My (Future) Coney Island Hot Dog Adventure
In four and a half days, roughly 10,000 people will ascend on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues to witness the something amazing, something bizarre, something larger-than-life, something slightly nauseating. And it doesn’t involve a circa 2003 Anna Nicole Smith (or even the modern day version). Of course I’m talking about the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Championship on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. Otherwise known as the World Series-meets-Super Bowl of competitive eating.
Heather and I will be there. She’s nice enough to accompany me on my occasionally misguided trips to watch or participate in some IFOCE and non-IFOCE sanctioned eating contests. This time we’re getting a hotel. Making a weekend of it, if you will. She’s still nowhere near as excited about it as I am. She also not excited about the fact that we’ll be staying in an Econo Lodge in New Jersey. (Hey, we’re saving for a trip to San Francisco in the fall! I thought I was doing us both a favor by cutting a few corners, but I guess there some corners that are better left uncut. I think she mentioned something about bringing our own sheets and towels.)
In my head I’ve been going over the itinerary of our 36-hour trip and I think it’ll go something like this:
MONDAY, JULY 3
11:30 am – Depart Harrisburg, enroute to Ebola Lodge in Elizabeth, NJ.
12:45 pm – Stop at Wal-Mart in Allentown to buy towels and sheets that we forgot to pack.
3:10 pm – Arrive at Ebola Lodge. It doesn’t look as bad as I thought it would! The sheets and towels look clean, but we change them anyhow. Heather reminds me that hotels only wash blankets about once every four weeks. Could’ve done without that. Forgot to bring pillow cases. My Ramones t-shirt becomes Heather’s pillow case.
3:35 pm – Leave Ebola Lodge to explore Elizabeth, New Jersey.
3:55 pm – Back at the Ebola Lodge. Not much to do in Elizabeth. Beginning to wish I’d spent an extra 40 bucks for a place in Brooklyn. Watch TV. Fiddle with temperature controls on noisy air conditioner. Is that water supposed to dripping from there?
4:45 pm – Leave Ebola Lodge for Keyspan Park on Coney Island where the Brooklyn Cyclones are playing a game against the Hudson Valley Renegades.
5:20 pm – Park on Coney Island. With an hour-and-a-half until game time and our tickets already purchased we decide to take a stroll.
5:25 pm – Arrive at Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand, a mere two blocks from the stadium. Order six dogs (and one for Heather). Ask teenager behind the counter where the stage for tomorrow’s eaters will be placed. Stand in approximate location where Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut will devour a combined 100 hot dogs and eat my own six franks.
5:37 pm – I’m full after four-and-a-half hot dogs. Feed remaining half to stray cat. Keep last one for the ballgame. Heather says they won’t let me take food into the stadium. I ask if I can put it in her purse. She says no. I vow to do my best to conceal it under my shirt and prove her wrong that I can indeed sneak a hot dog into the stadium.
6:15 pm – Get tired of carrying cold hot dog. Eat hot dog and feed bun to seagulls. I could’ve snuck it into that damn stadium.
6:40 pm – Buy two beers and find our seats in the park. Breath deep and soak up the ambiance of a beautiful minor league baseball stadium.
7:27 pm – Middle of the second inning. Buy a hot dog, soft pretzel, one beer and one diet Coke.
10:05 pm – The Cyclones win a close one and the post-game fireworks are over. Depart stadium, stop at Nathan’s for two more hot dogs before leaving Coney Island.
10:45 pm – Back at Ebola Lodge. Wow, it’s friggin’ cold in here! The air conditioner is set at 66 degrees? Who the hell did that?
11:50 pm – Catch some Z’s. Dream about giant seagulls dropping hot dog bombs on me as I run frantically through the streets of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Duck into a seedy bar where I play beer pong with Crazy Legs Conti, Eater X and Anna Nicole Smith. Kobayashi comes in drunk and tries to bench press the pool table. Giant seagulls taunt me through the window. Crazy Legs disappears with Anna Nicole.
