Monday, July 4, 2011

Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Competition...

For the last decade or so, I kept reading about Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Competition every summer, around this time, online and thought, "that'd be fun to just go and see."  And so this year, since I'm in New York City (and Brooklyn, at that) I figured I'd go and see...

I showered and had a light breakfast and got dressed and was out before 10am.

I took the F train down to Coney Island.  It was crowded and lots of screaming kids, but then, it's a big summer holiday and Coney Island is a big destination for that...

I got off the train and out of the station a bit before 11am, and I'd read that the competition was scheduled for 11:30am, so I found a mostly empty area on the sidewalk and hung out.  There was lots of pre-competition entertainment, music and some performers and things.  There were already tens of thousands of people there by the time I arrived, filling up the whole intersection outside Nathan's main restaurant, of Surf Avenue and Stillwell Avenue (my mother lived on Surf Avenue, a few blocks from there, in the early 1950's).

A few people were going around protesting meat, handing out vegan pamphlets.  Not far from me one woman was changing into a fluffy, pink pig costume and had a sign that said "Meat is Murder."  Once she got into her costume, though, I never saw her again.

The crowd was also bouncing beach balls overhead all through the place.  At one point the MC brought out a homemade, giant slingshot and Nathan's employees used that to sling rolled up Nathan's t-shirts out into the crowd.  A major competitive eater and rapper, "Badlands" Booker, who didn't qualify for this competition also entertained the crowds with some rapping, mostly "raise your hands in the air!" cheering sorts of things.

There was also a shorter eating contest in advance, the "cleanest eaters" which features some under-10 kids competing on who could eat a meal with the best manners and cleanliness, rather than speed.  The MC called it the "farm league of competitive eating" (in the U.S. pro sports usually have minor leagues, a step, or two or three, below the big leagues, called "farm leagues").

Then there were the Sky Fliers, a small team of trampoline performers who bounced around a bit...  Together, one with a hoola hoop, another on a snowboard…

There were a few short speeches from the CEO and the President of Nathan's, and then the director of the New York City Food Bank came on stage and Nathan's presented her with a check for their donation of 100,000 hot dogs.

I couldn't get real close, and I couldn't get many good pictures because I'm sort of short and there were lots of taller people in between me and the stage.

This was the first year they held separate women's and men's competitions.  The women's competition started around 11:40am or so.  Usually they have cute girls, the "bunnettes" who hold the counting cards for the competitors, so now with a women's competition, they have the "bunners," hunky men holding the counting cards...

The MC first introduced each contestant, one by one, as they came out onto the stage as the crowd roared...  The last one was the current champion, the #1 ranked woman amongst eating competitions around the world, Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas, a tiny woman about 5 feet tall and 100 pounds (45 kg).

Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas on the left
and "The Lovely" Juliet Lee on the right.  
Once the eating started it was more exciting than the preliminary stuff...  Amongst the women it was close, between Sonya Thomas and the woman next to her, Juliet Lee.  In the end, though, Thomas won it by eating 40 hot dogs, with buns, in ten minutes, compared to Lee who only ate 29.5.  Both of them stood there for a couple of minutes after the times-up to swallow what was in their mouths.

After being presented with the trophy and the pink championship belt, the MC announced someone in the crowd had flowers for Thomas, and then was stunned when she went down to get them, instead of staying up on the stage.  "Badlands" Booker then paraded her around on his shoulders.

Then there was over an hour of stuff before the men's competition.  I nearly left, it was getting hotter, more crowded and my legs were getting stiff from simply standing still.  There was a small team of "silk dancers" who did some kind of boring dance with silk strips hanging off a tripod, but it looked more like they were struggling to hang on than actually dancing.

A tired couple sat down on the ground next to me, leaning against the building.  And moments later a street vendor who'd been standing nearby for at least twenty minutes walked right up to them and asked "can you move so I can set up my table?"  They did and he unfolded his table, opened a suitcase and started laying out his junk to sell, cheap jewelry, non-name perfumes, pirated DVDs and so forth...

By the time the men's competition started the crowd was much bigger and I could only barely see the stage because of all the people in front of me, including lots of parents holding children up on their shoulders.

It started again, with the MC introducing each contestant with their history in eating, "...who's record for waffles is 17 pounds..." and all that.  He saved the reigning champion, Joey Chestnut, for last.

I could barely see the eating this time because of all the people.  Fortunately there was a big screen showing the action.  Joey Chestnut managed to win this one, but not break any records, eating only 62 hot dogs with buns in 10 minutes...  He looked pretty funny eating, though, wiggling and shaking, looking like he was going to have a "reversal" (euphemism in the sport for throwing up...)  But I guess that's just part of how he gets it down so fast.

As soon as the ten minutes were up, I followed much of the crowd in heading away from there.  I went much the same direction, too, to the boardwalk.

The beach...  Nearly as crowded as
the beaches around Waldport...
I walked on the boardwalk a little, but the sun came out and it was hot.  I put on a hat, but it still didn't take long before I was sweating and my clothes were getting a bit wet.  It was super crowded.  There's a pier there and I walked out a little, but the police had it blocked off before it went over the water, saying only fishermen were allowed beyond their blockade.  Probably for safety, so no one gets a hook in the eye or something.

I didn't stick around long, it was just too hot for me, so I headed back to the subway station.  There was an F train waiting, and it was air conditioned, so that felt nice.

Getting home I found I've got a bit of a sunburn…  My arms and face are all red.  I didn't realize I got that much sun, but I guess I did…  Overall, it was fun, and the hot dog eating contest was entertaining.

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