Tailgating, US-style

November 28, 2011 — Leave a comment

Temperatures rise, fingers grip harder, feet feather the brakes and as the Porsche or the Vauxhall darts out from behind, fingers are flipped. Such are the emotions provoked by the British tailgater.

The American tailgater is an altogether more pleasant fellow as I recently discovered, and it all has to do with American football.

It took a while I admit to become enamoured with the game having been brought up on a diet of rugby. My first love will always be the game purportedly started by William Webb Ellis at Rugby School when he picked up the football and ran with it, rather than retreating, as were the rules in the early 1800s. I have though come to appreciate the tactical skills, if not the helmets and padding, of the game beloved by the US.

Having lived on and off in Texas for the last twelve years I have grown to share the antipathy still felt by many Houstonians at the Tennessee Titans, formerly the Houston Oilers, for their name change and desertion to Nashville in 1997. There were many reasons, including financial and political for their move but it was ignominious for the fourth largest city in America to be without a professional football team.

In 2002 Houston became home to the Texans, our very own new football team who this year are playing sterling football even with their third string quarterback. But back to tailgating.

Tailgating in the US is fun! It has nothing to do with driving so close to the vehicle in front as to warrant a finger salute. It does though involve vehicles and an early start on game day. In Houston you can set your pitch from 8 am onwards in the grounds of the Reliant Stadium, home also to the old Astrodome – remember one of the modern wonders of the world!

By 8:30 most of the parking lot designated for tailgaters is filled with trucks and RVs bulging with barbecue pits, beer barrels and boom boxes. These early birds are the worker bees: they light the barbecue and sling on the meat, they put up the tables and chairs, they do whatever needs doing to the keg to ensure a steady flow of beer, Coors and Miller Lite seeming to be the beer of choice.

In essence they set up the tailgate party so that by the time the tailgaters amble across the parking lot from trucks, SUVs or the train, all wearing the colours of their team, the aroma wafting across the tarmac is one of brisket and ribs with a hint of diesel.

Barbecueing is a manly task in Texas, one of the few things in the realms of food preparation that Bubba is happy to be seen doing. The little lady will have done her fair share of the preparatory work, though always behind the scenes. Salads are eschewed unless the common potato is prevalent. Sliced tomato and pickle are acceptable, as is Kraft sliced cheese along with mustard and mayo that squirts rudely out of a bottle.

Beer is drunk but sneaking onto the tables in these enlightened days can be seen jugs of Margaritas and Bloody Marys, both fully loaded with no virgins allowed. The talk at the keg or the grill naturally revolves around the game to be played later in the day. Previous games, particularly those played with the day’s scheduled opponent, are analysed in minute detail with yards run and lost bandied around with impressive recollection. Ladies present may also take part in the conversation, football being an all inclusive spectator sport, but they will gravitate as the day wears on, towards the jugs on the table and the benefits of one spa or cupcake recipe over another.

Tailgating is not a realm only for the young; tailgaters come in all ages, shapes, sizes and affiliations. Corporations hold tailgate parties, as do universities and colleges. In Houston the Buffalo Soldiers have a strong presence on the tailgating scene, and here’s the great thing about an egalitarian country, anyone can be a tailgater. Just ensure you have enough trucks to delineate your area and to allow tailgates to be lowered, either to act as a food bar or a bench for sitting, and of course pay your fee.

It is important for the newcomer to recognise that whilst team colours are encouraged, in our case red, white and blue, and shorts, Tees and cowboy boots are deemed quite acceptable, hair and nails are expected to be coiffed and buffed, for the ladies anyway. For some reason baseball caps are permitted for the men.

Tailgating is partying in a crowded carpark, sometimes on sizzling tarmac, sometimes in driving rain and north of the Mason Dixon line in mounds of snow. But all tailgating is undertaken in the firm and loyal belief that once you enter the actual stadium your team will win the game. Go Texans!

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