Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Welcome To Moe's
If you live in the North-eastern region of the United States chances are you've passed by a Moe's Southwest Grill. This is one of those "fresh-mex" restaurants where they make burritos, tacos, fajitas and salads in front of you. They started popping up in the Albany area about 3 years ago. At first I was in love with Moe's. My first trip I was overwhelmed with the size of my burrito and how good it tasted. Good ingredients, expertly wrapped, and free chips and salsa came with it. I was instantly hooked. That first time walking through the door I thought the phrase, "welcome to Moe's" was the most inviting I had ever heard, like a hug from a dear friend or a warm fireplace on a cold winters day. It was so wonderful in fact that I began yelling it out during my meal in an attempt to trick the employees into repeating it, which worked numerous times. Now these words haunt my dreams; watch as my worst food nightmare becomes reality.
I'm sure that those of you who live in the southern and western states are thinking to yourself that this garbage barely passes for food let alone mexican food, and you're partly right, but sometimes you need to suspend your disbelief. Think about if you didn't have Mexicans and taco stands on every corner. Sure the right wing isolationists would be happy, and border patrol wouldn't be a big issue but your stomach would be very upset. This "fresh-mex" fad is all we have out here and we'll gladly take it as an alternative to taco bell. Maybe a better analogy is how you deal with pizza in those states: it obviously doesn't compare to the pizza in New York City or the surrounding areas, not by a longshot. You still enjoy it though and eat it on a fairly regular basis because it's similar to the real thing and if you're like me, your stomach is too stupid to care what your brain thinks about the shitty food you're eating.
So I find myself going to Moe's once a week. Every Wednesday, which is payday. It is convenient because the bank and check cashing spot are literally the storefront bread that surrounds the Moe's sandwich (no openface jokes please). I would either get a "joey bag of donuts" which is one of the more basic burritos or the "homewrecker" which has pretty much everything in it. Depending on what looked better that day I would choose between the chicken and the steak for my meat toppings and always picked black beans to accompany it. Something started to irk me about the place though, and it had to do with the owners/managers. They were these always tan meat head bros who had the worst attitude ever. One word out of one of these guys mouth and it could ruin your whole meal. They also charged out the ass for queso which is their melted cheese. Its good cheese, not as good as the queso at Salsarita's but those two places shouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath. These two John Gotti Jr. wannabes were not enough to keep me away from my burrito fix unfortunately. If they had I might have avoided a terrible tragedy and a huge blow to my self confidence.
Summer 2006. It's Wednesday and it's noon and it is time to cash my paycheck and eat Moe's. I had been going to Moe's regularly for almost 8 months now and was starting to get a little sick of it. As I walk in there is a huge cardboard cutout of a custom motorcycle and sign up sheets for a burrito eating contest. Thinking myself to be quite the fatass I signed up immediately and figured even if I failed at least I get a free meal. About a month later I was gearing up to eat three Moe's burritos as fast as I could. I was stuffing everything in my face and eating shit off other peoples plates as well. I was definitely stretching my stomach out and thought I was doing great training. Soon the day of the contest arrived and I would find out that all my best laid plans were about to turn to shit.
My friend John came and picked me up a quarter after eleven and we rode over to the site of the contest, Moe's in Guilderland. I was decked out with my sleeveless "Just Do It Later" t-shirt and my hundred dollar bill bandanna wrapped around my left arm. The contest didn't start until noon so I got some Camels from the grocery store and smoked a cig. People in the parking lot were looking at me as if some dark disgusting creature had ascended into their world from the very pit of hell below. They hated me. They feared me. I was bulging out from all the food I had been eating over the last two weeks. It was probably the fattest I have ever been in my life and I looked like some over-inflated eating smoking and drinking machine. As the start of the competition drew near I was issued a Moe's Burrito Eating Contest Official T-Shirt (which has it's own substory that is not food related, e-mail me if you're interested in that one.) and told I must wear it if I wanted to participate in the contest. I ripped the sleeves off and spit on the ground in defiance. The contest had not begun and the Bro Brothers were already trying my patience. Just before the contest started I was briefly interviewed by some hack journalist for some shit local newspaper. Unfortunately I never got to see that article because I totally forgot which paper he wrote for.
