By Sean Dietrich

Ribs. That’s what I need right now. Big, fat, juicy, thick, obscenely greasy, dangerously smoky, cardiac-distressing, country-style ribs.

Here’s the thing. Today was supposed to be our barbecue blowout rib contest. It would have been held in an Alabama state park, open to the public and very fun.

I’m totally serious. Before the coronavirus hit, we were toying with the idea of throwing a rib contest on National Relaxation Day. Which was today.

It would have been easy to participate, free to attend, everyone would’ve been cheerful and nobody would have been trying to sell you timeshares in Key Largo.

We would have had live music by a band that didn’t suck. A beer truck. And—here was my favorite part—there would’ve been dogs.

These would have been shelter-dogs who needed families. Like the rescued dog I just met a few days ago. His name was Bill.

Bill’s original owner was the kind of upstanding citizen who left Bill in an outdoor kennel for six weeks without much food or water. Bill survived on rainwater and even ate dead leaves. When rescuers found him he was underweight and had mange so bad he couldn’t open his eyes.

I don’t want to say anything ugly here, but cruelty toward animals is the blackest of evils.

So at my rib contest these shelter-dogs would be spiffed up, spanking clean, walking around on leashes. They’d be greeting kids, licking babies, eating free meat chunks. Anyone who wanted to adopt a dog like Bill could take him home THAT DAY.

Also, anyone who wanted to be a judge could be one. And I mean, literally, anyone who could prove they had a pulse.

At least this was the idea.

Food-wise, the only rule to the contest was that it was solely about ribs. No pork. No brisket. No tofu.

And it would’ve been great. People milling around, classic-country music playing, everyone chewing, laughing, grinning. I can almost hear the sophisticated culinary conversations in the crowd now:

“Hmmmm, what a piquant, and vaguely robust mouth feel!”


“I give it five stars.”

“Mom, can we adopt a dog?”

Anyway, the reason for the nothing-but-ribs rule is that some people are surprised at how many different varieties and styles of ribs there are. In fact, it blows some peoples’ minds when they discover the Wide World of Ribs. Some folks go their whole lives thinking there is only one kind.

These poor souls.

I don’t mean to toot my own kazoo here, but I have actually judged a few barbecue competitions in the southeast. And so far, I’ve only been chased out of two towns.

Also, I have sampled ribs in almost every U.S. state—I wear this as a badge of pride. Some men collect stamps. I collect LDL cholesterol. Eating regional ribs has become a serious hobby of mine.

In fact, the first things I do when I arrive in any new locale is:

1. Find some ribs.

2. Use the bathroom at an insurance office.

That’s right. Not only am I a barbecue guy, I am a road-trip bathroom connoisseur. And I have found that the cleanest public bathrooms in America are always—without exception—in small-town insurance offices.

Think about it. When you’re on a highway and you need to relieve yourself you usually pull over at an interstate exit. Your choices are bleak. You have the rundown truck stops or the scumsucking gas stations. And you just know these bathrooms contain four or five rare strains of tetanus.

But the insurance offices. They have doilies on their toilet seats, scented candles, and little bookshelves with inspirational literature. Read “Guideposts,” enjoy a Thomas Kincade painting, relax. Let it flow.

But remember, should you ever decide to try this trick, don’t just march into an office and announce to a roomful of agents that you have an urgent need to write your name in the snow.

No. You have to be polite. Ask about new coverage policies, show some interest, listen to their spiel. Nod your head a lot. Be patient. Courteous. Try not to pee your pants.

Then politely excuse yourself and go enjoy the serenity of the world’s cutest bathroom.

Usually, after I visit the small-town insurance restroom, I immediately hunt for ribs. I will eat ribs wherever I find them. I once bought ribs from an old man grilling in front of an auto garage in the middle of the New Mexico desert. Some of the best ribs I’ve ever had. I’m not choosy.

Then again, I’m not a cultured guy, either. In fact, I’ve discovered something about myself when it comes to ribs: I’m extremely easy to impress. The only thing I look for in a rib is that it’s not made from soy.

So I don’t care if they are Saint Louis-style, short ribs, back ribs, loin ribs, spare ribs, baby backs, riblets or rib tips. The sauce can be sweet, tangy, spicy, mustardy, black-peppery, Alabama mayo, South Carolina red, Louisiana five-alarm, loose, thick, runny or 40-weight synthetic grade. I even like naked ribs.

So it’s a shame we weren’t able to do the National Relaxation Day Rib Contest this year, not that anyone would have cared anyway. There are plenty of more important things going on in the world.

Oh well. Maybe some other time. Maybe when this virus is over and life goes back to normal. If it ever does.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for a friend, you could always adopt a lonely dog who desperately needs someone.

There are a lot of dogs like Bill out there.