RV Tailgate Parties – An Art Form?

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October 21, 2008

Airstream RV Blog #56 – Tailgating! from Sean Michael on TheLongLongHoneymoon.com.

According to Wikipedia, “in North America, a tailgate party is a social event held on and around the open tailgate of a vehicle.” Which begs the question, what is a tailgate party in South America? A form of sociopolitical rebellion?

In the North American South (confused yet?), the most popular tailgate parties (or “tailgating”) occurs at college football games. I daresay it’s the height of the annual social calendar. Heck, some people buy RVs and “go to games” simply to tailgate party, never actually bothering to step inside the stadium and watch the contest. Then there are those folks who, if they actually bother to watch the game, do so on their RV’s big screen HDTV. It’s a unique sensation to see a touchdown happen on TV, and then hear the nearby stadium roar in approval. (Actually, you hear the stadium roar first, since the game is usually televised with a slight delay.)

Wikipedia further teaches us that tailgating “often involves consuming alcoholic beverages and grilling food.” While I’m not sure about the grilling, it’s safe to say that the former activity is involved approximately 99.78% of the time. But at most tailgate parties, you don’t even need to drink. You can simply inhale the breath of a person standing nearby.

There was a time when tailgating was a simple proposition. People just tossed a few snacks into the trunks of their cars, and they were good to go. When they parked at the stadium, they lowered the tailgate (a phrase which calls to mind wood-paneled “family truckster” station wagons of yore), broke out the fried chicken, and said a fond “hello” to a man named Jack.

But like everything else in America, tailgating evolved. It became bigger and more extravagant. These days, I’m not even sure that “open tailgates” are a part of the equation. The social experience has taken on a life of its own. A few sick individuals have even started wearing neck ties.

For today’s well-equipped tailgate partier, RVs play a critical role. Camping in the shadow of a gigantic stadium heightens the sense of unfolding Romanesque drama. And let’s be honest: the RV heightens the sense of decadent indulgence.

With an RV, tailgating becomes a multi-day affair. Like an armada, RVs gather together to form makeshift campgrounds. There’s an extended build-up to the main event, involving what sociologists call “whoopin’, hollerin’, and adult beverage consumin’.”

I’m sure this sort of behavior has occurred whenever and wherever humans have conducted major sporting events. And yes, that includes gladiatorial combat in ancient Rome. I’ve no doubt the Romans tailgated, assuming they could obtain a valid chariot parking pass and season tickets to the gladiatorial games of their choice. (Which makes you wonder: if you bought season tickets to your favorite gladiator’s fights, and the guy got killed in combat — did Caesar offer refunds?)

I have a friend who’s a die-hard college football fan. Once, over a frosty adult beverage, we were discussing the extravagance of tailgate parties in the South. My friend confessed that his lifelong dream was to RV tailgate. “That’s when I’ll know I’ve really made it,” he said, wistfully, in between slurps of beer. “To have a nice RV at a big football game? Life doesn’t get any better.”

Many people apparently share my friend’s sentiment. Do you?

[Author’s note: I realize that by publicly displaying my team affiliation, I have alienated 99.5% of my audience. To the rest of you, I say “Roll Tide.”]

For more deep thoughts on ancient Roman tailgate parties, check out the author’s blog at TheLongLongHoneymoon.com.

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  1. Mike, great to hear that you were at the Bama-UT game in Tuscaloosa! We usually keep the camera pretty discrete (if possible). We only took a few shots at the tailgating site that day, but perhaps next year we’ll plan more football festivities. If ‘Bama had made it to the BCS Championship game, we would’ve blogged our way down to Miami. Alabama-Oklahoma would’ve been a classic. But alas! We may be in the Big Easy for the Sugar Bowl, if we can score reasonably priced tickets.

    Thanks Tim… We’re counting on the Gators to represent the SEC in Miami. I’m sure that Superman will be in fine form. See you in Atlanta next year! 😀

  2. Tim

    Great piece…..Tailgating in the South is the best. We bought our first motorhome when my son was born to get him out of the heat. This is the best purchase we have ever made. Seeing the same people each year is a treat while we all continue to out-do each others set up. Tailgating is also a time you can hoot and haller with 50 of your best friends without the campsite next to you asking you to be quite. Stop by for a beer in Miami…Go Gators!

  3. Couldn’t believe what I saw in this episote. Christy, Emily and the Ty and the back of my pickup. Didn’t remember the camera.

    Roll Tide!

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  5. Cindy and Randy, thanks for your kind comments. When I was posting this video, the thought crossed my mind that, “Hmmmm, not everyone out there is a ‘Bama fan, so they may hate me for this!” 😀

    I’m glad to hear you’ve had good experiences with my Alabama fellow fans. We take our football tailgating pretty seriously, and try to be both good hosts and polite visitors. If you ever want to read a hilarious book about Alabama RV tailgate party scene, check out Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer by Warren St. John. NY Times writer (and Alabama native) St. John spent a full season with the ‘Bama RV Nation, and his account of the adventure is fantastic.

    As for Oklahoma fans, I think we are kindred spirits. We share similar tradition, team colors, and state enthusiasm for our team. We really enjoyed the 2002 and 2003 Alabama-Oklahoma games and hope they schedule more!

    Claire, you are absolutely right that SEC football is tailgating nirvana. One of my dreams is to someday check out the SEC tailgating scene at every school. We’d like to document it all in a video series! Go Gators… at least until the SEC Championship game, when they (hopefully) play Alabama. 😀

  6. claire

    Great article and we in the south really know how to tailgate in style. we rent a spot on campus and get to meet friends we only see during football season. Fun to catch up on news watch football, discuss the game(we do go) We arrive Fri evenning, can usually take in volleyball that night and again sun before headin home. sure beats fighting the crowds. Just back from Arkansas, what wonderful RV facilities they have. Can even arrive on Mon and stay till sun, all for $40.This LSU , and alabama are favorite trips. Go Gators1

  7. Cindy and Randy

    Dear Sean,
    Contrary to your author’s note, you have our greatest respect. We are Oklahoma Sooner fans and find the Alabama fans to be some of the most charming and well-mannered to grace our Loyd Noble Center-tailgate and camping area. We especially like your school colors (same as ours) and delight in seeing so many crimson RVs in one spot. It’s inspiring to see the many Bama fans who travel to tailgate at the games.
    We enjoy setting up near the OU duck pond and walking around to visit other fans and the bars. We don’t get to tailgate as often since we became fulltimers. It seems like when we come to visit relatives in September, the games are all away. It was a treat to read your blog.