In this week’s column Syd revisits a trip to his Mecca on the shore, an annual event known as Pork in the Park, in Salisbury, MD.

This past weekend brought an event that, as pathetic as it may seem, I actually mark on my calendar and eagerly anticipate each year. It wasn’t a holiday weekend, my birthday or anniversary; I didn’t have any babies, receive a massive tax refund check, and I didn’t even have any family in town. It was an event that few celebrate with the vigor that I do. This weekend was the annual gluttony fest/self esteem boost that we’ve come to know as Pork in the Park. I loaded the whole family in the van, and made our pilgrimage the entire 23-mile trek all the way to Salisbury, MD for a day of gross overindulgence and poor decision-making.

It is no big secret that sound decision-making is not my forte. For example, I came to the beach for senior week and never left. I donned a mullet for waaaay longer than I should have. I got married the first time when I was only twenty. I started making babies again in my forties. And well…virtually every decision I made in between. I wouldn’t change one single thing though. And I’ve come to grips with who I am and embraced my role. As you read on, you’ll see why some of the decisions I made the other day probably should have required a little more thought.

In case you haven’t been, let me now explain to you what this heavenly environment known as Pork in the Park, is actually like. It’s an annual event that draws professional BBQ technicians, veteran sauce slingers, rib harbingers, and pork peddlers from all over the country. They all assemble for the weekend for this celebration of the swine over acres and acres of land that will subsequently be trampled over the next few days by a stampede of the morbidly obese. Or those like myself, who just aspire to be.

The ethereal aromas of BBQ sauce, mesquite smoke, fryer grease, vinegar, beer, and cotton candy waft through the air for miles around, drawing in the hungry like moths to a bright light. (I was just humming “These are a Few of My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music in my head as I wrote that line.) If it can be thrown on a grill, slathered in BBQ sauce, squeezed into a sausage casing, sucked off of a bone, or eaten off of a stick and dipped in something, you’ll find it here. All to be consumed while listening to the sounds of a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band by members who are at least pushing sixty.

I attended this event for numerous consecutive years, so I fancy myself a seasoned veteran, having learned a few valuable lessons from my previous visits that helped me prepare for this journey. I dressed for the event as if I were donning armor and suiting up for battle.

First, I put on a pair of loose fitting cargo shorts and a belt, planning that the belt would be adjusted throughout the course of the day to accommodate my rapidly expanding waistline. The cargo shorts are necessary because of the pocket space. As the result of lessons I’ve learned here in the past, one pocket is full of napkins I brought from home. When you find yourself wallowing in a quagmire of BBQ sauce, there is no such thing as too many napkins, and they usually run out by the end of day two. In another pocket is a pack of baby wipes. These are necessary for battlefield bathing. In another pocket are a few bottles of water. Yeah, I know I’m not supposed to bring in my own, but I’m not about to mix baby formula with fresh squeezed lemonade, nor do I want a cranky, dehydrated seven-year-old. Also, I don’t want the purchase of water dipping into my swine consumption budget.

I then put on a dark colored shirt or sweatshirt, depending on the weather. A color that will disguise the sauce that drips upon me as I eat like a buzzard on a carcass is essential. The official uniform of the event is either camouflage, or black leather biker apparel. Unfortunately, I own none of the aforementioned, so I’m forced to improvise at the risk of looking out of place. I also wear a hat and sunglasses to attempt to remain somewhat incognito. This is not the venue where I wish to catch up with old acquaintances, or have my pig consumption encumbered in any way.

We parked the van about a mile away, loaded all necessary supplies on the bottom tier of the baby’s stroller and approach the labyrinth of sauce, swills, and smiles. I’m not too big a man to admit that my mouth was filling with saliva as we entered the gates and I had the exuberance of a child running down the stairs on Christmas morning. Thankfully, my travel/ dining companion was very pregnant for the second consecutive year. This of course gave me carte blanche to grossly overindulge as I saw fit. I’m not procreating for the sole purpose of attending a pork event with a hungry pregnant wife; it’s just coincidence. Though that sounds like something I would do, and I would be able to rationalize it in my head. My lovely bride, was about to enter her eighth month, and was still amongst the most physically fit people we saw that day. The one disadvantage she had is that any items that fell from her mouth or dripped from her chin did not find their way to the ground as the gravity-powered path is now hindered by a massive fetal speed bump.

