When you're driving one-way across the country, uprooting yourself and starting anew, it takes longer than you would guess to really feel like you're leaving. For me, with Point A being Los Angeles and Point B being Washington, D.C., we were well into New Mexico before it hit me that I no longer lived on the West Coast (which I had done my entire life, one week shy of 34.5 years, but who's counting?). In fact, at the moment of the realization, I no longer lived anywhere. Think about that. The tangible example that set this in stone for me was that we stopped at a DQ on a misguided whim. It was Road Trip Day 3, and we'd done such a good job of not eating like truckers for the first three days that we decided to reward ourselves by eating like truckers.
I ordered a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard, and the guy at the drive-thru repeated it back: "One large Reeseez blizzard." Forget the "large" part, which is none of your business. Where I'm from we say REE-SEZ, not REE-SEEZ, and this minor twist was the first real-world indication that I had left my element. I still ate the whole thing, of course, and you would too.
The Big Texan is one of these places with a 72 oz. steak challenge, which basically means they'll lead a cow over to your table and if you eat the whole thing in an hour your meal will be "free." I put that in quotes because, while you may not be asked for any money upon completion of this feat, you'll no doubt end up paying for it in ways that are worse than a hit to your bank account. That said, one thing that TV shows don't tell you is that when you attempt these types of challenges, the monetary cost of failing is actually pretty substantial. The Big Texan's challenge consists of the 72 oz. steak, shrimp cocktail, a baked potato, a salad, and a roll with butter. If you don't finish in an hour, the meal is $72 (great symmetry there), plus tax and tip (argh, symmetry ruined). That doesn't sound insane for that much food on the face of it, but considering your failure to meet the challenge means you ate some portion of the meal that was still way too much for you, well, now you've just paid the restaurant $72 plus tax and tip to make you miserable.
The rules of the challenge are telling. Let's take a moment to remember that most rules are not written preemptively; they're a response to something that actually happened. With that in mind, my favorite rules are:
If you barf, you're disqualified, and you better use the bucket provided. In the company I keep, this is one of the many unwritten rules that helps to limit the number of apologies you have to send out on Monday mornings. At the Big Texan, things are different. Barfing is common enough that they have buckets ready. More troubling, the existence of the rule strongly suggests that at some point someone ate so much he barfed and then tried to keep eating just to save $72.
You don't choose your seat. You sit where they want you to sit. And where they want you to sit is at a table in the center of the restaurant in what is essentially an eating stadium where everyone else in the restaurant can watch you attempt the challenge and maybe barf.
You are required to pay the full amount upfront, and they'll refund it if you win. This is a normal sit-down restaurant where they bring you the check at the end of the meal, but for some reason they require you to pay for the challenge ahead of time. This is obviously to alleviate the various issues that might arise, say, when there's a dispute over whether the baked potato skin is technically part of the meal. But I like to imagine an idiotic outlaw coming in for the most public meal of his life, sitting down in the eating stadium surrounded by hundreds of witnesses, and then attempting to skip out on the check if he failed.
None of us was up for the challenge, so we variously tried prime rib, filet, porterhouse, fried shrimp, and sides that included mashed potatoes, fried okra, salad, bread, etc. And we drank a bunch of booze. None of it was very good (well, the booze was dandy), but that's not really why you go to a place like the Big Texan, is it.