Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mike’s Bar-B-Que Adventure: Syracuse

Part 4 of a 4-part series

Sunday morning dawned with low, thick clouds heavy and bulging with rain. The breeze was cool and the streets were wet. My family was sleepy but supportive. I was ecstatic, fairly buzzing about with enthusiasm. For quite possibly the only time in my life, certainly the only time so far, I was about to be on national television. And despite my wife’s concerns after the first call from ABC news that started this whole adventure, I wasn’t preparing to be grilled by Brian Ross for something unseemly, unethical or illegal – I was just sharing with the nation my love of good ol’ fashioned down-home bar-b-que and the best darn genuine honky-tonk rib joint I’d ever seen.

Still, it was 6 AM on a Sunday morning and we were all sleepy enough that as we walked down Willow street, past the giant Newschannel 9 remote production truck, I nodded vaguely at the guys standing near the parking lot and kept on walking into the restaurant. Which was open but deserted. Oh wait, I thought, those were probably the news guys standing out there. With the cameras and lights and stuff. Ugh, it’s early. I introduced myself to the news team and chatted briefly. They told me that our segment wasn’t due to be live until 7:40 AM, but they’d mic me up and get us settled sometime before that. They asked if I knew where John Stage was, and I told them I had no idea. For most of the next hour, we sat and watched the growing throng of Dino-fans assemble, mostly bikers, and we tried to stay out of the rain. Luckily it cleared around 7 AM and the weather turned out to be fine. But still, no sign of Dinosaur owner John Stage. The news guys looked a little worried.

A little after 7 AM, they fitted me with a microphone and an IFB. Around that time, John Stage appeared, looking even sleepier than we had been when we arrived. He and I were seated at a picnic table that had been pulled out in front of the parking lot, facing a camera and an array of lights. John seemed to remember me and we chatted while we listened to the 7 AM GMA-Weekend broadcast through our earpieces. He told me that Sunday was usually his day to sleep in and he was unaccustomed to being up this early. Also, through some mis-communication, he had understood that they wanted him to be in New York City that weekend, so as to be on-set in the GMA studios in the event that the Dinosaur won. When he learned on Saturday afternoon that he’d won, he had been told at that time that, no, they needed him to be in Syracuse and he’d had to make the drive back that evening. He was cheerful enough, but didn’t look to be up for a party. And quite the party it was – there were easily a hundred people gathered down around the Dinosaur, many of them actually drinking bloody marys at 6:00 in the morning. The Dinosaur team had set out a spread of bagels and such, and everybody seemed to be having a great time. They told me that quite a few had simply stayed up from the night before.

Around 7:20, a gigantic tray of meat was placed before us, still sizzling. The aroma that it gave off, as it rested there with its juices popping and rolling gently down the sides of the red-brown slabs of pork, overwhelmed my nose and mouth and drew forth such a flood of water onto my tongue that I remember having to swallow a few times. There in front of me were several full racks of the Dinosaur’s famous ribs, plus an enormous rounded lump of something I couldn’t quite identify, but which nonetheless smelled so good that it was all I could do not to pluck off a hunk of the crisped skin and thrust it into my mouth heedless of a burning tongue or the juices drizzling down through my mangy beard. I think if I’d had a knife and fork at that time, my willpower would have failed entirely. But with some measure of self-control I was able to simply sit there and gaze at the succulent, savory cuts of pork that taunted me mere inches from my face.

At last curiosity overcame gluttony and I asked John Stage to identify the large, pillow-like lump of meat. He told me it was pork shoulder. As I’d already guessed, it was the genesis of the Dinosaur’s other trademark recipe, their pulled pork. Soon enough we were on the air, talking to Ron Claiborne, Bill Weir and Kate Snow. I got my not-quite 15 minutes of fame and the chance to rave about one of my all-time favorite places to eat. Kate asked me to describe the taste. Sadly, I’m a writer rather than an improvisational public-speaker, and I had failed to anticipate that question, so my answer was more esoteric and general than it was a specific list of the spices and flavors you were likely to encounter in a mouthful of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. But what the heck, it was me talking on national television – let’s not pretend I really cared what I was saying, shall we? Besides, when I was done spouting off they put the question to John, who was far more qualified to answer anyway.

And then, all too soon, it was over. We were handing back our IFBs and microphones, shaking hands all around, and I was getting John to sign my Dinosaur Cookbook. We were more than welcome to hang out for a while and join the party, but with the family in tow I thought it best to head home while they were still being good. And still, the question remained: what was this whole “trip to NYC” thing all about? Little did I know how much of the adventure was still to come.


Video: The "Dinosaur Wins!" Segment from GMA, featuring... Me! :D
Article: The Post Standard's coverage of Sunday Morning at the Dinosaur

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