Posted on July 17th, 2013
7am: Representatives from the Estero Chamber of Commerce and The Estero Billybon Society (formed two years prior by a group of older-aged Estero ladies enthusiastic about preserving the recipe for Billybons, an orb-shaped dessert item, roughly the size of a golf ball, comprised mainly of brown sugar and orange juice- a traditional (i.e. invented sometime in the late 1960’s by a woman named Eva St. Clair) Estero dish, though largely forgotten within the town and virtually unheard of outside) arrive at the Lee County Fairgrounds to begin setup. The aim of the event is to promote the idea that Estero is the site of a rich and historic culture, meriting tourism and emblemized by, of course, the Billybon. The main tent stretches from the disused Community Center building northward to the edge of Route 41. Forty 12-foot collapsible picnic tables, forming two parallel lines, will serve as the primary Billybon distribution and consumption center. Two distinct portable catering kitchen setups have been assembled on either side of the main tent (the scope of the event’s anticipated attendance places the demand on production well outside the capabilities of any one of Estero’s catering companies, so two have been hired to meet demand; judging by the diversity of equipment brought by each, it seems the two companies have reached little consensus on how one ought to prepare a Billybon). Two auxiliary tents, these with small portable stages facing around a hundred metal folding chairs each, run parallel to the main tent on either side past the kitchens. The weather forecast for the weekend is sunny, warm, and extremely humid.
10am: Doors open. Attendance for today peaks around noon, when approx. 500 surfing enthusiasts arrive as if by bus. It turns out that a regional FM radio DJ had been advertising the event, either by mistake or as a prank, as the “First Annual Estero Florida Billabong Festival”, and conjecturing wildly (and, one must credit him, quite creatively) about what such an event might entail. A crowd likely expecting a wide array of branded clothing and stickers, and possibly a marginally well-known musical act, are instead presented with semi-solid spherical desserts. Massive confusion and littering ensues, followed by a sudden exodus. Attendance drops to ́~50 people, some of whom appear to still be looking for surfing-related merchandise. Milling continues until close.
10am: Radio advertising hastily corrected, today’s attendees have a better, though still imperfect, idea of what to expect. A formidable crowd, almost exclusively male, begins to form outside the North Auxiliary Tent. At 11am, an event titled “Eva St. Clair’s Billybon”, in which founding member of the Estero Billybon Society Angela St. Clair will discuss her mother’s inspiration for, and development of, the Billybon, is set to commence. The size of the crowd, as well as their apparent enthusiasm, comes as a pleasant surprise to the organizers, and hurried preparations are made to transport fifty chairs from the South Auxiliary Tent (where the already-underway “History of Wildfowl in Lee County, as presented by the Estero Audubon Society” is receiving markedly less attention).
11am: “Eva St. Clair’s Billybon” begins, and even with the additional seating brought in from the South Auxiliary Tent, there is a large standing crowd at the back. Angela takes the stage and begins by thanking the crowd for coming out today, and proceeds into the story of her mother’s invention of the Billybon. The crowd quickly passes from excitement through confusion and then into agitation. The North Auxiliary Tent empties rapidly, with some of the former attendees making loud and rather vulgar remarks about Angela and “her Billybon”. Post-event research revealed that there is an adult film actress, apparently well-known and respected in certain circles, who also goes by the name “Eva St. Clair” and whom the disappointed patrons had likely expected to see. This reporter failed to inquire what, if anything, they had expected was signified by the word “Billybon”.
12pm: Today is the day on which the Billybon Eating Contest is scheduled to take place in the main tent, an event which has apparently some legitimate enthusiasm in the community (Estero High School students have a long history of success in, and fervor for, local and regional eating contests of all shapes and sizes). Contestants begin taking their places along the rented collapsible picnic tables at their assigned, numbered position. A short commencement address is read by Alan Thomas, Chairman of the Estero Chamber of Commerce, which says something to the effect that the Billybon is part of Estero’s long, rich history and the Estero Billybon Society is an integral part of the community, though much more verbosely and with much more sweating and stammering. Meanwhile, both catering prep kitchens are in full production. A fleet of volunteers are lined up, relay- or fire-drill-style, to pass plates of Billybons along to participants. Each plate contains three Billybons. The participant who consumes the largest number of Billybons in 20 minutes will receive an envelope full of gift cards to local businesses.
12:05pm: A drastic shift in tone: massive waves of nausea and vomiting have wracked the row of tables on the North side of the main tent. The smell is nearly unbearable in the crowded, humid, vinyl-draped space. Apparently, the chefs’ lack of familiarity with the Billybon has resulted in two drastically different recipes, one (the one being prepared by the catering kitchen set up on the tent’s North side) containing far more sugar than the other and, for reasons this reporter has been unable to fully discover, a substantial amount of apple cider vinegar. The resulting Billybon, when consumed en masse at high speed, has an apparently ipecac-like ability to induce vomiting. Contestants and supporters on the South side either stop eating, in revulsion, or seize their newfound lead over half the competition as a sign to double down. Chefs and servers on the South side are unsure whether or not to continue serving. Mr. Thomas and Ms. St. Clair, both clearly terrified, rush the stage and attempt to take control of the situation. They are able to gain the attention of some portion of the crowd assembled in the tent, but quickly realize that they have no idea where to go from there. Anarchy ensues; cries of sabotage resound from all sides.
3pm: The Mayor of Estero has arrived to give the closing address. Having been briefed on the incident at the Billybon Eating Contest only moments before, his remarks are terse and his demeanor is, shall we say, reserved. Several North Side victims still languish in the South Auxiliary Tent, which has been converted into a makeshift First-Aid station where the suffering are offered water and a place to lie down. The gift cards intended for the winner of the contest are to be distributed amongst the afflicted in a bizarre attempt to ward off possible litigation. As far as this reporter was able to discern, he was the only media presence besides the local and high-school papers to attend the event. The future of the Billybon industry in Estero remains to be seen.