Ed. note: We got thrown out of the Las Vegas Pizza Festival last Saturday. Here is the story:
Human beings are funny creatures, by turns fiercely independent and slavish devotees to never thinking for themselves. No other creature goes to such lengths to assert its individuality (e.g. tattoos) while mindlessly going along with the herd (cf. tattoos).
Crowds, events, concerts, rallies, have never been my thing. My idea of hell is being corralled into any space along with thousands (or hundreds) of others in order to witness something. This is not claustrophobia (although I am mildly claustrophobic) as much as it is a visceral reaction to being treated as something lesser than myself.
Even as a teenager, the idea of going to Woodstock was less about my revulsion at the idea of (literally) shitting in the woods than it was about the thought of sitting on a hillside with 200,000 smelly hippies, all grooving to the same tunes in unison. Even then, I preferred listening and enjoying the music my way:
If getting me into a crowd is harder than enticing me to an Asian buffet, asking me to stand in line (to eat anything) is an insult to my intelligence.
If I’ve learned one lesson in fifty years of rabid restaurant hopping it is that no food in the world is worth standing in line for. America is the land of plenty. Lining up like starving cattle for a taste of something (and wasting valuable time doing so) is a soul-deadening experience where the payoff is rarely worth it. (“Look at me! I stood in line for an hour for a cronut!”)
You are basically sacrificing your time while beseeching someone to take your money, when it ought to be the other way around.
(Exception: Snow’s Barbecue in Lexington Texas, which is only open one day/week. But that’s it.)
With all of this in mind, there I was last Saturday, against my better judgment, waiting in some stupid, roped off VIP line, being marshaled by more security than a presidential debate, to eat a few slices of pizza at the Las Vegas Pizza Festival. But we never got there, no pizza tasting. No kibbitzing with pizzaiolos, no whooping it up with friends over some tasty pies.
Nope, we were kicked out and here is the tale, told as it happened, along with some perspective about why the foodie events like this might not be worth it.
A certain queasiness grips me as we approach. What’s with all the brawn? Did they give a pizza fest and a hip hop concert broke out? Are they expecting a riot over insufficient pepperoni?
At least a hundred poor sheep…er…uh…I mean souls are queued up in the non-VIP line, waiting for the velvet ropes to open up. Inside, there are giant men in matching golf shirts treating the situation with all the solemnity of a state funeral. Not wishing to waste time, I stride past these behemoths and get our press passes without a problem. (My father’s advice: “Just act like you own the place, works every time.” And it does!)
Then, just beyond the press table, there they are, the dreaded switchback queues — the bane of airport travelers and amusement park goers everywhere — but before we even get to them we have to confront our first security check. (Yes, there are multiple security checks…for….let’s not forget…eating a few slices of f**king pizza.)
Musclebound baldy guard in too-tight T: “I need to see your ID.”
Me: “But we already have our press passes.”
Him: “I need to see proof that you are over 21.”
(Fun factoid(s): The Food Gal® may not look 50, but she’s way past 21. I may be young at heart, but no one has mistaken me for a college kid since Jimmy Carter was President.)
Food Gal (pleading sweetly): “I left everything at home; can’t you see I’m over 21?”
Him: “I’ll have to check with my supervisor.”
Supervisor gets checked with, within a minute or so we are waved in. To the second security/wristband table. Then a third. To get a slice of pizza. A sense of dread fills me. Little did I know what I was in for.
By this time, I have TWO wristbands on (Fun Factoid #3: I consider wristbands one step below cattle prods on the dehumanizing accoutrement scale). and my eyes have been rolling back in my head so much they’re practically glued to the ceiling, but we press on, patiently, with a forced smile on my face.
The good news: by now the VIP line has dwindled to a dozen or so folks, who themselves are enduring these small humiliations, but regardless, pizza nirvana is only seconds away, and we still will have fifteen minutes or so to load up before the barbarians enter the gates.
Then, the fun begins. As we are standing in line behind a few folks, and maybe in front of a half-dozen others snaking their way through the absurd roped gauntlet, we spot two close friends (prepaid VIPs) who have cleared checkpoints one and two. So we wave to them to get in front of us at the (by now almost nothing) final entry point so we can walk in together.
