“I loved your book.” This is from the woman who sits across from me at the chili cook-off. I will never get used to people I don’t know knowing who I am. I’m surprised every time someone I didn’t have to bully into it tells me they read Old Buildings in North Texas, which, by the way, is not about dilapidated structures in the panhandle, but a humorous novel combining drug rehab and urbexing. If you haven’t read it yet, you’ll love it!
“I’m thrilled you read it,” I tell her. “Thank you.” I have decided this is the way I will answer compliments about my work; and I’m pleased to say I’m giving this response more and more often. I recently did a reading for a book group of eighteen women, and all of them had read it and were enthusiastic. Thanks, Janice, for inviting me.
The chili competition is taking place at Spicewood Vineyards, a winery near us. It’s an annual event drawing a huge crowd, many of which, considering the number of sleek millennials, drove out from Austin. Our friends, Bill and Carolyn from up the street (the neighbors who still talk to David and me) came early and saved places for us at their table. Thanks Carolyn. And thanks, too, for reading OBiNT and recommending it to your friend.
The area where the cook-off is being held is no more than two acres of lawn and patio. Leaving our table, David, Diana, and I wend our way through the crowd, crossing to a square composed of awnings and tables where chili is offered in small cups. Each cook explains what makes his or her particular chili unique and wonderful.
“Made from venison, buffalo, and bloody Mary mix,” one of them says. I take a small bite; it’s okay.
“Made with pork, brisket, chipotle, and chocolate,” says the woman at the next table.
Some of the more outlandish ingredients are raisins, pumpkins, oysters, Triscuits. Can such nontraditional concoctions actually be categorized as chili? Each attendee is to vote for their favorite. These chili chefs with their slow-cookers take the voting process much more seriously than those of us who are sampling.
“My mouth is on fire,” I tell Diana. We’ve tasted a dozen out of twenty-two.
“Yeah, I’ve had enough,” she says. “I’m going to vote for that young couple in the corner. They seem nice and their chili is normal.”
We return to the table, where Carolyn and her friends have set out a generous spread of cheeses, grapes, crackers, and dips. There are six bottles of wine on the table. Several hundred chili buffs mingle in front of us, a gift for people-watchers. The wine goes around the table. Glasses fill up and are emptied. David goes off and returns with more.
“It’s unusual that, in a group this size, I don’t see one obese person,” I tell David.
He scans the crowd, anxious to find an overweight person to contradict my observation. He can be contrary. But everyone circulating before us is trim, lustrous, and inexplicably taller than average. We are surrounded by stunning people. They’re decked out in fringes, feathers, man buns, high-heeled boots, broad-brimmed hats, unexpected zipper placements. More like costumes than clothes.
The band is high quality, and when we hear the opening notes of the Star-Spangled Banner, we all stand. The vocalist does an excellent job—the national anthem can be tricky; and just as the last note is dying away, three WWII fighter planes buzz overhead. Impressive timing.
“That gave me chills,” the woman behind me says.
It’s at this point I notice that in this group of over five hundred people, not only is everyone exaggeratedly fit and gorgeous, they’re also exaggeratedly white. Have we inadvertently stumbled into a Klan party? Much has been said lately about the partitions between cultures and I wonder how a partition was erected here, today. The publicity regarding this event reached everyone in all the nearby towns; also, obviously, Austin. Was there some sort of coded message telling brown people to stay away?
This lack of diversity makes me grumpy. If this massive party had taken place in Houston, every race, religion, and orientation would’ve been represented.
“Ready to go?” David asks. Diana and I gather our purses and wraps.
We make it home around five, my favorite time to pour Zin and watch TV.