Friday, October 3, 2008

A Southern Version of Heaven (or a Vegetarian's Nightmare)

The whole RV park has a haze hanging over it this weekend. But it's not fog and it's not smog. It's the multitude of meat smokers all fired up for the 12th Annual Pig Iron BBQ Challenge, held this year in Hoover, Alabama. To set it up and host thousands of attendees, they cordoned off 3/4 of the park, made us all move (I was sure it would be worth it) to one small section of the park, filling up all the rows at the entrance. By the time the Challenge opened at 5 pm on Friday evening, people were pulling into the Regions stadium parking lot and heading towards the smell of 'Que, as we like to call it around here.

Bar-B-Que, for those of you who don't know this, is a noun in the South (smoked meat, with a flavored sauce of your choice... a messy delicious treat) and a verb out West ("to cook out"). BBQ is a very serious thing in the South and as long as I've lived here I've never eaten as much that tasted as good as the restaurants make in Alabama. I will say this: Alabama can make some dang good BBQ. Holy cow. Or holy pig.

Our RV friends Peggy (a fellow writer) and Howell, who were volunteers, were kind enough to invite us to the event and we loved every minute of it. With themed booths, some decorated quite cleverly and named just as cleverly ("Butt Masters" was my personal fave, John enjoyed the Batman-themed "Got Ham City") the businesses that participated were cooking for a good cause. The Pig Iron BBQ Challenge is a contest to "find the best backyard BBQ in the state". It's held every year to raise funds for Children's Harbor, a charity that helps seriously ill children and their families through their children's camps and hospital-based family center and services. Looking at the attendance this time, it looks like they did well. Forty businesses participated. Thousands of people showed up. And why not? You pay $10 at the door and get to wander down rows of tents and booths and taste what they have served up for the judges and you, the salivating public. Some of the food was good, some was great and the general competition for the trophies was fierce.

I won't attempt to tell you how succulant some of the offerings were, I can only do an interpretive dance in honor of that but I will list for you right here what we consumed in a hour:



Pulled pork

Grilled sausage

Corn on the cob


Potato chips

BBQ sandwich ( John)

Root beer float (John)

Fried catfish (Therra)

It was all free with admission. You could purchase beverages from the organizers, although I noticed some of the booths were giving away bottled water and one stylishly decorated 50's style "diner" was making the free floats. I know, I know... a dream come true! There was a blues band later in the evening and a fire truck for the kids to climb on, along with a Nascar racing car on display, face painting and clowns. After a while we sadly realized we had to stop eating for fear of developing a permanent waddle. At one tent, for a last hurrah, I got some ribs but John demurred. The man serving us stopped dead and looked at him, "You turning down my ribs?" he asked John with arched brows, forcing a slightly menacing manner. John said, "Oh, I am so full!" and patted his stomach. "You turning down my ribs?" the man repeated and I laughed out loud at John getting bullied into eating more food. John took a rib. The man looked happy. I was happy. The ribs were fantastic. Wow.

Oh, I forgot. You want to know who won? Sick children and their families. That's who wins with an event like this.
Good things happen when people care:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Running On Empty

Photo from Wayne State Univ. 2004

For the first and hopefully only time in my life I am walking up to numerous strangers asking the indelicately phrased question, "Do you have gas?"

It's a valid question. I got to Atlanta on Thursday night in time for my friend Pat to inform me that Atlanta was in the middle of a gas panic, with severe shortages and outages everywhere. This is a city of 6 million people and if you are ever in traffic here, you will swear the whole population is on the road at the same time, all in separate cars, some folks still snoring while going 75 mph during the 7 a.m. rush hour. They usually wake up when I pull in front of them and slam on my brakes.

On this trip we are in our Jeep, and didn't bring the RV (thank goodness!). It was surprising to come from the relative plenty of other states to this mess. We hadn't heard about it before we got here or we might not have come, giving our little piece of the petrol pie to someone trying to get to the office this week. Driving past empty gap pumps on one street and cars in lines snaking around block after block elsewhere reminded me of the broken situation after Hurricane Katrina, where we joined in the hunt for gas like everyone else on the Gulf Coast. Like then, we decided to keep a sense of humor and practice patience and conservation...and yet, you have to use gas to find gas. The irony of hunting for gasoline after yet another hurricane, even this far inland, did not escape us.

The usual madness has ensued now that gas is scarce. People are lining up for miles at the stations that have gas. That segued into people leaving their cars overnight in line at empty stations and walking home or taking the bus or subway and coming back the next day hoping for gasoline to appear. If you don't think that a line of unmanned cars at a gas station isn't a somewhat eerie sight, you're wrong.
"It's like the Rapture," I whispered to John as we were out using what little fuel we had in our tank to search for more. "Or a Stephen King novel."
Later I complained, "We're cruising around like drug addicts in search of a fix!" as we drove through yet another barren neighborhood.
"This is crazy, " John agreed.

Ah, but given a few days the craziness has now upped a level. Now intrepid Georgia motorists who want to use the gas in their tank in a wise manner are stalking fuel tankers, giving them the attention once reserved for visiting heads of state or the latest boy band. Like teenyboppers on the trail of the Beatles, once spotted, the tanker driver/object of every one's affection's every single move is followed by enraptured fans of fuel until they end up at a gas station where they can, presumably, get a fill up once the man or woman tanker driver does their gassy duty.

Why the shortage? Something about Hurricane Ike, low sulfur gas, refineries offline, smurfs affected by solar flares, Danny Bonaduce, mentos, Diet Coke, and allergies to pine nuts. I don't
know why the shortage and like most people in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina, I don't care. I just want my fix.


Atlanta Residents May Not Have Gas To Get To Work This Week

What Do The Experts Say?