When you get the chance to waste a Thursday evening following Guy Fieri around a garish casino like a deranged paparazzo, you damn well better take it. The Lord Commander of Flavortown and Master of the Mysteries of Donkey Sauce was making a special one-night-only appearance at his Baltimore restaurant for a meet-and-greet with some lucky fans and about 80 or so valued casino regulars. I entered that very contest to win the chance to eat glorified Denny's fare in Guy Fieri's presence and didn't win, but decided to crash the party anyway, dragging along my wife and a friend who had inexplicably worn a tie. On the way to the casino (in which the restaurant itself is tucked into a corner) I wondered, what exactly does one ask Guy Fieri? Why exactly does one ask Guy Fieri something?
Guy Fieri is a well-known quantity, even though there can't be too many people who really live and die with him. He is on TV smiling and laughing and saying "Mmmmm!" in different ways. He owns restaurants that get routinely savaged by food critics. He's like a Smash Mouth song come to life, all weird exuberance and tips frosted long past their sell-by date. His gregarious screen presence and infectious love of eating what often looks to be shitty garbage food has placed him in some sort of easily mocked echelon, something reflexively distasteful. And yet it was suddenly crucial to be in his presence. We were determined to make ourselves known to the Guy.
We walked down flights of parking structure stairs speculating on whether Guy Fieri had any views on dialectical materialism, then made our way to the entrance of the Horseshoe, wondering just how the hell we were going to track him down. But the thing was, he was standing right outside, looking to be in a somewhat heated talk with a severe man in a suit. That head of strange hair and stout-but-proud frame was unmistakable. We hung back, waiting for the conversation to run its course, hoping for an opportunity to strike. Abruptly, Guy was finished, and headed inside with his entourage collapsing around him. When I called "Guy!" he didn't hear it. Perhaps because, as stage fright and performance anxiety kicked in, it came out more like ". . . guy . . . ?" He vanished into the casino, and we stumbled along after him, losing him.
The restaurant was roped off, a sign declaring it CLOSED FOR PRIVATE EVENT. We lingered, dejected. A friendly bartender at Guy Fieri's Kitchen + Bar told us that Guy was "rad." A live band of middle-aged dudes played 'Runaway' by Del Shannon as a lone cowboy in a Christmas sweater danced like he meant it. As we drank, we spotted the man himself at an auxiliary barbecue spot also affiliated with his brand. He appeared to be taste-testing for quality control, munching on what may have been pulled pork, making intense eye contact with a man in chef's garb, ignoring the scattered throngs of people snapping iPhone pictures. There didn't seem to be any way to puncture that bubble before he was to make his way to his restaurant to delight the lucky fans and the gamblers.
My tie-wearing friend was spurred by my inaction and attempted to get closer. I followed. First we were turned aside by a looming middle-aged man with the look of a Secret Service agent, but another guy (VP of marketing of the Horseshoe, or so he claimed!) agreed to put in a good word and hopefully get us into the event if there were enough no-shows. We got another round of drinks and relocated to wait outside the restaurant once again. One man in camouflage pants did not expect to find it closed to the public and stormed off, yelling "Guy can go fuck himself!" Sometimes you just get that urge for Donkey Sauce and that's fine. That's just being human.
Guy was giving a speech, kind of a homecoming game call to arms, thanking all his partisans and everyone else who happened to be there for whatever reason. He's a natural at giving pep talks. He grins and cackles like the boy inside never died or dyed. The diners applauded, as well they should, because they were getting free food. We were hanging right outside like very insane vultures. I can think of certain celebrities for whom it would be perfectly acceptable to stalk around a casino: Mark E. Smith of the Fall, Ronda Rousey, Stephen Hawking, Barack Obama, Meryl Streep . . . but Guy Fieri? Woof.
We hung out by the ropes as the VIPs were let in past us. We met a very kind member of the Horseshoe security apparatus who did her best to get us past the ropes and the stern walkie-talkie guard detail. "He's very personable," she said of Fieri. Everyone at the casino was aggressively pro-Guy, this was not lost on us. We name-dropped the fellow who had promised us we would have a chance to make it in if we just waited around the entrance, but that man had disappeared.
It seemed as though half the people allowed in the restaurant were just walking around, rubbing elbows, perhaps regaling each other with their favorite Guy Fieri anecdotes. Staff mixed with guests, security and various media handlers were walking this way and that, it all seemed vaguely chaotic, but as this was a Guy Fieri event, in a very tame way. We were getting drunk and losing hope. My wife left to get a tiny cup of mac and cheese. My friend plied his gift for gab in one final round of negotiations with a man who looked to be an authority, a man in a blue blazer that in retrospect wasn't going to let us in but would hear our sad, desperate pleas anyway. He sent us packing. We sat at a table on the other end of the casino and congratulated each other for giving it the ol' college try. This wasn't really a defeat. Nobody wants to live in a world where not meeting Guy Fieri is a defeat. We sampled three of Guy's barbecue sauces and could barely tell them apart. We joked that if we talked to him, that would be the most important issue to raise with him.
Maybe it was the shitty barbecue sauce, but I knew I had to give it one last shot. My hope was that in the relative disorganization of an event winding down there would be a way to slip through the cracks. I struck off alone, a little buzzed, and slightly determined to let justice be done though the heavens fall, as a person who enjoys dropping Latin maxims might say.
Guy was being photographed shaking hands with people and autographing memorabilia. He was wearing a plaid shirt, of course, with the sleeves manfully rolled up to reveal some sort of tattoo I couldn't make out. Surveying the scene for a moment, I saw there was indeed an opening, as the security guys were yapping with each other and Guy's other handlers were concentrating on the autograph line moving smoothly. I moved in and tried to act like this wasn't my first rodeo. I watched the line grow shorter and contemplated jumping in for a photo-op.
Instead, I positioned myself at the choke point between the bar and tables that I guessed would be his escape route. I was right, and after he thanked everyone, he moved in my direction. I stepped up to him and said his name and his handlers immediately turned on me and tried to push me back. I ignored them and kept eye contact with Guy (this would have been an impossible thing to do sober) and explained I had arranged with someone to ask him a few questions. He wasn't having any of it, and looked ready to push past me. At that point I unzipped my jacket to reveal a Golden State Warriors shirt. Knowing as all Warriors fans do that Guy Fieri has shown up at a few of their playoff games, I figured it was my ace in the hole. All the other actual questions I had to ask him vanished and I dumbly said (as I was still holding my jacket open), "Who's your favorite Golden State Warrior?"
This got him smiling, and his handlers relaxed.
"Well, you know," Guy Fieri, the guy who invented Donkey Sauce, said, "I've got a top five, but my son would be angry at me if I didn't say Steph Curry!"
OK, predictable answer, but not bad, as Steph Curry is great. I saw my time with Guy vanishing and blurted out, "OK, next question! Bernie or Hillary?"
A look of fear or perhaps annoyance flashed across Guy's goatee and other facial features. He paused, still looking dark, then smiled that populist grin. "Oh, you're not going to make me get all political!"
"Alright, it’s time for you to go," his handler on the right told me, starting to grab me. I jutted my hand out to Guy and thanked him for answering two very stupid questions. Guy smiled and shook my hand vigorously. I was escorted out of the roped-off area and stumbled back to find my wife and my friend who was wearing the tie. Taking in the sights of the weirdly depressing casino blaring hit songs from 20 years ago, surrounded by frowners pulling absently at slots and guys in rumpled suits who thought they could make some money off blackjack, I realized that sometimes dreams really do come true. And sometimes you shake Guy Fieri's hand.