Journalism is hard work, I tell you.
Forget about the deadlines, fact checking, and transcribing seemingly endless interview tapes. What I'm talking about is research. Research that is normally performed hunched over a keyboard, thumbing through dusty tomes in library archives, or scanning reels of vertigo-inducing microfilm. It's intense.
This month, we redefined research.
While we toiled away on this issue, uncovering all we could about the Bacchanalian monthlong party we call Memphis in May, we still had the nagging feeling something was missing. In a fit of insight, it dawned on us -- where do we find the best barbecue sandwich in town when it's not May?
According to you, at Corky's, which won the category in our 2006 Readers' Restaurant Poll. But we felt it our responsibility to do some research of our own, thus the Great 'Cue Challenge was born. We made a list of our favorite barbecue joints in town, then we narrowed the list. And again. (There are a ton of barbecue restaurants in this town.) Then we set about calling them to participate in the competition. When the smoke cleared, eight restaurants answered the call. We assigned each a number, and advised them to deliver their unlabeled wares to our offices for the taste test. When the big day arrived, one staffer manned the door, checking to see that no identifying logos appeared on the samples, then handed off the goods to a runner to take to the break room. Another staffer stood guard outside the area, preventing possible security breaches while we set up the testing tables.
And then there were eight. Gleaming tins of steaming pork with slaw, buns, and sauce just waiting to be judged. Since free food often has the same effect on journalists that catnip has on felines, we had to be diligent. The "No Sheet, No Eat" sign posted on the door warned off potential freeloaders trying to get lunch without filling out the necessary paperwork.
For a little over an hour, our break room was the happiest place on earth. One by one, we collected sauce-splattered score sheets from the exhausted, but sated, crew. A belly full of barbecue on a warm spring day does not exactly do wonders for one's energy level. Afterwards, the only sounds to be heard were groans, contented sighs, and the occasional ringing phone, the poor caller on the other end unaware that the entire staff was recovering from pork-itis.
Thankfully, the publisher was out of town, and wasn't witness to the company-wide downhill slide in productivity. (However, the magazine editorial staff reconvened a week later to sample various energy drinks for this month's INSIDE/OUT column. I like to think that we made up for that lost productivity after ingesting roughly a month's worth of caffeine in under an hour.) But it was worth it, every bite and slurp, to bring you the most unscientific poll results ever printed.
Find out who dishes out the best sandwich and town, plus everything you ever wanted to know about BBQ Fest, beginning on page 44.
On a more serious note, make sure to check out Memphis photographer and preservationist Nell Dickerson's sobering look at the rebuilding process, or lack thereof, on the Gulf Coast on page 57. Her images are strikingly beautiful, even amidst the ruins of much of the old South.
PS: Thanks to Davis-Kidd for the loaner copy of Intruder in the Dust , this month's staff pick. Managing editor Frank Murtaugh's copy backpacked with his father across Europe. Dog-eared doesn't even describe its condition.
Mary Helen Tibbs