By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"Who knows," Busta says, smiling at the thought of it, "it could be huge by the time he wants to get involved."
Just before the halfway mark, Busta moves onto his third plate. Oliver picks up the pace, trying hard to catch up but also concentrating on not losing what is in his mouth and stomach.
"On the competitive eating circuit, this is what we call the meat sweats," Baer says with delight.
The nationally ranked eaters start to drain their water bottles. The crowd, now at about 30 people, takes a communal step back as Oliver covers his mouth and dusts the table with a fine spray of water and chewed-up tamale. Busta eats on, slow and steady. During the last seconds of the race, Oliver crams a tamale in his mouth and spits it out just as Baer calls time.
As the crowd disperses, Baer examines the plates. Both eaters downed 33 tamales, and now a three-tamale eat-off will decide the winner.
After a brief break, Busta and Oliver take the stage. Again, Baer tries to excite the crowd, but most of the people left are either members of Oliver's entourage or the press. Baer directs his attention back to the eaters. Five, four, three...
Both men stuff tamales in their mouths with a newfound zeal. In the end, only one can claim the $1,000 prize. If Busta wins, "it'll be a good night in Dallas," he says. If Oliver wins, he is "going to Shreveport." Either that or he'll get new tires for his truck.
It comes down to the wire, or rather, the mouthful. Baer declares Oliver the winner. His party jumps and screams. "We're going to Shreveport!" screams one of Oliver's friends.
Busta steps off the stage.
"I don't know how that tie ended up happening," he says. "I was fairly convinced at the end of the first round that I had it cleared. I had fewer on my plate. I know I did. I looked," Busta says in disappointment and defeat.
A gentleman from the crowd comes up to him.
"You were robbed," he says. "I can't wait to see the picture of both of you showing your mouths at the exact same time." --Kelsey Guy
Tom Marking lifted the pint glass and drank with obvious relish, if not for the beer, then for the convivial scene around him at the Stoneleigh P. His group had now topped a dozen, gathering around a growing amoeba of small round bar tables pushed together. Many in the crowd were strangers to each other, but the welcome was warm and the conversation lively. If George W. Bush had arrived to indulge his old vice in this company, however, he would've needed to show up with a pitcher in each hand.
"As Will Rogers said," Marking observed as he dabbed a bit of beer foam from his graying moustache, "'I don't belong to an organized political party. I'm a Democrat.'"
The Thursday event marked the first in-person Dallas gathering of a progressive online group called Texas Kos, an offshoot of the popular blog community Daily Kos. Marking organized the gathering under the aegis of Drinking Liberally, www.drinkingliberally.org, a spirituous, spirited social phenomenon started in 2003 in New York that now has more than 80 chapters.
Coming out to meet online friends in person for the first time didn't seem to trouble anyone present, but coming out as a liberal in Texas is another matter. The identities used on Kos, such as "catte nappe" and "sees differently," were admitted freely, but many were leery of sharing their full names with a reporter. "I work at a very conservative institution," explained one.
In keeping with the philosophy of Drinking Liberally, the atmosphere was far from militant. "Some of these people know way more than I do," said one woman, "but it was drinking and Democratic, so I thought I'd come."
Cynthia Smith helped Marking publicize the event on other popular left-wing blogs such as Eschaton. Their efforts paid off with a crowd that eventually reached 20, mostly white, members, evenly divided between men and women.
"I'm not sure anybody needs this as much as I do," said Smith, a full-time mom from Allen. "Collin County is a hard place to be a liberal."
Especially enjoying the gathering was Melody Townsel, the woman who blew the whistle on U.N. nominee John Bolton and whose story was detailed in the Dallas Observer on May 5. Everybody wanted to talk to Townsel. What they had to say surely made a welcome change from the deluge of derision she endured from detractors such as Rush Limbaugh.
One bearded man attracted several listeners as he quoted Texas Republican strategist Royal Masset: "By 2008, Masset said, there would be no elected Republicans in Dallas County." But no matter how bright the future for Democrats in Dallas, they still have to live in the present. When the speaker was asked his name, he gave a weak grin and said, "Just call me 'Paul'." --Rick Kennedy