My fellow competitors were mostly around my age, early 20s, except for a middle aged man who was probably in his late 30s. Most people had family and friends around and I even had a little cheering section of my own, though I think they came mostly to laugh at me instead of cheer me on. One young dude and the older gentleman seemed pretty confident in themselves as the other two contestants claimed only to be in it for the free food. I figured maybe one or two of these jokers could give me a run for my money but I should be able to make it to the second round no problem (the three best finish times qualify).
Noon finally arrives and I'm ready to eat. I had a small breakfast just to stretch my stomach out a little bit and was ready to pound as much food as I could fit in my gut. The test: eat three GROUND BEEF burritos as fast as you can. WHAT A FOOL I HAD BEEN! Had I paid any attention to this detail I would have actually tasted Moe's ground beef before this date. Unfortunately my stomach and brain did not work together and this ultimately led to my downfall. There were some other factors that led to my ultimate demise but I mostly blame the ground beef.
The Bros do their countdown and we begin. I quickly unwrap my first burrito and start taking massive bites, barely chewing, just swallowing the food. This is when I first realize the ground beef at Moe's is more disgusting than the ground beef at Taco Bell or any other mexican type place I had ever been. I'm a trooper though and I plow through the first burrito without even checking out how my opponents are doing. Two of the young guys were on my right. One was eating slow and steady and the other was already into his second burrito. I knew I had to hurry and glanced over to the right. Young guy on my right was also taking his time but old guy was eating like a wild man. This beast was opening up the burrito shells and eating all the crap inside with his hands. He was making a serious mess and making even such terrible noises. To this day, hearing the sounds that man made was one of the most awful experiences of my life.
I decide I needed to pick up the pace and start inhaling my second burrito. After about three quarters I begin to slow down. I realize that trying to win this thing in first place is never going to happen because young guy to my right is already chowing down on burrito number three. It's clear that he trained harder and better than I did and all I could hope to do is best him in the second round. Unphased by this revelation I continued on with my task. I finished up the second burrito and by the time I was digging into the third my rival had outright murdered the rest of us He was the first to finish and the winner by a lot. The man-pig on my right was making even worse noises and was so sloppy. I started to feel a little queasy. I knew I had to get this burrito down to save face. I wasn't able to eat as fast anymore. Every bite felt like it would come back up. I battled not only my burrito, but my senses of disgust and defeat.
I finally made it down to the last bites of the final burrito. I knew I would come in second place if I could choke that last bit down. Weird guy was working on the rest of his slop and still had the scraps of tortillas to eat. My stomach was turning into knots. My friends started to cheer me on harder. People in the crowd had crazed looks on their faces. A news camera was pointed in my face and flashbulbs went off. All the emotion... and food rushed up from the bottom and it was all I could take. I turned my head and puked into a garbage can. Not a lot of puke but vomit nonetheless. I was automatically disqualified though I had felt somewhat better after that I probably could have finished the the last bites. It wouldn't have been worth it even if I had choked down those final morsels.
I never wanted to eat Moe's again after that. I never wanted another burrito in my life. Not only was a crushed that I had been disqualified so close to the end, but I was also extremely sick from the amount of nasty ground beef and rice and beans that had just been jammed down my gullet. I was promptly taken home to lay in my bed and groan for hours on end. I chugged pepto-bismal and ate tums like candy. The ensuing bowel movement was one of the worst things ever. I'll spare you the specifics on that one but I must say, my digestive tract felt like Timothy McVeigh parked a truck in it.
I made the local news that day and the article and video from the report are still online to this day: http://capitalnews9.com/. I learned a great deal about myself that day. For one, although I love to eat, I'm not cut out to eat competitively. Also, ground beef at Moe's is about as good as eating potted meat (aka meat in a can aka spam aka shit). If you ever find yourself at a point in your life where you decide entering an eating contest is a good idea, please reconsider. Or at least attempt to complete the challenge once before the contest date. Save yourself the embarrassment, the shame, and the gastro-intestinal torment you are sure to feel.