful lot of horse-related items which they will occasionally try to sell off the back of their truck.
Treat them with respect, don’t gouge them too much, and always remember they have large four-legged friends who can kick your ass.
Find a barn cat.
You need one of these. And really, when is there a bad time to have a cat around?
Of course, the barn cat, despite her sticky-up tail and ankle-rubbing charm, is not to be trusted.
She wants your sausages, and if you hide your sausages in a cooler, you will return to find the barn cat’s face in your burger buns.
The many dogs will also want your food, but they understand the universal shooing terms, “go-awn” and “away ye go”. Barn cats do not.
So budget for a few extra hot dogs. You can either give them to her voluntarily or she will take them when your back is turned. Either way is fine with her.
And you can call her Barney – she’s cool with that.
Working the food concession at a horse show is not hard work (although you must pretend that it is, for that is the law of American working life) but there is dust and irritation.
And of course, yes, there are rules. This is America. The relevant legislation is the “Horses are mental, you’re an idiot for being on the property, if you get hurt you can just suck it” law, also known as the Equine Inherent Risk Law.
Keep your hands clean, and be at peace with the fact that you will make mistakes. It’s inevitable, I can’t help you avoid them. And if you take one single thing from this, please remember; don’t take advice from anyone, me included. No one knows how to do this job successfully, otherwise they’d be doing it.
But there’s no use flogging a dead horse.
(Do they say that here?)