Column: "The Sports Trail": Heart races with first place at 'almost famous' event

Wednesday, March 3, 2004

by David McNeal

In the sports world, being first is all there is. No one cares who played hard but finished second. Getting through the door first is all that counts in the cold, cruel world.

That's the way it was for me last Friday when I heard that Bob Wilson was back from Mexico and that Bubba's Barbecue in Eureka Springs was opening.

Understand, this is not an advertisement ---- it's a testimonial. Bubba's is one of those wonderful places, sorta like Cheers. You know, where everybody knows your name ---- and the food ain't half bad either.

Finding out the sacred smoke was pouring out of the twin barrels of Bubba's chimney was like hearing your name called in the regional or state tournament. You react.

Heartbeat increases, blood pressure rises, your palms get sweaty and your mouth is dry. Your senses are heightened as you picture yourself in the heat of the action, hopefully with Bob's homemade barbecue sauce dripping off your mouth and onto your hands.

Like many sports events, you want to include friends for the opening kickoff, so I called my best friend, Alice, and made a date for lunch. Then, like in the old days when I was coaching, I decided to scout out the building and see if I could gain an advantage somewhere.

I was on my way to the Eureka Springs gym, which would bring me right past the building with the pink pigs and the sign that says, "My mother eats here."

I pulled off the highway, and experienced a rare moment ---- there were no other cars in the lot. I was alone, ahead of the crowd that was sure to fill every available space.

Then, like a light from above, there was a flicker and Bubba's "Open" sign lit up. I leaped out of the car and dashed down the wooden steps just as the pink door to the "almost famous" interior opened and Bob stepped out.

"Hi Dave," a tanned Bob said calmly, throwing the door open wide. "You're our first customer. Come on in"

I was overwhelmed. It was like winning a gold medal at the Summer Olympics, which will be in Athens this summer. My foot touched the threshold ---- and I froze.

"Uh, I can't," I said nervously as I backpeddled, hoping Bob wouldn't be offended. "I told Alice I was bringing her to lunch. I'll be right back," I said, then bolted for the high school, where Alice awaited.

It took no more than 10 minutes, but when we returned there were just two tables left, and neither lasted long. As we eased into our chairs, my favorite game at Bubba's began.

"Hey Charles, how's it going," and "Jamie, Ken! Didn't know you were back," and "Don. Good to see you again."

Yeah, Bubba's is back, back in action after a long winter. As I chomped down on a pork sandwich, getting high on the hog, I asked Alice how her meatless nachos were. She nodded and smiled.

What a great gal! And a vegetarian, too. That, and the food, made me forget not being first!

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