Willard’s Real Pit BBQ, Chantilly

I am so far behind on my reviews that I’ll never catch up – but this is one that I really want to get out there because it involves a now-funny anecdote (it wasn’t so funny at the time), and a kindhearted, good Samaritan.

This afternoon, I had lunch at Willard’s, and ordered a Kansas City Burnt Ends Platter ($11.99) which came with two sides, baked beans and collard greens, and a Diet Coke ($1.56, not a typo) for a huge, 24-ounce styrofoam cup, with a self-service fill at the fountain.

First, a congenital defect that I have (it’s either congenital or it’s happened slowly over time). We’ve all taken a gulp of liquid and had it go down our windpipe, right? It happens to me on occasion, and after the inevitable 45 seconds of coughing, it goes away – no big deal, and it doesn’t happen very often. Yet, 5-10 years ago, I noticed a pattern that makes it happen, consistently: I take a gulp of liquid, then turn my head to the right before swallowing, then swallow, and if I’m not thinking (and who thinks when they take a gulp of a drink?), that is when it goes down my windpipe. Not when I turn my head to the left; only to the right – so there’s some anatomical asymmetry that causes my windpipe to open up, only when my head is turned to the right.

I got my food, filled my drink, walked over to the sauce counter, and noticed about a dozen different sauces, some in a bottle; others house made. Well, I chose a house-made sauce for my collards, and squirted about three squirts of what was labeled “XXX,” not even giving it much thought. They also had a separate habanero-pepper sauce, and I’m pretty sure that what I selected was the hottest-of-the-hot. I really wasn’t thinking, and I don’t have any huge problem with a small amount of hot sauce, so what was the big deal?

Well, the big deal was that I took a seat at the far left of the front counter, along the window looking outside the restaurant. Down the counter from me, on the right, were two men who I only indirectly noticed out of the corner of my eye. I noticed them when I took a bite of the collard greens, and I guess I must have turned my head towards them and swallowed.

Then, a few seconds later, I began to cough. And not only did I begin to cough, I began to feel like someone poured acid inside my windpipe. Only then did I realize that a couple droplets of that XXX sauce must have seeped into my windpipe as I took that bite of collard greens. As the seconds, and then the minutes, passed, it got worse and worse. I would cough perhaps every fifteen seconds, and the burning was on an ever-increasing slope. After several minutes of this, I realized that, wait a minute, this isn’t supposed to happen like this. I took ice from my soda, but what was I supposed to do with it, cram it down my windpipe? There was nothing I could do – water didn’t help, cornbread didn’t help (it came with cornbread, too), and I was really hurting. And I started coughing more-and-more, as this XXX sauce was irritating my windpipe.

About five minutes passed, and things continued to decline. I finally accepted the fact that, okay, sometime in the next twenty seconds, I was going to throw up, and there wasn’t a damned thing I could do to stop it. I got up, left my food and book on the counter, walked out the front door, put my drink on the roof of my car, opened the door, started the engine, and blasted the air conditioner – somehow, the cold air blowing on my face made things a little less terrible. I was sitting there, with the car door open, like a rag doll, unaware of any of my surroundings, and just praying for the passage of time. I’m not even sure if I was fully in the car, or if my legs were dangling out the door – I don’t remember.

What I do remember is that I started to feel a bit better, just a bit, and noticed one of the men sitting at the counter walking up to my car. I didn’t realize at the time that he was approaching me; I just thought maybe he was walking to his car. He leaned in the door, and said, “Hey, man, are you okay?” It was then that I realized that these two guys thought that I was having a major medical episode.

I felt well enough to stand, so I got up, and said, “Thanks for asking. You’re a good person,” and patted him on the shoulder. We walked back in as I told him what happened, and I said, “You must have thought I was having a heart attack.” He responded, “I did.” At this point, the tension eased in his mind from witnessing a major medical trauma, to watching some dolt getting nailed from hot sauce. I heard him tell his friend, “He had hot sauce go down his windpipe,” and I looked at his friend and said, “I thought I was going to die!” All three of us laughed at that point, because it had turned into slapstick comedy, and no damage was done.

I got my stuff (I was still pretty worn out from this), got into my car, wrote my email address down, and walked back inside. “If either of you two ever need any help with restaurants, just write me,” I said. They looked up and thanked me, and I thanked them back. The truth is: the gentleman who came to my car is the *only person* who was in a position to notice that I may have been having an acute medical emergency, and he actively did something about it. You read all these stories about people ignoring Joshua Bell playing violin in the Metro, and some injured girl lying there in Chinatown being ignored, but this story is the exact opposite: this good Samaritan could have made a life-or-death difference because of what he did. I was never in any danger, but I sure as heck could have been.

So, whoever you two are, THANK YOU. And I meant what I said about writing me for help, even if it’s ten years from now.

The barbecue was finished over the course of the afternoon – there was too much sauce (the meat was pre-sauced), and the collards really weren’t all *that* hot; it’s just that the trachea isn’t necessarily fortified against ghost peppers, or whatever Satanic mixture is in that XXX sauce!

This portion of food was so large that it is the entirety of what I’m going to eat today.

NB – Chicago Dawg House (in the same strip mall as Willard’s) is permanently closed, and they closed recently because I could swear they were open when I drove by there a couple of weeks ago.

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