Monday, July 13, 2009

Mike’s Bar-B-Que Adventure: Syracuse

Part 1 of a 4-part series

On Saturday, April 4th, 2009, the Good Morning America Weekend show invited viewers to submit their favorite Barbeque joints for consideration to be named the “Best Barbecue in America.” I was watching the show at the time, my PC by my side as always, and while it seemed like a long shot that Syracuse, NY might have a chance at being home to such a distinction, I decided to put in a plug for local favorite, the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. I drafted a quick essay about why I thought the Dinosaur ruled, making mention of its humble roots as a biker-joint, of its being discovered by the rest of Syracuse as home to some really outstanding food, and of its now serving as a Syracuse icon – the kind of place you tick off on your fingertips when asked to name places that a traveler must visit. The sort of place where, when an out-of-town relative comes to town and their family fails to take them there, a friend or neighbor will scowl at the native Syracuseans and offer a “for shame” waggle of the finger in their faces. I won’t pretend that the essay was any sort of masterpiece. There was no furrowed brow or long, artistic sigh as I struggled to piece together words of such touching eloquence and poetry that anyone who read my submission would be overcome with emotion and a near-religious fervor to eat a slow-roasted pig. I think I spent a total of about 15 minutes on it, which included a re-write when I discovered that my initial draft used only a fraction of the allotted word-count (though even my final version fell a hundred or so words short. I decided that I’d said what needed to be said and that was that). I pasted it into the submission form, clicked submit, and closed the file wherein I had composed the essay. I had no reason to consider keeping a copy, as I had failed to note one critical piece of information – this was a contest. A contest not only for the restaurants being nominated, but also for those who did the nominating. I had, quite innocently and in complete ignorance, entered one of the very few contests I can ever remember winning.

Now skip ahead some weeks to May 16th, 2009. Somehow on this quiet Saturday afternoon I became aware of the fact that the Dinosaur was one of four finalists in GMA-W’s contest. I don’t get the daily newspaper, so either I stumbled across this information online at the newspaper’s website, or somebody, possibly my mother, told me about it. Regardless, while I’m vain enough that I did wonder if my submission had played a part in the Dinosaur being selected, I’m not so full of myself that I expected my essay to actually be singled out in any way. It was more along the line of thought that “there can’t be THAT many people in Syracuse who a) watch GMA weekend AND b) noticed the blurb about the entry AND c) love the dinosaur AND d) actually took the time to visit the website and compose a submission. Given those criteria, I figured I was one of perhaps a few dozen Dino-advocates. I had no idea that Eric Noll, the GMA segment producer, and Ron Claiborne, the GMA-Weekend Anchor working the BBQ contest, had read and actually admired my submission. Until I got the phone call.

That same night, May 16th, the phone rang. It was Good Morning America! My wife asked who was on the phone, and I told her. She asked, “Don’t they usually only call people who’ve done something bad?” I told her that was just true of calls from Brian Ross. Still, there they were on the phone, asking if I might be free to visit the Dinosaur that following Wednesday. Ron Claiborne was going to be there taping and they’d like me there, also, since I’d submitted my essay nominating the restaurant. It was a VERY quick phone call – I said I’d plan to be there and that was about it. There was some brief mention made of me going to NYC if the Dinosaur won, but no details, such that I didn’t really grasp at that point that I’d been singled out at all. Still, I did a little dance for joy, as I was going to be there for the taping of a Good Morning America segment. Ok, it was a pretty big dance for joy – the children laughed and my wife shook her head and rolled her eyes, which is what happens whenever I dance for joy. I’m a ham, I admit it. I like being on TV and I like hanging around people who work for things that are “bigger” than me, in this case a major news program for one of the US’s TV networks, ABC. On Wednesday, I’d be doing both!

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