Independence Day

We had an epic 4th. Wow. Memorably epic. So epic, in fact, I hesitate to record even pieces of the day’s events for fear I will belittle the fun due to the limited two dimensional nature of the written word. Still, for memory sake I will try. But please do me a favor and enhance my account with the imaginative powers of the mind. Picture my language three dimensionally by envisioning my story with the senses: the exhilarating noise of cheering and laughter; the warmth of the summer sun, the inevitable sweat, and accidental sunburns; the taste of a delicious hot dog; the scent of bbqs and theme park cotton candy…and even nasty body odor... Only then will you begin to approach the glory of this epic day.

Alright. Let’s begin at the beginning. Once upon a time (aka when I first moved to NYC) one of the first affairs I was informed of was this thing called Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest. I was instantly intrigued. A hot dog eating contest? Really? So I investigated. This infamous competition is held annually on July 4th at Nathan’s original eatery on Coney Island. This all American tradition is no run of the mill occasion. Really. Thus before you contemptuously scoff at the concept of a mere eating contest, let me explain just how extraordinary this event is. It’s huge. Titanic! We’re talking 40,000 fans onsite and ESPN coverage broadcasted to millions titanic! Naturally I added it to my NYC bucket list.

Now to Independence Day 2011. My festive attire:

Alright. The stories. Bryan and I left our apartment around 8:45am for the contest, arriving onsite just before 10am. Although there was already a hefty multitude of spectators, we fortuned a favorable position with a terrific view of the stage.

And our timing was sublime. The crowd hastily thickened though the competition wasn’t to commence until high noon. We're talking thousands. Like I said, this contest is not taken lightly. It was a site.

To our delight, there was also all sorts of pregame entertainment to ease the wait and build the energy. Let’s see, there were bands, rappers, circus performers and acrobats, dancers, and persons dressed as Uncle Sam. One of the most comical to me were the “Sky Riders” as they called them, which really meant trampoline jumping performers. It was actually pretty cool. They were apparently world champions in the "sport". One of them had even just broken a Guinness record in Italy. Not bad.

Do you see the little man flying above the crowd there? And what else… T-shirt launching, large beach ball throwing… Oh right, and can I just say one of the most comical things about the competition to me is that Pepto Bismol is one of the sponsors! I'm not kidding. Ha. Fitting?

With all the entertainment and energy the time flew. First, there was the new female division in which a petite Sonya—known as “The Black Widow” and I'm totally serious—downed 40 hot dogs and buns (referred to as HDBs in the world of competitive eating jargon) in 10 minutes! It was disgusting. But cool. I was half appalled while wholly dying of laughter. It was great.

And can we talk HDB eating contest techniques for a second. First, most contestants tend to eat the hot dog first followed by the bun. Second, they commonly plunge the bun into a drink—such as water—to ease the consumption of the bread. And third, they can use condiments, or not. Wow. AND, they literally get into a rhythm. It’s fascinating. Oh…and they’re not fat. I don’t get it. Call me prejudice or something of the sorts, but I pictured contestants of such a sport as being…large. I mean, she ate 40 hot dogs. That’s a lot. But no, most of them are tiny! Like I said, I don’t get it.

Then, the male competition. By this time, the grounds were jam-packed, occupied by the most festively energetic individuals I’ve ever seen. And most "pleasantly" inebriated.

Look at that! Look! Crazy! 40,000! For hot dog eating! Major League Hot Dog Eating. It was then we also noticed, Bryan’s brother Jeff but 30 feet behind us.

What are the odds?

Alas we reached the pinnacle moment of the event: the male competition. The crowds went wild as the announcer, George Shea, shouted, “Are you ready to sip from the volcano? Are you ready to ride the tornado?“ Ok, the competition is entirely hysterical alone for being an eating contest. But to top it off, the hosts jokingly dramatize it themselves. It’s truly the best thing ever.

Then with Eminem blasting as a backdrop, Shea was lifted high above the mobs as he enthusiastically proclaimed, “They say that competitive eating is the battlegrounds upon which God and Lucifer waged war for men souls. And they are right. For this is a battle for the ages. A battle of the Titans. Those beings, that are half Gods and only come to earth once. And that location is here, at the corner of Stillwell and Surf Avenue. The Mount Sinai of mastication. The Madison Square Garden of gurgitation. So it is, and so it always shall be. Brooklyn, let the contest beginnnnnnnn….”

