Updated: Jun 14, 2019
Buckle up, cowboy..
[Editors Note: This story is meant for purely entertainment purposes and as part of an ongoing series of blog posts to better explain how Tailgate Professional came to fruition. By no means is this a representation of tailgates offered today. Unless you want absolute chaos, then maybe we can work something out.]
The year was 2014. Location. Columbia, South Carolina via a not so speedy but oh-so-beautiful 10 hour ride down I-95 from Maryland. The crew. A smorgasbord of misfits from New York, Boston, Philly and Baltimore having absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Making our way into the RV lot (as the second RV), the weather was exactly what one could have expected it to be for the last weekend in October in SEC country. 75, sunny, and not a cloud in the sky or a worry in the world.
Excluding the following little setbacks...
No exhaust flume for our tailpipe - Cruise America's fault, not ours
Canopy tent failing to open - Manufacture error, definitely not ours
Grill refusing to light - (May or may not have been put together in the back of the RV just a few hours earlier while driving) - Maybe our bad
One chair for 10 guys - Hand up. We didn't think that one through
..our tailgate was somewhat assembled
and things were looking up. Or so we though.
Now circling back to what I mentioned above. We were the #2 group into the RV lot. We are driving a rented 6 person (with 10 guys) Cruise America RV. We have freaking sticker cut-out of a golden retriever on the outside of the side door (see picture below for exact representation). And just as we begin to settle in and get our bearings straight, the masses start to roll through the gates. The best way I could describe the situation was like in little league when you got to the field before the other team. There you are, warming up your arm, playing catch with your best friend. Confidence is at an all-time high. Not a doubt in your mind you aren't going to win and already planning on how many party size bags of Doritos and orange slices you're going to pound after the game when the snack mom comes into the dugout. But then you start to see the other team arrive. You see the first kid and think, "nah, that must be an older brother. But why is he wearing the team hat?" Then another rolls in... and another... and another. You start to get confused, concerned and maybe a little backed up in your tushy. The pit in your stomach just starts to grow and grow. You think to yourself, "This team must have the wrong field, right?" But no, no they do not. The sweat starts to drip down your pre-pubescent back and the reality starts to set in that the 10 run rule is going to be going into affect REAL quick.
In a nutshell, that pretty much describes how we all felt as the big boys started to arrive. And like I mentioned in the paragraph above, it is 100% not over-exaggerating that the below picture is exact comparison of what we were encountering. It was a combination of embarrassment, fear, anxiety and stupidity. It also dawns on me, "what if we took Bubba & Bo's tailgate spot?" "Where are they going to park the Baja Blaster 15000?" I was envisioning a 6'5 burly souther gentleman with a thick Carolina accent stepping out of his mansion on wheels, taking a quick look at us, laughing, and then demanding to know who we were and why were in their spot. Well thank god that didn't happen. Because between me and you, I only had underwear for two nights.
Again, these are legit houses on wheels parking right next us. Pretty sure some of these monstrosities were more than most houses in the area. And that is not meant to be a dig. These things were nicer than my current yuppie (Young Urban Professional) row home that I dumped all my savings into. People were actually rolling out carpets, setting up big screen TVs, building make-shift bars. And then there was us. We didn't even have a lighter to start the grill.
It was kind of like being back in college as a freshman and somehow getting into the crappy dive bar and feeling like you finally made it. You stepped up your game from high school house parties and now made your big league debut. But at the end of the day you could not look more out of place and be getting judged more by the big bad upperclassmen. But at least in college, in that moment, you had no idea you looked like an idiot. You order rounds of watered down kamikazes and expired 32oz Bud Selects or Michelob Ultras with money you didn't have and just had yourself a time. Only until you somehow "matured" three years later and look back at fuzzy facebook albums is when the second hand shame starts kick in. "Why was I wearing that shirt?" "Fitted-straight brim baseball hat?" "WHY AM I WEARING MY LANYARD WITH SWIPE CARD AND ROOM KEY!" Yikes, no bueno mi amigo. Well, take that embarrassment, but actually recognizing it in real time, times it by a thousand, and then you can maybe empathize with what we were enduring.
So with my tail between my legs and about 24 frozen hamburgers, I was just blindly staring at our somewhat assembled grill thinking all hope was lost. What the hell did I sign ourselves up for? Is it Sunday morning yet?
