Mar­gar­i­tas in the sleet: The Great Amer­i­can Tail­gate

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LIFE - Jim Mullen The Vil­lage Idiot

Brad is deep-fat-fry­ing a turkey. His wife, Kathy, is pass­ing around Jell-O shots, af­ter sam­pling a few to make sure the fla­vor was just right. Chop­per is slowroast­ing an en­tire pig. Lacy is bak­ing 20 pounds of her fa­mous ham loaf. Dar­ren is set­ting up the mar­garita ma­chine, af­ter putting hun­dreds of bot­tles of craft-brewed beer on ice. There’s a chili­tast­ing chal­lenge go­ing on just around the cor­ner.

More peo­ple are show­ing up all the time, and ev­ery­one seems to know ev­ery­one else. There’s a car­ni­val vibe in the air. Wait, what’s this — a march­ing band? What kind of a restau­rant is this?

It’s not a restau­rant, it’s just the weekly tail­gate party in the vis­i­tors’ park­ing lot of this week’s big game. Brad is fry­ing that turkey be­hind his SUV; ev­ery­one else is cook­ing or un­pack­ing enor­mous amounts of food and snacks.

This is col­lege foot­ball at its finest. Brad, Kathy, Chop­per, Lacy, Dar­ren and all their friends and fam­ily drove seven hours to get to this game. They brought tents in our team’s col­ors, and proudly dis­play ex­pen­sive mem­o­ra­bilia and collectibles while they spread out the food they’ve made on fold­ing ta­bles for the other fans to share. The food and drinks are free; ev­ery­one is happy just to be there and share their sup­port for our team. It’s like Wood­stock, ex­cept the toi­lets work and no one’s naked. Yet.

Of course, it’s only 10 in the morn­ing, and the party’s just get­ting started. The game won’t start un­til 4. As in, six hours from now. How is any­one go­ing to sit through a three-hour foot­ball game af­ter they’ve been drink­ing for six hours?

“We pace our­selves,” Chop­per said, beer in hand. “And since you can’t drink in the sta­dium, af­ter the game, you’re good to come back and start par­ty­ing again.”

The home team’s fans are hav­ing their own tail­gate par­ties in other park­ing lots be­cause today is the big game. But in an age where ev­ery col­lege game is on some TV chan­nel some­where, ev­ery game is a “big game.” Last week’s game was a big game, next week’s game will be a big game.

Today’s weather was per­fect weather for foot­ball — sunny, low hu­mid­ity, brisk but not cold. You could tell the tem­per­a­ture was go­ing to drop tonight af­ter the sun went down. Good sleep­ing weather, peo­ple say. But next week, the forecast is for much lower tem­per­a­tures. Good hi­ber­nat­ing-in-aman-cave weather, I say.

Twenty min­utes of eat­ing brats in the chilly rain would hit my “are we hav­ing fun yet?” limit. Con­tem­plat­ing do­ing it for an­other five hours and 40 min­utes makes me won­der why col­lege alumni don’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain. No, not rain — it’s sleet­ing now. There’s an ici­cle on Brad’s ear. It’s 31 de­grees, but with the wind chill, it feels like ... like it’s time to scalp the tick­ets and go home. I’m sorry, but this is not mar­garita weather.

I didn’t in­herit the tail­gate gene. As much as I like foot­ball and as much as I like eat­ing free food off the backs of cars in park­ing lots, I still pre­fer a nice, cen­trally heated liv­ing room with a comfy sofa and a 60-inch TV. Drink in one hand, clicker in the other, na­chos in the third. The tem­per­a­ture in my liv­ing room is a manly 72. With the wind chill, it feels like ... oh yeah, 72.

The pic­tures on HD TV are in­cred­i­ble. I think I just saw Brad and Kathy on the 50yard line. They look like they could use a drink. A nice, hot drink.

Con­tact Jim Mullen at mullen.jim@gmail.com.

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