Friday, August 29, 2014

Theory 15: Tailgate etiquette is not an oxymoron.

Friends, this post from last year is a reader-favorite and perfect for this weekend as many of us gear up to tailgate and cheer on our teams. Enjoy! Go Big Orange!

Theory 15: Tailgate etiquette is not an oxymoron.

Over many years, I observed every type of behavior—from southern chivalry to northern aggression. I’d like to give a shout out to my buddy “Mint Julep” for prodding me to write about tailgates! Mint Julep and her husband actually treated Tall Child and me to a private plane ride to Tuscaloosa to watch Tennessee take on The Crimson Tide. What a great day! I’d like to thank all my friends for this blog’s fodder, even you Alabama fans.

Tailgaters travel a spectrum from calm, civilized, linen-draped tables and guests of The Grove (Ole Miss) to sweltering, sweat-soaked, foot-stomping 2-bits, 4-bits cheering fans in The Swamp (Florida). Tall Child and I built our own little Tennessee Tradition; we hosted season after season of great tailgate parties. For many years, we even held an annual kick-off party at home to fire folks up for the tailgating (and SEC football) season. We started in Lot 9 with the in-laws, and then we moved to G-10 (a multi-level parking garage beside Thompson-Boling arena) and gathered up family and a few more friends. I loved snagging the top corner spot over the garage entrance. We could cheer in UT fans or harass the opposing team. Once, Delicious and Big Booty J helped organized a huge TN vs. Georgia tailgate party. Delicious draped a giant Georgia flag over the railing. It was upside down. We never told her. Alongside the upside-down flag, we dangled a stuffed bulldog on a long rope and tormented Georgia fans as they rolled through. I saw this idea when I was in AthensGA with the UT band. A couple of trumpet players sat on the sidewalk as we waited to enter the stadium and every time a Georgia car cruised by in the molasses slow traffic, the boys threw the stuffed bulldog under its wheels. We cracked up as Georgia fans of all ages fumed as they crushed their own mascot. Finally, we found the supreme tailgating spot in Knoxville: a flat paved rooftop above a one story building – no cars, just thousands of square feet with huge crowds and a view of the stadium and the river. Those parties were the best. We even hired live bands for the big games. Yes, tailgating gets rowdy, but there are rules. Tailgate etiquette is not an oxymoron.

So, today, I present you with a list of tailgating rules. Tailgaters, be gentle toward one another. You have many games and years ahead of you.

Rules for the host/hostess (per the always succinct and ever gracious Tall Child):

Never run out of beer or food.

Beat your guests to the tailgate spot. Tall Child explains “The head guy has to be the first one there.”

Invite a lot of people.

Rules for tailgaters in general:

If the host offers to haul your stuff, drop it off per his instructions and be punctual.  If you drop off a cooler, make sure it’s packed and it rolls.

Designate a driver. Run-ins with the Po-Po take away from the spirit of the party. If you do get arrested, do it before we take pimento cheese out of the cooler.

"C ome here, boy!"

If you have a big car and a parking pass (lucky), don’t roll up solo! Offer rides.

Bring a chair. If you don’t, don’t take the last one. If you don’t bring a chair and sit on a cooler, if anyone makes eye contact with you, get up.

If you invite a female northern friend to a southern tailgate, give her the dress code. Girls in the south wear party outfits to football games. Staples include big earrings, feminine blouses and skirts or dresses, high heels or cowboy boots. G.R.I.T.S., if you travel outside the SEC, do a little research before you pack. Tall Child and I tailgated with Indiana friends at Notre Dame. I showed up in a skirt and they wore sweatshirts. I froze. FYI – That was one of my favorite tailgates ever! The ND fans were laid back, friendly, and most didn’t even go in the stadium.

Speaking of clothing, Tennessee fans, pick a shade of orange and stick with it.

When it comes to neighboring tailgates, remember the old poem, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Respect the invisible boundaries. But, if you lose your Southern Comfort cool and attack a nearby tailgater by force, take a lesson from my cousin Roscoe’s division one performance. Sharky was throwing football with a friend. He missed his catch and the football landed in a neighboring tailgate. Some jerk threw Sharky’s ball way out into the parking lot. Roscoe strolled over, picked the guy up, wiped his tailgate table clean (with the guy’s body), dropped him, and walked away calmly. Well played, Roscoe. You are still Sharky’s hero!


The good ole' days.

Keep a sound friend to food ratio. A-Boo says, “Don’t’ bring half a tray of pinwheels and nine friends.”

Don’t expect the host to think of everything and accommodate your friends or coworkers, whom he’s possibly never met. If you invite extra people, entertain them. Don’t leave all the conversing up to your hosts. Be a mini-host! All are welcome. Help them feel that way.           

