Today I took a trip to a world unlike any other world I've ever been in. The world was gameday at LSU. I wore purple, but I have to admit, people, I was not prepared. I thought I knew people who loved football. I thought I'd seen people worship a mascot with a fervor that can only be described as religious. I thought I'd eaten at the finest tailgates and clapped along with the finest bands. But I thought wrong. I thought very wrong.
When we got to Baton Rouge we tackled parking first--we met friends at their house, piled a whopping 11 people into one car, and then drove to another apartment closer to campus to actually park. It seems complicated but it was the only way. Cars were parked in every empty space in the city. I mean we're talking all down every side road, in the median of two way streets. The situation was desperate. 93,000 extra people in a place means getting creative. Our destination, once we started walking in a parade of LSU fans wearing varying degrees of purple and gold towards the campus, was a legendary tailgate we'd been hearing about from my roommate for the last two years. The best jambalaya in the world. THEY'RE CAJUN. Well if that doesn't say it all! We followed blindly as we got into the edge of the tailgating, which happens in parking lots, in the fields outside the campus itself, on every square inch of quad available on campus, on the streets lining the way to the field. In short, it felt like every inch of Baton Rouge was covered in purple and gold pop up tents--blaring music, playing cornhole, grilling meat, drinking, shouting GEAUX TIGERS and everywhere, BEAT BAMA. Almost every tent had a big screen TV set up inside, being run on a generator with a satellite dish in back and was tuned either to the games before LSU played or to ESPN gameday. This was all happening at 11:30 in the morning. The game didn't start until 7:30. And it wasn't like they were just now setting up. This party had been roiling and boiling for quite some time. How does any outside team come think we can beat them? You aren't beating just a team, you're trying to beat a culture. It's a way of life. You're trying to beat something that thousands and thousands of people pin their hopes and dreams on. It's like trying to take down a minor deity.
When we got to the tent, or cluster of tents really, because our destination was 8 tents set up together--Miss Nancy was on us. Hey darlins! So glad ya'll could make it, let me getcha a cold beverage, we've got all kinds of stuff beer in the cooler but ya'll want something stronger? Let me get you something, don't forget y'alls ice, Miss Margaret's gonna teach ya how to make a bloody mary. Ya'll need a beverage! Ya'll hungry? Y'all got the sweetest roommate in the world, ya know that? Hey baby don't forget a straw, hey Geaux Tigers! So glad ya'll are in purple! Hey now where's my girl? Maggie! Ya'll meet Mr. Frank? That's my big brother, he's making jambalaya, here's my husband, ain't he the best, he's on the grill. This is Mr. Mac. Ok girls I'm onna be right back, ya'll help yourselves, ok? Y'all see those girls in tutus? Not doing anything for their figures. I mean DAMN.
Overwhelming, a little. But sometimes nice Southern ladies put a drink in your hand and boudin on your plate and you gotta roll with it. Mr. Mac is on the grill, he's got a yellow and purple checked PFG on with LSU embroidered on the pocket, looking dapper even in the heat. It's the middle of November and 80 degrees out, people crowd into the shade of the tent but he's got the grill. He's also got a cigar the size of my forearm clamped between his teeth, so the smell of the sausage and the cigar smoke gets mixed up together and I might have died and gone to heaven. Now I know a little about sausage, but if my Daddy's the Sausage King of Milwaukie, Mr. Mac might be Sausage King of the World. He's got full grill of what looks like a half side of a beef stuck into casing--four of the links are huge, some might be pork. I can't tell but I keep getting it on my plate and somebody tells me he makes it himself but what he really loves to do is fish and I fervently pray for an invite to their house so I can see if he does that just as well too. Mr. Frank is on the jambalaya. It is legendary jambalaya, good Cajun, Southern Louisiana homemade jambalaya. He's got a pot set up that I could fit into set up on a portable burner, stirring the brown rice and sausage with a spoon that's roughly the size and shape of an oar. He is tall and red, he's got a fat stogie too, and his ensemble is completed with a pair of aviators and an LSU apron. I think I love these people. When the jambalaya lives up to expectations, and when a pot of white beans and ham is pulled out we throw that into our bowls too, and I could probably never eat again and still be happy.
We spend most of the rest of the afternoon this way, eating and drinking (y'all need another beverage? let me getcha'll some more ice), and talking to people and meeting people, and talking about what LSU's odds were. We walked through the parade grounds at one point, which is the central place on campus where people congregate, and we meet more people and stop at a few other tents, and then finally the band leads the way into Death Valley and people start streaming into the stadium. We fight the tide back to Miss Nancy's, and settle in around the TV to watch the game while the stadium looms in the background. Some people have packed up and left already, so there are little islands of glowing light that illuminate the anxious faces staring into the screen. And when something good happens, little roars of jubilation erupt from each tent and echo across what feels like must be all of Baton Rouge.
We leave before the Tiger lose, which is probably good. A lot of morose fans does not make for an easy way home. But walking back to the car through tailgate city, with the big wide Louisiana sky spread out above us and with stadium lights reflecting behind us, I think maybe this isn't a bad world to be in.
Also, I guess technically it's Sunday, but I haven't one to sleep yet so I don't think it counts as missing a day. For now I consider myself still on track.