TUESDAY, JULY 4
6:30 am – Wake up to alarm. Yes, I intended to get up at 6:30 am, though I’m not happy about it at the moment.
7:35 am – Check out of Ebola Lodge. Forgot the sheets and towels. I knew we would.
8:15 am – Arrive at Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand on Coney Island to get “a good spot.” With four hours to go before the contest, good spots are abundant. Unfold tiny chair and have a seat.
8:50 am – Finally finish Horsemen of the Esophagus. Wait for other competitive eating fans to arrive. Heather leaves to take a stroll around Coney Island. I reserve her seat by placing my book on it. (As if a total stranger would suddenly swoop in, sit down and refuse to move after arguing that it wasn’t taken.)
9:00 am – Nathan’s opens. I buy three hot dogs because I feel weird just sitting there.
10:33 am – I think I see George Shea and Ryan Nerz, but I’m not sure. I do see Liz Kellermeyer of Urban Honking fame. We meet, chat, and agree that I woke up way to early for a hot dog eating contest.
10:55 am – I definitely see George Shea and a man who looks like Hungry Charles Hardy, but isn’t. Wait…yes, it is indeed Hungry Charles Hardy. I point out to the guy next to me that the man standing next to the other man is the commissioner of the International Federation of Competitive Eating. “They have a commissioner?” he asks incredulously. Two TV crews begin setting up in the media area directly in front of me.
11:05 am – More media begin assembling right in front of me. Not happy about it, but at least I’ve got the best seat in the house. Begin wondering if a seat near the corner of the stage would be better. I think I can smell hot dogs.
11:20 am – Crowd begins forming at an alarming rate. More eaters show up – Sonya Thomas, Pat Bertoletti, Rich LeFevre, Badlands Booker – too many to count. I’d greet them, but I don’t want to lose my spot and at this point, I don’t think putting a book on my chair will save it.
12:02 pm – George Shea and Charles Hardy do a live interview with the ESPN crew. The questioning centers on the now red-hot rivalry between the defending champ, Takeru Kobyashi and Joey “I-Can-Eat-50-Hot-Dogs-In-12-Minutes-Too-Bitch” Chestnut. Shea plays up the Japan vs. American angle and picks Chestnut in what he calls “the greatest upset since Jesus Christ himself rose from dead.” Charles Hardy calls the match “too close to call.”
12:15 pm – The introduction of the eaters is underway. Chestnut and Kobayashi make brief eye contact before settling into their positions next to each other at the center of the stage. A seagull watches from a lamp post overlooking the stage. Damn seagulls.
12:25 pm – The contest begins. The crowd gasps as Kobayashi grabs six hot dogs in each hand, squeezes them into a brown, meaty paste and gulps them down in the first minute.
12:31 pm – At the halfway mark, Chestnut leads Koby 32 to 30. Sonya Thomas is not far behind with 25.
12:34 pm – The meat sweats set in at the 9-minute mark as the eaters begin showing signs of slowing. Chestnut clings to a 41 to 40 lead.
12:36 pm – With 30 seconds left, Kobayashi attempts a “nasal ingestion” technique he learned while on a trip to Thailand. Despite some difficulty with the left nostril, the risk pays off. Kobayashi and Chestnut are tied with 50 dogs apiece.
12:37 pm – The contest ends. Over 500 hot dogs were consumed by the 18 eaters, 104 of which were downed by Chestnut and Kobayashi. The score appears tied at 52 each. But wait! There, on the south-eastern quadrant of Chestnut’s plate lies a single partially eaten hot dog and bun. Somehow in the mayhem of the previous 720 seconds it had wriggled free from his grasp. Chestnut has brought the mustard yellow belt back to American shores by a mere one-quarter of a frank. Kobayashi smiles, sneezes, and holds Chestnut’s hand above his head to acknowledge his young challenger’s victory. Humble Bob and Sonya dance a spirited jig. Eater X’s hair blows wistfully in the breeze and high, high above us all, the seagulls circle and search for their lunch.