Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tour 2009: Nathan's Famous 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest

All photos of Coney Island, hot dog eating contest, and 4th of July fireworks available on Flickr.

After a rough two weeks at my new job, I flew to New York Friday night to meet Erik for our final 2009 trip, the highlights of which are the new Yankee & Mets' ballparks. We are spending a week in New York and we've both been looking forward to this trip since last year. If you would have told me last year at this time that Erik would be working at a fast food restaurant, and I would be living in Iowa, I would have thought you were crazy. But such was the case as I drove to the Mason City airport Friday afternoon, about an hour north of Waterloo. The airport building was no more larger than my parents' backyard, and is mostly meant for private flights, but does operate a commuter propeller jet to and from Minneapolis thrice a day. I boarded the Wahoo Express at about 4:30, and after a layover in Minnesota, another 2 hours of flying, and a 90 minute subway ride to our hostel in uptown Manhattan, I was beat. I met Erik (who had arrived in New York about 10 hours before me and was pretty hammered) at a bar near the hostel for an inaugural drink, and then it was off to bed.

We woke up bright and early on Saturday morning - not for a ballgame, but so that we could beat the crowd to Coney Island for the 94th annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest! This is the Super Bowl of competitive eating, and takes place in Brooklyn every July 4th. Erik and I had first seen this event on television at a bar in Rochester when we were there on the main tour and instantly fell in love with Major League Eating. We were hoping that when the schedules came out in March, that the Yankees and Mets would be home around the 4th so that we could attend the hot dog contest, and it just so happens they were. It was about an hour ride to Coney Island, and we got there around 10:30, two hours before first dog. The energy was electric in the beginning, but by around noon the crowd started to get restless as the MC George Shea struggled to fill time with jugglers, rappers, and the Nathan's mascots. Shortly after 12:30, about 40,000 strong began to cheer as the eaters were introduced. There were about 20 participants that made it through qualifiers all over America to be there, but everyone's eyes were on Joey Chestnut, the 2-time defending champion with an iron stomach, and Takeru Kobayashi, a scrawny Asian kid with crazy hair that had won the event six years prior before Chestnut burst on the scene. These two have been shattering records throughout MLE, particularly in this event, and although ESPN talked up a few other gurgitaters as having an outside chance, everyone in the crowd knew it would be one of these two fine specimens.

And, they're off! The rules are simple: eat as many hot dogs and buns as you can in 10 minutes, dunking in water is allowed, and automatic disqualification for a "reversal of fortune." Chestnut, a notoriously fast starter, shot out of the gates and shook down 23 dogs in the first two minutes. Kobayashi caught up and briefly took the lead about halfway through, but Chestnut was steady for the entire 10 minutes and eventually won with a new 10-minute world record of 68 hot dogs. Takeru took 2nd with 64, and Patrick Bertolotti took 3rd. Overall, the pregame was pretty boring, but I was glad we got there early, because from the looks of the crowd, most couldn't see as well as we could. We were so glad to be a part of hot dog eating history, that we attempted to eat as many as we could after the contest. Erik had two and some fries, and I had three, and we were both stuffed. That just goes to show how remarkable these guys are - I could maybe have forced down two more, and maybe do a dozen with some training, but 68? Ingesting 20,000 calories in one sitting is just something you have to be born to do.

After lunch, we walked around Coney Island for a bit. We got a preview of the Cyclones' park before we go there on Thursday, walked around the boardwalk and the beach, and rode the infamous rickety Cyclone rollercoaster. We headed back and napped for a good two hours before concluding our long day by purchasing some PBR tallboys and watching Independence Day fireworks on the Hudson. There were six barges out on the river, from 59th St down at least 30 blocks, shooting off six identical fireworks shows in unison, and it was amazing. This was my 5th city in the last 5 years that I've celebrated the 4th of July, and they seem to just keep getting better. Tomorrow and Monday we are watching some day games at the new Yankee Stadium!

Brewers 43-39, -1.0 (3 v. Cardinals, 3 @ Dodgers)
Reds 40-40, -3.0 (4 @ Phillies, 3 @ Mets)
Twins 43-40, -2.0 (3 v. Yankees, 3 v. White Sox)

Erik - 26 (+13 worked)
Peter - 34

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