No different than when you’re standing in line to order tacos at a food truck and your good friends show up to partake with you, right? Or maybe a better example is a bunch of ticket holders filing into a sporting event together. No harm no foul…
Faster than you can say “overreacting rent-a-cop”, a plus-sized female comes racing through the ropes screaming “No cutting in line!” at my two friends who have just walked around a stanchion to join us. I ignore her; my male friend does not.
Pleasantries are exchanged to the point where I’m fairly certain neither will be sending the other a Christmas card, and before I can chime in with, “Look, Miss, it’s my fault: I invited him to get in front of me.” she shoves him, and is threatening to call the cops.
Things settle down after a minute of jawboning so the wife and I head in thinking it will get sorted out between them as grownups.
When our friends don’t appear after a few minutes, we return to the scene of the egregious crime, where our male friend is now surrounded by four men in matching rent-a-cop shirts. I approach this scrum, annoyed but civilly, thinking the matter has been resolved, so we can get down to the margherita at hand.
New logo’d guy who I’m fairly sure coaches youth football after he leaves the car lot: “Sir, we are way beyond that now, you need to leave.”
Him: “The police have been called; you’re being trespassed.”
At first I’m unaware if he’s directing this at me or my buddy, then I blurt out:
“Hold on a second…Youre gal was way out of line.”
Then he repeats the “you’re being trespassed” line several times (painfully, as if he took a great deal of time to memorize the words), and faster than you can say “quatro fromaggi, par favore” the four of us are being led to the door. 86’d, as it were.
(Several times during these various inane exchanges, I think about videotaping them, but I don’t because I don’t want to be “that guy”. Hindsight: I probably should have.)
Later the same day I hear through event organizers that the security company is thinking of “pressing charges” against us.
This is the world we live in today.
Since adult perspective was sadly lacking in the whole kerfuffle, allow me to end with some.
These days, even something as innocent as a pizza tasting must be treated with the same heightened level of apprehension as rock concerts and political protests.
We have created a world that is both full of fear and afraid of missing out. Everyone wants to participate and have a good time, but even the most innocent of gatherings is fraught with concern over bad behavior. Because of this, businesses and governments seek to insulate themselves from allegations of failing to “protect us”, by, literally, keeping us in line.
What happens next is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Once the decision is made to ramp up security to absurd levels, what you get is a work staff that is looking for something to do. If all you have is a box of hammers (with IQs to match), everything is going to look like a nail. It is the perfect recipe for overreaction that doesn’t match the infraction.
There is no evidence that heightened security actually works, or that its effectiveness could be proven even if it did. (How do you gauge the level of bad things that don’t happen?) All we know is that loathsome, boorish, even murderous behavior is at an all time high, and all the security theater in the world hasn’t changed that. (I’ll grant you that big, beefy dudes are probably useful when it comes to tossing out obnoxious drunks at bars, concerts, and sports events.)
If you feel safer going through the ridiculous gauntlet in airports these days (even if they are wholly ineffective at their job), then I am happy for you, even if you’re fooling yourself. And if you enjoy walking up to a food festival and seeing a phalanx of puffed up guards scanning the crowd like low-rent watchmen looking for drugs, then enjoy your hall monitors.
As for me, as usual, my instincts were right. I should’ve turned tail as soon as I saw the guards and the queues. Incidents like this give me yet another reason to avoid the sheep-herding, shoulder-rubbing, warmed-over shitshows of food events.
Give me a decent meal at a good restaurant any day.
After our defenestration, We repaired to Esther’s Kitchen and Garagiste and had a fine time tucking into a fabulous lunch with no lines, no security, easier conversation and better seating. Then, later the same day, we drove to Rosa Ristorante for a bite of one of Rob Moore’s gorgeous pies (below).
Better food. Better wine. Better people.
Postscript #2: If you want to hear more about this tempest in a teapot, tune into our new food podcast, Eat. Talk. Repeat. this Friday for the full Monty.