Lauderdale: Customers gather, go to the (hot) dogs

I walked across the street Tuesday to the Hargray office here in Greater Bluffton/Lower Okatie/Exit 8ville.

It was Customer Appreciation Day at our local telephone company.

Picture me standing between a gaggle of retirees and a FREE HOT DOG. Talk about living life on the edge. This is as close as I get to the X-Games.

I survived. And I got a free lunch -- a hot dog, bag of chips and Coke. These are fat times. I thought for a minute I may have been at Paramedic Appreciation Day, but I gulped it down, and it was delicious.

I stumbled into Dianne Reynolds of Bluffton. These days, it's not every day you see someone you've known for many years. Her husband, Cecil, used to be the Bluffton magistrate. I reported on the rip tide of humanity that was sucked through his courtroom, a simple place decorated with gigantic oyster shells and snapshots of grisly wrecks.

Dianne's always telling stories, usually in one long sentence.

As we stood there with people eyeballing our hot dogs, she recalled going to the family reunion every year around Easter, and they still have the family reunion, it's just that it's not at Easter anymore, but it was the one always held near the little house in the middle of nowhere, somewhere near Gillisonville, beyond Ridgeland, where Miss Gertrude grew up, be it ever so humble. Miss Gertrude and her husband, Leroy E. Harvey Sr., founded Hargray along with John L. Cantrell back in 1946, when having a telephone in the Lowcountry was as far-fetched as flying to the moon. Or a free lunch.

Hargray now offers every kind of intergalactic service. You can plug something in your ear and stand there, between bites of a hot dog, and talk to Botswana, while someone next to you says, "Excuse me?"

The company has new owners, but I've always felt appreciated by Hargray. I get a letter from them at least once a month. I don't recall getting a hot dog before. I'll have to bring this up at our next meeting of the Get A Life Club.

And they were giving away little black blankets with the red Hargray logo on them. I'll call it Pet Appreciation Day because our cats and dog will appreciate the soft new blanket.

It reminded me of the Palmetto Electric annual meeting, where they give away trinkets so they can get a quorum. It's the same, except different. Palmetto Electric has chairs, and they invite you to stay all day. Hargray didn't have chairs, which is a great idea.

We're going to incorporate that into our next House Guest Appreciation Day. They can stay as long as they want, but they can't sit down.

At the Palmetto Electric affairs, it's always Trinket Appreciation Day. I've never won the big bauble -- the used truck. But I have a shed full of graft: a garden hose, ice cooler, Fry Baby, Shop-Vac, industrial-strength extension cord, curly light bulbs and a new electric griddle.

Surely I'm leaving out some of the trinkets, but when you get old enough to stand in line for a free hot dog, the sun has already set on Memory Appreciation Day.