Happy Independence Day everyone! I hope everyone is having a great day out in the summer sun, and looking forward to seeing the spectacular fireworks later tonight! (I of course will be watching from my TV set, because no self-respecting New Yorker actually gets into the throng of people to watch the fireworks live, ha.) But for this morning, my TV is tuned right to ESPN (original, not “2”, not “the Ocho“) for the noon kickoff of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. It isn’t the Fourth of July without hot dogs!

And indeed, you get a lot of hot dogs at this event. It started off way back on July 4, 1916, when allegedly four immigrants partook in a hot dog eating contest to prove who was the most patriotic. It happened right at the Nathan’s Hot Dogs restaurant, brand new at the time, on Surf and Stillwell Avenues in Coney Island. The contest lapsed for a good 50 years, but starting in 1972 the contest became an annual event, growing bigger and bigger every year. It’s gone from a tiny fringe event down near the crazy Coney Island boardwalk to something spectacular and massive! It’s like the Kentucky Derby of the International Competitive Eating Federation (yes, such a thing exists): everyone wants to win the coveted “Yellow Mustard Belt.” It grew in popularity once Japanese eating powerhouse Takeru Kobayashi started winning the competition in 2001, and now people from all over the world tune in to see what goes down on that little corner in Brooklyn.

I feel like I should put on some Ray-Bans and American Apparel clothes to say this, but I loved the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest before it was cool. 😉 I’ve always been a Nathan’s baby, my family visiting the original Coney Island location for hot dogs and fries (and things you can only get at the Coney Island location, like soft shell crab and lobster rolls) since I was a baby. I’ve always felt there was magic there, and it’s one of the many elements that’s made me fall in love with local history. I started going to the hot dog eating contest long before it was televised on ESPN, back when NY1 was the only camera crew around, and I could ride down to Coney Island on my bike, get to Surf & Stillwell 1/2 hour before the contest, and get right up to watch competitive eating greats like Crazy Legs Conti and Cookie Jarvis stuff their faces with hot dogs. I saw Takeru Kobayashi’s first win, and saw the shifting of the tides ever since: the crowds started getting bigger, the coverage more complete, and now the entire intersection is filled with people looking to catch a glimpse. I went a few years ago with my dad for nostalgia’s sake, but nowadays I skip the fanfare and watch it on ESPN. (Note: it’s better to watch it live, because ESPN gets a little TOO close to the competitors while they’re eating. Not a pretty sight.) But I still remember the days when I attended, and feeling the excitement with the crowd over a local, hokey competition becoming big.

So if you’ve got the sunscreen and the time, take the Q train down to Coney Island this morning and watch the biggest competitive eating event in the world! (Yes, I’m also a bit of a competitive eating fan, lol!) And while you’re there, celebrate the 85th birthday of the Cyclone, take a walk along the Coney Island boardwalk, and really enjoy the Fourth of July as I spent it in my childhood. And don’t forget to order a few Nathan’s hot dogs for yourself!