I spent last night at the World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest walking through a giant carnival and over 300 tents full of BBQ-making competitors and live music (the musicians apparently competing for who could be the loudest). Those of you who've seen me gleefully consume BBQ in Raleigh can imagine how happy I was about this. Those of you who actually clicked on the link might go "wait, but that's in Houston. And you live in Boston."


So let me back up a little bit. A few days ago, I got this text message from Mark Penner, an old college buddy. This is the guy who used to match my crazy bedtimes in college - we regularly took 3:14am "pi time" pancake breaks from homework. (Then he'd proceed to sleep 'till noon the next day while I woke up and went back to the lab as the sun rose.) Anyway. Back in college, Mark was both blunt and surprising, which is probably why we became good friends. He is still blunt and surprising.

"Hey, I need to know ASAP if you can visit me in Houston next Thurs (and into the weekend). I'll pay plane."

My response was something to the effect of: WTF?

"What do you need to know? You get to be my date for world class BBQ & millionaires Thursday afternoon and maybe the rodeo Friday (that's flexible)."

And so it was that very, very late on Wednesday night I stepped out of the Houston airport and was lifted off the ground in a giant bear hug from Mark. (He's a big guy.) Then we went off to get... pancakes. What else? Then we debated all the way to his apartment, where I took out my laptop and went back to work. (What else?)

Thursday evening: reminded by Mark that it's time to put away my computer and dress for the occasion, I grumble at putting on slacks and a blazer but am somewhat mollified when we improvise me some jewelry from buckyballs magnetic building spheres. And then we drive. I notice Texas has a lot of highways.

"Wait. Is this the BBQ?"
"How big is this?"
"Very big. It's the world championship."
"I told you this!"
"You did not!"
"I said 'world class BBQ!'"
"I thought you meant 'really good BBQ' - I thought we were going to someone's backyard! This is awesome!"

And indeed it was. The ribs were juicy and spicy, and smoky all the way through. There was some weird sort of sausage with rice stuffed into the middle, and chicken wings just about falling off the bone. Mark's coworkers (his company had sponsored a team and was having a party in that team's tent, which was why I'd been invited) drank whiskey and puffed cigars - I'd never seen someone smoking a cigar before. Bands played, carnival rides spun, we got little fried donuts and fried oreos and walked around...

...and this is why I was not at Sweet Molasses when the Ballad of Buddy Guy went down.