I gorged myself at Dodger Stadium and lived to tell about it. Barely.
In January, my beloved Los Angeles Dodgers announced that they were turning Dodger Stadium's right-field bleachers into an all-you-can-eat pavilion. Tickets would cost $35 in advance and $40 on game days. In return, fans could gorge like George Kennedy in The Naked Gun. The menu would include nachos, hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn, and soft drinks, what one Dodger PR flack called "basic ballpark fare that most fans enjoy."
Dodger management has obviously not geared the pavilion toward food yuppies like myself. Before many games last season I bought a tray of cheese, sausage, pâté, olives, and fruit from a gourmet store in Silver Lake. I took some ribbing in the stands, sure. But my food tasted a lot better than the crap they serve up at the stadium, and it cost me a lot less. The only stadium food I'll touch is a soft pretzel, a malt cup, and a bottle of water. I don't drink beer at the park, preferring the more legally risky but cost-effective strategy of intoxicating myself in the parking lot. And If I must consume sausage, I skip the flaccidly overrated Dodger Dog and get myself a solid bratwurst at the Gordon Biersch stand.
Still, I'm an American, and am therefore genetically engineered to appreciate the prospect of unlimited food consumption. So, I set forth toward the pavilion Saturday night with a friend who I will refer to here as The Rabbi. Unlike me, The Rabbi isn't a food snob or a cheap-ass. He is, however, a vegetarian. But that didn't mean he took our mission any less seriously. "I'm planning to eat a lot of nachos tonight," The Rabbi said.
The food is available 90 minutes before game time, and the stands close up two hours after the first pitch. Because of these restrictions, The Rabbi and I arrived early, parking our car just off Sunset and hiking a mile up the hill to the stadium. We felt this demonstrated our commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
As we passed through the pavilion gates, The Rabbi's dream was fully realized. We beheld an incredible panorama of cardboard containers stacked 10 high, all of them full to the brim with nacho chips. It was the Great Wall of Nachos.
The Rabbi stepped up to the plate.
"Can I help you guys?" asked the highly trained and generously compensated Levy Restaurants concessions employee.
"Nachos," said The Rabbi. "Lots of them."
We took two orders each and headed to the condiments table, where vats of recently uncanned jalapeno peppers and flavorless salsa awaited us. The table served as a gathering place for awe-struck men of all ethnic backgrounds. "I might as well not wake up tomorrow. It's not going to get any better than this," a guy next to me said. "Wait about seven hours," the guy next to him said, and they both headed off toward their gastrointestinal demise.
Next, I visited the self-serve soda dispensary. This involved being pressed up against a ballpark girder by a dozen farting, 250-pound men as they filled up enough 12-ounce cups to keep a family of five caffeinated for a week. I got a Sprite, a Diet Coke, and a golden, piss-hued liquid that called itself lemonade but contained 0 percent actual juice. The Dodgers, in the spirit of mercy, also offer free bottles of water, and I got one of those as well.
A half-hour after arriving at the park, we headed for our seats. I swallowed four Walgreens-brand antacids with a gulp of Sprite and prepared to eat. But The Rabbi had already begun. He held up an empty nacho container.
"What's my time?" he asked.
"About two minutes," I said.
Then he let out a tremendous belch.
"Oh God," he said. "It burns!"
"Tonight," I wrote in my notebook, "represents everything that's wrong with America. Then again, this is one of the most multicultural experiences of my life. All branches of the human family are slowly poisoning themselves happily, together, communal. I'm privileged to be witnessing the mass suicide of a species."
During the national anthem, which was sung by a representative from Countrywide Insurance, The Rabbi returned to our seats with something very special.
"The Nacho Dog is born," he said.
This was not an unplanned birth. The Rabbi had come to the game intending to create the Nacho Dog. For some reason, he'd long dreamed of a hot dog bun slathered with nacho cheese and topped with jalapeños and salsa.
