Friday, July 17, 2015
New York City, 7/4/2015
You're a Really Subtle Guy
Adrian and I woke early to prepare for the contest, him more so, as he was about to try to eat 40-hot dogs, and I was about to watch him do that. Oh, by the way, the person knocking on the door the night before was Adrian. He didn't answer when I asked who was there because he was eating a sandwich. Awesome.
I walked downstairs with Adrian to the Major League Eating chartered bus, and he gave me my pass to Coney Island, but the bus was for eaters only, so I had to go rustle up the seven other guys so we could catch our train.
The night before, Adrian and I went to bed relatively early for a couple of central time zone boys on the East Coast: 12:05 a.m. The other guys...did not. I reached room 311 of the San Carlos Hotel, and found one party member hanging out outside the door. He let me in, and what I saw wasn't pretty. The guys stayed out late to have some beers, and by "some beers" I mean all the beers in Manhattan, and by "late" I mean 4:30 a.m. The floor was covered with a heap of Louisiana-born bodies, not fit for travel, let alone a journey to the mystical and majestic Coney Island.
Through a lot of yelling and kicking (just kidding, kicking is assault), me and the lone waking party member managed to rouse the others to a point that they could leave the hotel room, We found our train, crossed out of Manhattan, and entered the fabled realm of Brooklyn.
Coney Island was the last stop, and I'm not even lying, you guys.
I was told by several train passengers not to get off at any of the stops preceding Coney Island, for if I did, a roving gang of angry Russians would beat me, take my money, then force me at Russian-made gunpoint to admit that dressed herring and vodka is better than cheeseburgers and Budweiser, I'll admittedly take a Tanqueray and Vodka over most alcoholic drinks because why not just get to the point? but I'll lick Stalin's rotting corpse before putting my nostrils anywhere near a damn dressed herring, and that's the Stone Cold truth. Thankfully, not only is "just stay on the train til it gets to the end of the tracks" the easiest directions to follow ever (next to "you don't have to go anywhere, you're already here"), but something happened to me that day that only increased in power exponentially as the trip went on--the mind-meld between myself and New York City, our consciousnesses forging as one. I didn't need to be told where Coney Island was--I just knew.
Due to the sleepyheads, we arrived at Coney Island just as the women's contest (which precedes the men's) was beginning. I was starving, and everyone else was staving off a hangover, so we ventured into the massive Nathan's Famous for sweet, sweet nourishment.
I hadn't had a good hot dog in a year (that being the chili-and-grits wonder served at Dreamy Weenies in New Orleans, described here), as Baton Rouge has one hot dog place, and it is best described as a "the world just ended, there is only one more restaurant, and all other food will cause you to instantly grow a third nipple and die painfully after the newly-grown third nipple fires lasers through your eyeballs" option. This chili-cheese dog from Nathan's did the trick nicely, easily jumping into my severely uncrowded "best hot dogs I ever ate list" far ahead of anything I ate in Chicago. Also, the fries were incredibly satisfying, holding within them this lovely potato taste that few french fries seem to have these days, despite the only three ingredients in french fries being: potatoes, oil, the ground-horn of a white ape.
Fully satisfied, yet never full, I headed with the rest of the guys through 50,000 human beings and security there to hold back those 50,000 human beings, to the hot dog-eating contest stage. We met up with Adrian, and he seemed excited and eager to eat.
Together we listened to Miki Sudo talk to ESPN about her victory in the women's contest, then Adrian headed backstage to get ready for his intro, and the contest itself.
Me, I headed to the boardwalk alone.
According to the giant countdown board, I had an hour and five minutes to wander.
While it was a bit of a gloomy day, the sight of thousands of people enjoying a day off to congregate and celebrate the birth of the nation...of my birth thawed any frozen cockles off my heart...does anyone know what a cockle actually is? Why is it trying to get on my heart?! It sounds really inappropriate! Get away, cockles!!!
I headed back to the stage. Adam, the oldest of the Lutz brothers duo, created a T-shirt for all of us to wear. Together, we were the Rabbit Squad, which was cool, shutup!!!
Despite the fact that almost everyone but me was, according to most medical standards, in a coma, Rabbit Squad mustered up a pretty insane reaction for Adrian when he was announced and made his way to the stage.
We found a spot right up at the walkway for the eater introductions. On the original ESPN broadcast, I am visible for roughly 80% of the eater intros, to the right as the eater's pass\. Someone generously posted the broadcast of the introductions on Youtube, so you can see for yourself. I played it straight until Adrian passed by at the 6:50 mark, at which point you can see me wildly shaking my fist in the air (you can also see Adam doing a great job of repping the shirt).
