Good food comes easy if you can be good company
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Chow time at the Daytona Media Center.
They say never look a gift horse in the mouth and nobody feels sorry for anybody getting free grub, but the pulled pork shoulder barbecue is sitting there in a giant lump in one of those catering contraptions with the lid askew. It looks like plenty, but I figure there are better options for the truly resourceful than 20 pounds of shredded greasy meat.
And I'm resourceful. I once bummed $20 at a rock concert with a secret symbol used by members of a fraternal organization. Didn't even have to pay it back. (By the way, brother, thanks.) I once bet a guy $20 on the Indy 500, taking Rick Mears against the field. It never dawned on him that the tape-delayed race was run in daylight, but while we were watching it "plausibly live" in the same time zone, it was dark outside.
I've traveled on a motorcycle with nothing but two changes of clothes, a mess kit, a fishing pole and tackle, two loaves of bread, a 5-pound bag of onions, a bag of flour, a can of corn meal and a can of butter-flavored oleo. Result? When I caught something, it was fried fish with hush puppies and onion rings. If I didn't catch fish? Raw onion sandwiches. I have to have an incentive to fish.
Well, the pulled pork gave me incentive to scrounge.
People hang the barbecue name on Carolina-style pork shoulder, so I guess it is barbecue. But I figured with a Daytona infield filled with RVs, I could find somebody doing it up right, then weasel my way into some.
I knew the license plate I was looking for. It has blue letters on a white background. I won't mention the state, but it keeps Oklahoma from being oceanfront property. OK, fine, I was looking for somebody from Texas.
Setting out, I smelled something promising. It turned out to be a stand making fajitas and selling them for $4. Nope, none of that. Scrounge or starve.
I came across a great pit setup with some dynamic-smelling stuff smoking, but Bill and Barb were from Ontario, as in Canada. That was likely to mean trouble.
"That smells great," I told them. "What are you using?"
"What are you using?" is a question a real barbecue aficionado knows means, "What kind of wood are you using?" There's hickory, oak, apple and mesquite. You should use mesquite, since it's the only thing the wood is good for. Mesquite trees are among the ugliest green things on the planet. I won't negotiate on this. By the smell of the Bill and Barb spread, I was guessing Kingsford charcoal and hickory chips.
"We're barbecuing chickens," Bill said.
That's a problem. Barbecuing chicken is fine, but not understanding my question meant there was a language barrier I was unlikely to overcome.
Bill and Barb don't make many races, but they try to hit Daytona every year. They were drinking a good brand of beer and offered one up.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm officially on the clock."
At least I still had the charm. The chicken was too raw to eat, but they were willing to take me in. It was an hour and 15 minutes before the first Gatorade Duel was slated to start. I had to get cracking.
A Texas flag flapped in the distance, but where the star should be, there was a "3." Texas Earnhardt fans. This was just too easy. I make my way to the flag -- and discover a pipsqueak RV with Colorado plates. It was empty, and I was running out of time.
It started misting rain, which meant two things. (1) It was going to get harder to smell barbecue cooking, and (B) the Gatorade Duels might get delayed.
Just like good barbecue, I got yin and yang. Finding some great 'cue was going to be harder, but then the rain was likely to buy me more time.
Daytona concession prices aren't truly exorbitant. They're on par with the extortion paid for food and beer at most American sporting events. But I didn't intend to go there just yet.
Finally, I caught a whiff. That smell hit my nostrils. Mesquite wood. Beef. Even pork ribs, I think. And "Could that be beans?" I wondered aloud as I found the spot.
"Yessir," a booming male voice said.
"The barbecue smells great. What are you using?" I asked.
I've met another Bill, and Bill hardly paused.
"Mesquite," he said, and he said it as if he were offended. There were Texas plates on a land yacht big enough to need its own ZIP code. No cattle horns on the front, but a Texas-sized rig, nonetheless. And Bill is a Texas-size man.
I started the moochers' dance
"How 'bout those Longhorns?" I asked.
"Heh, I'm an Aggies fan, but they did all right," Bill said. "I rooted for them that once."
Whew, I dodged a bullet. That could have gotten me the boot right off.
We talked about Texas A&M, shot the breeze about the race (Bill likes Junior to win) and I got offered another beer. It was a Shiner Bock. I was feeling weak. I somehow managed to turn it down. Those who know me won't believe that.
"Well, you have to come back around for dinner," Bill said. "About 6 o'clock."
Crap, doesn't anybody cook lunch around here?
I promised I would try to make it back, but with the Duels behind at least an hour, it didn't look good.
So it was back to the media center.
And hunger is a great incentive. There was a little knot of pulled pork left and a few tired buns to slather it on.
I took a bite and looked at the guy across from me.
"Hey, this is pretty good," I said.
He grunted his agreement.
Then it was back to work.
K. Lee Davis is the motorsports editor for ESPN.com and a noted gourmand.
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