The perks of being a media personality are endless: Unobserved use of the CultureMap jet, creepy e-mails from waiters, unbridled access to CultureMap promo hand sanitizer bottles. But I think it all peaked on Saturday night, when I served as a guest judge for the Texas Vodka Throwdown.
When asked to represent our daily digital magazine at the competition, I was thrilled. The honor of repping the Map, the appeal of drinking free vodka, and deciding the fate of distilleries was all so enticing.
Arriving at the Caroline Collective, I found an event organizer, who placed his hands on my shoulders, stared deeply into my eyes, and declared, "Thank you. Thank you so, so much."
Explaining how pleased I was to help out (the whole bash was also a food drive and fundraiser for Houston Food Bank), I made my way to the main room. What I assumed would be a reception gallery had more of the environment of a sauna. Air conditioning was not present that night, but I refused to lose my enthusiasm, making way for my seat at the judges table.
Except that there was no seat. But there was a table, which did have space to stand behind. And so I stood.
And stood. And stood.
"Is this event really running a half hour late?" I thought to myself, concluding that the heat must be getting to me.
Then, one of those devastating native Houstonian moments arrived — a vaguely estranged acquaintance recognizes you in public, leading to a fairly formulaic conversation.
"Oh my God how are you?!"
"Oh my God what are you up to?!"
This sequence of three sentences can be repeated up to three times in order to avoid conversation (the formula is called "I never liked you3.") Luckily, this was a legitimate crazy who wasted no time in spreading gossip and squashing rumors that had been surrounding her for much time.
Stuck behind the table, I was forced to stop her mid-sentence with a, "It was so great to see you!" while waving, "Goodbye/Go Away."
I could sense movement by the event organizers, who proceeded to explain to the 10-odd judges what would be involved: Sampling seven brands of vodka, labelled only by number, followed by a vote for our favorite.
Before the first pour, the judging kick-off was announced. Somehow, the judges were not announced by name — an honest mistake, and probably an unnecessary nicety.
Raising the Jell-O-shot-shaped cup to my face, I detected a bitter bouquet. As the first drop hit my tongue, all I could think was, "No." Regardless of the awful taste (for the record, No. 1 did taste the worst), the liquor was warm. There is no excuse for vodka not to be served on ice.
I reasoned that perhaps room temperature might be preferable, to allow the vodka's subtleties to shine through. But that evening, room temperature was in the upper 90s. Better still, we were provided with gallons of warm, generic-brand distilled water to cleanse the palate.
Now I understood the overwhelming thanks I'd been served not so long ago.
I winced through six more tastes, followed by two sick samples of sweet tea-flavored vodka. My stomach began to churn (don't worry, I didn't end up on VomitMap until later), and I began to wonder with increasing frequency, "When will this be over?"
Finally, a winner was announced (shockingly, not my choice). I made my escape as soon as possible and drove the quick commute to the Wheeler St. Jack in the Box for some highly necessary curly fries (which would be revisited three hours later in a toilet at Gravitas).
Driving home, I got to thinking about the evening's brush with fame:
Did I gain status as a local personality? Doubtfully.
Did I lose any money? Yes, those curly fries were $2.49.
Did I learn anything? Don't eat curly fries too quickly.
I already knew that warm vodka is a no-no.