From the outside looking in, being a mascot looks like it’d be a lot of fun.
But what do things look like from the inside?
Dave Herrington can answer that question. He was one of Cheyenne-based Taco John’s original mascots for a two-hour period on a hot day in Rawlins during the mid 1980s.
He was the third of four people who wore the same smiley-faced Taco John mascot costume in shifts that day to help open the store. While the store in Rawlins has since closed, and the company no longer uses mascots, it’s a job Herrington says he’ll never forget.
“It was quite the ordeal,” Herrington said. “It really was.”
Doing The Boss A Favor
Herrington was a last-minute recruit for the job, and he wasn’t actually a Taco John’s employee. He was working at the time for Holmes Equipment and Supplies, whose owner also owned half of Taco John’s.
“The actual opening crew was short-handed,” Herrington recalled. “Somebody was on vacation, or a couple of people were and Harold (W. Holmes) asked me if I would wear the suit. He said, ‘I’ve got three people lined up and I need a fourth, for,’ he said, ‘about two hours.’”
That didn’t sound so bad. Herrington told him sure, he’d be glad to help out.
It was in June or July, Herrington believes, and when the sun came out to play, it was very soon 85 degrees in the shade.
The store had set up a small awning outside to provide some additional shade, where they staged the mascot and gave out free tacos and information about the store.
Herrington turned out to be third in line for wearing the costume, which, by this time was soaked with body sweat.
Putting the costume on was a unique experience that came with unique smells, Herrington told Cowboy State Daily.
Picture walking into a room that has a musty, damp smell. The kind that develops after a long, long period of time.
Now picture both that smell and that dampness plastered all over your face, covering both nose and mouth.
That’s what it was like to enter the costume for the Taco John’s mascot.
The only ventilation Herrington had while wearing the heavy suit were the two holes where the eye sockets are located. That allowed him to look around a little bit and see where he was. He could also turn into the wind now and then, to try to get more air inside the relatively tight-fitting head piece.
“It wasn’t moldy or anything,” Herrington said. “It was just a musty, damp smell, like a room that had had water in it for a while.”
No Breaking Character
One of the cardinal rules of being a mascot, of course, is not breaking character. Young children, in particular, can become a little upset when they see a mascot’s head suddenly coming off, for one.
So occupants of the suit could take little breaks when there were no customers around, but needed to be mindful when people started showing up again, and get the sweat-soaked head piece back on.
“We never really said anything while we were wearing the costume,” Herrington added. “We just shook our head a lot. The thing is, the mouth wasn’t open, and to try to talk, most people couldn’t hear you and the kids would look at you kind of funny. So you just nodded your head and shook their hand.”
Mascots were generally only on-duty for a store opening during an eight-hour period, although some locations sometimes went a little longer than that.
“We all took turns,” Herrington recalled. “We’d get in for about two hours each.”
Later costumes were better than that one, Herrington added, although he was careful to never volunteer to wear any of them again.
“We had one that was called Breakfast Betty,” Herrington recalled. “It was much more well-ventilated, and it was just basically a mask that you put on for the beak and a comb for the headset, you know a chicken comb, on top of your head. So it was a much better, lighter-weight costume.”
Still A Good Day
Herrington felt mighty sorry for the fourth guy in line to put on the mascot suit, he will admit, but was awfully glad at the end of the long day that it wasn’t him who was going last.
“As soon as you put that suit on there is no ventilation so you just start to immediately sweat,” Herrington said. “They did keep us well-hydrated, of course.”
Despite the miserable heat and dampness, the time passed quickly, Herrington added.
“You’re standing there taking pictures with the kids, and they’re excited to see you, and you’re shaking hands with them,” he said. “So it was well worth it. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything, and I really did enjoy doing it.”
Herrington feels the time he spent with Taco John’s and Holmes equipment was among the best in his life.
“I met a lot of good people and made a lot of good friends,” he said. “And the amount of knowledge I learned working with the people, it was just unmatched. It was very, very enjoyable.”
But, Herrington added, he’s not interested in wearing that particular suit ever again. Particularly if he has to put it on after someone else wore it already.
“I have never offered to wear a costume for somebody’s grand opening again,” Herrington said. “That’s the life lesson I learned.”
Photo courtesy, Dave Herrington
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com