But alas, from the South Carolina heavens enters...
Bucky Harris. You Big. Beautiful. SOB! If there was a guardian angel of tailgating, then butter my biscuit and call me Richard because there he was standing right in front of me. Honestly, thank god we met him and that he was our next door neighbor? RV'er? Tailgater? Whatever you wanna call it, we could not have lucked out more or scripted a better encounter for the weekend. And remember how I said we were the second group in the RV lot? Guess who was numero uno?
A season ticket holder for as long as he can remember, Bucky has not missed a tailgate in 35 years. I say tailgate and not game not by mistake - he usually gives his tickets away and just watches the game from his RV. I do not know if that is a power move or not, but for the sake of this story I am going with power move. Anyway, the man can do as he pleases. And I think as you can tell from the picture above, it is not an exaggeration that if you closed your eyes and dreamt of the stereotypical SEC tailgate guy, that beautiful face would be right up there in the top google search. If you think otherwise, well my friend, you have not lived, or at least not have been to a real tailgate. "But Ryan, I went to the Hunt and tailgated. It was LIT!" No Brad, you did not go to a real tailgate. But I hope the Fireball was plentiful. The Andre was chilled. And your phone alarm was set to make sure you didn't miss your bus back to Hoboken.
From start to finish Bucky stole the show. The man beat to his own drum and did not have a care in the world. Whether it was barging into our RV like he was of us. Carrying over pots of his *world famous chili because it would, "knock our socks off" and was "better than what our mamma's would make". To claiming he couldn't play beer pong because he didn't drink. Even though the next day he was 100% double fisting a vodka soda and a miller high life #champangeofbeers. Or peer pressuring/bullying the entire RV to try one of his famous jalapeño poppers because our "yankee asses" couldn't handle the southern heat. He was right. But maybe the best part of this entire exchange of events was that he had his daughter and her husband down with them for the game. Now I am not saying this was the case, but all social queue's lead me to infer Bucky was not a fan of his son-in-law. While in retrospect, Bucky was exactly what you would expect from a SEC football fan. You could also say the same for how you would picture a retired South Carolina State Trooper acting around his daughters husband. Who he may or may not have liked very much. A part of me felt kind of bad for the poor sap. Seeing your father-in-law rather hang out with a bunch of 23 year olds while not even acknowledging your existence must have been a little demoralizing. But at the same time it was pretty comical to us.
More on Bucky later.
*Chili Recipe - if you were interested
Hillshire Smoked Sausage
Buch's Baked Beans
A can of Pace Salsa
One Dollop of Daisy Sour Cream
As the afternoon turned into evening; corn hole was played, dinner was cooked and the most degenerate game of two hand touch football was attempted. Now I think I failed to mention this was Halloween weekend. And to not disrespect the holiday, we decided it was necessary to bring costumes down. So after we all suited up (which we must have thought we were putting on shoulder pads) next thing I knew we were out in the middle of the parking lot with Steve Spurrier as quarterback, Batman playing linebacker, Wonder Woman roaming as a free safety and Ted Lasso ziggin and zaggin as tailback.
BTW. If you do not know who ted lasso is, you're welcome...
While our pre-Halloween pickup football game drew quite a crowd of spectators...mostly out of curiosity trying to see who the idiots were rather than drawn to out impeccable athletic ability, we decided to mingled afterwords and get a feel for what the next day had in store for us (we also wanted to know where to go out that night because none of us had a clue). After we figured out where to go (shoutout Village Idiot) we continued to chat with some of the locals and listen to their stories of past games and general life down in Columbia. Their stories were exactly what you would think. Not missing games in years. Having statues of the old ball coach in their back yard. Seeing Javon Clowney rolling down the street and giving a head nod. Fascinating, hilarious but not surprising.
Fast forward through the rest of the night (we went to the bars, had pizza, yadda yadda yadda... stories for another blog) and finally made it back to the RV and passed out. One thing to note. Earlier in the day we were hearing rumors the weather was supposed to take a turn for the worse during the night and into Saturday morning. For some reason this completely went over all of our heads. Mind you, when we arrived. 75 and sunny. Waking up Sunday morning. 45 and raining. And windy. Not what we were looking for. Also, when you don't have the RV running because you do not have the approved exhaust flume to run out of your tailpipe, then there is no heat. So we all wake up. Either from the cold. Or because our spine's were about to snap trying to sleep 10 people in this setup...
