EPICurean FAIL: The Great American Food and Music Festival
June 15, 2009

Oh, man, people. Maybe my pregnancy hormones are just really treating me right, because even though I was walking around the Shoreline Amphitheater grounds with a nine month baby in my belly, I still managed to have a hysterical time at this event. I really did.

Perhaps it was my company -- Head Cheese of Cowgirl Creamery fame -- or perhaps it was simply that the screw-ups were such that all we could do was laugh. The more things went wrong, the more we giggled.

First up was the hike we took to get there. There was no clear signage of where to go, so Mathra dropped us at what was VIP parking off Amphitheater Parkway. A guardian of the VIP gates told us to follow a path up the hill and head for the amphitheater.

We walked and we walked and apparently, we walked some more. Another woman -- who had also been dropped off -- was huffing and puffing behind us, taking smoke breaks every so often and then running to catch up with us and ask if we really knew where we were going.

Head Cheese kept saying, "This is wrong, I've been to concerts here and I know we have to get to the opposite side to reach the entrance," but there wasn't much we could do, other than keep going. We found ourselves at the top of the actual amphitheater and, lo and behold, there was an open gate. We walked in and stood on the grass and watched people arranging seats. It was about 11:35 AM at this point. We had a feeling that the gate we came through wasn't supposed to be open, so being the rule-abiders we are, we went back out and kept walking the path.

We then found ANOTHER entrance open and unguarded, and we walked right in. We arrived smack in the middle of the Burgermeister-Charles Chocolates area. No one noticed us. No one stopped us. So what else could we do but proceed to the center of the Great American Food and Music Fest and take a good look around?

Clearly, everything was in the final stages of set-up. CLEARLY the all gates were still locked, yet here we were, rule-abiders, inside the venue. We sat on a bench and debated what to do. We could stay inside and totally avoid waiting in the actual line to get in, but how would we get the free plate of food promised by our entrance fee?

This was a problem. As soon as we saw a guard with a handful of wristbands, we had our answer. We had to give up our plum spot of waiting-free entry and go out just to get back in. There was no other way to get our free food! Rule-abiders though we are, and as wrong as we knew it was to be already inside before the gates opened, if it weren't for that free plate of food, we might have stayed inside and gotten a jump on ALL the lines.

But we didn't.

We went out the way we came in. Again, no one stopped us or questioned why we were there. Very nice and trusting people are the Shoreline staff. Stepping outside, we see the extent of the line and I will admit, I stopped. I hesitated. At nine months of pregnancy, did I want to stand in that hot and sunny line? No, I really didn't. But Head Cheese and I are rule-abiders, so we walked allllll the way to the back of the line and waited. It was now 11:45 AM and the gates opened at 12:00.

I could say the line moved slowly, but that early in the day I didn't know my na´ve definition of "slow" was about to be severely challenged. Wristbands securely snapped, we made a beeline for the "add fare" place to load up our wristbands with extra cash to pay for ALL the food we were going to eat. Because we knew that our two plates of free food weren't going to be enough for us.

After that, we trekked up to the Katz's Deli stand, but were distracted along the way by another temptation: an unguarded, completely stocked It's-It case. "Maybe they're free?" Head Cheese supposed. We looked around, there was SERIOUSLY no one there! We could have reached right in and grabbed out frosty, chocolate-y handfuls of those ridiculously satisfying San Francisco treats. However: rule abiders.

We then found ourselves in the Great American General Store staring down ANOTHER temptation. A table of Zingerman's Zzang candy bars. Also unguarded, unprotected, and potentially free! We abstained. We are rule abiders.

We are rule abiders, who stand in line, so we got in line for Katz's, and it was a loooooong wait. They repositioned the line at one point to keep it from going to Great American General Store (putting us far out of reach of Zzang temptation), and we all grumbled but we managed it. This was when Scam #1 happened.

A chick with her two kids came up to us and asked if she can get in line behind us. She pointed at her son and explained, "He can't stand for very long and he just wants a plate of wings." We told her it wasn't fair to the people behind us (RULE ABIDERS). "Plus," I added, a little miffed at what I saw as a scam, "I can't stand for very long either!" And I did it. I played the pregnancy card. I pointed at my belly and said, "I'm nine months pregnant!" She backed off.

But she wasn't done yet. She asked the people behind us if she could butt. This time I heard her mention, "Chemotherapy." WHAT? That was the healthiest chemo patient I've ever seen! He was chunky and florid. I guess the group behind us were just as cynical because one of them said, "I'm sorry, I don't speak English." Head Cheese and I started to giggle uncontrollably, and I hissed, "If she wants us to believe that chemo story, maybe she should have shaved his head and eyebrows?" Because I'm clearly going to hell.

THEN we heard the woman behind the non-English-speaking-English-speakers says, "I have a pain in my side and can't stand either and I'm older and meaner!" DUDE! At this, we turned around and started bonding with the groups behind us. I showed them all my belly and said "Nine months and STILL standing in line!" They all marveled at this and exclaimed, "You should be at the front!" "But no," I contradicted, "I'm a RULE-ABIDER, and I would NEVER do that!" We all laughed and joked about me going into labor just to get a pastrami sandwich. (Oh, the IRONY!)

So since it had only been about 1.5 hours, we waited some more in the Katz's line. We finally heard that the computers were down, and that's why so many order windows were closed. However, there were still three open and functioning windows, so clearly, the computer crash wasn't that bad. RIGHT?

Oh, and there was almost a riot when one of the ill-informed (but very nice) Shoreline staff informed us (um, a bit belatedly) that we were in the chicken wings line. Screeches galore! "You told us this was a line for BOTH!" "The signs don't tell us ANYTHING!" "You better find a way to get me a pastrami sandwich at that window!" The guy totally jumped back and went to the window for a consult. However, I saw pastrami coming out of that window, so I didn't care what he said and I pointed this out to our line mates and all was well again. A few minutes later, he came back and reported, "You can get both." Okay, thanks guy. Up until the mini riot, he had been holding the line for us -- because of the redirect -- but then he sort of disappeared. I think we scared him off.

Head Cheese and I finally got two people away from pastrami heaven when Scam #2 was tried on us. A woman in a straw hat came up and flashed orange paper tickets at us. She told us if we just buy three extra sandwiches -- for which she has tickets -- she would give us cash for our sandwiches. Head Cheese and I exchanged, "The HELL is going on?!" looks. We had yet to see those paper tickets in use anywhere! For all we knew, she printed them at home just to scam anyone dumb enough to believe her.

With a flash of brilliance, we told her the truth, that we weren't even paying for our sandwiches because it's our free plate of food, so the cash didn't even matter to us. (Clearly, making money off the deal didn't matter to us either, because why? RULE ABIDERS!) Also, we didn't think it was fair to make the group behind us wait any longer for their food, either.

The guys behind us overheard all this and also gave her the Heisman, saying, "No, sorry, we gotta stick with what they said." I do think that this woman was probably legit, since we did later see those food tickets, but still, it was so bizarre!

Finally, we got our full pastrami sandwich (each of us taking half, so neither of us would starve), piled on the yellow mustard, and booked to a grassy spot in view of Anne Burrell. You have never seen two girls inhale so much pastrami so fast. We hadn't even swallowed our last bite when we started talking about getting in line for Zingerman's. I wanted Head Cheese to introduce me to Ari Weinzweig, so I could tell him how much his food meant to my college years, and she wanted to say hi to her friend, the Zingerman's cheese guy.

We figured on hanging out on the grass a little longer to give my swollen ankles a break before slowly moseying on over to grab a Zingerman's BLT.

Oh, we were so much younger then. We're older than that now.

To be continued.

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