There are a few things I don’t particularly miss about living in Los Angeles: the traffic on the 405 being one of them. But there are many, many things I do miss and much of it involved the people with whom I surrounded myself. Though it is sometimes said that our nostalgia is often fueled by us romanticizing the past, I know that the fondness with which I reflect on the friendship circles formed during my decade in Los Angeles is, in fact, very real. This year’s World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, or more specifically, the team I am a part of during this year’s contest, has reminded me why the friendships I formed in a city sometimes known for its superficiality are rooted so very deep in my life.
Several years ago when I first attended the contest (Barbecue Fest as many Memphians and transplants call it) I grasped the concept of the “barbecue team”, thanks in large part to the many kind and generous team members who invited my husband and I into their tents. While sitting in some of these single and double-decker tents team members took us, complete strangers, under their wings and explained what it meant to be part of a team. It was then we decided to place “join a great team” on our bucket list and, thanks to a few more kind and generous Memphians- now dear friends- we crossed it off our list three years ago. When we gathered with our team on Wednesday evening for Family Night, with the sun setting over the Mississippi River I sat on a bench outside of our tent and reflected on how much this team reminded me of the circle I so dearly missed in Los Angeles.
There, in the “City of Angels”, we were a group bound together by common goals and a purpose though we all diverged on the centrality of growth from different walks of life. Some of us had come from wealthy families, some of us had paltry bank accounts and no one to call when the balance hit zero. We were from different states and different countries, different cultures and different ethnic backgrounds, sharing different views on everything from pop culture to politics (one friend insisted that Channing Tatum was the “greatest actor of our generation”; our fellow conservatory-trained actor friends begged to differ.) Sometimes there were debates on whose opinion was the right one and sometimes an argument arose because, clearly, that opinion was the wrong one. We all had a voice that needed to be heard, and was always heard out. Because in the end every single one of us was a vital and intricate part of the circle and if one of us seceded or was forced out, the circle was rendered broken and useless. So at times we agreed to disagree and continued working towards those common goals of victory and success, leaning on each other for support in an uber-competitive environment wherein victory was sweet and loss meant going back to the drawing board and starting over. Defeat was not an option.
Sounds a lot like my barbecue team.
We are artists and entrepreneurs; corporate climbers, chefs and nonprofit crusaders. We have a programmer with a Fortune 100 company and the brewmaster of one of Memphis’ most successful and beloved breweries. We are the contest home to college students and students long graduated with future college students in tow. From different cultures, countries, socio-economic backgrounds, races and ethnicities we have bonded and are bound together by a common goal: submit the best darned shoulder we can summon as a team, lending our human shoulders as support to those who have worked tirelessly for the past few days, months, even years, perfecting rubs and recipes. We will enjoy this week of fun and nail-biting anticipation as we await the winner(s). Then, after the tents have been taken down we will go our separate ways, knowing that we have our nostalgia to carry us until next year’s contest where we will once again convene on the river to make memories that don’t have to be romanticized.