Save Our Tailgate
by Jim Alderson, 9/3/03

It was a superb tailgate. Our festivities began with a Saturday afternoon [and night, as it turned out] Season’s Eve keg party on my brother Tom’s Roanoke deck and picked back up Sunday morning at our customary tailgating camp in the Commuter Lot. It was a wonder of Hokie fellowship [pictures are available here].

I mingled with fellow tailgaters enjoying the camaraderie and an occasional adult beverage. When the food hit the table I marveled that none of it nor the effort that went into its preparation was my own and announced, using words from the late and great author Joseph Heller, “Gimme eat.” And there was plenty of eat to gimme as our table was laden with delicacies such as shrimp, a selection of cheeses, barbecue, smoked ribs, fried turkey, grilled asparagus, more food than I could possibly stuff into my mouth; I gave it my best shot. We had a great crowd of over two dozen people, including our usual heavy media coverage, print and broadcast. It was a great tailgate, one of our best, and, according to Tech, it will be our last.

The Tailgate was set in motion Friday afternoon when our host, Larry Ramsey, pulled into the Commuter Lot and began pitching our base camp around his Airstream that we call the Clubhouse, AKA the Silver Twinkie. The Commuter Lot is chosen because it is a convenient place for our tailgating crowd to gather, a group that includes Hokies of disparate Hokie Club levels. We come from all over: NOVA, Richmond, Roanoke, Danville and North Carolina’s RTP. Most of us have met either through tailgating or my association with TSL and its famed predecessor. We tailgate during the six, seven or eight home games per year, the occasional away one, and have gradually stretched things out to get together for the Spring Game, bowl games when they are held on the eastern side of the North American land mass, Tom’s Season’s Eve bash and our latest, a gathering at a Danville tavern to celebrate our new conference, a very good evening that I suspect will become an annual July occurrence.

Celebrating Tech football and each other’s company has become a pretty big deal for us. We tailgate among ourselves and anybody else that happens by, which is often. All are welcomed and offered food and drink. Proper Hokie Respect is shown to opposing fans who show up, which is often. We have had Canes at our tailgate who were so enamored with our gathering that they enthusiastically participated in our last pre-game activity before heading to the stadium, a sacred religious ritual we call Communion that involves shot glasses and a half-gallon of Wild Turkey.

There were no problems last Friday, and things went well for Larry until early Sunday morning when the Parking Nazi told him, “No space for you!” and informed him that RVs were no longer allowed in the Commuter Lot and he would have to relocate to somewhere around the Duck Pond. Larry thought it over, pointed out that there had been no sign when he arrived or any other pre-season communication to him from Tech indicating the Commuter Lot was now off- limits to RVs, and replied with what I considered the very sensible answer of “I ain’t moving.” The Parking Nazi perhaps took note that Larry is an ex-combat officer who maintains the same strong physical condition that he had when chasing the Republican Guard out of Kuwait over a decade ago, and maybe the newest addition to Larry’s kennel of tailgating dogs, a young and frisky Rottweiller named Duke, and let him stay. I suspect, however, that was a temporary arrangement, and the Parking Nazi already has the signs up prohibiting his entry into our gathering spot this Friday. A contingency plan may have to be developed.

There are major problems that will be caused by Larry’s banishment to the new RV lot, the first, and most important to me, is that the rest of us will not be allowed to drive in behind him. It could be pointed out that we could continue to park in the Commuter Lot and simply walk to his location, lugging my greatest and only contribution, a large cache of adult beverages. It could also be said that the rest of us are not in the same tip-top physical condition as Larry, and the exercise would do us good. But that ignores the fact that we found that Larry’s grill, smoker and deep fryer were insufficient for our nutritional requirements and developed depth at grill in the form of Clota Gerhart, a gentleman whose culinary expertise with a tailgating grill landed his picture on the front page of Monday’s Roanoke Times. He merged his tailgate with ours a few seasons ago. He operates from his pickup truck, and a refusal to allow him to park next to Larry would involve the splitting up of our gang and the end of a very fine tradition. This cannot be allowed to happen and we have launched a Save Our Tailgate campaign.

Now, we could fight with conventional weapons, but that could take years, especially when one considers that our group contains not only the Marine Larry, but a Colonel in the United States Army who is a graduate of the War College and possesses enough tactical expertise to mount a spirited defense of our tailgating high ground, and although I am not among them, we do have numerous alumni of Tech’s Corps of Cadets in our tailgate platoon. Quite frankly, though, I would much rather spend my pre-game hours enjoying the occasional adult beverage and food prepared by others than skirmishing with campus security. It also should be noted that despite the military experience found on our side, Tech could probably round up sufficient firepower to dislodge us, and I have managed to avoid the Blacksburg Jail since the Spring of 1971 when my protesting both the war in Viet Nam and my #13 lottery number [mostly the latter] found me in Williams Hall at exactly the wrong time. I have no desire to return.

The Save Our Tailgate campaign will be waged at the strategic level, and Larry has already organized an e-mail effort to most everybody in the Tech administration whose e-mail address he could find and thought would have relevance and influence over our dilemma. The battle has been joined by the rest of us, and this column is my contribution.

My experiences over the years in dealing with the Tech bureaucracy have not been altogether positive, and this decision looks a lot like one made by bureaucratic fiat by someone with little field awareness or knowledge of conditions on the ground. Larry’s Clubhouse is a far cry from some of the thirty-five and forty-foot recreational behemoths that occupy the RV lots and in fact fits neatly into a single parking space. He takes up a total of three spaces, one for the Clubhouse, one for his pickup truck that hauls it and the third for our group tailgating spillover. All three are paid for, as well as Clota’s and all of the rest of the ones the rest of us use when we arrive from our far-flung points of origin.

Attendance at the UCF game was announced by Tech as the largest in Lane Stadium history, and the Commuter Lot did not appear to be full, at least to me. I find it very difficult to believe that anyone was denied a parking opportunity. Even the prohibition of all RVs does not seem to augur well for the future. While this perhaps explains why no future games are scheduled with LSU, it does not bode well for relations with our new conference brothers. The smallish lot at the Duck Pond will not begin to hold the numbers of RVs Clemson or Florida State fans will arrive in, and had their presidents been informed that many of their fans will be turned away, it is quite possible we would still be looking for that seventh vote for admission into the ACC.

Flexibility is needed here, not a blanket pronouncement. Yes, this is about us, but not completely. I highly encourage the administration at Virginia Tech to re-think their new Commuter Lot policy, and Save Our Tailgate.

Jim Alderson, who first made his mark with his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports.  For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.


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