With the exception of a few rare, hardy souls who sleep in their trucks overnight, I'm nearly always the first to arrive at the show site the morning of a trial. Often by 5:30 a.m. if there is access. Sometimes there's a gate that doesn't open until 6 a.m. I'm the one at the front of the line, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel, mildly pissed.
If Dick Guetzloff is entered, I can count on him to show up only minutes after I arrive. The first thing Dick does is scope out the site. There's a limitless number of oddball things that can be screwed up in the immediate vicinity of the obedience rings. And whatever it is, as the sun rises Dick is wasting no time finding it and fixing it. Or, if he can't fix it, he'll storm around before ring time until he finds someone who can and will.
Dick sees a lot of things that I'd miss. A lifetime of experience accounts for that, but I've learned at the feet of the master. So the rising sun finds me surveying the environment, then going hell-bent, hands-on to right whatever is wrong.
That isn't cheating. Whatever we fix benefits not only us but every other team. And there's nothing sneaky about doing it at 5:30 a.m. We certainly aren't going to do it at 9 a.m. with the rings going full blast, are we? Besides, it's just more comfortable if no one else is around.
One of the most common screwups we encounter is the Utility ring with four posts across the go-outs end. If a professional superintendent has set up the rings, there's usually no problem. There'll be three or five posts. But if the show committee has recruited volunteers -- often conformation people who have never been exposed to obedience or the rings it's held in -- there's likely to be a glitch.
Which brings us to Thanksgiving Day 2009 and Yuma, Arizona. As things have evolved over the past few years, the Yuma and Imperial Kennel Clubs' shows have become my favorites. The clubs have moved the obedience and rally rings to a secluded part of the Yuma County Fairgrounds. We have the area all to ourselves.
True, the Harrier jets still scream over at tree-top height, two abreast, just off the runways of the Marine airbase directly across the street. But now our rings are 100 yards off the flight path. Besides, for reasons that have always eluded me, the ear-splitting racket has never seemed to bother the dogs.
Our motel is never more than five minutes away, even if the one intervening traffic light is red. We have real bathrooms at the show. OK guys, if you're in a part of the the country where all dog shows are indoors, you have no idea what real bathrooms mean to those of us who traverse the outdoor circuit. Talk about luxury!
The piece de resistance is the parking. If you get there early enough to be in the front row, you're no more than 50 feet from your obedience ring. No tent. No schleping. You can work right out of your vehicle.
The Jack Bradshaw organization sets up the conformation rings, out by the road. Club volunteers -- well-meaning but reatively clueless -- set up the obedience and rally rings.
The 2009 shows started the Friday after Thanksgiving. We drove over there, 186 miles, on Thanksgiving Day. Our Thanksgiving dinner was turkey sandwiches as we went.
Into the fairgrounds we went, down a dusty road, right turn through a back gate and . . . we hadn't even parked when I said, "Oh God! There's no center pole." Well, that had to be fixed, pronto.
I have a friend who comes from the San Diego area. He always sleeps in his truck on the show grounds. He was already there, exercising his dogs. I'll withhold his name here, not to protect a guilty co-conspirator but as a bargaining chip in case the AKC persecutes me for what happened next. I'll turn "club's evidence" and rat on him in return for a shorter suspension. We'll call him Dude.
I hopped out of my van and yelled, "Hey Dude!"
"Hi, Willard " he replied.
"There's no center pole in this ring," I said.
Dude looked. "Sure enough. I hadn't noticed that."
It's called teamwork. Dude paced it off. I moved the poles. Five minutes later we had a three-pole go-outs end. Mission accomplished.
I hid the extra pole behind a large light stanchion near the fence. Well that I did, too. The next morning the judge didn't like a couple of dead spots in the rings. She had the whole setup uprooted and moved 30 feet north. It was just as well that the extra pole wasn't lying around to confuse the issue.
Let the trial begin!
Another troublesome situation rears its head every spring in Tucson. There's an all-breed specialty that's held on a lawn at a large motel. Nice site. Get the right room and you can walk right out the door and into the obedience ring. Trouble is, not more than 30 feet from the ring are ice and soft drinks machines. How'd you like someone filling their ice bucket during the signal exercise? Or getting a Pepsi (thunk!).
The first year I couldn't do anything about it. But by the second year I had control of the situation. Before I leave home for those shows, I print a set of signs for each day of the show. One for each machine: OUT OF ORDER. I also bring Scotch tape with me, and long before ring time each morning the machines have been silenced.
Dick would be so proud.