In all sincerity, it seemed like a good idea at the time, taking on a food challenge. And to be fair, the picture of the juicy cheeseburger on the menu at the Rustic Café in Alamogordo, NM was nowhere near the size of the actual burger the waitress (we’ll call her Dottie) gave me. Now that I’ve recovered quietly back home, surrounded by family, I’m reviewing the tape; I’m the Monday Morning Quarterback looking to see just what went wrong (because nothing really goes right when you shove 2 pounds of ground beef down the gullet but hey, YOLO!).
The Pre Meal
Now, mind you, I had no idea what the day would bring when I rolled out of the rack on Saturday. Everything about that morning was typical. But something inside me was itching to get out of the house, save the kids from the same damn cartoons, grab my wife’s hand and avoid the lurking Netflix Vortex.
“Let’s go find some fun!” I announced. And to my wife’s credit, she went with it, getting the kids ready and grabbing warm layers in record speed. We were off to go play at White Sands National Monument, a 275-acre gypsum filled wonderland, where the “sand” crystals are as white as snow, shimmering throughout the day, glowing under the desert moon at night.
We found the Rustic Café on the recommendation of a man named John, a hippy living behind an old wooden storefront (although we found out that it’s actually not a store, but a home decorated with an array of old highway and antique motor oil signs. The place along with about 4 acres is for sale and priced at $275,000 if you’re interested – and if John likes you. It’s $300,000 if he doesn’t, just so you know.).
By the time we got to the Rustic I could eat a horse. And now, looking back, I’ll never utter that stupid phrase ever again. Other than a small bowl of oatmeal that morning, I really hadn’t eaten anything all day. If ever there was a time to slap a giant burger in front of my face, now was the optimal time. After ordering I took a walk around the café and checked out the “Wall of Fame” of people who had dared accept the 2-pound challenge.
“If these guys could do it, I certainly can,” I said to myself like a crazy man clearly not thinking straight.
My back was to Dottie as she delivered a tray of food to our table, but my wife’s reaction indicated that something big was about to happen. My kids’ jaws hit the floor and they stared at the colossal burger with fear. Zoe, our 4-year-old, told me that she loved me. She looked like she wanted to cry.
Game on. That was my initial thought after feasting my eyes on what would be five patties stacked on a grease-soaked bun topped with cheese and a sliver of bacon. The fried tater tots seemed insignificant, even cute, next to this beast. But I was confident. My game plan was to eat the top two layers of beef and cut the rest in fourths.
“No kids, daddy hasn’t completely lost his mind,” I heard my wife say.
The curveball: Part 1
I’m not going to lie. I was full by the fifth bite. On an empty stomach, even a small bag of chips would have been good to tie me over. But I was all in at this point. Pride and ego have a knack for getting in the way. I wasn’t expecting to start getting full so fast – but I also wasn’t expecting to see pieces of raw meat in the patties, something that factored into my gag reflex, well, reflexing.
“How are we doing over here?” Dottie asked, looking only at me. “Would you like more water?”
Water would be my friend. And ketchup. One can only eat meat for so many bites. Ketchup would at least give my taste buds something else to savor; water would ease the food down my tightening esophagus, which was upset at me.
“Every bite is like the Law of Diminishing Return,” my wife observed.
By the third patty I developed a pattern. Bite, chew, chew, chew, drink and swallow. Rest for two minutes. Repeat. This lasted for about 15 more minutes until Dottie came back to check on me.
“Do you guys have a defibrillator?” I asked.
The curveball: Part 2
I wanted to throw in the towel with 1 more beef patty left on a wet bottom bun. Red, raw beef pieces stared at me (Dottie ruled that I could bypass these) but there were still a good 10 tater tots left on the plate. The kids were falling asleep. I could feel my body shutting down and my wife swears that I started hallucinating.
“Who are you calling jerk heads, the tater tots?” she asked.
“Those people on that damn Wall of Fame,” I replied. “I should have noticed something very important about nearly every photo.”
“What’s that?” she asked.
“None of them are smiling.”
I wiped away beads of meat sweat from my brow and carried on with my Griswald-esque mission. This is when a few of the younger waitresses gathered and began telling puke stories from customers (suckers) past.
“One guy ran right out the front door and emptied into the parking lot over there,” a brunette said.
“Another guy didn’t bother leaving his chair,” another waitress added. “He just blew chunks right there on his plate.”
I will NOT go down that way, I thought. I WILL make it the restroom.
And I did. When I completed the mission, I ended up staring at my reflection in a pool of porcelain. Nothing, and I mean not a damn thing, tastes good when it comes back up. Every heave, every gut exertion a not-so-subtle reminder of how stupid this little stunt was. On basketball courts across the country there were college kids participating in March Madness. Here in Alamogordo I was creating a little madness of my own.
What the hell was I thinking?
Who knows. Maybe it’s the kid in me. Or some deep, mid-life rebellion happening.
“Maybe you’re just dumb?” my wife asked with a look of concern.
“I will never do this again,” I told her when they took my picture for the Rustic Café Wall of Fame.
I noticed that someone had left a scratch-off ticket from the New Mexico Lottery on the bathroom counter as I washed up. It was a $15 winner, more than enough to grab some Pepto from the local drug store.
The new book, Summer Son/Hijo del verano, will be released by Floricanto Press Press this spring. Follow me on Twitter @phillipdcortez