By Sunday afternoon, it was apparent who was winning:
Chicken wings – 1, Hawt Boiz and Saucy Girls – O.
Multiple orders of chicken wings inevitably jammed up the fryer like an edible log pile. Customers would line up to wait like hungry lions around a gazelle. Some had the rare gift of understanding; many simply could not comprehend the longer delay between ordering and eating a chicken wing. The latter — as other orders of meat and mac shimmied across the pick up table like so many delectable bullets — became visibly agitated.
I called out a pork taster and a pinched woman took it. “I got chicken wings too,” she said, craning her neck to see if they were behind my tired, sweaty 5 foot 4 inch frame.
“They take a second longer ma’am,” I said. She sighed as if the air in her lungs would eddy out and — boomerang style — return to her mouth with a chicken wing in tow.
When the wings saw fit to finally be ready, Leah or I began to disseminate them: ten cranberry chipotle wings to our returning TOC staff from the day before, a “one and one” (one each of the buffalo and cranberry chipotle wings) to a teenager with a skateboard, two buffalo to a stoked younger guy with earbuds and lastly to the pinched lady with folded arms.
“I got an order of wings,” she said, holding the little boat with its chicken wing inside with two fingers.
“How many tickets did you give ma’am?” I said with syrupy politeness.
“Two,” she said curtly.
“Two tickets is a taste, which is one wing,” I said.
“This scrawny little thing is all I get?” she said, eyeing the buffalo-swathed chicken limb and rolling her eyes. She turned around, muttering under her breath.
At this particular moment of fowl play, I was hips deep in my daily emotional whirlpool. I can’t speak for everyone, but throughout each prolonged sojourn in the booth, I went through a series of fairly predictable emotions.
7 a.m. to 9 a.m.: Tiredness.
9 a.m. to 10 a.m.: Joy upon noting I hadn’t worn anything with long sleeves since we left Dillon.
10 a.m. to 11 a.m.: Strangely coherent awareness, wherein it dawns on me I must surely get hydrated.
11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.; Elation at the start of a warm, new day and interactions with nice strangers.
11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Elation wears off, replaced by thirst, despite having attempted earlier hydration. Must chug water.
12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.: Slight despair as line stretches into the distance.
2 p.m. to 4 p.m.: Despair tempered by full bladder.
4 p.m. to 6:15 p.m.: Hunger, which temporarily drowns out full bladder.
6:15 p.m. to 9:15 p.m.: Mind-numbing tiredness as evening turns to night, drowning out both hunger and full bladder.
Then at some point, I’d down a coffee and get a second wind, which would morph into a state of psychotic alertness. As the lengthy line persisted, alertness turned to giddiness, then a psychedelic energy that persisted through the end of service at 10 p.m.
“I think at some point today we all had a mini-meltdown,” said Eric late Saturday night, describing how earlier he grabbed a bag of 100+ portion cups only to find it was open at both ends. As the little cups erupted all over the ground like a sad volcano, he felt himself loosing it.
“I had to go offline and get my head straight,” he said, as we all giggled uncontrollably. Going offline was code for stepping out of the booth, and every one of us yelled it in a panic at some point during the weekend, stripping off our sweaty latex gloves and running for the bathroom/box of depleted Wheat Thins/swatch of cool grass in the shade by the Civic Center building.
After 10 p.m., while drunks and homeless people repeatedly wandered up looking for food we no longer had (we sold out of something every day, despite preparing extra), we transformed the tent into a strange maze of tarps and crates. Coolers were consolidated and loaded and one of us threaded the mind-boggling maze back to our parking structure, which took 20 minutes round trip. Back down litter-lined Bannock, across an intersection lined with sleepy tents, all the way around the rabble fence, which you can slip through right before 15th, along a forgotten-looking sidewalk towards the Denver Post.
Now the crux move: after walking in dazed circles around the Denver Post building late Friday night, we found out we actually had to enter the garage at night through the plush, air-conditioned foyer. Walk past the security guards in their neat white shirts, sharp left, take the elevator down, another sharp right and walk to the end to retrieve Clifford or the truck. And those tickets they gave you to get out? Nah, just press the assistance button and those nice chaps who recognize you and your big red van will let you out with a cheerful goodnight.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the commissary duo is about to leave. The third Hawt Boi buzzes around tidying while two more lucky souls — often the Saucy Girls — attempt to summit then rectify the growing mountain of tiny, over-decorated tickets (aka money). First, we sorted the insurmountable bits and bobs into like stacks of still-attached shapes. Eventually, we promised ourselves, we’d actually count them.
Anyhow, was it Friday that I got my one true break? I grabbed my camera, wallet and a light jog to check out what I could of the event…
On Monday, I was able to sneak away for about 15 minutes to enjoy two and a half Bruce Hornsby songs. Hornsby sat on stage with a dulcimer on his lap, flanked by a man playing the washboard and another guitarist to his left. The few stolen moments in the sun, listening to a free concert made me feel briefly human again.
Later that day — after we overcame the elevator-falling-from-the-12th-floor feeling when we realized we served until 8 p.m. not 7 p.m. — we heard the clock on the Civic Center chime eight times. A celebratory wave passed through the tent, brief but exuberant as we began the painful, harried process of breaking down. Andrew’s friend Kyle, who lived nearby, biked over to help us break down since Eric had left shortly before to go to a bachelor party. We sent him for Boxy, while Leah and I navigated the melee to retrieve Clifford and the truck.
Although we were poised, no one could enter with vehicles until the general public departed. After circling like injured vultures for awhile, we settled on waiting in a line of cars near Cleveland. As I killed the engine and sat catatonic in the driver’s seat, I heard a rent-a-cop radio to another rent-a-cop about a bunch of random people holding First Amendment signs, protesting in the middle of TOC somewhere. I thought for sure the line of cars had been set in cement, but soon enough it crept back into the game of Bad Tetris taking place on Bannock.
Vehicles splayed haphazardly like olives and peppers strewn about an uncooked pizza. We eased ours in like so many more errant toppings and began frantic loading procedures. Everything must be out and clean as a dinner bell by 10:30 p.m. or else we’d be fined. I took water and a broom borrowed from the Hu-Hut clan and scrubbed at weird grease spots on the pavement; Kyle, Eli and Andrew worked on their hernias loading 100 pound propane tanks and grills in the box truck.
Somehow — scratched and soiled — we arrived in Dillon and our respective homes by midnight. The next day, Andrew, Eli, Leah and I met for a well-deserved breakfast on the Arapahoe Cafe patio complete with mimosas and Bloody Marys. Next stop: Eli and Andrew’s floor. By 4 p.m., to a soundtrack of dubstep and psychedelic rock, we’d counted 58,000+ tickets.
Now just one question remains — like a single, juicy unsold rib: Do we have enough appetite for another Taste next year?