The video is also worth watching (as I am assuming you REALLY want to see me, and that is your priority) for International Federation of Competitive Eating President George Shea's absolutely mind-blowing intros, including this gem for Yasir Salem:
He is entirely committed to competitive eating. He will do whatever it takes to win. Three days ago, he broke up with his girlfriend and euthanized his dog to leave a void of emptiness inside him that he could fill today with hot dogs and buns, ladies and gentlemen.
And then the eating began. If you've never-before seen a competitive eating competition (that phrasing felt redundant!), it is not for the faint of heart. However, as with every single that that has ever happened repeatedly, excluding the sitcom, Joey, you can gradually desensitize yourself to it and enjoy it. Sorry, Joey.
We were vastly enjoying Adrian's display of eating prowess, seen below, second-from-the-left, in his spot next to eventual champion, Matt Stonie.
And then the butts came. While we thought we were attending a hot dog eating competition, four-minutes in, it turned into a butt competition. The competition was between the eight butts pictured below, and our attempting to see the stage.
Our eyeballs lost.
I don't know why those eight butts suddenly thought that the best place for them to be was directly in our line of sight, completely obscuring the competition, but that is what those butts thought. In fact, some of those butts were so enthusiastic in their decision, they started dancing to the competition music, then turned around while dancing to film the crowd behind them, confident that that crowd would be enthusiastic to see them instead of the competition because after all, the reason that we flew 1400 miles WAS TO SEE YOUR STUPID BUTTS.
Thankfully, I was at a perfect angle to see Adrian right between two of the most egregious butts. Since the other guys were pretty much passed out again around this point, as 4:30 a.m. is kind of late and early at the same time, that was okay. Besides, I was starting to feel New York so hard, it didn't matter. I mean that my feelings were solid, not that New York was getting an erection and I was touching it. Sorry for the confusion.
In the end, Adrian matched his career-high placement of fifth out of a field of sixteen, though his count of 31 hot dogs was off his high-mark of 38--though all of the eaters were off, as apparently this year's dogs were a little under-cooked. Eight-time winner and number-one ranked overall eater, Joey Chestnutt, was upset by number-two ranked eater, Matt Stonie, to the shock of most informed attendants. Since Chestnutt's ascent to the top nearly a decade ago, he had been untouchable in this contest. I guess there's always some young punk nipping at your heels, though, but in this case, the young punk is an extremely friendly, humble, and polite 23-year old from San Jose, California, who gave New York's finest the highlight of their day.
All-in-all, everyone had a great time, except for maybe Joey, and also The Meat Is Murder Crew, who showed up and rushed the stage right after the contest to the boos and consternation of the rest of the crowd, because if there's one way to win people to your cause, it's attempting to ruin their favorite day of the entire year. That's just like how I was won over to using an eReader over real books after Kindle kicked over my frappuccino and set the Barnes and Noble I was reading a magazine in on fire, Also, that definitely didn't happen--REAL BOOKS FOR LIFE.
Then it started raining, cold beautiful drops that cleared the heat away. We laughed and headed to Ruby's Bar and Grill, named one of Travel Channel's "Sexiest Beach Bars." Most of the eaters were hanging out there, and then the crowds came. Families on vacation, wigged out hippies who seemed to rise from the very sand, co-eds from Columbia and NYU, all to meet the eaters. Our crew drew a particular amount of attention, first because of our shirts, and second, because if you take almost any group of Louisiana guys 500 miles from the state, the citizens of that area are going to gather round in curiosity. Certain people were invited to the after party that night at Professor Thom's Bar, some more beers were had, and I ate a chocolate/vanilla swirl ice cream cone, which was delicious, but I'm sad to report, not any sexier than any other ice cream cone I've ever had in my life.
After a while, that "it's time to leave" feeling grew to the point that it could no longer be ignored, and we said our goodbyes and marched to the train back to Manhattan. Somehow, Adrian, myself, and two other party members found ourselves separated from the rest of the group.
Then, it happened: Miki Sudo got tired of carrying her 1st place trophy, and she handed it to Adrian.
"Great job!" passersby began to yell!
"Wow! How many did you eat?"
"Congratulations! First place!"
Adrian, an eleven on a Spinal Tap-esque humility scale, tried to explain to every commentator that he only got fifth, and that the trophy belonged to Miki. After a few minutes of walking through the Coney Island crowds, though, Miki was nowhere to be seen, and Stonie had already gone somewhere to recoup with his identical first-place men's trophy.
