SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 14: San Francisco 49ers fans tailgate prior to the NFC Divisional playoff game against the New Orleans Saints at Candlestick Park on January 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Credit: by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Do me a favor. Picture your ideal tailgate for me.
Ok, now hold up a second, because I’m going to play “Mind Reader” here. Let me guess: you’ve got your parking lot, a few ice-cold beverages, some meat for grillin’, some of your closest buddies, hopefully some attractive people to talk to, and — if you’re so inclined — maybe some music. Perfect.
Now let me ask: in your fantasy, is there a football stadium in the background?
There is, isn’t there? And whoever isn’t grilling is tossing a football around, right?
Why is that? And I know the easy answer is because you’re reading a website with a gridiron trim in the background, so you’ve got a bit of a disadvantage there. But ostensibly, does tailgating need to be marginalized specifically to football season? Think about it: two of the top 10 kinds of drinking are day drinking (#1) and outdoor drinking (#3). And having a reason to celebrate makes those things even better. So why do we need take one of the great joys in the world and allow ourselves the pleasures of indulgence only from September to December? We’re Americans! We specialize in overindulging all year round. Why not make tailgating a year-round thing?
I think this can happen, because I submit that football is not an essential ingredient to tailgating. On the contrary, here’s what I think are the crucial, cornerstone ingredients for a successful tailgate:
1) An event
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
That’s it. That’s a broad set of criteria, right? And controversial! By this definition, we’re opening up the idea of “tailgating” to everything from funerals to children’s birthday parties. (I may have tailgated at both of these events before). But here’s the thing — isn’t that ok?
Hold on to that thought for a moment.
If you do any research on tailgating, one of the first names that comes up is Joe Cahn. He’s arguably the most important name in the “industry” (if you can call this an industry), since tailgating is all he does. (Literally, he quit his job and now just drives around the country; they call him “The Commissioner of Tailgating.”) So, this fella is big potatoes. And this particular authority has gone on record calling tailgating “the last American neighborhood” and “the new American community.”
And this, I think, is extremely important. So far as I can tell, most people are secretly pretty rotten and most of us choose isolation over saying “good morning” to strangers every day. There’s a reason why everyone’s constantly plugged into their phones. It gives us an excuse not to interact with each other, because we’re all too cynical or jaded or — ironically enough — lonely to say “hi” to the person standing next to us in the elevator. Why? I don’t know. Does it matter? It’s a lousy way to go about things.
But, tailgating! THAT can be a cure! There’s a chance to share some enthusiasm and zeal with a fellow human being. That’s where we can say “Hey, you like the Kansas City Royals? Me too! Wanna have a beer, and maybe talk about the season?” And these two people will unguardedly talk and share a few sincere moments without sarcasm or pessimism. AND IT FEELS PRETTY GOOD.
(Credit: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Suffice it to say, I agree with Mr. Cahn. I think tailgating is a wonderful way to share an experience with your fellow people, and to sincerely connect without hashtags, likes, or snark. And I think it can happen year round. And what’s more: I think it already is. But I can’t prove it.
So, here’s how this is going to work: this off-season, we’re going to go on a mission together, you and I. We’re going to set out to redefine and re-examine what constitutes a tailgate party. What are the common threads and themes? What makes them unique? Can we identify some kind of tailgating DNA that can unite football tailgates with non-football tailgates? And most importantly, how far can we stretch the definition of tailgating? Can someone tailgate before concerts, NASCAR races, basketball games and baseball games? Does a tailgate need a parking lot, or can it just be in a bar? Or is that pregaming? I get paid $15 every time I use a question mark. Is that obvious? Is this too many? How about now?
So strap in, ladies and gentlemen. We’re going to set out to redefine an entire word, and hopefully make some friends in the future. In the meantime, I encourage you to find an event worth celebrating, call your friends, and start grilling in the early hours of the morning. It’s a perfect recipe for making any day better.