For some reason that I can't rightly explain, I still enjoy The Barbecue Festival after all these years.
All 32 of them. Consecutively.
I haven't missed a single festival. Part of that is because for about 25 of those years, I had to be there covering certain events — like the Hawg Run or the Tour de Pig — as a sports writer for The Dispatch. For many of those years, if you recall, the Hawg Run was held on the actual morning of the festival.
I even ran in one once, checking it off as a bucket list item.
But working during the festival was OK. It was a remarkable one-day event then, and it still is now. So even after I retired from the paper in 2006, I still make it a point to come to the festival.
As usual, my wife and I try to get there early — maybe around 7 a.m. or so. That's so we can avoid being swept up by the huge crowds that arrive later in the day that can literally carry you along in their wake. Basically, the early reconnaissance gives us a chance to scope things out, and if anything interests us, we can go back later for further inspection.
It's a plan, anyway.
I did see something I thought I'd never see.
I saw Lee Jessup get booed. Not Halloween booed, either. Sports booed, like what happens when you drop the winning touchdown pass in the final seconds of a championship game in a capacity-filled stadium. This occurred when Jessup — perhaps one of the best, most popular, most entertaining, quick-witted, off-the-cuff emcees anywhere — announced to the early-morning gathering at the Main Stage that this was his last year hosting the festival's opening ceremonies.
I'm not sure his decision is carved in pork. I think he was a little taken aback by the crowd's reaction and maybe there's a chance he'll reconsider. I mean, what's 45 minutes out of one day of the year? On the other hand, Lee and I are the same age and our accumulated sexagenarian experiences tend to add up over time. I know where he's coming from.
I'll be back, though. Sure, I may have slowed down some over 32 years. I cover a high school football game every Friday night, and the game the night before the festival can make enjoying Saturday's pig gala a real challenge. Which probably explains why I was napping in front of a college football game on my TV at 2 p.m.
But that's OK, too. My consecutive streak is still intact.