And if all that didn't get you up, this getting played on repeat starting at 7am would...
Now everyone is up trying to find something warm to wear. Oh wait we couldn't. Because none of us thought once to check the weather. Instead, we just assumed because whenever you watch CBS on a Saturday afternoon in the fall that all the SEC games are going to be absolutely gorgeous. It's a shame there isn't like an app, or a website or a TV station completely dedicated to predicting the weather for the future that we could have checked? That would be nice.
So we decided to migrate out of the lot (game wasn't until 7pm) and find our way to campus like a bunch of trailblazers on the Oregon Trail. We had absolutely no idea where we were going. At one point we were walking on a highway, then train tracks, various sketchy back ally's but we finally made it to campus and alas, the university bookstore. At which point we proceeded to buy the entire store out of sweat shirts, sweat pants, ponchos, etc.
Now amply prepared to battle the cold and rain, we head back to the RV. Once we got back, the lots were already filling up (*11am for an 7pm game). We re-configured our tailgate set-up from the previous night and got started doing our thing. Corn hole, can jam, shot-guns (sorry mom), grilling, etc. Now keep in mind, the weather is still not ideal. It was not great to start the day and only got worse. Temp dropping, wind picking up, and we are dealing with the most annoying and consistent mist of rain I have ever experienced. But as I look back, did it hinder any of the pregame activities? Did it ruin our experience? No way. Sure, we would have loved for it to seem that we weren't tailgating for an Oregon or Washington game, but that is the beauty of tailgating. As long as you have good group, great neighbors, decent food and cold beverages, then the weather just becomes secondary.
Now, we revisit Bucky and his wife, Connie...
So recapping from the above. First full-fledge SEC tailgate. More or less came extremely unprepared...depends on how you look at (half glass full kinda thing). And in the midst of it all, we are dealing with one of the coldest days in October in South Carolina history. So as the sun started to set, you could only image how we and our tailgate was holding up in these sub-arctic temperatures. So while some of the group migrated over to a set-up a few RVs down to make some friends - they built a makeshift heat tent stocked with an ice luge - some of us decided to hang back. Which led us to being invited into Bucky & Connie's humble abode. And let me tell you, we made the right decision. From Connie feeding us until we couldn't breath, to hearing about Bucky's life as a South Carolina state trooper, it was an unpredictable but wild time.
Connie was Bucky's second marriage and each were the yin to the others yang. Peanut butter to her jelly. Marconi to his cheese. At this point in time it was only them in the RV (as previously mentioned they gave their tickets to their daughter) so we got the grand tour. And while we only planned to be in there for a couple of minutes, a couple turned into 15. Then 15 turned into 30 and next thing I knew it was just me and one of my other friends sitting at their kitchen table, having a drink and hearing a story about how Connie found a john doe on her morning walk while Bucky (who was working as helicopter pilot for the state police at the time) was circling the sky's trying to locate that exact missing person. I honestly could have sat there for hours and asked them to adopted me as their step-grandchild. But we finally had say our goodbye's as we realized we needed to track down the rest of group who was god-knows-where (turns up they ended up at some fraternity). And while I necessarily wouldn't care if I lost them or not, I had everyone's ticket. And we were 15 minutes from kickoff and approximately a 15 minute walk to the stadium.
Now the rest of the story is pretty standard. Our seats were last row in the upper deck of the end zone...
Which taking into account the temp drop, time of night, and wind chill....was pretty awesome. Definitely not cold. Definitely did not leave at halftime. Definitely did not end up missing the game go into overtime and become an instant SEC classic (Tennessee overcoming two second have double digit deficits)...
...definitely did not drive 10 hours and spend 72 hours in the stadium parking lots to only watch 30 minutes of football. What sort of idiots would do that?
Anyway. After a full day of tailgating, football and extremely crappy after-the-bar-2am-pizza we proceeded to wake up at 7am and decided that South Carolina, while was one for the books, kicked our butts and was time to start the trek back up north. So as we picked up the remnants of our tailgate (and whatever we could find of our dignities) someone noticed something on our windshield. It was a bag of candy with a note tied to it...
"Had a blast with you damn yankees's...you're OK in my book - Bucky"