August 16, 2015
I came for the raft race. An audacious event, open to all; a distinct challenge that tosses aside centuries of maritime expertise in favor of redneck ingenuity…an adventure, requiring only a scrap heap, and the desire to coax from its depths a raft-like object capable of floating at least long enough to cross the finish line.
As I steered my challenger into the dust-choked parking area, I imagined a group of self-proclaimed raft-wranglers (good ole boys and gals), waiting anxiously at the bayou’s edge, eager to launch their crude, but capable crafts. Countless sleepless nights behind them, they stand, pondering the hours spent laboring over sketchy designs scribbled out on walls in chalk, or simply drawn in the dirt on cement shop floors like a child’s doodles on an etch-a-sketch. This is it! I parked in the first slot I found, then hurried into the park.
Engulfed by a thick fog of fine sand, I battled my way through the oncoming traffic–automobiles that lumbered like clumsy hippos through the combination entrance/exit that curiously provided only enough room for one vehicle to pass through at a time. Approaching the gate, I uttered a quiet thanks after emerging from the parking area unscathed, paid my two dollar entry fee, then rushed down the sidewalk. As I neared the designated raft race area, my excitement quickly faded into disappointment. With less than ten minutes until race time, there was only one entry afloat, and no others waiting impatiently on the bank. Ok, maybe things were running a bit behind schedule. I could busy myself elsewhere for a while.
Photo by R.Perkins
A few dozen steps later, I found myself admiring the vintage automobiles The Heartland Cruisers’ had on display. My heart is always captured, and my gaze transfixed anytime I encounter a row of gleaming, restored vehicles. Whether it’s the graceful swell of a fender gliding over a chrome wheel of a sports car, or the nostalgic boxy theme of a classic pickup, I stand in awe before the roots of the automotive industry. Each creation is unique, and every feature evident of our early exploration into the usefulness, and marketability of the automobile. I must admit, the specimen that aroused my interest the most wasn’t glinting sunlight from chrome accessories, or drawing me into my reflection with a deep luxurious shine. It was instead, an old, green, rusty ford truck. Sometimes, a patina shines brighter than turtle wax.
After my brief visit to the automotive display, I maneuvered through the maze of vendors then over to the pavilion area to check out the live entertainment. As I drifted through the crowd, I encountered a woman brandishing a spoon. “Would you like to judge beans?” She asked.
“What do I have to do?”
“Eat beans,” she said.
I briefly contemplated the profundity our short exchange. Finally, an opportunity to demonstrate one of my many hidden talents. I’ve gone essentially unknown, and unappreciated as a professional bean eater for years, and now my skills would be put to good use. I’ve had beans for lunch and dinner more times than I could count, and have been acutely aware of their awe-inspiring properties as a breakfast food for most of my adult life. A bubble of pride swelled inside of me. This was my duty–what I had been born to do. “I believe I can handle that,” I said.
With that, she led me to a table where the other professional bean eaters were already seated, then she left, with her magical spoon still in hand, in search of more judges. Shortly, there were six of us. (That’s a pretty darn persuasive spoon). I didn’t know anyone, and with no introductions made, I couldn’t help wondering if maybe one of them went by the name Wendy, or Tootie. That’s just how my mind works.
Before me was a score sheet with instructions outlining the specific traits that qualify a sample of beans as being superior to all others. They would be graded on a scale of one to ten, taking into consideration such qualities as texture, appearance, smell, and of course, taste. Hmmm, in my professional bean eating opinion, none of these need individual consideration…unless there’s a tie breaker. Beans must have a “wow” factor. That’s to say, all these winning bean traits come together in one big magical moment the instant they make contact with the taste buds. Whenever I put a spoonful of beans in my mouth, I either want to follow-up with another, or spit it out. And if I go back for seconds, well, that particular version of the american musical fruit may just be a winner.
Sixteen bean-filled spoons, and half a dozen crackers later, my task was over. Yes, the wow factor did strike a couple of times, but most offerings presented themselves in various degrees of ordinary deliciousness. However, there were a couple that would have benefited from a visit by the spice fairy.
After I submitted my score sheet, my attention shifted back to the raft race. I hurried back across the park, arriving just in time to watch last place clear the finish line. I scanned the shoreline for a possible winner and spotted a torpedo-like craft laying on the bank. That’s it. It appeared unstable at best, heavy, and certain to sink straight to the bottom and bury up in black, bayou mud if only the slightest bobble were made…but it looked fast. At a glance I could sense the dedication involved in creating a raft with just the right measure of speed and instability. A raft that could take you across the finish line in first place, or straight to the bottom if you so much as sneezed, or chanced a look back… my kind of raft indeed. Seriously folks, if it’s safe, (whatever it is) is it really all that much fun?
I may have missed out on most of the raft race, but I met some wonderful people, witnessed a floating cow, seen some great cars, ate some damn fine beans, and I am proud of the opportunity to add “bean judge” to my list of lifetime accomplishments. Thank you, lady with the spoon. Yep, I’m ready for next years Riverfest at Brownwood, Texas. See y’all there!
Photo by R.Perkins