“Mr. Load-in” suffers back injury at Tom Lee Park

Yesterday I was up and at ’em early. My plan was to get to Tom Lee Park not long after noon to assist the team with remaining booth construction tasks. I don’t mean to brag, but I lead the Moody Ques in assists. I’m kind of like the Mike Conley of BBQ Fest.

I texted the team and let them know I was on the way. “Hold on,” they replied. “Have you made it past the Saucer yet? Can you go by and see what the Fire Sale is?” I was already at Riverside and Beale by that point, but I backtracked and went to the Flying Saucer, to discover that they had Goose Island IPA as their discounted “Fire Sale” of the day for $3.50 a pint. Normally it sells for around $5. As long as I was there, I decided to have a refreshing Dos Equis Lager before continuing on to the park for a day of hard labor.

Thirty minutes later I was back on my way. Again I made it to the north entrance of the park when the team sent another text. “Can you go by and see what the Daily Dog is at Bardog?” Every day Bardog Tavern features a differently-topped hot dog as one of its specials. Once again I turned around and made the walk up to Monroe. Yesterday’s dog had marinara, parmesan, and black olives. I had to admit it sounded really good. I didn’t order the hot dog because I felt I didn’t have time to eat. However, I did order three PBRs.

Once again I started to walk to the park. This time I didn’t text anyone to tell them I was coming. “If the team keeps sending me on wild goose chases, I will NEVER get to the park and be able to get some work done,” I thought. This time I made it. Good thing I did too. The team was starting to get burned out and tired. An inspirational visit from “Mr. Load-in” was exactly what the team needed to pick up their spirits.

While in the booth I chatted with one of the assistant chefs who will be working with our pitmaster, Chef David Scott Walker. “I know we won Best Booth last year, but I’m embarrassed that we didn’t bring back any trophies for food. This year we are going to change that,” he told me. We’re entering all the ancillary competitions – things like beef, Anything But (pork), sauces – and of course, we’re prepping for the main event in our category, pork shoulder. We lost points on the presentation to the judges last year and the cooks have a plan to turn that around. Also, I learned that we will be fed even better than we were last year, with a special entree for each meal plus plenty of ribs and shoulder throughout the festival.

The final decorative touches were being put on the booth, and the team put me to work. I handed our team vice-president a crate. Then about 20 minutes later, I handed one of the guys from Holliday Flowers a crate. I was a crate-handing machine down there, let me tell you.

However, my tendency to overdo things caught up with me. “Hey Paul, can you hand me a zip tie?” my teammate Jason asked, sitting atop the scaffolding, hanging a curtain. There was a zip tie sitting on the bar and I grabbed it and took it over. As I reached up to hand it to him, – OW!!!! – I felt something pop in my back. I had gone too far and injured my back at BBQ Fest load-in.

I didn’t tell anyone. So many people on the team look up to me that I felt that I couldn’t let them down by telling them about my injured back. For the next hour I stood around and tried to do as little as possible, which was hard because that’s completely out of character for me. My teammates helped team captain Moody unload bottled water from her car, and I felt terrible standing there watching while everyone else did the work.

I didn’t tell Moody about the back injury but she must have figured it out, because she insisted on giving me a ride back to the Downtown core. She dropped me off at the Blind Bear, where I supported our team sponsor by ordering crawfish mac & cheese and eight PBRs. Then I went over to the Flying Saucer and stayed there until last call. The lime juice I squeezed into my Dos Equis Lager helped my back feel a bit better. Then I went back to the Blind Bear to support our sponsor some more.

There’s last-minute load-in stuff to do today, but due to my back I am not even going to attempt it. The others will have to soldier on without me. I plan on stopping by Bardog around 2 to report the Daily Dog to the team, then Flying Saucer at 3 to report the Fire Sale. At 4 I will relocate to the Silly Goose which I will use as a last-minute staging area. The park opens for Friends & Family Night at 5:30. This is a special night that is not open to the public, and you have to have a ticket purchased by the team to get in. It’s a chance for the BBQ teams to do test runs of food and walk around see each other’s booths before the public comes in on Thursday.

Our booth is three from the very south, on the bluff side (as opposed to the river side). Sarah and her team of artists did an incredible job incorporating elements of the host country, of Memphis, of our team logo, and of our sponsor logo into the facade. I’ll keep it a secret for one more day but it is something that is iconic in the host country’s capital, Panama City.

Back tomorrow with plenty of pictures. It’s time to eat!