Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mike’s Bar-B-Que Adventure: Syracuse

Part 2 of a 4-part series
By Wednesday, I had spoken briefly with segment-producer Eric Noll, and had come to realize that my entry had been noticed by Eric and by Ron, and that they liked it. But I still didn’t grasp that I’d won a contest. Moreover, my visit to the dinosaur that day was about all the prize I’d have asked for at that time. I was greeted warmly by Eric and Ron, who knew who I was and did indeed remember my submission. When I told him I was a writer, he called me a “ringer” and I laughed. I was given no specific direction on where I should be, so I essentially stayed within fifteen feet of Ron throughout the day. He didn’t seem to mind and was very friendly (and very tall. Wow!). I watched as they taped Ron and the Dinosaur’s Executive Chef “Cooter” stoking the smoker with fresh logs of split hickory and spicing some racks of smoked ribs with a dry rub. Cooter, a classically-trained chef with a background in French cuisine, was an enormous retired/inactive Marine (I’m assuming, based on his tattoos) with a boisterous style and an infectious sense of humor. As Ron prepared to place a hunk of hickory into the smoker, Cooter joked that most of his guys don’t have much hair left on their arms after doing that job. Ron was a good sport and soldiered on regardless.
As Ron and Cooter cavorted in the back kitchen, I watched from the sidelines. Two women with a video camera and tripod came to stand beside me and watch as well. I was surprised that there wasn’t more media coverage of this event (Syracuse being somewhat unaccustomed to national attention) and asked what outfit they were with. They were from the regional Time-Warner Cable News 10 Now network – reporter Allison Lazarz and another woman whose name I didn’t catch (which is a shame, as she’s the one with whom I was mostly speaking). She (the other woman) asked if I was with GMA and the only (short) answer I could come up with was, “Well, sort of. I sent in the essay that got the Dinosaur in the finals.” She thought this was GREAT and asked if I’d consent to an interview. I had to restrain my urge to shout “YES!” into her face or spring once again into my dance for joy and managed a more demure “I’d be happy to.” Moments later, Dinosaur owner John Stage walked over to where we were standing. The Time-Warner team had already interviewed Stage, so they were chatting amiably when the woman I’d been speaking with introduced me to him. John was pleased to meet me and clearly very happy to have his restaurant in the spotlight. He invited me up into the kitchen to watch the segment taping more closely.
After they were done taping, the News 10 team interviewed me and then Ron Claiborne, then I had some time to talk to Ron myself. He told me how he was familiar with the Dinosaur as he lived near the one in Harlem, New York City and had eaten there many times. He also told me a bit about the Good Morning America show, about how they tape each hour twice and let each affiliate choose whether to broadcast the 7 AM or the 8 AM feed (the weekend show is only an hour long, unlike the two-hour weekday version. More’s the pity.). He also shared some entertaining anecdotes about the show and talked a little about the other BBQ places he’d visited. I found him to be very personable and natural, and had a blast just hanging out talking to him.
Links: (Note: as of March 2013, the video link below is dead. I left it for posterity.)

Mike (among others) is interviewed by News 10 Now (video)
Mike (among others) is interviewed by News 10 Now (article)
Syracuse.com/Post Standard Article
During this time, the local ABC affiliate’s crew showed up and interviewed Ron. I thought it was funny that they weren’t there already, as they’d actually had a remote crew “Live outside the Dinosaur” at 5:30 that very morning, even though the Dinosaur was closed and dark and there wasn’t a soul around. I also got a chuckle out of the fact that they were the only news crew that day who weren’t interested in interviewing me. Ok, that sounds pompous (which I suppose I am, but not as much as that sounds). Look at it as a statement of fact – whether or not you think they SHOULD have wanted to interview me, they didn’t elect to do so, whereas others did. I didn’t mind (much. I mean, you read above where I said how much I like being on TV, right?), but I did think it was funny. Ron even went out of his way to mention to reporter Audrey Washington that I’d sent in the entry that brought him to Syracuse, but she smiled and nodded and went on her way. Ah well, better was still to come.
All told, I was at the dinosaur for around three hours that day. I was interviewed by Newsradio 570 WSYR and twice by the Post Standard newspaper, as well as by Ron. It was actually Post Standard reporter Tom Leo who told me about the contest I had unwittingly entered and explained that the prize was a trip to NYC. I ate lunch with Ron, Eric and their camera and sound guys, and Ron teased me for eating my ribs with a knife and fork. What can I say, I really don’t like getting my hands dirty. You should see me trying to weed my garden with a pair of tongs. Yes, that’s a joke. Then the waitress noticed I was doing it and wouldn’t bring me another soda until she saw me eat some ribs with my hands. Sigh. Remarkably, I still managed not to stain my clothes. At last things were winding down and it was time for me to go. I had one final question for Eric though. I explained that I’d been told on the phone that there was something about going to NYC if the Dinosaur won. I wanted to be clear whether I needed to be “on standby” to fly down to NYC on Sunday morning should the Dinosaur be declared the victor. He assured me that no, the NYC trip was a prize to be taken at my discretion. I was relieved though I still didn’t know much in the way of details about what this “prize” would entail. I also didn’t know just how crazy Sunday was going to be.

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