It was listed clearly on the flier: bands, beer pong, dunk tank, hot-dog eating contest.
Rusty Maples, The Clydesdale and Dude City would play the event, a one-year anniversary bash for the Boulder City bar/venue Dillinger.
It was a straightforward Saturday block party: cheap beer, barbecue, music. Bounce houses for the kids, who charged around Arizona Street red-faced and face-painted.
No one thought twice about the hot-dog eating contest. Surely it would be tucked away in a corner somewhere, attended only marginally by likely marginalized people — the kind of people who like demolition derby.
Right after the All-Togethers finished their set, a long table was dragged out before the stage and spread with hot dogs, buns, ketchup, mustard and a pitcher of ice water.
An emcee jumped on the mic. “Anyone who wants to join should sign up now. Ten dollars to enter,” he shouted.
Rusty Maples got on stage and announced that they’d be running late — they’d start after the hot-dog showdown — but said Pabst Blue Ribbon would be free for the next hour.
Partiers rushed toward the beer vendor while contestants quietly signed up. By the time the beer-seekers returned, three men guarded positions at the hot-dog table. They were all wearing athletic shirts.
One was wholesome-looking, a clean-cut guy who could have been 17 or 30. A Florida State fan. The next contestant, situated in the middle, wore a Pittsburgh Hockey tee and looked confident, if not expressionless. The guy on the end meant business. He wore a backward-turned baseball cap, a Notre Dame jersey and plastic slippers. He stood with a wide stance and leaned his weight against the table.
The emcee declared a start and the men began to stuff their faces. They had 10 minutes to eat, and the winner would receive $5 for every dog he finished.
At first the approach was straightforward: hot dog, in bun, in mouth. But after a few literal dry runs, the contestants abandoned etiquette and began to experiment with different ways to get the franks down.
The crowd, too, had something to offer. Some snapped pics with camera phones, while others shouted advice.
“Two per minute! One hundred dollars at the end!”
“Do the buns first and then eat the wiener!”
“Make your mother proud!” one woman shouted, to which the clean-cut guy replied flatly, “This would not make her proud.”
The warriors continued to plow through hot dogs, deconstructing them, dipping them in water. At some point Notre Dame kicked off his shoes.
As the contest went on, the winner become obvious: the man on the right, Notre Dame with the backward baseball cap, was ahead.
Clean-Cut slowed almost to a halt, and the hockey dude in the center threw back his last bites odiously. While the other men had mostly backed off, Notre Dame used the last minute to stuff down another.
The crowd cheered and the emcee handed him a trophy and 50 bucks.
Spectators marveled, wondering aloud how the guys weren’t sick.
The champ left the stage and pushed his way through the crowd.
An admirer stopped him and asked for a picture.
“Sure,” he replied, “but please hurry. I have to throw up.”