The Critical Mass

Dopes mascot Porcina, "Too Pig To Fail," is struggling with an undiagnosed malady after a summer in rehab.

Dopes mascot Porcina, “Too Pig To Fail,” is struggling with an undiagnosed malady after a summer in rehab.

Smokin’ Dopes: The Agony and the Ecstasy

The smoke has finally cleared. Record Archive celebrated its 40th anniversary last weekend and the Smokin’ Dopes somehow found themselves in the midst of the action. Hundreds, maybe a few thousand music enthusiasts, descended on the Archive during the course of the day, and we were in change of feeding them pulled pork and smoked turkey. To keep their energy levels up. Because shopping is… draining.

Alas, it’s likely the last public appearance of a fine year for the Dopes.

Three events, that’s about all we can handle in one year. We’re not caterers. We don’t travel the country on the barbecue-competition circuit, two-legged carnivores with tools. We eat fish and vegetables. Sushi, even. We are artists and writers and software geniuses and teachers and musicians.

Our Finest Year Ever started with Memorial Day Weekend’s Rock City Rib Fest, where the ragtag Dopes – at more than 20 strong, the largest team at the event – stunned the culinary world with a second-place overall finish in the World Bacon Championships.

And then the August demo at the Rochester Public Market. Those poor, well-intentioned people in the pop-up tent next to us, demonstrating how to prepare a healthy mango salsa, must have been flabbergasted. The same for the serious people in the tent a few yards away, handing out brochures outlining the importance of preserving wilderness waterfowl. Right in the middle of their good work drops the Manfred von Richthofen Flying Circus of barbecue teams, The Smokin’ Dopes. We were demonstrating how to pull pork, and I don’t know if anyone in the audience learned a damn thing. People just watched as we put on the show. The Official Smokin’ Dopes Band, Watkins & the Rapiers, played their sublimely subversive songs. Hogzilla, a 55-gallon drum that my neighbor Pat welded into billowing pork-rendering machine, massaged the chicken thighs, sausages pork shoulders with applewood smoke as groups of Dopes pulled pork, handed out samples and sold raffle tickets for the plates that Mark and Jones were finishing off.

And then Saturday’s Record Archive blowout, with the 40-percent-off sale drawing a huge crowd. The Dopes were an assembly line, furiously slapping together pulled pork sliders doused with our homemade fiery Carolina-style vinegar-based barbecue sauce. Bill estimates we handed out more than 300 of them. The Dopes had also cooked up eight different versions of a cranberry barbecue sauce, which we offered at a tasting station, asking folks to fill out comment cards. Raves, nothing but raves. “Do you sell this stuff?” people kept asking.

Well, no. Would you like a T-shirt?

Watkins & the Rapiers closed their set with a really fine version of The Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About a Mover” as Iron Smoke Whiskey handed out samples of its product. Near the end of our three-hour shift we took the show indoors. Archive Founding Father and lead turkey smoker Dick Storms joined the Rapiers to belt out the Director’s Cut version of his song “Barbecue” while Margaret and Jean did a demo of our turkey-bacon club sandwich, a third-place finisher at the Roc City Rib Fest. Then we raffled off six of them. With Dopes T-shirts.

But barbecue teams are always flirting with disaster and tragedy. The Dopes are no exception. On Saturday, some punk barfed about 10 yards from where we had the smoker set up. And this was at 10:30 in the morning, before we’d served any food. Sarah and Jones had to run to the grocery store for some kitty litter to dump on it.

And our mascot, Porcina, isn’t feeling well. After spending the summer in rehab – Tommy and Jen’s tool shed – odd black pits seem to be boiling up from beneath her papier-mâché skin. Some kind of fungus? One thing the Dopes don’t have on staff is a mycologist.

And perhaps the saddest tale of all, Hogzilla was unavailable for the Archive 40th. After the Public Market demo, Pat and I had loaded it into the back of his pickup for the ride home. He drove carefully, but apparently Rochester’s potholed streets were too much for the bungee cords holding it in place. Formerly holding it in place: Turning off of St. Paul Boulevard, we heard a loud, dull thud and immediately knew what had happened. Pat hit the brakes. Hogzilla had flipped over the side of the truck and landed upside down on Thomas Avenue.

Fortunately traffic was light, with just one car behind us, and it easily evaded the roadblock before driving on. (And by the way, thanks for the help, pal). I jumped out of the cab and wrestled Hogzilla to the side of the road. We loaded it back onto the truck and made it home without further incident.

But now Hogzilla sits in my driveway, lid hideously bent, like a broken jaw. It’s a tribute to Pat’s welding skills that the thing held up with little other damage. But it looks like Hogzilla’s on the disabled list for the upcoming salmon-smoking season.

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