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Tomato Romp 2008

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Tomato Fight AdTomato PosterTomato Poster, Maglio Produce

By Mark Johnson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

In the pit, a fight to the pulp

More than 150 battle in Rotten Tomato Fight on the east side

The tomatoes had been cooking on the blacktop since 8 in the morning - 100 cases worth, past their prime and starting to ooze. By 4 in the afternoon, more than 150 combantants were staring at the pen full of produce, itching to mix it up.

Milwaukee's second annual Rotten Tomato Fight was minutes away.

"So, is there going to be a winner in this?" asked Karen Kainz, a 56-year-old homemaker who had come to watch the spectacle at the North Avenue parking lot between Beans & Barley and Von Trier. No one seemed to know quite how to answer.

The whole thing was more a matter of opportunity as far as Gina Galassi was concerned. "When else are you going to be able to throw tomatoes at people you don't know?" asked Galassi, a 19-year-old Marquette University theology student.

Chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" erupted. A few of the men stripped down to bathing suits. Everyone donned safety glasses. (It should be noted that waivers had been signed.)

Then they marched inside the fence past a sign announcing the rules - there were rules after all.

No. 7: All tomatoes must stay in the cage.

A loud cry arose, and the air went red. A shower of tomatoes descended on Gina Galassi and everyone else inside the fence. It was as if a giant egg-beater were madly scrambling tomatoes.

Then a tomato whistled over the fence, followed by another. Civilians were under fire.

"I didn't expect to get hit, but I got hit," said Hannah Gartner, a 22-year-old University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee student who was there to photograph a friend.

No. 9: Avoid tomatoes in the face.

Chad Nelson, a 31-year-old graphic designer, kept hurling tomatoes. Finally, he paused. "What more can you do?" he asked himself. Then he grabbed a tomatoe and smacked himself.

"I figured I'll hit myself in the face," he said. "I wanted to take it to the lighest level." He looked as if he'd taken a tomato bath. Everyone did. The blacktop was one bubbling pan of marinara. After 20 minutes, the fight was over.

The event, part of the Tomato Romp festival presented by the East Side Business Improvement District, was modeled after an annual food fight in Spain. For decades, La Tomatina has been held in the town of Bunol. Tons of tomatoes are trucked in. Thousands pelt each other.

As for Milwaukee's version, "this event has nowhere to bo but up," said Plaisted, executive director of the East Side Business Improvement District. "We could build this to a few thousand."

No. 4: Remove all jewelry, watches, wallets, keys, caps, etc., before entering the cage.

This still left the question of what to do after leaving. Jake Kieffer, a 26-year-old project engineer, departed with friends, all drenched in pulp. "We're not getting in my car," he said.

Click here to see videos of the event on YouTube.