Walks with the Chowhound

(Photo: Serena Mira Asta/AstaArt.com)

(Photo: Serena Mira Asta/AstaArt.com)

Selby is a chowhound. An inveterate, unrelenting, willfully indiscriminate gastronome of Saint Paul street food. Naturally he is named after the street where he lives, Selby Avenue, and naturally, when I come to dog sit him, we commence our journeys from that haunt of celebrated eateries, dine-ins, and dessert stops. This poses a problem, as Selby is a beagle, a breed that distinguishes itself by a sniffer so acute it can divine a three-month-old pancake-thin squirrel carcass from a snowbank high as a Himalayan foothill. (Why Saint Paul should have snowbanks of that magnitude is a matter for another story, and of serious inquiry to whichever department is charged with grooming the city’s wintertime walks into a Sherpa’s mountainside trek.)

So I was speaking of Selby’s appetite. Three years ago, when we began our acquaintance, I was under the misapprehension that this sophisticated pooch shared the habits of his rural kindred, that of chasing squirrels, rabbits, and any other bite-size morsel up a tree or down a hole. He would surely attempt these feats, I have no doubt, but for my expert leash-handling skills. In the time I’ve known Selby, I have salvaged nearly two thousand such creatures from the fate of a take-out lunch.

What I did not anticipate, however, was my charge’s adaptability to urban street cuisine. Early on Selby realized what I, a mere suburbanite, have only recently comprehended: that a trek through Saint Paul is like a saunter down the world’s longest cafeteria line. I used to trust Selby’s instincts when deciding our route, seeing as I was the outsider and he the savvy local. But then it seemed whichever way he turned a half-eaten burger would meet his snout. On Selby Avenue alone, on one early jaunt, he gorged his way past Great Harvest Bread (a slice of honey wheat), Mango Thai (rice noodles), W. A. Frost’s (a Korean barbecue chicken wing), and even the hallowed grounds of the Saint Paul Cathedral (a communion wafer, God spare me).

But I too am a skilled adapter, and learned to wend our ways to parts where food did not drop out of diners’ hands like manna from dog heaven. I am speaking of the residential areas, blocks of fine houses, which are a feast for the eyes but a poor harvest for the grumbling tummy. Yet even as I appreciated an arched gable, Selby would wolf a discarded apple core, a sticky candy, a wadded napkin.

I adapted again. I grew more vigilant, while the leash grew shorter. We excluded our walks to Summit Avenue, where we encountered nothing but houses and joggers—and the occasional tourist laden with treats purchased from nearby Grand Avenue, wide-eyed and guileless, until set upon by a hungry beagle. Well, Summit could do with a few less tourists, right?

At a guess I would say that Selby has profited more from our walks than I—except for this once. It was a cold January morning. Selby roused me for an urgent call to nature, so out we went. The morning was darker and more desolate than usual, explained shortly when a bell tolled three. That fiend. Well, since he’d already gotten me up, I allowed him to drag me across the Himalayan sidewalks to the bluffs, where I stood rooted by a sight that must have enthralled many a Saint Paulite over the years. The city spread below, a tapestry of light, here and there exhaling its chilly breath in columns of steam, and huddling the dark river that behind stretched to a remote geologic past and ahead reached toward some future beyond my span of years and my wildest imaginings.

I turned to thank Selby for his unexpected gift, but the chowhound was preoccupied with a sugar cookie just then excavated from the snow.

 
Britt Aamodt is a lifelong suburbanite who can be seen wandering the streets of Saint Paul periodically under the guidance of local tour guide Selby the Dog.
 
Serena Mira Asta is an artist and writer in Lowertown. She is also a singer and a self-aware art supply addict. She loves spinning and dyeing, but is careful how often she says that out loud. www.AstaArt.com

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