I knew there was only one thing to do.
"Congratulations!" said the passersby.
"That's the champ right here!" I yelled back, pointing at the trophy. "The one true champ! First place!"
Adrian was likely too hot-dogged out to shoot down my claims of his greatness.
"Wow, how many did he eat!"
"Like a million!" I said. "It was insane! First place, baby!"
Then we made it to the train and gave Miki back her trophy.
Rather awesomely, outside of myself and the two party members who hadn't gone rogue, the subway car turned out to be The Eater Train.
We made it to our subway stop, were led by 44-year old eating veteran Crazy Legs Conti on a Manhattan-mini tour, then Adrian and I went back to homebase on good old Lexington and 49th, a location from which I am fairly confident I can reach any other point on Manhattan blindfolded. I knew it as we went back up to our room in the W: at some point that morning, the layout of the city had clicked in my head, and the city and I were speaking the same language.
As Adrian was somewhat covered with hotdog and hotdog-related debris, he decided to take a shower while I lied down to check out the ESPN highlights for the contest, and also if you haven't figured it out yet, I like to watch ESPN. After that, something marvelous happened because by that point everything single that happened between myself and New York City was marvelous.
ESPN aired a program called Tyson's greatest hits.
What? Mike Tyson sucks! I hate boxing! you might be saying.
But you are incorrect in your completely subjective opinion. In the 1980's, when two direct hits from Tyson's iron fists were enough to fell even the mightiest foe, Mike Tyson was not the high-pitched voice Looney-Toon caricature he has become over the last two decades. He was a damned-near unstoppable force of nature.
Tyson's greatest hits packs in so many fights because the majority of Tyson's early fights ended after a few seconds. If you're old and UFC might as well stand for Ugh, somebody please turn off this Freaking Crap, then you can appreciate what I am saying...
NOOOOOO!!! I'm old!
But in New York, I was young, and when Adrian got out of the shower, we watched Tyson pummel so many people, we almost forgot that we were supposed to go to the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest After Party at Professor Thom's Bar and Restaurant on 2nd Avenue. As much as it hurt to leave Tyson (though not nearly as bad as it hurt to be hit by Tyson), we beat the block back to the San Carlos.
You know how for a funeral you dress the body up in the person who used to inhabit it's finest clothes? The room in San Carlos was like a funeral parlor because those dudes stayed up so late the night before, they, excluding the Lutz brothers who were running on an extra day's energy, were dead on their feet, but dressed really nice for the party.
Pictured above, alive, Adrian, far left, Lutz brothers in center. Not alive, other dudes, being held-up by Weekend-at-Bernie's style strings.
Me, I was in a T-Shirt and jeans, my uniform, and I think I look better in it than most corpses do in their finest, plus, I was alive.
Man, I was alive.
Aboard the subway ride to Professor Thom's, I felt more at home location-wise than I have since I got home late from work one night seven-years ago, noticed the door to my mid-city apartment was open, went inside to see my wife asleep on the couch, book on her chest, neighborhood stray cat (that we put a collar on once just to keep Animal Control away from) curled up at her feet.
Man, I miss that cat and that apartment in the middle of Baton Rouge, and I miss the subway in New York City, standing next to a bunch of people who don't make me look or feel weird, all minding their own business, just trying to get where they are going. Everywhere I came up in Pointe Coupee Parish--school, teams, church--people have euphemistically called me "unique," my own family has called me "unique," and it gets so old knowing that what they all want to say is "YOU ARE WEIRD," and I know people hate New York City because it is big, and it is loud, and it moves fast, and people are packed together, and it has this ridiculous "New York is the greatest place on Earth" image, and a month ago, I hated New York City as much as anyone, but dammit, I love New York City because I belong there, and everybody belongs there, nine million people, yet there's a place for everyone.
So with that said, I rode the subway with a giant grin on my face, and I practically skipped to the bar, and I had a spectacular night, and I don't want to go into detail here except to say that New York kept giving and giving and giving until, in its overarching generosity, it offered me a gift I could not accept, so I instead took the amazing gift of riding the late-night subway back to the hotel, alone with the city, got off my stop early, walked the streets, not concerned with getting lost, not concerned with anything, made it to the room, stared at the ceiling with my eyes wide open, listened to music, until, at 6 am, the door cracked open, and Adrian "the Rabbit" Morgan, without a word, stumbled to the bed and fell, immediately, to sleep.