Thursday, March 3, 2011

SOBE 2011: Thanks for the Memories

People travel from all over the world to attend the South Beach Wine and Food Festival (and I’m not just saying that- accents abound, and my favorite customer of the year was a restaurant owner from Greece).   If you tried to book a hotel room within a hundred miles, you’d never know we’re in a recession.
As we have since the festival’s inception, Books & Books sells cookbooks at the Grand Tasting Village.  Not the bargain basement Kidz Kitchen ticket for $20 at Jungle Island, or an $85 Lifestyle Seminar or $150 party at a swank hotel, not the $200 Bubble Q or Burger Bash, but the hot ticket: $225 of all-you-can-eat-and-drink fun, right on the sand.
Here’s what I don’t get.  Folks shell out upwards of $400 dollars to eat and drink, and then not only protest when presented with a $30-$40 cookbook, but actually get offended by the suggestion that they should purchase a book to meet their favorite chef and have him or her sign it.
“I’ve spent $540 dollars on this weekend,” one woman told me, “I’m not spending another $40, that’s ridiculous.  I’m sorry, but it is.”  
Um... how much can you eat and drink between 10:45am and 6pm?  If tapas and sliders flowed over you on a river of vodka, you still couldn’t consume twenty bucks a minute worth.  Yet a cookbook your grandchildren could use one day is the rip off?  The phrase more money than sense comes to mind.
You could try to explain that the cookbook money is not going to The Food Network.  You could explain that the money they spend on Rachael Ray’s Look + Cook (“Isn’t she rich enough already?”) doesn’t actually go to Rachael Ray.  But these folks are slugging back wine faster than the sun can dehydrate them.  It’s not the ideal forum for a discussion on independent book selling.
But it is fun.  Folks come to have a good time, and they’re high on the atmosphere before they imbibe a thing.  When the gates open, people actually run across the sand like children on a playground who want to get the best swing.  How can you not love that kind of enthusiasm?  
The food is unbearably delicious.  From gunpowder cocktails made with actual gunpowder to a simple barbecued beef brisket sandwich, I wish every plate came with a logo so I’d know who to thank for some of the amazing creations.  Instead, I’ll just say thanks to everyone who cooked.
Except for the free food tent for employees, “catered” this year by Dominoes.  No wonder the volunteers left early and no-showed in droves.   
In the portable bathrooms out front, I stopped for one last pee break on Sunday before it was time to pack the books up.  In the lowest denominator of male bonding, the dude next to me slurred, “That was totally worth it, huh?  I wasn’t sure going in, but that was a lot of free stuff.”
He wore khaki shorts, a button-down, short-sleeved knit shirt, and leather loafers.  His body was buffed and outdoorsy.  He looked like a chiseled, blonde, happy J Crew ad.  I was wearing ratty jeans, sneakers, and a sweaty black ABFFE t-shirt which said, FREADom
I wasn’t sure how to answer, so I said as kindly as I could, “I work here.  At the Books & Books booth.”
“Oh,” he said, facing forward hastily.  I looked down and saw I was peeing on the front button from someone’s pants.  Either the guy was in such a hurry to relieve some of the booze that he ripped his pants open and lost a button, or he ate too much and it popped off on its own.
Either way, that’s a hell of a party.

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