When I think of July 4, several things come to mind. Fireworks, the American Flag, barbeques and most importantly, hot dogs.
Hot dogs are especially important as one of the most competitive and popular events occurs on Independence Day, the Coney Island Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Competition.
Every year since I knew what it was, I have always wanted to trek out to Coney Island to watch the contest. This year, having off for the summer for the first time in years, I decided it was time to see what the hubbub was about.
I took the subway in with my brother and got to Coney Island about an hour before the proceedings began. Already the place was packed with onlookers including families, members of the NYPD, FDNY, medics and nearly a hundred Nathan's employees.
Getting off the subway, the first thing I noticed was a giant inflatable hot dog. However, it was not an actual hot dog, but an inflatable canine in a bun. I walked over and realized an animal rights group, Mercy For Animals, with about twenty individuals who were protesting the event, saying it was inhumane and disrespectful to hold this contest.
Leaving the protest, I stopped by several of the vendors in the crowd, giving away free cans of Red Bull and others giving out free chocolate milk. There was also a giant trampoline set up for daredevils to do tricks on, as well as a basketball hoop. Prior to the contest beginning, and as a way to celebrate the Nets basketball team's move to Brooklyn, MarShon Brooks participated in a game of H-O-R-S-E with a lucky member of the crowd.
Then, with the sun beating down on the crowd, the hot dog contest began. For the second straight year, the contest was divided, with women having their own contest and then the men battling it out.
Sonya Thomas, aka The Black Widow, dominated the female competition, wolfing down 45 dogs. The number was important to her as she said she hoped to eat the same amount of hot dogs as her age, also 45.
The men then took the stage, with each individual getting their own entrance music. The entire scene appeared as a cross of a family barbeque/WWE wrestling match. There were even apparent villains, with one contestant from the Great White North coming out to his seat waving a Canadian flag on a hockey stick. He was promptly booed by nearly all in attendance.
Everyone there did seem to be rooting for one specific individual, Joey Chestnut. Chestnut is a multi-time winner, who has won this contest for five consecutive years. His own personal record was for scarfing down 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes, a record he tried to beat today.
As the contest began, it became clear the competitors were not eating the hot dogs for enjoyment, they were just eating them for speed. Some participants stuck as many as they could in their mouth and jumped up and down to finish the dogs, while others dunked their hot dogs in water and swallowed the food whole.
Even with some tough competition, it became clear the Joey Chestnut was the dominant competitor this day, matching his personal best of 68 hot dogs. My brother and I sought out some leftover hot dogs, but were informed by a Nathan's employee that if we wanted some hot dogs, we would have to pay like everyone else. Four dollars later, I enjoyed a Nathan's hot dog. It took me about three minutes to eat it, but I think I can say I enjoyed the dog more than Chestnut did.
Coming back home today, wearing my Nathan's Coney Island shirt, I thought of several things. The size of the crowd, the characters who participated, the grossness of how many hot dogs were eaten by the competitors. But, most importantly, I kept thinking of how much fun the crowd had, and how everyone there was so happy to be celebrating Independence Day with one of America's favorite traditions. Happy July 4th everyone!