"I believe it will be a more highly evolved form of nacho," he said. "It still contains all the basic elements."
He took several studious bites.
"It's fantastic," he said. "It represents the best of American and Mexican culture on one bun. Welcome to L.A."
That's pushing it a bit far, I thought.
He tossed me a bag of peanuts.
"Here," he said. "You need some protein."
By the second inning, the Dodgers were down 6-0. The Padres had Jake Peavy, possibly the best pitcher in the National League, on the mound. I had time to do the math. My three sodas would have cost $14.25 at a normal game, though these were 12-ouncers instead of the usual 24, so let's divide that in half and say $7. I wouldn't have purchased three sodas for myself at a normal game, of course, but I was working with Pavilion Logic here. The water was a $3.75 value, and the two orders of nachos I'd consumed would have set me back $12. Add a $4.50 bag of peanuts to the equation, and that came to $27.25 worth of food on my $35 ticket. Of course, this is according to a horribly inflated ballpark pricing scheme. Also, beer and sweets, what you crave after eating a metric ton of salty carbohydrates, weren't among the all-you-can-eat offerings: A stick of cotton candy is an extra $5.50.
Last season, I could get in and out of Dodger Stadium for $30. Of course, I park in the neighborhood, hoard my food, and usually sneak around to better seats. I realize that all fans aren't as enterprising. Still, according to Pavilion Logic, I'd gotten my money's worth. Which was good, because I was already starting to feel sick. So was The Rabbi.
Then, out of nowhere, guys began running through the aisles and flinging bite-sized Baby Ruth bars into the crowd. The crowd went berserk, clawing their arms in the air like starving zombie prisoners of war at a brain buffet. I later learned that some MLB teams are allowing Baby Ruth to sponsor the seventh-inning stretch this season. The Dodgers are one of these teams. They've sold "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" to Nestlé, a European corporation. Paging Lou Dobbs!
As we walked down the hill toward our car, the concessions guy who'd been serving us nachos all night skipped along beside us. He liked working the pavilion, he said. He didn't have to deal with arguing with people over change. It was easy and fun and he got to give people what they wanted. Plus, he lived in the neighborhood and could walk to work. What a Utopian dream, I thought, as I clutched my stomach. I felt dizzy and wretched.
Twenty minutes passed in a hazy blur of reduced vision and clammy skin. The next thing I knew, I was moaning for seltzer and The Rabbi was pulling into the parking lot of an ampm minimart. What a coincidence, I thought, since ampm happens to be the sponsor of the ampm All You Can Eat Pavilion.
This irony was further compounded when I got out of the car, bent over a parking pylon, and upchucked a cupful of partially digested jalapeños and nacho cheese. And then I did it again, followed by a magnificent spray of liquid vomit.
When I'd agreed to this assignment, I'd anticipated something a little gross, and a little seedy, but mostly fun. It hadn't occurred to me that I'd be undertaking a baseball-themed cut-rate Morgan Spurlock experiment. In my heaving misery, I stared at my excrescence and thought, this puddle of putrid poison vomit is brought to you by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Six decades ago, as ESPN interminably reminded us Sunday night, the Dodgers took a major step toward integrating American society by sending Jackie Robinson out to play first base. Thanks largely to the Dodgers' efforts, America now lives in a state of permanent racial harmony, and the team can occupy itself with more contemporary matters. We may be 3,000 miles from Brooklyn, but these are still the Dodgers, in all their deep-blue-clad nobility. This offseason, channeling the franchise's generous spirit, current Dodgers owner Frank McCourt made his own contribution to baseball's tradition of spiritual uplift. He transformed the right-field bleachers at Dodger Stadium into the ampm All You Can Eat Pavilion. And Saturday night, as I leaned out the window of The Rabbi's car and trailed the contents of my stomach, like a stream of airplane vapor, down the street where I live, I realized that baseball, and America, will never be the same.