There are few things more nonsensical and unappealing than going to a post-sundown fireworks display with a toddler and a newborn (except, arguably, a pre-sundown fireworks display?) so I had not incorporated any pyrotechnic expectations into looking forward to Independence Day. I also managed to attend a cookout on Sunday attended by many of my old college friends, which afforded me ample access to my oft-mentioned current vices of choice (red meat, sweets and booze) in appropriately patriotic formats (burgers, pie and domestic beer), and I took advantage of said access with gusto, which similarly obviated the need to incorporate same into the actual Fourth of July. So on the holiday itself, there was really only one thing I needed in order to feel like my day off from work was well spent. And that of course was watching the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest broadcast live from Coney Island on ESPN at noon.
And we managed it, too, the whole family foursome gathered around the tv to watch the spectacle unfold in glorious realtime. I don’t really have a profoundly major point to make about either our nation’s birthday or the Nathan’s contest itself, but I wanted to share a few random accompanying thoughts.
- I was rooting for the above-pictured Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti, ranked #2 competitive eater in the world and (as it turns out) doomed to lose once again to the unstoppable Joey Chestnut. What can I say, as long as we’re not talking about the New York Yankees (and after yesterday, yeah, let’s not) I enjoy cheering for an upset. Plus Bertoletti rocks the Mohawk and the fu-manchu mustache in a way I can’t help but respect.
- I give the Nathan’s folks a lot of credit for showmanship. It’s remarkable and absurd that the hot dog eating contest gets an hour of airtime on ESPN every year at this point, but it is a pretty entertaining hour at that. I made a special point of pantomime-tipping my hat when they finally got around to announcing soon-to-be five-time champ Joey Chestnut, who apparently had chosen The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” as his entrance music. That song has a long intro with a gradual build and the MC did a fine job of ratcheting up the crowd noise as the song escalated and finally calling out Chestnut’s name pretty much when the song breaks wide open. I love that song but was having a hard time figuring out how it tied to the whole theme of the competition until I was reminded of the opening lines (“Out here in the fields/I fought for my meals”. Well played, Mr. Chestnut.)
- ESPN actually did a SportsScience feature on competitive eating techniques which was fascinating. Some of the aspects they covered I already knew, since I’ve been obsessed with the Nathan’s contest since around 2005 or so. But other stuff blew my mind. Like the Valsalva Maneuver. Oh and also the little nugget that eating 60-some hot dogs is the caloric equivalent of what most people eat in five days? That more than anything to me represents what’s so all-American – good and bad – about the Nathan’s contest. (It also made me want to give about 200 bucks to the local food pantries and soup kitchens.)
- So this year they had qualifying events in China, where Nathan’s franchises are soon to be opening up. And that, in my mind, is why the USA is going to win. Win what, exactly, I’m not quite sure, but basically I’m not willing to concede the world to China just yet.
- Usually one of the fun things about watching the contest is keeping an eye on the tally-girls (the young ladies with the numbered flip-pads who are responsible for showing how many hot dogs each competitor has eaten as they go, for the benefit of the crowd at Coney Island) because at least once you’ll see one of those gals making an absolutely horrified, disgusted where-did-my-life-plan-to-make-money-off-being-pretty-go-wrong face. But that didn’t happen this year – I think someone must have coached the ladies to keep smiling NO MATTER WHAT.
- The hour-long special is about 45 minutes of pre-game show, the actual ten-minute race, and five minutes of wrap-up. For that first ¾ of an hour my wife kept saying she was craving hot dogs. I asked her if she still wanted hot dogs at about the mid-point of the contest and at that point I did in fact get a good expression of horror and disgust.
- Also weird and funny were the attempts made by me and my wife to explain to the little guy (a) what the heck was going on on the tv and (b) how he should never ever emulate it. “What are those guys doing?” “Eating too fast and taking way, way too big of bites.” “Why?” “Um … for fun?”
- Despite my love of New York in general I’ve actually never been to Coney Island. And I think it’s much better to watch the hot dog eating contest on tv, but I do need to get up there one of these summers.
So, no parades or sparklers this year but still a good Fourth for me and mine. And now it’s on to a short workweek to kick off the remainder of summer characterized by heat, humidity and no more holidays until Labor Day. At least I no longer have to drive on 66 every day; when it comes to mass transit preferences I’m happy to be thoroughly un-American in that regard.