Birthday week – the epilogue
Bringing birthday week to a close with the second half of our two-part final post. Let’s set the stage of what has gone before…
I had the idea of throwing a big 50th birthday bash for all my friends and family. I invited dozens of people, a good portion of whom signaled their intention to come. The place: a large pavilion in an even larger county park. The method: a barbecue feast replete with side dishes and varied drinks. The logistics: A three-size too big truck to carry all the goodies from my house to the park on “B-day”.
Now, the finale…
The good thing about the park location was I could drive fairly unused back roads to get there. This was especially important since the truck was so big, the entire amount of stuff being transported barely took up an eighth of the space in the back of the truck. I tried to wedge the grill and other large items as tightly as possible to reduce sliding. I still had to go over some of the worst (and widest) speed bumps I had ever driven over, but my previous “scouting” missions had forewarned me, so I drove at barely double digit speed.
Upon arriving, my indispensable neighbors began helping me unload. I sent one of them away to pick up 10 bags of ice, so that left two people to do all the remaining carrying (or dragging). The pavilion was about 100 or 150 feet from the road (over a small incline, naturally), so we were puffing by the time everything was removed.
To give you an idea, the fare for the barbecue alone included ribs, chicken, burgers, hot dogs and a new addition to my barbecue menu. Recently, I had been dabbling in grilling Italian sausage, hot Italian sausage to be precise, and I was quite pleased with the results. I decided this would be a new feature introduced at this momentous time. They turned out to be the hit of the party.
I had gotten up in the wee hours of the morning to cook the sides so they would be hot when carried out to the pavilion. This included my state-famous baked beans and my 7-cheese macaroni and cheese. While the sides were cooking, I had prepared sliced onion (for the burgers), diced onion (for the dogs), leafed a head of lettuce, sliced a few tomatoes and bagged or containered a variety of other condiments or small sides.
For those of you who don’t know South Florida in May, I already went over the heat and humidity yesterday, but the other weather characteristic you might not be familiar with is the wind. We had a bit more than a breeze that day, a factor that would ultimately doom me, though I knew it not at the time.
The ribs were dry-rub marinated the day before, so I began cooking them first, since they needed to slow cook for almost two hours per grouping. My grill is about medium size, so the quantity of food I can put on it is substantial, but not gigantic.
While the food was cooking, my neighbor and I began setting up the decorations. In typical tongue-in-cheek fashion, I had selected “My 1st Birthday” as the theme, since it was my 1st birthday as a “retired” man (or more accurately, an author, for which I sometimes can’t tell the difference). The wind immediately started billowing the table cloths and threatening to send the other items set down on dizzying trips across the park. Using large amounts of tape (hey, I told you I came prepared), we were able to give the pavilion some semblance of order.
On the back end of the pavilion (west, for those of you who like directional accuracy), I set up the heating trays and waited to light the sterno cans, since it was still six or seven hours until the beginning of the party. It was just as well, since, of everything that I had remembered to bring, the one thing I forgot was my long lighter tool (you know the type, those long thin-nosed jobs with the click-trigger). My neighbor who went for the ice was hurriedly contacted to add that to his list.
I had hit my stride on the cooking of the ribs and the other dishes were settled into the heating trays. I prepared some other snacks (peanuts, goldfish, and pretzels) in bowls and organized the kids’ gift bags (Frisbees, hand kites, bubble sticks, pin-wheels, etc.). I also had a large bag filled with bigger “toys”, kick balls, wiffle ball set and other stuff (it was a park, after all).
After re-organizing the drink coolers to the north side of the pavilion, I tucked the grill on the far north-west side to be out of the way of arriving guests. Unfortunately, this put the grill in the path of an unexpected and unnoticed crosswind (unnoticed due to the heat of the grill, heat of the sun and my general headless chicken worrying). This would come back to haunt me in my perplexing inability to cook the remaining food very fast. The wind also played an exceedingly annoying role in trying to snuff out the heating tray cans, but we solved that quicker than the grill.
The guests finally arrived and I was still behind in the cooking, vexed and disappointed at my lack of preparedness. After a good deal of time flitting around having conversations with everyone, I decided to just open up what food was already there and see how well I could fill in from that point forward. Shortly after the eating began, I uncovered my atmospherically related problem and was able to angle the grill effectively to get back to full flame.
I spent a fair amount of time frowning at the grill and apologizing to my guests, many of whom were quite satisfied with the fare that was available (although, I discovered that the heating trays are insufficient to keep soft a 7-cheese macaroni and cheese; the resultant mass, while tasty, was incredibly difficult to serve). While I believed their compliments of the cooking, I was unsatisfied with my cooking and timing (think perfectionist) and vowed I would solve those issues for any future barbecues (which I have, so the lesson was learned).
There was cake, of course. And some gifts. But most of all, there was a lot of friends and family to share a nice day of eating and talking and laughing, three of my favorite things!
Finally, as the sun was literally setting in the sky, my neighbors and I, along with a straggling guest or two, packed everything back into the truck and I rambled and rumbled home. In record time, we unloaded everything from the truck and I managed to move all of the supplies back into the house (the barbecue had to be “rolled” around the house to the patio…through thick grass for about half the trip. That sure felt nice after the long day. I couldn’t even sleep in the next morning, since the truck had to be returned by early a.m. or I would have been charged a whole extra day.
And that, my friends, was my 50th birthday. Much like my brilliant idea for Mylar balloons on the Valentine’s Day roses I gave all the ladies in the building where I worked several years earlier (read the post “Everyone should be a Valentine” from back in February, if you missed that pulse-pounding extravaganza), I vowed never to do such a crazy event again.
But it was one heck of a cool 50th birthday party!