Molly (left) and Zoelle Fishman
At a New Year’s Day brunch, my friend John was talking about his next tattoo, which will get him up on this site when he gets it inked. “But in the meantime,” he said, “you should talk to my friends Molly and Zoelle and Brad. They all have Chicago tattoos and they’re the ones that do that hot dog tour.” John introduced us all via Facebook and after some scheduling, they were kind enough to invite me over to Zoelle’s place for lunch where we enjoyed a delicious submarine sandwich and then chatted. Zoelle and Molly Fishman are sisters and Brad Lash is their cousin (his tattoo will be the subject of the next post here). Where my usual interviews out in public are about two minutes, I talked to the three for twenty-five minutes overall, about their tattoos and the realities of hosting an unexpectedly popular charity event. So this one is just a bit longer than we’ve done so far.
CFT: So you guys have nearly matching Chicago hot dog tattoos. Tell me about your tattoos.
Zoelle: We decided to get them right after our Uncle Eliot passed away. He was a huge Chicago hot dog fan; Chicago food fan, really. I really like it as a symbol of the city, because you see them everywhere and Vienna Beef, obviously, is here. So that was really what prompted us to get them. And I think we all, all of us and the cousins talked about getting them at the same time and me and Molly were the only ones who did.
Molly: Also, I really wanted to get it because Eliot was super funny, that’s just one of the traits everyone knew about him, was that he was was hilarious and having a tattoo of a hot dog is kind of funny. It’s really weird when you go on vacation or something, where your tattoo shows. You know, here it’s so culturally relevant, but I went to Greece and no one understood it.
Brad: They don’t know what a hot dog is, there.
CFT: Do people in Chicago recognize what it is?
Molly: Yeah, I’ve often been stopped, mainly when I’m getting hot dogs, people are like, “Oh my God!”. I get in line at Hot Doug’s people are like, “No way!”
Brad: Like, “you must really like hot dogs!”
Molly: Yeah, and I’m like, I am standing in line with you for 45 minutes, so yeah.
Zoelle: Whenever I go to the Taste people always see it are like, “Woah!” or on the train, pretty much any time during the summer. Whenever it’s showing. Although, it has not gotten me any free hot dogs, I should point out.
CFT: It should.
Zoelle: It should, I know. Maybe it’s because it’s the actual Vienna [Beef] drawing.
Molly: You know, maybe we should try at Vienna Beef.
Zoelle: I know. I went to Gold Coast and they were like, “no”.
CFT: So that’s copied off the Vienna Beef sign.
Zoelle: It’s totally copied.
Photo by kyducks, CC BY-ND license
CFT: This is a perennial Chicago question: do you actually like the bright green relish? The fluorescent?
Molly: Yeah, I like either one.
Zoelle: Yeah, I like all kinds of relish. I’m a pickle fan in general.
CFT: Some people are very firm about their relish. I can’t taste the difference, but visually…
Molly: I think it’s just visual thing.
Zoelle: I’m definitely not picky about relish. I definitely will eat a Chicago-style hot dog over a hot dog with any other toppings. But I don’t always eat them like that. Sometimes just mustard.
Molly: Oh, really?
Molly: Maybe if you’re a BBQ or something.
CFT: Are you both life-long Chicagoans?
Zoelle: We grew up in the suburbs and I went away for college, but came back. And Molly’s been here the whole time.
Molly: I went to college here and just stayed here. We both live in the city now.
Zoelle: When I moved back here was right before Eliot passed away and the timing for my coming back to Chicago and really committing to stay here was kind of surprising the way our family history turned out at that moment. So, I felt it cemented the decision to get a Chicago tattoo and really be a Chicago native. I tried other places and they just didn’t work.
CFT: You guys do a tour of hot dog places in memory of your uncle?
Zoelle: We’ve done four. We basically get a bus… Carrie and Brad mostly do the organizing and Molly and I are sort of peripheral.
Molly: Brad could probably talk about how it started, the origins of it.
Brad: So my sister went out to Hawaii to teach right after graduating college and the first time she came back to the mainland was for a winter break. She was really jonesing for some real Chicago food. She also had a boyfriend with her and wanted to hang out with my uncle and show her boyfriend the city and so Eliot came with this grand idea, let’s drive around the city and we can show you all the neighborhoods and we can make it hot dog tour. So originally the idea was his. I only met up with them for three of the five stops. They just went in their own cars and drove around the city all day.
Zoelle: Wearing t-shirts with iron-on letters.
