Charm School: Texas Rib Kings, Austin TX

On September 6th 1995, I began to realize that professional photography wasn’t my calling. That was the day that Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s “Iron Man” record, playing his 2,131st consecutive game.

I wasn’t exactly a big baseball fan, let alone an Orioles devotee. This was the pre-Nationals, post-Senators days, when the Orioles were the de facto home team of the DC area. So I possessed at least a vague allegiance. Add to that the fact that the Iron Man record was one of those big deal, unbreakable records, and you had a game worth watching. Unlike like DiMaggio’s 61 56-game hitting streak though, Gehrig’s record did break, taking my photojournalistic aspirations along with it.

A baseball game becomes official after the completion of the 5th inning. At that point in this game, the applause began. And it kept going. And going. After a solid ten minutes of applause and one curtain call, Ripken’s teammates shoved him out of the dugout, whereupon he took a victory lap around the field, waving to fans and giving high-fives. It was completely spontaneous, which made it seem all the more special.

But amid the celebration, there was one element that seemed out of place. As he finished his lap around the field, a gaggle of photographers crowded around him, shoving their lenses in his face. They seemed to be in the way. I looked at these grown men chasing another grown man around and began to wonder: do I want to chase people for a living? I loved the idea of photojournalism, but I had always been uncomfortable with the idea that most people didn’t actually want their picture taken by a stranger.

Writing this blog has given me a new lease on my photographic ambitions. After all, you never need to worry about getting food’s permission before shooting, right? Well, that’s what I thought until I went to Texas Rib Kings.

Texas Rib Kings is located in a run-of-the-mill strip mall in the shadow of the 183 decks, near Burnet Road. But once you walk inside, you definitely feel like you’re in BBQ country.

While I was in line, I started shooting, capturing a few shots of the cutting board. I usually feel pretty comfortable taking faceless shots like this with someone’s permission. It’s face shots that make people start to feel uneasy. The cutter didn’t seem to mind. The cashier, however, was a different story.

When I got to the checkout. He growled at me, ”ARE YOU TAKIN’ PICTURES OF MY MEAT?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Is that okay?”

“WELL, YOU CAN’T USE ANY IMAGES OF MY MEAT OR MY LOGO WITHOUT MY PERMISSION.”

“Well, can I post some on my blog?”

“Oh, a blog I can’t do anything about,” he said with a sigh. Smiling now, he added, “As long as you write good things.”

“I’m sure it’ll be good,” I assured him.

He then went on to explain that someone had previously used pictures of “his meat” and logo for some kind of for-profit use without permission. He hadn’t seen any money, a fact that he was not okay with. I wondered if maybe part of the reason he hadn’t worked out a deal was because Charm School here didn’t exactly know how to ingratiate himself.

So how was “his” meat? The beef ribs were a little dry. They had probably been out a little too long. But the brisket glistened with ample fat. It was excellent. I’d go back for the brisket. I may leave my camera at home next time, though.

NOTE: Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak was 56 games, not 61, as my friend (and actual sports fan) Rob informed me.

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