Sunday, May 22, 2011

Reversal of Fortune, Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs and the IFOCE - Qualifying Round

One of the most cherished traditions in the JMR household does not fall on Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter.  It doesn't involve singing songs or going somewhere special.  In fact, all our most cherished tradition involves is some hot dogs and a TV (HD not preferred).  You see, every Fourth of July, our attention turns to Coney Island and a little contest that Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs holds every year - the annual Hot Dog Eating Contest sponsored by Major League Eating and the International Federation of Competitive Eating.  Competitive eating enthralls me.  Ever since I saw that contest on TV several years ago, I always looked forward to the 4th of July.  Not for days at the beach, fireworks or parades, but for Crazy Legs Conti and Joey Chestnut.  For the 40 year old, 115 pound woman who is one of the best competitive eaters in the world.  But can I pass this tradition on to my children?

Foxboro, MA.  1pm.  Fortunately for us (I'd like to think), one of the qualifying rounds for the Nathan's Famous  challenge was held at Patriot Place.  The grand prize was a seat at the Coney Island World Championship.  I managed to talk G in to going with me.  I told him about the possibility of eating a ton of hot dogs for free.  He immediately agreed to accompany his old man.  No one else wanted to be disgusted quite like us.  Their loss.

Hey is that the Skeevy Guy from Suffolk Downs?
When we arrive, all we can smell is raw meat and cologne.  The challenge was taking place in the end zone concourse, right next door to the Patriots Hall of Fame.   I saw that entertainment was going to be provided by My Blue Heaven and by bouncy houses and basketball hoops.  A wonderland to my 6 year old; I hope he wants to see the contest, despite the stench of raw meat.  And it wouldn't be an event at Gillette unless the Patriots Cheerleaders and Pat the Patriot were there.

But I was there to see some gluttony and the excitement was building.  Maybe some reversal of fortune and maybe some new blood that will be able to take on Takeru Kobayashi, Eater X and Joey Chestnut in a couple of months.  Things started slowly, however, as it became apparent that the nice weather - or fear of a guy named Pretty Boy -  drove off some of the competitors.  A kind of casting call was put out into the crowd looking for a couple of guys and a couple of women to compete.  Judging by the crowd, it didn't seem like there would be a problem finding some guys able to throw some hot dogs down, maybe even the next Eater X (I love that name!)

The emcee for the afternoon, some guy named Dave Keating, was shouting at us hoping that us 400 spectators could scream like four thousand.  Unfortunately, the sound guy (that is the band's sound guy who wasn't happy to be taking on double duties) wouldn't cooperate as the sound shorted out at least five times during the event as the Band was finishing up.  No matter, Keating was calling up lawyers, truckers and some obese sweaty guys to the podium to pulse pounding music.  Finally, to Eminem "8 Mile," in what seems like an ongoing gimmick, we are told that Competitive eating is akin to God battling Lucifer for humans' souls and only competitive eating could decide the battle.  Nice touch considering it was Rapture Day.  5 judges were called up from the crowd to make sure no one has any reversals of fortune as that is a call for automatic disqualification.  The Patriots Cheerleaders were present to hold up "number of hot dogs eaten" signs.

Boston's own Pete Davekos, who goes by the ironic nickname of Pretty Boy (honestly all of these competitive eaters seem to have ridiculous nicknames) now steps up to the podium.  Keating is introducing him like he's about to go into the ring with Mike Tyson.  He's the 15th ranked international competitive eater and the reigning spinach eating champ.  G is disgusted.

"Why is he proud of eating some much spinach, that's gross, Dad!"  Not as gross as what we're about to watch, son.  Not even close.

Yeah, this was was pretty disturbing.
The four horsemen of the esophagus.  I'm ready.  G's ready.  The timer clicks down 3, 2, 1 and the race to indigestion begins.  I'm impressed with the Pretty Boy.  He's definitely got the technique down as he engulfs two hot dogs and then dunks the bread in his coffee (I guess that what was in his Box of Joe from Dunkin' Donuts; please don't tell me its an endorsement) and downs those separately.  The five civilian judges and the Cheerleaders look horrified as bread, pieces of meat and water start flying around and off the table.  How do I know this is all happening?  We can walk literally right in front of them.  We begin to walk closer and closer to the table to get a view, but I step back when I'm warned by Keating that we chose to be this close to the competition.  I forgot to bring my slicker. I also notice that the women competitors are consuming hot dogs very slowly.  One of the women called up, obviously the girlfriend of the drummer, can barely get one down.

"Dad, I could totally beat her!"  My 6 year old says to me.  Despite the fact that he would be disqualified for not eating any of the buns, maybe.  I just feel bad for the girl's drummer boyfriend.  Who would want to be dating/married to woman who was a competitive eater?  That's just really, really nasty.  He must be really psyched right now as I see him scanning the crowd for a hook up after his girlfriend goes into a food coma - hey buddy the cheerleaders are right over there!

3 minutes left.  The 10 minute competition is more than half way through and I'm fascinated by the sheer forces of will its taken to keep these hot dogs down.  Pretty Boy is clearly in the lead.  A skinny guy from Somerville seems to be in second, although with all the hot dogs and buns smeared around, I have no idea how many have been eaten. A couple of minutes later, my son starts to lose interest (Thank God) and moves back over to the basketball shooting game.  I start to drift over with him as it becomes a foregone conclusion that the Pretty Boy is going to win, and win handily.  I'm not sure who is going to qualify on the women's side, although whoever does wont have a chance against Sonya Thomas.

The final buzzer mercifully rings.  As expected, Pretty Boy is crowned qualifying round champion and has stamped his ticket to Coney Island.  Fortunately, they had way too many hot dogs for the competitors and started giving them away to the spectators.  I think that's disgusting, but I went over to G who was now playing a pitching baseball game to see if he wanted a hot dog.

"No thanks Dad.  I'm not hungry anymore."

No kidding, neither am I.  But you know where we'll be on July 4.

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