Taste of Colorado — or Taste of Chaos as I’ve retroactively titled it — felt like four days of repeatedly lying on a swatch of greasy pavement, letting a tractor full of drunk people and roasted corn run us over. In reality, it was four maddening 16+ hour days of serving up barbecue to the hungry masses in Denver.
The self-titled Hawt Boiz (full-time vendors and co-workers Andrew and Eli) with a little help from the Saucy Girls (Leah and I) spent too many hours the week prior trying to get the proverbial poop in a group. This entailed preparing, labeling and organizing hundreds of pounds of meat and pasta, finishing up paperwork, running to Lowe’s for bucket lids and grease. We also loaded and reloaded the van (Clifford the Big Red Van), the boss’ truck (currently unnamed), the box truck (Boxy) and a rented, semi-sized refrigeration truck which I’d named Narnia because its cavernous, eerily cool entryway seemed like the portal to another world.
Thursday September 3rd at 7 a.m. found us jettisoning our half awake selves and all brimming vehicles down to Denver for set our allocated time of 9:00-11:30 a.m. Except, examining the paperwork en route, I noticed even tent numbers (like ours, 36), set up at 11:30. This started a whole avalanche of phone calls from me to Eli to our food & beverage coordinators at Taste of Chaos, Sara and Jess, back to me, to Andrew, who called me, only to be interrupted by another call from Eli. In the end, they said come on down and set up whenever the flip you want, which all four barely caffeinated humans were thankful for.
“Did anybody remember carpet yesterday?” said a frustrated Eli, en route at that point for the entirely forgotten swatch of carpet. The swatch of 10′ x 20′ carpet had to cover the ground beneath all cooking apparatus. The Carpet Law was one of many, many understandably anal requirements for TOC vendors. And the health inspectors would be checking. They did come, clipboard in hand, to examine everything from hand washing water (kept at a strict 90 degrees) to meat temps (as the masses’ hunger conflagrated and our nails disappeared). Of course, we passed with flying pigs, er, colors and lived to serve another day.
But I am ahead of myself; back to Civic Center Park, specifically in the middle of Bannock Street, a rib’s throw from the steps of McNichols Civic Center Building. To our glee, our neighbors — to whom half of the tent belonged — canceled. So we claimed the entire 20×20 tent for ourselves, spraying BBQ sauce everywhere like a rut scent (just kidding?). In the end, the middle of our tent looked like a squatter camp with all of our crap piled, tarped and bungeed together.
Next, we were off to ZZ’s Commissary off of West Arapahoe, our rented commercial kitchen for the weekend. There we ditched Boxy and bounced like bumper cars from Walmart for grub and supplies to a party store in search of megaphones to sitting in traffic on Federal for nine years. We had ages to wait for Narnia to depart Summit County and arrive at ZZ’s, so we ricocheted over to uber trendy, vegetarian City o City for lunch and more coffee.
Eventually Narnia did arrive, just in time for the heaviest rain of the day. We made soggy up and down the perilous ramp from Narnia to Commissary and back again like a small string of tired lemmings. By 6 p.m. we’d unloaded Narnia, re-loaded and re-arranged Boxy and Clifford with dry goods and coolers and fit all our hundreds of pounds of pork, beef, ribs, mac and cheese fixings and wings into our red-duct-taped section of fridge space in the Commissary.
After a hasty dinner of Thai food, Leah dropped me off at Uncle Benjamin’s house off West Colfax. “It’s boring and quiet, which is probably exactly what you want,” said Benjamin. True dat: at the end of a 17 hour work day, I wanted nothing more than to pass out for 5-7 hours before Groundhog Day started anew. Each night, after blearily mumbling to Tyler, I fell asleep phone in hand, never able to remember saying goodnight.
Each day was more or less the same: two boys made the miserably early trip from their friends’ house in Golden to the Commissary to heat up food, restock on ice and wash dishes. The other usually made his way to collect the Saucy Girls in time to hit the venue around 8:30. Otherwise, we made our way via Light Rail/Uber cab. Once at the venue it was the same ol’ routine: restock, rearrange, reorganize.
We awoke slowly in the warm morning sun, wiping and refilling BBQ bottles, turning on grills, restocking forks and napkins, setting out awards and medals in a vaguely attractive manner, turning around red check tablecloths to hide yesterday’s BBQ spills. And re-writing our ginormous sign which drunk people ran into at least 13 times the day before.
By the time the other boys arrived at 9, we had most everything up and running in time to unload a small army of coolers and hot boxes. Then the day would unfold, a slow trickle of customers turning quickly into a torrential line 40 people deep. TOC officials touted Friday as the slowest day, Saturday the second slowest (Sunday and Monday… hold onto your free Arapahoe Cafe hats). For us, Friday alone stood out as the least chaotic — and one unexpected highlight was thousands of people (including us) singing with Kansas’ live “Carry on My Wayward Son” on the nearby main stage.
A brief visit from my Uncle Benjamin and his boyfriend, James highlighted the intensifying early hours on Saturday.
“Maybe we should come back when you’re not so busy,” said Uncle Benjamin, scanning the line undulating in the background — a sight that would mark our time from then until Monday night at 7:59 p.m.
“This is the least busy we’re gonna be,” I said, as a family of ten with squawking children made for the line, bumping into our oversized menu board so that it shimmied in distress.
Like hawkers in bazaars the world over, we pitched our wares in singsong voices through black plastic megaphones:
“Don’t be a dork, try our pork!” I would yell.
“We got your ribs!” Eli yelled from the fryer, and Eric, next to him on the steam table, would overlap his call with, “Smoked chicken wings!” Then Eli, “Smoked cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese!” Followed by Eric “Beef brisket!” All of this, of course, eddying through the calls from two people calling new orders, and the person at the pick up counter yelling completed meals to customers who somehow forgot what they ordered in the three feet between order and pick up.
The crowd would laugh at our antics, more people wandering over to see what the commotion was about. Our neighbors in the next booth, roasting endless corn and dipping it in a vat of butter before handing it off, laughed and added their own yells to the mix. By the end of the weekend, they had at least one of our megaphones, and our yells included something about corn.
“Quit your job for corn on the cob!” I yelled. “Then you’ll live if you try our ribs!”
Saturday progressed as the other two days would in a blur of orders and pickups, punctuated only by the longer-than-life pauses caused by a new batch of frying chicken wings…
To find out how exactly chicken wings impacted the daily lives of the Hawt Boiz and Saucy Girls, stay tuned for the next bite of Taste of Chaos. There’s also a photo gallery, although I don’t remember when I had time to take that many pictures.
Until next time, just like our famous smoked cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese, this blog is sold out!