Sometimes you have to take one for the team. To be frank, this one was a bit of a gut shot.
I’m not sure what inspired me to enter the annual hot dog eating contest at the Grays Harbor County Fair on Thursday, other than the fact that it was a somewhat silly idea for a story.
It was the proverbial “seemed like a good idea at the time” kind of thing as I stood around watching the kids and the teens compete in the earlier rounds.
That was when I realized that the cards — or hot dogs — were stacked against me.
First off, this is not your father’s Coney Island 4th of July contest. In that one, professional competitors such as Joey Chestnut and Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas scarf down scores of Nathan’s all-beef franks — and buns — in 10 minutes and make scads of cash. (Chestnut won the event for the 6th time in 2012 by eating 68 in 10 minutes.)
I learned from 16-year-old contest veteran Megan Bennett of Elma that this contest lasts only one minute and there are no buns involved.
“This is my fourth time competing,” she said. “I won once before when I ate six or seven.”
Ironically, when the 5-foot-2, 105-pound Bennett isn’t wolfing down handfuls of hot dogs, she’s showing a prize swine at the fair — one destined for this weekend’s livestock auction.
Bennett wasn’t as successful this year, failing to finish in the top three in the teen division, though she still managed to finish an impressive four hots dogs in a minute — one every 15 seconds.
It was also at this time that I was able to size up the competition. All I can say is that of my nine opponents, all were quite a bit younger and hungrier-looking than me.
Finally, much to my chagrin, I found out the type of hot dog we’d be eating. Let’s just say, it’s one of the cheaper brands in the average supermarket — certainly not Nathan’s and — with a nod to Megan’s pig — certainly not all-beef.
My confidence was not boosted when I was called to the stage by the master of ceremonies.
“Hey, we got a senior competing!” he shouted to the crowd — through a loudspeaker!
I spun around in my chair. “Hey, I’m only 53!”
Then I became little more than a segue for the contest sponsor.
“That reminds me, folks,” he said to the audience — and everybody else within earshot — through the booming loudspeaker, “Every Tuesday is senior day at Everybody’s Supermarket — when everybody 55 or over gets a discount.”
“I’m only 53,” I muttered to the 30-something guy next to me.
Seconds later, the contest began. I dug into the pile of 10 hot dogs on a paper plate in front of me.
Having eaten a few hot dogs in my day, I knew I was in trouble on the first bite. These less-than-stellar franks had been sitting in boiling water way too long. The texture was much more like tofu than anything resembling meat.
But I pressed on. About 40 seconds later, using my cat-like athleticism and peripheral vision — I checked out my foes lining the table. I was on my fourth and final dog. The guys on either side of me were on their sixth.
I’ll spare the rest of the gory details other than to say I knew I was toast and, rather than cram two more in my mouth and attempt to gag them down in 10 seconds, I chose to live and fight another day.
I finished second-to-last. Not bad for the only “senior” in the field, I rationalized.
The winner and defending champ was 28-year-old Travis Daniel of Grand Mound, who actually works for Everybody’s Supermarket in Elma — a ringer of sorts. He took home a $10 gift certificate to the company store for a remarkable nine hot dogs gone in 60 seconds.
But I’m happy to say, my strategy of wimping out paid dividends. I immediately marched next door to the Dairy Women’s booth and ordered a Wild Mountain Blackberry cone. It was my smartest move of the day.
It made the 30-minute ride home — burp! — a lot more pleasant than it might have been.