Sunday, January 5, 2014

Day 238 - Meat Raffle!

I have never been to a meat raffle. As an event that is a sort of Wisconsin tradition, attending one of the many meat raffles that occur at taverns around the state has been something I have wanted to do for some time. For those that are unfamiliar, a meat raffle is exactly like it sounds; an event where you purchase tickets to enter a raffle for various meat products donated by local butchers and grocers; however, these raffles almost exclusively take place at bars and VFW halls where plenty of beer is had as the raffle unfolds. Realizing such an event would be a fun way to spend an afternoon, I have wanted to experience a meat raffle for some time, but I never made time to act on that intention. As a result, I decided I would set aside time to finally take part in a meat raffle during the winter of my “I have never...” year. Following a busy week of holiday activities and travel, and given the fact a Packers playoff game was scheduled for this afternoon, I ultimately determined today would be the perfect day to finally make good on participating in a meat raffle. As a result, Rachael and I made our way to a local tavern, the Baldwin Street Grille, this afternoon to watch the football game and to attend my very first meat raffle.

In the neighborhood...
Rachael and I arrived to the Baldwin Street Grille a few hours before the scheduled start of the game to have some lunch, to grab some good seats for the game, and to ensure we didn’t miss any of the meat raffle. When we arrived, the bar was empty with the exception of a few patrons lining the bar and sitting at a few tables around the space. With plenty of choices for seating, Rachael and I took a spot near one of the large TVs mounted on the wall, and promptly ordered lunch. As we ate, the space around us filled with people donned in green and gold for the forthcoming football game. By the time we finished our meal the bar had nearly filled to capacity, and the meat raffle was only minutes away from starting.

Through the crowd of standing bar patrons, a man emerged with several plastic bags visibly weighed down with a mass of goods. Doing his best to manage the bulky packs hanging from his hands, the man carved a path toward the back of the building and promptly set ten different cuts of meat from a local specialty grocer on a table. I was immediately stunned by the quality and diversity of the meats on display, which caused me to get up a take a closer look at the display. Noting my curiosity and interest, the man that had set the meat out moments early was quick to use the moment to inflate my obvious excitement. “All this stuff is local. We’re going to have ten rounds... One meat prize and two free drink prizes per round.” Keeping my eyes fixed on the display of meats I nodded. “$1 per entry,” the man continued, “So, scope out what cuts you want to take home.” I looked up at the man and traded smiles with him as he hurriedly moved toward the bar. With that, I knew it was time for the meat raffle, and I was set on winning.

Meat raffle!!!

Busy place...

Minutes before the start of the football game the man made his first trip around the bar selling numbered paint stirring sticks as entries into the raffle. Hoping to get the first pick at the spread of meats, Rachael and I each bought two paddles from the stack of 30 and waited anxiously for the first drawing to commence. After walking through the rest of the crowd, the man took a position at the back of the bar and shoved his hand into a small purple bag. Pulling a numbered chip from the bag, he glanced down before bellowing a number over the noisy crowd. In response, Rachael and I excitedly checked the numbers on the end of our sticks, hoping we had won first dibs on the meat spread. Before we could finish, a neighboring patron held up their numbered stick and gave out a celebratory wail. Coming to terms with the fact we had not won the first draw, we promptly turned back to the man running the raffle and waited for the next call. With the pull of another chip, the man called out another number, and we had no matches. He then called out a third number, and we still didn’t have any matches.

Making the call

A wave of disappointment washed over us as we came to terms with the fact that we came away with nothing after the first round of the meat raffle. Resolved to win something, Rachael and I strategized for the coming rounds of the raffle as the crowd turned its attention to the football game that was officially underway. As the game progressed, we participated in several more rounds of the meat raffle with the same results. With our stack of dollars dwindling, I felt my hope for some kind of prize from my first meat raffle began to fade, but I wasn’t ready to give up. Roughly midway through the raffle, I took stock of the money we had spent at that point and quickly calculated what we would need to win to break even.

RIBS. I had ribs for lunch... That's why I'm doing this.
Ultimately, I concluded we would need to win at least two rounds of the remaining raffle to make it worthwhile, which made me hesitant at the thought of continuing to throw money into the raffle. That stated, I knew I was too stubborn to give up that easily, so I somewhat reluctantly threw a few more dollars into the raffle as the man made another walk through the crowd. With our two dollar entry, Rachael and I decided to pick one raffle paddle a piece, and then we waited for the next call. With my eyes fixed on the “10” scrawled onto the end of my paddle with black marker, I listened as the man called out the next winner. “For some meat… six!” the man yelled over the crowd. Setting my paddle on the table in disappointment, I suddenly heard Rachael speak. “I got it!” she said in a state of disbelief. She hesitated a moment as if to confirm she was correct before raising the stick into the air. With that, we achieved our goal for the day. We had won some meat.

After taking our pick of a package containing two racks of ribs, I quickly put the meat in the backseat of our car to keep it cold for the rest of the game and returned to the bar just in time for the next round of the raffle. Taking my seat, I looked at Rachael and said, “Alright, one last go… It’s my turn to win.” Rachael smiled at me as I handed two more dollars to the man and pulled to sticks from the stack of raffle paddles. To my surprise, one of my picks was the number “10” paddle again, which spurred me to comment. “Well, maybe it will be a winner this time,” I said with a hint of doubt. Rachael gave me a few encouraging words as the man returned to the bar and began digging in the bag of numbered chips.

My prize
In anticipation, I watched closely as he pulled a number and called it over the clamorous game day crowd. “Our first winner is number 10!” the man yelled. Assuming defeat I failed to realize the number called was on the paddle in front of me. “Where’s number 10?” the man asked using the assistance of the bar microphone. Suddenly realizing I had won the first round, I grabbed the stick and threw my hand up into the air with nearly enough force to lift me from my chair. “Hey!” I yelled in excitement as I looked to the man behind the bar. “You’re on a roll! Come get some meat!” Shocked at the fact I had won a prize, I happily made my way back up to the meat table and picked out a package of massive seasoned chicken breasts. Despite my doubt and despite my long held belief I have terrible luck, I had claimed a prize in my very first meat raffle. Needless to say, it felt great.

Rachael and I decided to forego the remaining rounds of the meat raffle until the final drawings for a bar tab discount and a cash prize of nearly $200. Although we didn’t win either, we reveled in the fact we had won two rounds of the meat raffle. After it was all said and done, we likely spent a little more money on all of the raffles than we would have spent had we simply purchased the meat at the grocery store, but we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to win a variety of other prizes has we done so. Additionally, we wouldn’t have had the hope and excitement that came with each round of the raffle. Although the meat that we won was a great prize to walk away with, the whole experience and the chance to win big is really where our money went. After today, I can’t believe how long it took me to finally experience a meat raffle, but it is safe to say I will participate in one again. The whole experience just smacks of Wisconsin, which usually means it’s an experience worth having more than once.

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