Just a few short paces into the carnival-like venue, and my family was happy. We hadn’t even had our first taste of the once mud-dwelling barnyard delight, and already we were euphoric. My ten-month-old daughter was enamored by the sight of a minimum-wage goof wearing a pig costume waving at her; my lovely seven-year-old daughter tilted her head back, closed her eyes, smiled from ear to ear, and sniffed the air like a prisoner just released from a multi-decade stay in a musty, medieval dungeon. My beautiful, amniotic aquarium-toting wife nodded her head back and forth as if to say “oh yeah, it’s on”. All was right with the world and our assault on the sauce-slathered swine could now commence.

We weaved wistfully through the herd of massive beer bellies and giant bottoms, stopping at multiple stands consuming more than some third world countries did that day—I know I should feel somewhat guilty, but it’s only once a year. We consumed ribs, brisket, pulled pork, sausage, blackened scallops on a stick, (not sure how they fit in, but they looked really good). We engaged in our now annual tradition of my daughter and I sharing a massive smoked turkey leg like a couple of Barbarians. Not once concerning ourselves with what anyone else thought. Looking around at the other attendees drove my self-esteem to its pinnacle. I know it sounds as if I’m making fun of the event, but truth be told, this is my Mecca. (Enjoy the irony for a moment.)

We all ate our fill and then some. At this point, my daughter wanted to get on the rides. This is where the poor decisions start to come into play. Of course I was going to let her enjoy the rides, but I failed to take into account that in years past, she was too small to get on some of the more “aggressive” rides. Her enthusiasm over finally being the required 42 inches tall made her want to get on everything that spun it’s passengers viciously and at break-neck speed. We didn’t take into account our dietary practices of the day or that we were each filled to capacity with partially digested pig.

She wanted to brave all of the spinning rides but couldn’t get on them alone. For obvious reasons, my wife could not join her, so against my better judgment, I manned up and rode with her. I was not going to be the one to deny her this day of fun and childhood pleasure. And besides, who wouldn’t want to put themselves and their loved ones into a massive centrifuge made of plywood, aluminum siding remnants, and duct tape, put together by a couple of dentally challenged carnies in the time it takes a pizza to be delivered, and spun violently pulling G’s with a belly full of ribs, beans, and cabbage? About two rides in, I was rethinking the whole project. I knew I would seriously regret this later, but I couldn’t show fear or weakness in front of my little girl. I’m her hero, so I sucked it up.

About halfway through the Gravitron – or whatever the hell they called it – ride, everything went wrong. All of my internal organs dislodged, and became displaced. My spleen was now in my frontal lobe. My colon had moved to my back and was protruding like a dorsal fin. Both lungs had shot down my arms causing my hands to swell up. My stomach was nestled at the top of my throat. My intestines had exited through my naval and were now coiling around my entire body like a starving boa constrictor. My eyes switched sockets. I thought for a moment that I had peed myself a little, but it turned out to be snot and cranial fluid looking for the nearest exit. My concern heightened to a fevered pitch when I realized I was bleeding from my ears. But a quick review and taste test reassured me that it was just BBQ sauce.

Suffice to say, that was our last ride of the day. Even my fearless Princess had enough after that one, and our stomachs needed to get home. I got us home as fast as the minivan would allow and was grateful that we have three bathrooms. All in all, it was a fantastic day and we had a blast. It’s taken a couple of days, but my organ relocation program is progressing nicely. Hope you all enjoyed this. Thanks for playing along.

Until next week,

Syd Nichols