If you are a slow roller (show up two hours before game time “really tired from the night before”) don’t call the host and ask if he needs more ice. Uncle Trout says, “When is the last time you ever heard anyone say We have got too much ice?” Just bring it.

Don’t ask anyone to watch your stuff while you go into the stadium. Stay with it or prepare to sacrifice it.

No moral authority allowed! Party at your own risk!  Keep in mind that the presence of children and bosses change the dynamics of any party. If you bring either, take care of them. Don’t let children sit right in front of the big screen TV that other grownups bought and hauled. Don’t tell adults not to smoke, curse, yell, or drink. The tailgate is their domain.  If you bring your children, bring your children food and drinks. Trust me. Diet Coke, cranberry juice and orange juice have a different purpose under the tent and they certainly don’t belong in sippy cups. Ooh, and keep your young’uns out of the Jell-O. This ain’t Morrison’s Cafeteria and most hosts don’t pack stomach pumps. If you roll up with a baby stroller, make sure there’s a 20 pound bag of ice in its bottom basket.

Please use hand sanitizer before you hit the sandwich platter.

Don’t ask anyone, “Do you have room in your cooler for this?” Most will say yes, because we are nice and want you to have a good time. However, it’s better if you just bring your own cooler. Even Sharky packed his own tiny cooler of Gatorade, Doritos, and fruit snacks. Good little southern boy.

Our buddy “Renaissance Man” often cooked gourmet breakfasts of pancakes, bacon, and sausage on his griddle for the early-bird setup. Then, he’d cook huge extravagant lunches of low country boil or chili for the whole crowd. If you have such a kind chef in your crew, offer to bring ingredients or give him cash. If you eat by the pound, pay by the pound!

Smokers – step outside the tent area to smoke. Non-smokers, don’t fuss at the smokers. It’s an outdoor party.

Speaking of atmosphere, hosts (hostesses) actually go to a lot of trouble to organize the food tables. We spread tables with ironed cloths, use “real” plates, decorate with flowers, hang battery-operated chandeliers, and designate areas for drink mixing, salty snacks, and sweet treats. Please don’t slap grimy purses, fuzzy coats, empty bottles, and trash on our pretty Southern Living September issue inspired tablescapes.

Cousin Fuzz, a dedicated Vol fan and thoroughbred tailgater, reminded me to address a particular party phenomenon: the folks who stagger up to tailgates where they know no one. She calls them “stray cats.” Fuzz says, “Stray Cats, you are welcome. It’s cool for you to drop in, but know your role. Stay on the perimeter. Make friends and mingle. Just like the yard-apes, you should never sit front row at the big screen. And, whatever you do, don’t touch another man’s vodka.”

Singletons and married folks, tailgates get tricky sometimes. All kinds of things can go wrong in the heat of SEC rivalry. Don’t offer to keep your friend’s husband company while she goes into the game. Instead, go with her. He’ll be okay after a little nap.

If you wear heels, bring flip flops, too, because heels, vodka, onion dip, and standing in Auburn heat for six to 12 hours makes pretty little feet hurt. Plus, at some point in the evening, you’ll hear “Dixieland Delight” and feel the urge to clog. You don’t want to shuffle-step-ball-change barefoot on dirty concrete littered with charcoal dust and pointy bottle tops. That’s just not lady like. Also, take it from me; it’s not cool to clog if you have to hold on to a chair, a person, or the tailgate tent post to stay upright for your butter churn. Some of us need to do our clogging earlier in the day.

When it’s time to go into the stadium, some tailgates pack up. HELP. Don’t just set your drink down, check your tickets, and walk off. If yours is a late-night post-game tailgate, remember that your host may have been in that parking lot since as early as 5am. HELP. Bag chairs, haul stuff to his car.

Sunday morning (as soon as you recover), come and get your nasty cooler.

The most important rule of all is simple for most but oh, so, difficult for some. Please please please please please please please BRING YOUR OWN BEER!

A couple of years ago, some rich donor gave money to the UT School of Engineering to construct a giant educational building. They dynamited our dynamite tailgate spot. I cried. Tall Child used that and a terrible season to hang up our tailgating cleats for now.  I am forever thankful to every person who ever came to my tailgate – no matter how you behaved and whether I knew you or not. Thank you for creating some of the best weekends of my life (especially the ones I barely remember).


Tall Child in his element.

Tall Child and I have passed the Tennessee Tailgating Torch to the younger crowd and hope they deliver their friends and families a great season. We wish you safety and success as you cheer on the Volunteers. Do not feel compelled to carry on our traditions. Create your own. Which reminds me of Theory 16: People erroneously think they can do other people’s jobs.

See you next post. Until then, think outside the barn.

Go Big Orange!

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Just thinking outside the barn...

Just thinking outside the barn...