A Surprising Reminder

I’ve been trying to write about my glorious brush with Alton Brown greatness for days now.  I had the most terrific time!  It should be noted that we were not, in fact, in the front row but the fourth row.  This was for the best because we could see better and were still very close to the stage… and therefore very close to Alton.  ::blush::

A Surprising Reminder

The stage which was decked out with Good Eats paraphernalia like the T-rex spray bottle, the K’nex molecule model, and Bessie the cow!  Yeast puppets made several cameos via a large screen at the back of the stage.  The crew was made up of Good Eats production team members (now you can tell how nerdy I truly am because I actually recognized some of these guys.)  Itchy of “Itchy and Twitchy” was a frequent player, Alton’s meddling lawyer who never lets him have any fun (or blow stuff up.)



There were tons of in-jokes for huge nerds like myself, lots of talk about food, lots of ranting from Alton, lots of crazy, large contraptions.  Everything that I was expecting.  But what I wasn’t expecting were all the wonderful personal stories that Alton would tell about his early career and about his family.  I wasn’t expecting him to sing, play the guitar and play the saxophone with incredible dexterity.  And I wasn’t expecting Alton to control the crowd the way he did.  Alton’s career was mostly in TV and I thought that maybe the transition to the stage, especially in front of a 3,000-person crowd, would be a little more awkward for him.

Not at all.  While he seemed genuinely flattered and perhaps even humbled by the enthusiasm of the crowd when he first appeared, he thrived off the energy like a seasoned theatre actor.  And the crowd deserves some of the credit as well – these were really my people.  One of my favorite moments came right at the beginning of the show when Alton introduced his camera man who would be providing close-ups of any cooking or other experiments.  He said to the crowd “Everyone, say hello to Trevor” and without missing a beat the entire audience replied in unison “HI TREVOR!”  “See, they’re very nice here!” Alton assured Trevor.  It must be really cool to make a cooking show for 13 years and then get to tour like a rock star.

It is fulfilling to admire someone so much, to allow them not only into  your living room but your kitchen, and get a pay-off like this when you finally see them in person.  Alton was hilarious, kind and charismatic.  His inventions were insane.  I learned more about food, especially his thoughts on organic food (“I wouldn’t pay an extra dollar for organic food if you put a gun to my head, because I don’t know what organic means anymore!”), and learned that we completely agree about salt.  And I watched him completely melt when a 3-year-old girl in the front asked him if she could have some pizza.  He climbed down to the end of the stage, picked her up onto his lap and fed her the pizza himself.  There’s nothing I like better than a celebrity who’s nice.  It was an amazing night and I won’t forget it.  I thank James a million times over for keeping an eye on these tickets and getting them for us so quickly so we could be that close to the front.

And then another surprising thing happened.  After the show, I found myself especially missing my Mom.  I told many people who love me about Alton the next day and they politely listened, some even seemed interested.  They were certainly glad that I had a good time.  But my Mom would have been so excited to hear everything about it.  I can imagine her in the kitchen as I came to the door, as she so often was, seeing me wearing my “Alton Brown Live” shirt and saying “Oh, look at her, she’s even wearing his shirt, she’s such a dork!” and grabbing me for a big hug. She would have asked me how it was and listened raptly to every dumb detail.  She would be so interested, I would be encouraged to keep telling her stuff that she really didn’t care about at all.

Because my Mom didn’t like to cook; unlike so many other food enthusiasts, mine is not because of a bond with my mother.  Even though she fed her four children and husband a home-made meal every weeknight (and most weekend nights), she really couldn’t have cared less about cooking.  It was something she did to feed her family.  Frankly, she rarely threw a new recipe into the mix and some of them weren’t even that great.  So she certainly wouldn’t be interested in Alton Brown, someone who dissects cooking and food with such fervor even I think he goes overboard occasionally.

But my Mom was there when I saw my very first Good Eats episode (it was about strawberries.)  I was watching Food Network in her living room, as I often did, and she was sitting on the loveseat reading her paper.  I was exclaiming things like “Oh, that’s interesting!” and “Oh, I never knew that!” and she would look up over her paper and her glasses, see Alton dressed as a farmer and say “That guy’s weird.”  And she’d laugh at me for how excited I was getting and tell me that I was weird, too.

Then she’d go on to buy me almost every one of Alton’s books.  She’d sit in the living room that very same way, reading the paper on the loveseat, as I watched Alton and she would listen to me repeat all of the facts I was learning back to her.  She would sit in the kitchen with me just to keep me company as I was attempting some of his ridiculously hard recipes.  She’s make sure his specials were DVRed for me and clear the living room so I could enjoy them in nerdy peace.

So when I finally got to see Alton Brown live, something I wanted to do for years, I never would have predicted that the show would have stirred up these feelings of loss inside me so acutely.  She hardly ever seemed to really care about the cooking facts I would tell her: she even made fun of me for it.  But if I was excited about something, she would listen to me with matched enthusiasm.  Not because of what I was telling her, but simply because I was happy.  She loved other people, loved me, so much that my happiness made her happy.  And I think this was one of the first times since she passed away that I was this giddy about something.

(In the past 5 months, I’ve sailed across the San Francisco Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, hiked up Diamond Head, and seen the most incredible feats of acrobatics in Le Reve in Las Vegas, yet Alton Brown was what made me the most giddy.  I’m truly a lost cause.)

Since my Mom died, a lot of people have told me how, after their parents died, they would still pick up the phone and try to call them, so natural was the impulse to want to talk to their parent.  That hasn’t happened to me. But I realized after I saw the show that I was feeling this emptiness the next day and I couldn’t figure out why.  Was it because I didn’t get to go up onstage and meet him?  Was it because I had such a good time and now it was over?  No – it was because I didn’t get to do the play-by-play with Mom.

I know I never told her how much I appreciated her enthusiasm.  I really wish I did, but Reenie wasn’t affectionate like that.  She wouldn’t have liked it if I said it outright.  She would have said “Oh, you are so nice” and then looked at me slightly suspiciously.  But I hope that she knew somehow that she was everyone’s favorite person to talk to.  I hope she knew by the sheer amount of times I came specifically to her to tell her things she actually didn’t care about.  There’s no one who makes you feel important like Reenie did.

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