Alone Star State: Chapter 4
Haunted by an image of my mother scolding me for coming back to Jersey with a Texan woman a few years her senior, I had no choice but to leave the bar empty-handed. I tiptoed through Oliver and Jade’s kitchen at 4am, poking through the fridge of virtual strangers, searching frantically for the kind of cheese that, if ravaged, would be least missed. An early start tomorrow, I thought, as I gasped for air between bites. According to just about everyone, I would be remiss not to attend a college football game at the University of Texas during my stay. To my misfortune, that week’s game against Illinois State began at an unsightly 11:00am. The last time I woke up before lunch on a Saturday was centered on a Brand Spanking New! episode of Doug. I arose at 7:30am thee next morning, sans grace, and stumbled outside the house to find my adopted street lined with tailgaters, their clothes creating a collage of burnt orange to match the sky above. A cup of coffee and a headache in tow, I set out to capture the rural college experience Yeshiva University could never afford me. Although, to be fair, I couldn’t afford Yeshiva University, either. In any event, Jade, ever gracious, lent me a UT t-shirt and matching hat and I was off blending in with the sea of fans, a Longhorn for life, just like everybody else.
For a city with so many transplants, you would not be able to tell from their rabid fan base. There must be something in the BBQ because once you step foot in downtown Austin, you automatically bleed orange. The people of Austin may be the most giving of any tailgating community in the country; I could hardly walk down a single street block without being offered a can of Coors Light and something fresh off the grill. Try asking complete strangers for a six-pack outside of MetLife Stadium before a Giants game and you’d sooner get met with a fist to the face. This is how you throw a pregame, I realized, as I encountered fans prepubescent and elder, native and tourist, student and alum, all bound together for a common goal—hooking ‘em horns.
I came across a group of twelve guys from Australia celebrating one of their friend’s bachelor parties halfway around the world. After chatting for a few minutes and shot-gunning beers at 8am to earn their respect, they took me in as one of their own. It turned out that all twelve of them had collectively quit their jobs two years prior and moved to the Cayman Islands to start life anew. Most of them worked at the same accounting firm on the island, maintaining a 9-5 lifestyle, only, living permanently at a vacation destination. Just when I had thought that was the best idea I’ve ever heard in my life, I saw one of them wearing a yarmulke. Intrigued, I inquired within. The crew, some Jewish some not, made a bet that the last person to book their ticket to America would be forced to wear a yarmulke throughout the entire cross-country trip. The fact that the culprit was Catholic and it was Sabbath morning only made it more hilarious. I was almost offended until I realized that I didn’t have any other friends. And so, with one arm extended, forming the Texas hand signal, and the other wrapped around the shoulders of my honorary Jewish brother, we were both on our way to the first college football game of our lives.
Once we entered the stadium I realized there was assigned seating and, in what had fast become the overarching theme of my trip, I was alone again and left to my own devices – beer, mostly. It just so happened that legendary Hall of Fame player and coach, Darryl K Royal, who led the Longhorns to three national championships during a career spanning as many decades culminated by a renaming of the stadium in his honor, had passed away two days prior to the game. The band was more organized than a synchronized swim team and carried themselves with more swagger than Justin Bieber could even wet dream about. For the first play of the game, the Longhorns came out with the Wishbone Offense, popularized by Royal himself, and executed a huge play downfield, not looking back for the rest of the game. I found out later that ESPN switched to the live broadcast in order to celebrate his life and pay their respects. I learned all the chants and cheers and screamed at the top of my lungs, nearly losing my voice as the Longhorns cruised to a comfortable victory.
After the game, the parties continued throughout the afternoon in typical Texas fashion. It took an older gentleman, nearly three times my senior, to set the record straight on crafting the perfect margarita. For all I knew, this septuagenarian may have even invented the thing. Lay a wet sponge on the table and spread salt evenly across its surface. Take a glass, top down, and tap the sponge lightly, twisting back and forth to gain an even coat of salt across the rim. Then, fill the glass quarter-way with ice and three parts Triple Sec, Margarita Mix and Republic Tequila, all of equal amount. As the day began to take on a hazy glow, I walked around campus and admired all the beautiful sun-soaked, blondes bouncing around the East Mall, not a care in the world. A place for College Janes the country over to sow their wild oats, I thought, and who was I to get in the way? Why, for me to come between a girl and her sexual rite of passage would be downright un-American. Though, how would I, a relatively older outsider from the other side of the country, capture their hearts? Therein lay the rub. And I’m not talking about BBQ.