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Saturday, Oct 21, 2017
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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Chili contestants banking on a little payola

As a rule, bribes don’t come boldly in through the front door down here at Mother Trib.

We have a back entrance down by the stairs ... Just kidding boss, just kidding.

So you can understand how shocked I was this week when the newsroom office manager called me and said there was a cooler waiting for me and I needed to come pick it up.

Saturday of course is the 24th annual Steve Otto Chili Cook-off at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park; this year part of an event called “Smoke on the River.” I wondered if it could have anything to do with that.

Anyhow, I rushed down to the Type and Gripe factory and sure enough there was the cooler with the words “Bribe from U.M.V.” Inside were four bottles of beer on ice.

At first I was annoyed. I mean if you were going to get a beer bribe, wouldn’t you think it would at least be a six-pack?

Well, this isn’t like the old days in the Trib building downtown, where layers of cigar smoke created a permanent cloud in the newsroom and there was a bottle of something cheap in one of the metal drawers that everyone knew about.

Today the place has carpeting and is tobacco-free. Instead of the hidden booze, you see healthy juice bottles on desks.

It’s actually more like an insurance company and about as much fun. The other day I even saw a sports writer eating a salad at his desk. It was unnerving.

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But the important thing is we can’t be influenced by special interests. This is the 24th year of the chili championship and it is strictly on the up and up, which is why I’m bringing in world-class judges such as Sand snake Paterno, Mojo Harpe, Montana Fletch and “The Belcher” to keep it honest.

Having that beer on top of my desk didn’t look good. I figured the best thing was to get the cooler out of the building as quickly as possible, so I went out the back way and down the stairs to the car and went home.

The Frau was a little surprised to see me not even close to lunchtime, but I explained there was a moral crisis going on and retreated to my office/den/storage room to examine the booty.

The beer was cold, an excellent sign. “U.M.V.” What could that be?

There is a chili team in Saturday’s contest called “Ulele’s Maiden Voyage,” after the new Ulele restaurant the Gonzmarts over at the Columbia are building on the Riverwalk. But surely they wouldn’t lower themselves to a bribe.

I figured I ought to sample the beer. There was another note inside. “This is a new honey lager we are creating with the waters from the spring.”

Well there is a spring next to the new Ulele restaurant, but surely it couldn’t be from them. They would have wrapped up some Cuban sandwiches.

Whoever sent it over, don’t think our judges can be bought. But that honey lager tasted pretty good, pretty good.

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Right now I make two-time winners “K.A.T.N.’”and the “Krewe of Zingaro’”early favorites for the $1,000 first prize, along with another former championship team, “Margarita Jack and the Chili Bandits.”

But I do have to admit that honey lager tasted pretty good, pretty good.

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