Tailgate Pilgrims

Although this story series contains actual things from the world in which we live, including towns, places, and events, it should be read as a work of fiction. All characters are fictional, not based on any real person, and any resemblance to an actual person is entirely coincidental. The events depicted are entirely the product of my imagination.

“If I have to tell you one more time to get in the truck, you’re gonna be grounded,” McKinley Buxton III — better known to his good friends as “Mac” — promised his oldest son McKinley Buxton IV, who for some reason went by the nickname Trev.

Trev — who had just turned 17 — groaned. “I don’t understand why we have to go to every single game! They suck and they’ve sucked for years now! And I hate the hotel we stay at. Why can’t I just stay home this weekend?”

“Just get your ass in the truck,” Mac directed, openly annoyed now. No way he was taking that chance. He instantaneously envisioned a horde of teenagers in his house, crowding the deck out back, drinking and smoking weed and doing God only knows what else while the rest of the family and most of the parents were gone three hours away to Oak Ridge for the big opening game against Northeastern South Dakota.

“No way!” Mac yelled as young Trev wheeled and stomped off toward the three-vehicle garage and his fate for the weekend. Mac noted before he turned around that Trev was already pounding out a text or Snapchat message on his iPhone, no doubt delivering the bad news to his eagerly waiting little co-conspirators who were soon to be severely disappointed at not being able to use the Buxton’s home as their party pad for the weekend.

Mac shook his head. He couldn’t understand why Trev and the other kids gave him so much shit every time they went up to Oak Ridge for the weekend to see the Crusaders play. Mac and his wife, Elaine Buxton, nee Rutledge, of The Family Rutledge — soybean magnates from the western part of the state — loved going to the football games. It was one of the highlights of their fall social life after all, and Mac’s job and Elaine’s society and country club events schedule permitted them little other opportunity to get out of town otherwise.

Weekends in relatively quaint Oak Ridge — where their alma mater was located — provided them the chance not just to watch the Crusaders play from their luxury box up on the west side of the stadium (“their” meaning Mac and his father-in-law, Nelson Rutledge Jr. of the Family Rutledge, split the ridiculous cost of leasing the box each season), where Mac could hold court while entertaining legions of friends, acquaintances and possible business deals, but to also hit the long-reliable eateries and bars they had frequented as students, and meet up with all their friends for dinner, breakfast, drinks, and of course, the tailgating.

It was a regular pilgrimage of sorts, and that wasn’t overstating the entire thing.

Elaine liked it for the same reasons Mac did, as well as the added opportunity she got to soak up the latest gossip from the other women on which relationships were on the rocks and why, to whisper about which kids were acting like little criminals (none of their own of course; always somebody else’s), name-drop when strategically required, and to engage in some drama-creation of her own.

The men talked about football and business, name-dropped, humble-bragged, tailgated, ate, and drank. The women talked about the men, the kids, and the other women (sometimes as soon as one of them had turned her back and walked away from the group), and gossiped, name-dropped, humble-bragged, created drama, and tailgated and drank.

On the rare occasion they were introduced to a person from outside of all of this, they engaged in a rather strange and convoluted discussion with said person that to an objective observer would appear completely ham-handed and stunted, trying like hell to find some sort of common ground, which, of course, didn’t exist.

The kids wished they weren’t there. They — like young Trev — would have rather been at home for the weekend. The truth was, Oak Ridge was vastly overrated, and being under their parents’ gaze all weekend totally sucked. They hated it.

Now none of the parents’ reasons for being there were the articulated ones for making the pilgrimage, but outside the football game, the sit-down meals and the tailgating, these things filled in every void, every minute of “downtime.”

The brood now ensconced in the Suburban, Mac engaged the house’s alarm system, walked out into the cavernous garage, and got behind the wheel. Elaine sat to his right, texting furiously while Trev — sulking as hard and as obviously as he could — and Bart and Amy sat silent in the back staring at their IPhone screens too. Bart was a year younger than Trev, and Amy was the baby of the family at 13.

The Buxtons were directly in the midst of raising three teenagers, and this fact alone provided an overabundance of drama on an almost-daily basis. Behind the kids in back, the truck was jammed to the roof with tailgating equipment. Mac didn’t mess around on this score. He was well-known down in the “Range” — the unofficial name for the school’s massive tailgating area — as having one of the best “setups” around.

Every season, Mac paid what any reasonable person would consider an obscene sum of money — in addition to what he already paid for season tickets, the luxury box and catering and setup for the same — for a “space” of ground for tailgating on the Range. And his payment was well-rewarded. As they were slowly pulling out of the driveway on Pebble Beach Lane in their sylvan-hilled neighborhood, Mac’s space of tailgating ground was still bare, the grass that had grown up since last winter and the little scattered civilizations of ants and other insect ground critters that had enjoyed a relatively peaceful, if not cool, summer not having the faintest clue about the onslaught that was about to hit them and destroy their placid and boring little existence.

But by 9 a.m. Saturday morning, legions of vehicles and workers would invade the Range and set things up to the big spenders’ liking, installing hundreds of tents and thousands of chairs, and running electrical extension cords all over the place with multiple outlets — somehow it all complied with whatever local ordinances existed — so that Mac and his fellow tailgaters would need a minimum of time to fully set up their individual little tailgate fiefdoms.

This was only the beginning, because Mac had a storage unit a mile off the campus in Oak Ridge where he kept three big screen TVs, two massive grills, and several huge ice chests for use on the Range. He paid a guy named Seth Jenkins to go retrieve that gear and set it up in Mac’s space so that all Mac had to do on Saturday morning was pull the Suburban in to the Range at 9:00 and hook everything up to his desires.

Seth was also charged with purchasing and filling all the ice chests with a diverse collections of cold beverages, bottled and canned beer, ranging from Miller Lite to much stronger craft beer from nationally established breweries like Dogfish Head (someone had told him about this obscure-sounding craft brewery in Delaware that sold its beer worldwide, although Mac had never heard of it, let alone tasted it); something for every palate, from the unrefined to the thoroughly-experienced, so everyone that sauntered by would find something to their liking, although Mac noticed the stronger stuff usually went untouched, and he ended up giving it to Seth after the games were over. Everyone loved the Miller Lite though; they blew through it like locusts.

Now safely out of the neighborhood and smoothly sliding the behemoth SUV into the east-bound traffic on the interstate toward Oak Ridge on this early September Friday afternoon, Mac smiled contentedly as he pondered the first opportunity of the new season to show off his setup. He had to admit to himself, it was pretty sweet. After all, he had no idea what life would be like if he couldn’t make this pilgrimage five or six times every fall. He actually shuddered at the thought.

To be continued.

Glen Hines is the author of three books that make up the Anthology Trilogy — Document, Cloudbreak, and Crossroads — available at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. His writing has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Task & Purpose, and the Human Development Project.

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Glen Hines

Fortunate son. Lucky husband. Doting father. Marine Corps Veteran. On a writer’s journey. Author of the Anthology Trilogy & Bring in the Gladiators @amazon.