Since I began this job, I’ve noticed people cling. They find their “in” at the newspaper, and that “in” becomes the person they go to when they need a story.
I’m proud to say the Shepherd’s House clung to me for some reason.
I’ve grown quite fond of the homeless shelter, and I’ve become a believer in the mission.
The first time I wrote a story about the place, I thought, Oh great, I get to write about a homeless shelter, but I’ve amended that view.
It does, indeed, shelter the homeless, but it does so much more. The organization lines up those who live there with work and guides them through a program set up to allow them to live independently.
I’ve come to believe the Shepherd’s House truly offers a hand up rather than a handout, and I think it offers a path to success to folks who have, oftentimes, hit the lowest point in their lives.
One event I get to cover which benefits the Shepherd’s House is Angela Shur’s Pie-Eating Contest for Charity. It’s a difficult event to cover. There are so many people there that I can’t take a decent picture, and it’s always hot.
However, I fully support the Shepherd’s House mission and commend Shur for doing such a good deed for the community.
Every year, something comes up in our conversations. “Are you going to compete this year?” she asks. I usually laugh it off and stop short of committing to devouring a pie.
I can eat quickly. A drill sergeant at Fort Benning used to use me as an example to other trainees. The truth is I wasn’t trying to impress anybody. I’ve always been able to eat a meal in under three minutes, and the threat of my biscuit and gravy being tossed in the trash served as extra motivation.
Eating a pie in that setting never really appealed to me, but this year the first-place prize for adults was $100. Why not win some money and some pride by using a skill usually deemed disgusting by those across the table from me at dinner?
So I agreed to it, and I picked chocolate cream as my flavor. My theory was that the cream would just slide down my throat. Eliminating the need to chew would hasten the production.
As I sat down at the table I looked for this defending champion. Supposedly the guy was good. I expected to see Jabba the Hutt sitting across from me. Nope. This guy was like 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed 120 pounds soaking wet.
My pie looked good though, really good. I salivated as I looked at it. I even thought about disqualifying myself by taking a taste.
After the countdown hit start, somebody from behind me shoved my face in the thing. I flipped it out of the pan and began inhaling it. It was good — at least half of it was.
After I hit mid-pie, I started to realize the flaws in my cream theory. First, it turns out the cream slides up as easily as it slides down. I gagged and swallowed a few times to ensure I didn’t get to taste that half of the pie again.
It was also quite rich, and I’m certain that was the issue. I can eat almost endlessly, and my stomach is certainly large enough for a whole pie. Just last week somebody accused me of being pregnant. It’s OK though. I don’t really care to impress anybody, and my gut makes the perfect little beer rest for when I’m watching football.
It didn’t take long for me to realize first place just wasn’t an option. I’m a fierce competitor, but I’m also a smart competitor. I know when it’s time to play for runner-up. I identified those who might challenge me for the $50 prize and tried to stay ahead of them.
Then, with about the equivalent of two pieces of chocolate cream pie remaining, I heard cheers from the far end of the table. I had been beaten by this tall young man and then by a woman.
I hung my head and listened to my stomach rumble. It was a long walk of shame back to the office to write a story.
The expected sugar rush never came. I had thought I’d have to write a story while dancing, but that wasn’t the case. I actually think I may have been on the verge of a diabetic coma. Everything was slow. My eyes felt heavier than ever, and I’ve been tired before — like up-for-two-days-straight and walked-20-miles tired.
I proceeded to hunt and peck on my keyboard so slowly I looked like my 4-year-old when she types her name. All I wanted to do was sleep, which is something I knew I couldn’t do until very late that evening, as I had more events to cover.
Like any other winner who just happened to lose, I found something to blame it all on though — the heat. Who would have thought it would be over 80 degrees at midday on July 4 in North Carolina?
Next year, with an amended strategy, I’ll be coming for that tall glass of water who got lucky this year (like he has for the past three) and Suzie Homemaker who sneaked up on me from the end of the table.
Until then, I’m certain my $10 entry fee will be put to good use by a great organization.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.