The Funky Bunch
My friends and I have tailgated in the same spot for ten years. 2020 would have been the eleventh. It started as a way to stay connected in the wake of graduating from college and not having the go-to sorority and fraternity tents to flock to. It started with an ice chest, a couple of bags of chips, and a scattering of our parents’ tailgate chairs that were too few in number for everyone to sit comfortably. That year the tailgate gained some tents, a grill, and a cover charge. At one point there was a great blow-up tiger, so you could say that things escalated quickly. That first year transformed into a social club of sorts of which had a price tag that included food, alcohol, storage, and more blow-up decorations. I didn’t look forward to the work my husband and I would put into the tailgate every year, but I looked forward to tailgating. Actual photo of the glory days below.
Steadily over the years we had the crowd declined. Our friends moved away. People got married. Babies were born. But the tailgate remained a juvenile constant in my life. It was a welcome distraction from my life as a young professional holding on to one last little piece of college. The truck was packed, my hair was blow-dried, and the ice chest was rattling all before 9:00 am. That is, until this year.
Cancel Everything. . . ?
I’ve always been a major advocate that the pandemic should be taken seriously. The virus takes, and it takes, and it takes. Right now, as I type these words, people are losing their loved ones to COVID-19, and nothing could bring me more grief. It feels utterly inappropriate to miss the innocuous things from my newly-labeled-old-life while so many are suffering. But that understanding doesn’t dull the sting of sadness when I think about the way it was a short time ago. Even glancing at my son in his tiny cotton masks sends my heart down into my toes. I get a similar yucky feeling when plans in the not-too-distant future are postponed or cancelled. I lament over the mounds of folded up chairs crammed into our outside shed.
When LSU released its restrictions for pre-game attendees on campus, my heart sunk. Every part of my rational mind understood every bullet point, but I walked away feeling sad. For so long, LSU football seemed untouchable. Back in March, when Louisiana first started to lock down, I never dreamed I’d be doing any of the things I’m doing today. Call me ignorant, but my background is the creative arts and education, not virology. I held out hope it’d be over for football season. It’s not.
I realized just the other day what I’m actually sad about. My feelings are not actually about act of losing the tailgate itself or being denied access to the stadium to watch a football game. There’s so much more to those eight Saturdays in the fall.
What Do I Really Miss?
It’s not tailgating I’ll miss; it’s the chance of seeing friends from all chapters of my life in one day. High school, college, graduate school, my career – only football season had the type of magnetic power to pull us out of our corners of the state and plop us into one small area. Time didn’t stand between us like an ocean when there were rankings to discuss, speculations to trade, or kids to play ball with.
It’s not tailgating I’ll miss; it’s sharing. Sharing food. Sharing drink. Sharing hugs. Sharing high-fives. I’ll miss that special aspect of southern hospitality where everything I have is yours too. Space is now so different for a southerner like me. It’s rigid and demarcated, not cozy and welcoming like it used to be. It’s still difficult to keep my distance when my first reaction is to embrace or pat a shoulder.
It’s not the tailgating I’ll miss; it’s the anticipation. Watching the sun drop lower in the western sky. Feeling a small, mulchy patch shade underneath a tree become more crowded with fans. Hearing the collegiate band strike up familiar chords over the booming bass of a fraternity sound system. Then we all start walking toward the stadium together. My go-to state at this point in the pandemic is pessimism. I don’t consider myself to be a pessimistic person, but I’m tired of being let down. I’m tired of the cancellations. I barely write anything down into my calendar anymore because I can’t deal with the pang of disappoint that yet another postponed event brings. I miss feeling that special kind of electricity as you walk down the steep path that leads to the ticket portals. I even miss those atrocious lines and the pushy, over-served patrons bumping into me. I miss it because I knew what was coming. I knew the things that I had waited for all day or maybe even all week was within my reach.
It’s not tailgating I’ll miss; it’s the excitement. Of course there are other means of getting excited. There’s so much division right now. Liberal vs. Conservative. Order vs. movement. Mask vs. no mask. It seems like every opinion has a counter opinion that is full of venom. The middle no longer exists. What I miss is being huddled with my friends around a wonky television set as the other big SEC game winds down. I miss walking to the stadium with thousands of strangers who share something with me that has no bias – joy. I miss being genuinely happy with other people without worrying about what side of the aisle our positions put us.
If COVID-19 has taught me anything, it’s the value in the little things. Don’t ever take the little things that bring you joy for granted. Because when the little things are added up together in relentless weeks of take, take, take, they become rather big things. Barbecue smoke, spilled popcorn, a crammed truck cab, high-fives — these are the things I look forward to next year. I hope you’ll all be there too.