Brad: Yeah, I still have mine. It’s just a plain red t-shirt with the felt yellow writing. My sister ended up getting behind the grill at Byron’s and cooking up some hot dogs. It was their way to hang out, see the city, and spend time together. We had the idea to try and make it a charity event and we were going to do it the following summer or the next time Carrie could come back to the mainland. We ended up not being able to do it that summer and then the following winter Eliot passed away. So then the following summer once Carrie moved back, we decided to do it in his memory and do it as a charity fund raiser. Since he was a big music guy and a Blues guitarist, we decided to do music education charities. The first year was kind of loosely organized and we only had thirty people on the tour. We went to seven stands that first year. It took forever.
Zoelle: It was so hot.
Brad: The air conditioner was broken on the bus. It was, like, 95° out.
Zoelle: It was a really emotional experience. I remember my dad and Kim—Kim was Eliot’s wife when we were kids, they got divorced but Kim always kept in touch—it was a really hard thing to do the first time, especially for them. To have the humor and the experience, but it was really part of grieving as well. So the first time was special in that regard.
Brad: It was a lot of family, it was a lot of Eliot’s friends. You talk about the grieving process, but through the hot dog tour we sort of grieved as he lived. He was always like, “Let’s eat, let’s joke around, let’s have fun.” Everything was a joke or a game with him. So the first tour embodied that. People had so much fun that it’s grown to the point of unwieldiness now. We get Facebook messages from total strangers that have found the website or the Facebook group somehow and want to come on the next tour. It’s kind of lost it’s meaning a little bit as it’s grown bigger.
Zoelle: This last year we had two buses. Seventy-five or eighty people.
Molly: It was crazy.
Zoelle: It was insane. There’s beer drinking on the bus. There’s just general rowdiness.
Brad: We got local breweries to donate product. We got some of the local sports teams to donate raffle items. And it’s sort of made that jump to a real fund raiser event. As the tour’s gotten bigger, we’ve been trying to get smaller with the charities we donate to. The first two years we did the Old Town School of Folk Music. They’re great, but they don’t need the small amount of money that we’re going to provide. The third year we did Rock for Kids and this year we did Girls Rock Chicago whose, you know, their total operating budget was five figures. And a low five figures. So the money we were able to give them really did make more of an impact. But the amount of work that went into just the planning and logistics and everything for trying to raise even that small amount of money, it ended up being essentially a second full time job for me for three or four months last year.
Zoelle: It’s a lot of organizing.
Brad: We’re not really sure what we’re going to do with it this year, if we’re even going to keep it up or if we’re going to try something different or if we’re going to try and scale it back.
Zoelle: But there’s lots of good pictures online.
Brad: The mission remains the same. Live life and enjoy it like Eliot did.
CFT: It sounds like you guys need to make the decision, is this a family and friends annual get-together or is this charity fund raiser? You know, awesome to have to make that decision, that both of them are viable.
Brad: It’s like we’ve created something that’s now gotten bigger than us and our family and the question is do we want that responsibility?
Molly: It’s kind of weird how big it got. I was at work and somebody showed up in a Hot Dog Tour t-shirt and I was like, “Oh wow, you were on the Hot Dog Tour?” and they were like, “yeah, were you?”. And I’m like, “yeah” and they were like, “how do you know about it?” And I was like, “well, my last name’s Fishman.” It was one of Carrie’s friends and they were on the other bus and I never saw them.
Brad: Carrie brought friends she used to teach with and they had so much fun that they brought in all these other people that we don’t even know—they’re friends of friends of friends. They’re great people, but…
Molly: It’s cool, but at the same time it’s kind of difficult to manage.
Brad: We’ll see, we’re going to have to decide. Probably kind of soon.
CFT: Cool. So, just a technical question about the tattoos—where did you get them done?
Zoelle: At Revolution Tattoo on Western. Max. He had done a couple other hot dogs.
Molly: And he had one. His brother had a hot dog tattoo. They weren’t like what we have where it’s the logo, it was like a hot dog astronaut or something weird like that. Shooting lasers out of its eyes.
Brad: I had Mike draw me up an idea for a hot dog riding an El car, like it was a rodeo, so the El car was bent like it was bucking. He has the art still, but it would have been a half-sleeve, to do it to the level of detail that he’d drawn it.
Molly: You should do it!
Molly (left) and Zoelle Fishman
Molly Fishman’s hot dog tattoo closeup. The E is for Eliot.
Zoelle Fishman’s hot dog tattoo closeup.