Thank you George Shea. Couldn't have said it better myself. Like I said, they totally laugh at themselves. I love it! Not to mention, the whole thing is essentially treated similarly to a boxing match. And like a boxing match, each contestant is introduced with a brief bio and theme song. Fantastic. Just read a few of the bios. And yes, I did transcribe these from youtube. Ha. They are that good.

“He’s eaten 3.5 pounds of curly fries, 17.5 canolis, 8.4 pounds of baked beans, it’s just common sense. 6’ 6” tall, 325 pounds. Big Brian Subich.”

Did you read that? “…it’s just common sense.” Of course it is. Ha.

"As a young man he failed to excel at football, baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, soccer, tennis, swimming, rugby, wrestling, raquetball, curling... but he found his niche in competitive eating! And now he is ranked #11 in the world! Ladies and gentleman, Sean "Flash" Gordon!!!!!!"

“Tim Eater X Janus. Found unconscious by authorities in Tangier. An American with no family, no identification. But it soon became evident, through his skill in competitive eating that he’d been trained in special ops. And now he travels the worldwide eating circuit seeking clues to his former life, seeking answers. Ladies and Gentleman, the tiramisu and tamale eating champion of the world, and he remains a man of mystery even to himself, EATER X……..!”

Oh Eater X. Fantastic. He even had his face painted with his signature look.

“Ladies and Gentleman, he’s the jalepino pepper eating champion of the world, with 275. The grits eating champion of the world, with 20 pounds. The ice cream and chocolate and key lime pie and strawberry pie eating champion of the world. Some say it is a mixture of hand speed and jaw strength and stomach capacity that give him his power. Others say it’s a different trinity, a different combination. American by birth. Italian by name. And Irish by the grace of God! Let me hear it for the man from Chicago. Pat Deep Dish Bertoletti!!!!”

“Irish by the grace of God!” I died.

All introductions here:

Then, 3…2…1…let the games begin.

Ok, I thought the girl competition was nasty funny. This one was worse! The winner and now five time defending champion, Joey Chestnut, downed 62 HDBs in 10 minutes! 62! Sixty-two! That’s disgusting! He even had this weird jiggling dance he did that almost looked as if he was trying to shimmy the food down his esophagus. Oh, and the “Irish by the grace of God” man and first runner up used ketchup! THAT was the worst! The ketchup was everywhere! On his hands, face, shirt… I wanted to vomit for him. Just watch this!

Yuck! And yet it was the most entertaining and memorable experience. How did we get from 1776 to this? Oh America, we are a curious folk.

Finally after the competition we then rushed to get ourselves a Nathan’s Hot Dog ourselves. Somehow the competition far from deterred ours, or anyone’s, appetites. But really, you can’t go to that and not get a HDB. Delicious.

(Note: While I purchased a bun-less Nathan's, I did not check whether the meat itself was gluten free. What I'm saying is don't take my poor example to mean that Nathan's is gluten free. Cause I have no idea whether or not it is... Let's just say that sometimes my stomach gets the better of me. Foolish me.)

And look! A legit judge! Should've gotten his autograph...

Following the extravaganza we headed over to Coney Island for a little theme park fun. We played a shooting game…

I mean, we had to. I wanted to be like the characters in the film Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Brangelina, I’m pretty sure we outshot you.

Oh yes, and of course we took a whirl on the Wonder Wheel (aka the Ferris Wheel).

Will you look at how crowded that beach was!

The adventure was to die for. I loved wandering the markets and park corridors. That being said, I feel it would be one of the most difficult places to take a bunch of kids. It’s all pay per ride as opposed to an upfront all inclusive fee. If you were to dedicate a whole day there you could easily pay more than you would for a day at Disney Land. And as fun as it is, I’d take Disney Land.

Then the night. What a treat. Bryan’s work is opened 24/7 365 days a year, which means a few things. First, some people work more than they live. And second, we had prime seating for Macy’s magnificent fireworks display. In a word, breathtaking! We, and a couple of likeminded coworkers, enjoyed a a killer view of the show.

Unobstructed view, comfortable seating, pleasant temperature, no waiting or doesn't get better. Even the Empire State building festively illuminated red, white, and blue.

Thank you Macys. Thank you Bryan’s work..and of course Bryan. And thank you liberty and freedom. Each 4th of July I tend to find myself reflecting on the meaning of this liberty and freedom. What a blessing. We are so fortunate to have freedom and such opportunities. So on a more serious and most respectful note I want to express my sincere gratitude for all those who have fought and continue to fight for our freedom. Happy Independence Day.

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