Finally, I Got to See the City!

After a long first week of classes, I finally got a chance to leave the (windowless, over-air-conditioned, in violation of fire code) room in the Woolworth and hit the streets of New York! This weekend is going to be all about summer festivals (the theme of our issue of Vagabond), and today I had a chance to check out the Big Apple BBQ Block Party.

Going to paste in the blog post I wrote about it for Vagabond:

I’m stuck in a swarm of people, munching on half of a pulled-pork sandwich smothered in a delicious white barbecue sauce, when I hear the honking.

For a moment, I think nothing of it. After all, this is New York City — honking drivers are as common here as pigeons. But then my friend Phil nudges me. “You might want to get out that camera,” he says. He claims that his own photography skills are suspect, but he’s been spotting the best photo ops all day, so I crane my neck around to check out the vehicle that’s slowly pushing its way through the crowd. It’s a little truck, hardly worth noticing, except that it’s lugging a massive pink pig carcass.

“Ew,” I mutter, digging around in my purse for my iPhone, but I’m too slow, and the truck has gone by before I have a chance to snap a picture. So we dump our empty Styrofoam box in a nearby trash can and follow it. This might be a weird aspect of the barbecue, but it’s definitely one I don’t want to miss out on.

The Big Apple BBQ takes place every year in Madison Square Park. It’s sponsored by Southern Living, but the various makers of sausages, ribs and pulled pork are from all over the country. The park and the surrounding streets are crowded with tents, each of which has its own complicated, meandering line of eaters stretching as far as half a block. For $9, you get a sandwich, four ribs, or a sausage. Phil and I decide to divide and conquer, splitting each different entrée in half and trying to make our wallets stretch as far as possible.

Grilling at the Big Apple BBQ

I found out about the barbeque online, but I could have followed my nose to the park from my apartment at 3rd and 23rd. The city smells like smoke and grease for blocks around Madison Square Park, and while I usually dislike the way the smell of smoke lingers in my hair, today I find it kind of pleasing. It’s been a long week of work and class, and to be outside getting a little sunburned at what feels like an overcrowded backyard barbecue is a welcome relief.

We follow the pig to a tent with a large furnace before thinking better of our decision to document, and line up for some ribs instead. As we wait, we watch a crew of men heft ribs on and off the grill, flipping them and smothering them in sauce. Then we take our second lunch and go sit on the curb to people-watch as we eat.

There’s a musician near us playing a folksy song, and I find myself tapping my toes as I gnaw the tender pork from my ribs. A friend walks by — it seems like everyone in Manhattan is in Madison Square Park today — and I wave sticky fingers, blushing and licking the barbecue sauce from my teeth. She laughs and snaps a picture of me. I give her a thumbs-up.

Nomming some ribs

Later, we walk through the park itself, collecting free stuff and watching kids and old men alike spin a wheel to try to win a Weber grill. Cheerful young salespeople offer us pickled cucumbers and carrots, and a threadbare musician twangs a guitar and serenades us with off-key renditions of unfamiliar songs. And, to top off a day that celebrates a culture of carnivores, we walk by a tent where a barbecued pig’s head is handed around on a platter for visitors to take a picture with.

An uncomfortable-looking guy in a suit is trying to pass the pig’s head off to someone else, but no one will take it from him. He stands there, looking about awkwardly, until a short, broad woman walks up.

“I’ll take it,” she says. He looks relieved. “If you kiss the pig.”

And so the poor guy does.

Oh, and just so you all know… I changed the story a little bit, but the guy kissing the pig was Phil. When I laughed at him, he shrugged and said, “You can take the boy out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.”

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