Saturday, September 4, 2010

Journey To The Center Of The Universe

In just a few hours, I'll start my trek to Charlottesville for the home opener with Richmond, the beginning of the Mike London era.  I've been attending UVA Football games for 27 years now, from that odd first experience ("why is everyone wearing blue blazers?") to the present, lengthy, overnight trips most games now create.

It gets harder to to this as I get older.  Living as I do on the Eastern Shore now, there just is no real convenient way to get to Charlottesville.  I'm looking at a 4 hour drive each way pretty much any way I do it.  Stopping in Richmond to pick up Rob helps break the trip up, as does the opportunity to rack at his house after the game.  Putting aside the mileage, there's the whole issue of jaunting off to Cville for a overnighter seven times each Autumn--something that doesn't necessarily jibe with responsible faux husband and fathering.  I miss out on quite a lot sometimes--soccer games, horse shows, trick or treating.....and there's an internal struggle I'm wrestling with as a result.  I'll probably only make four games this year, which strikes me as plenty.

We've got a whole routine at these games, and lately it goes like this.  I leave the farm 7.5 hours before game-time and drive to Richmond to pick up Rob, my fellow season ticket holder (Tom is the other.  I've mentioned these guys before--my two favorite Democrats).  It takes about 3 hours to reach Rob's house.  Prior to the home opener, we go to the VA ABC store (maybe not next year!) and purchase some ridiculously expensive bottle of bourbon, which we present as tribute to our tailgate hosts upon arrival, guaranteeing us the bounty of their table for the remainder of the season.  From there, we continue west to Charlottesville, paying rapt attention to the other Hoos along the way.

We arrive three hours before gametime, ostensibly to find prime parking (which is difficult sometimes), but also to enable our further wanderings.  We park almost always near the basketball stadium and then walk to "The Corner", a little shopping district across the street from the Rotunda at the U.  There, we will do two things:  we will buy UVA stuff that we don't need (I currently own at least a dozen ball caps), and we will enjoy our pre-game meal.  The meal occurs at a place called "The Virginian", a narrow, deep establishment whose decor has not changed in 75 years, save for the model TV's over the bar.  Al Fresco dining at the Virginian (basically on the sidewalk out front) provides the best "scenery", and I don't need to add how wonderful the scenery is at the early games, where sundresses predominate.

After the meal, we make our way to the Lawn, UVA's central, historical feature.  Spreading out behind the Rotunda, we walk along watching the Lawnies entertain their friends at cocktail parties of their own.  It is fun to read the placards posted on the Lawnies rooms, largely to see what "causes" are in with the movers and shakers of the student body.  The Lawn walk is always wistful; the first of each year especially so.  I'll never forget the time I made the walk for the first time as a high school senior.   I was visiting with my father, and the NROTC unit provided a tourguide for us.  As we walked to the bottom of the Lawn, the guide pointed out the two statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson sitting on either side.  He then told us that UVA tradition has it that if a virgin walks between them on Easter Sunday, they will get up and walk across the Lawn to shake hands.  I'll never forget the laugh my Dad let out, knowing far better than I why that statement might be important to a a young man with four years there ahead of him.

From the Lawn, we head to our tailgate.  Three sets of friends have parking spaces adjoining each other, this year located outside the stadium directly behind our seats (very convenient).  For the price of one bottle of premium bourbon (which has never actually been requested, but which has always been appreciated), we have for nearing two decades enjoyed bounteous repasts (keeping in mind, we just finished out pre-game meal...).  This is where we are usually joined by our third seatmate, Tom, who is preternaturally late to every game because of some other commitment, family or professional.  Tom is a lawyer in Richmond, and a good one I am told.  He generally comes in for some good natured (and envious) ribbing from Rob and me for his continuing failure to gray at an appropriate pace, but it appears to spring from nothing more nefarious than good genes.

At our old tailgate location, astride a main pedestrian thoroughfare, the "scenery" was once again, splendid.  I'm not sanguine about the new spot, isolated amidst the alumni elite as it is.  We're far more likely to be looking at old Fat guys in orange pants than we are lasses in sundresses.....but I digress.  No later than thirty minutes to game time, we head to our seats, so that we might be present for the arrival of "CAVMAN", a computer-generated vignette that plays out on the Jumbo-tron, capped off with a live, mounted version who leads the team out on the field.  This is a rousing time at Scott Stadium, but has on at least one occasion, resulted in an unfortunate accident (no one was hurt). 

Oh-and then there's a game.  Some years, we have a great team, and we're likely to win.  These are rare years.  Most years, we have an average team, and we're just as likely to lose as win.  Some years, we have a crappy team, and we're likely to lose.  We're in a rebuilding year this year--so I think we'll fall into the latter category. Be that as it may.

Pre-9/11, great portions of the stadium would empty out to the parking lot to continue the tailgating.  This is no longer permitted.  Our old coach, George Welsh, hated this tradition, as the team would take the field in the second half to a far diminished crowd.  After the game, we return to the tailgate for a bit, some of us worsened in temperament by the team's performance (and the eight bottles of airplane liquor that were smuggled in).  Win or lose, there's the long walk to the car, the traffic filled effort to get out of C'ville, and the 75 mile drive back to Richmond.

Why do I do it?  I love the place.  It is special to me in ways I am unable effectively to communicate.  The Kitten has a saying I love that describes the unique place other people sometimes hold in our lives--even when we aren't particularly physically close to them anymore--she says, "she's got some of my stuff", with "stuff" being memories, secrets, shared experiences, emotions.  UVA has some of my stuff.  Rob and Tom--they have a lot of my stuff too.  My two best friends.  We don't see much of each other the rest of the year, though we do talk now and then.  The games serve as a way to re-connect, to catch up, to see how Tom's kids are growing, to remember for just a few hours, the time we spent together without responsibility or care.


UPDATE:  Brother Sean would chide me if I didn't provide my prediction.  We'll win today, 21-17.  It will be the first of three wins this season.


CR UVa said...

Awesome post, I think you gave your personal view of your love for UVa very well. Though I my time as a Wahoo still is less than a decade, I fell in love with UVa the first time I visited before my senior year of high school. Though Grounds has beem undergoing a lot of changes recently, it is always like a return home whenever I get back.

One of these days, I'll get season tickets of my own; traditions like yours are part of what makes being a Wahoo so great.

Go Hoos! Beat Richmond!

Sam Shaprio said...

Look at the bright side, those 3 wins will all be at home. I have them down for an extra win this year.

Loved the post, it's what college football is all about.

"The Hammer" said...

Got a buddy who's a ex-Wolfpack footballer and he called yesterday with tickets. I had to decline as I had promised Sgt. Major I would do a few things around the homestead since the weather would be nice. Told him to call back again but as Freud said, rejection is the most traumatic of all human experiences, so I'm not optimistic. Oh well.
I am really looking forward to LSU whipping the Holy Hell out of Carolina tonight. Do you know those leftists punks had the audacity to ask the NCAA for "rolling" suspensions. Three players for a game or two, another three after that etc. etc. Are they friggin' kidding!!? The nerve of those pricks.

PK said...

Wonderful post, except for the part about lasses in sundresses. What shall be done with your tickets to the three games you won't be attending? :-)


The Conservative Wahoo said...

PK--I share my tickets with those who return my phone calls....

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