Gone to the Dogs: A Christmas Story of Ralphie proportions
Nearly 24 hours later, I’m still having to blow my nose and clear the “gunk” out of my eyes. Such is the life of a guy who is allergic to “just about everything,” but even more so when it comes to pet dander.
I didn’t plan it out to end that way, though. All I was trying to do was to let my kids “see Santa” before Christmas came and went.
Monday night, my family planned a trip to Bass Pro Shop in Altoona to see the jolly old elf, based on our experiences the past two years at the Bass Pro Shop in Council Bluffs. During the week, Santa didn’t seem too busy, which meant the kids wouldn’t be rushed and we could take plenty of photos.
In Altoona, not so much.
Now the first indication of trouble for us should have been the view of the Bass Pro Shop parking lot from the Interstate. It took us more than 10 minutes just to find a spot (we eventually gave up and just parked in the employee lot).
But once you’re inside, just to see Santa, a child must have a “Bass Pass.” When we arrived shortly before 6 p.m., they were already lined up halfway across the store for the “6:30 group.” When I inquired about getting a Bass Pass, I was told not to bother; they were already out for the night.
Hannah, age 7, and Jayden, age 4, were just about to reach meltdown mode. So, I quickly offered a solution.
I know, you wondering: “What does this have to do with a dog allergy?” Don’t worry. I’m getting there.
My solution was to go back to our “old standby” from my days in Adel. We drove to West Des Moines and West Glen Town Center, where I knew Santa wouldn’t be working “shifts,” and even the longest lines tended to walk in and out fairly quickly.
So we were now nearly 45 minutes from home, and no one had eaten yet. The “plan” was to see Santa, then grab supper at another “old standby,” Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.
How does that old saying about “the best laid plans of mice and men” go again?
My first clue something “wasn’t right” was when a lady walking a dog passed us on our way to the center concourse. And, by the time I had arrived at Santa’s “set” (more on that in a moment), I was fully with the understanding that Monday night was “doggy night” at Jordan Creek Town Center.
But, I wasn’t going to let my dog allergies send my children into a full-on Christmas crisis, so I got in line. My thought was that the line should roll through pretty quickly; after all, it’s not like the dogs can actually tell Santa what they want.
So, we patiently waited.
And waited some more.
We waited two and a half hours in line, during which time one of the dogs ahead of us puked up something that looked like liquified banana cream pie — twice — and another dog behind us decided to urinate on Santa’s “set.” All the while, the air was filling with allergens that were threatening to close off my nose and throat while making my eyes and nose run like Forest Gump.
The air was so thick with dog hair we had to brush off my daughter every 30 minutes because it was being attracted to her shawl and tights, both of which were black.
When we finally arrived at the entrance to Santa’s “set,” there was so much dog hair, it looked like someone had put a dog-fur rug on the floor.
By this point, I just wanted the ordeal to end. I wanted to snap my pictures of my kids talking with Santa and get out of there. I could feel the hives starting to well up on my chest.
“Sir, you can’t take pictures here.”
“Sir, picture taking isn’t allowed on Santa’s set,” one of Santa’s helpers politely informed me.
Apparently, only their “high dollar” (I can buy one on eBay for about $200) camera is capable of capturing “the moment” with Santa and my children.
The only way it could have been more similar to the scene at Higbee’s Department Store from the movie “A Christmas Story” was if it included a slide and Ralphie getting a boot to the face from Santa on his way down.
Of course, we’re talking about my children here. So, I decided I was going to snap photos of them if I wanted — and Santa’s helpers weren’t going to do anything about it.
I stood behind the “edge of the set” and took as many photos as I could in the two minutes or so my kids got to have with Santa.
I have to say, for his part, Santa did OK. He ignored his helpers’ camera and focused solely on me, which made the photography a lot easier.
I did notice he looked less enthused about dealing with an endless line of dogs than I did. And when I finally got to leave the allergy-inducing fog of dog hair, dog vomit and dog urine, I have to say I felt sorry for the guy.
There was only an hour left before the mall closed, but the line of dogs and dog owners wrapped completely around the set.
Tired, sore from standing in line so long, and hungry, we realized a trip to Cracker Barrel was out of the question, too. But, we certainly had ourselves a Christmas adventure.
If only I could get the rest of this dog hair out of my system.
If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading it in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.
Bob Eschliman is editor of the Daily News. He may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at firstname.lastname@example.org via email.