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Tailgate Like a Clevelander

A parking lot primer for Dawg day afternoons



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The Nomad and the Pro

"Look, if you want to talk about your 401(k), you'd be better off just hanging out at the local bar." So says a man known to most only as "The Taj," a Muni veteran from Lake County who operates the mysterious "Temple of the Tailgater" mobile home that comes to rest each football Sunday at "Signpost A" — the first section of the Muni Lot.

Talk of tailgating strategy is frowned upon at Taj's place of business, it seems. So he steps outside to resume the conversation.

"It's not for the faint of heart," he says with a chuckle.

But if you're not sure where to begin your adventure, you would be wise to test-drive life as a tailgate nomad. It allows you the opportunity to tour the various options at downtown parking lots, learn the ropes and traditions, and — most important — do almost nothing of your own to prepare for it.

Hell, you don't even need a tailgate. Best bet is to patronize the RTA rapid system's Waterfront Line, which heads from Tower City to Browns Stadium on game days and accumulates moss in the RTA garage every other day of the year.

From there, nearly every tailgating destination is within modest shambling distance. This is a great way for newcomers to gain helpful "consumer" knowledge; much like finding the right neighborhood bar, research and reconnaissance are important.

Sufficient gear for the well-prepared nomad consists of a backpack of provisions to share — by which we mean cans of beer, the international currency of tailgating. A stout backpack can comfortably accommodate a 12-pack; nomads who boast two hands can readily tote another 24.

Science tells us that there is no more effective way to pass time at adult gatherings than to play children's games while drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

Happily, the tailgating landscape is rife with pursuits ranging from cornhole to ladder golf to washer pitching. The best of these are the ones that someone else has lugged downtown instead of you.

When angling for sport, don't forget your most efficient option: games fashioned around the act of drinking itself. A couple of quarters and a Solo cup can provide hours of family fun, just as "Frankenbong" — look for it near Taj's Temple of the Tailgater at the front of the Muni Lot — has been known to seduce rival gang members into loving embraces.

More into team sports? Octobong at the Browns Bunch's party features a whopping eight mouthpieces for riveting barley pop races. Watching such sport can be as much fun as partaking. But if you're game, both of these longstanding Muni Lot camps encourage crowd participation.

Perhaps you've decided it's time you contributed something to tailgating's greater good? There are myriad considerations for planning your own soiree. The following two might be considered the most important:

• Bring at least 25 percent more of everything than you think you will require, because there will be no shortage of nomads hoping to earn your love and wieners.

• Secure your liquid provisions no later than Saturday. Rare is the store that sells booze in Sunday's pre-dawn hours.

The bigger the tailgate, the more space you will need — and the earlier you'll need to show up (see above notes on Saturday arrival). Start early, plan a couple of days beforehand, and make sure to have a list — and check it twice.

Wisely use your days as a nomad: Watch and learn from those who do it well, then perhaps tag-team with a more established tailgate party and see what they suggest. Often, the best advice comes from one-to-one, fan-friendly word-of-mouth.

And buy your mentors a beer or two. You might just score a new neighbor for eight Sundays.

How to Get Arrested

You might think that getting blind drunk in a public parking lot patrolled by a notable contingent of police people would be a suitable means of getting your sloppy ass arrested. And you would be correct.

But the crafty tailgater knows that friendly arms of the law would prefer to look the other way as you shotgun your 23rd Black Label whilst fertilizing the adjacent shrubbery. "Discretion" is the operative word here.

There is also another word.

"If you follow the simple 'Don't Be a Dick' philosophy when you tailgate, you really can have a blast amongst the zoo," says tailgating luminary "Dawg Pound Mike" Randall, who hails from Akron. Randall has been an anchor of the Muni Lot since the team returned in 1999, but his tailgating days date back to the mid-'90s.

He says that cops can be cool — even helpful — to your cause. Hell, most of them wish they were you on tailgate day. Plus, as Randall sagely points out, their job is hard enough without people like you making things worse.

Offer some food, a can of pop or bottle of water, or something warm come November. Talk to them, thank them, treat them well, for they just might save your bacon when someone else goes asshole out there. Because every weekend, without fail, somebody always goes asshole.

With that in mind, following is a handy reference for not being that asshole this weekend:

• Refrain from throwing objects at opposing fans or picking fights with them. Even some Bengals fans have redeeming qualities, although these could not be confirmed as of press time.

• Drunken drivers are trouble magnets. Once you have parked and started the party, do not attempt to move your car for approximately three years.

• Nature calls each one of us. Do not answer it by dropping trou in front of the Watson family. More elaborate party busses have whizzers, and even clandestine trips to the bushes are honored by most cops. Do your best to relieve yourself with dignity.

• Do not break shit, yours or others'.

• Do not get nekkid.

• When making a spectacle of yourself, strive to downplay curse words and garden-variety belligerence.

• Remember: Drinking alcoholic beverages in public is still "illegal." To avoid being that guy who didn't get the memo, be sure to keep reading for ...

Be a Booze Ninja

Tailgating may be synonymous with getting your drinky on, but it also takes place under a sign that reads "Open Containers Are Prohibited."

Brazen boozing doesn't fly here. Get caught and you'll be asked to pour out your bottle or can, or perhaps something even worse. Of course, there are numerous ways to avoid this fate. The best of them is to drink your beverage in an opaque — and preferably interesting — vessel.

That does not mean you need a "Beerbelly" or "Wine Rack" (look 'em up, they're real). That gym workout water bottle rolling around the floorboards, travel mug, or insulated coffee cup will work just fine in a pinch. A trusty red Solo cup is a simple and classic choice, and almost every party station can spare one for you.

(Special note for child consumers: The creators of this respected news source do not condone the underage consumption of alcohol products. But if they did, they would surely remind you to eliminate all suspicion by bringing along at least one empty can of soda pop. This can be used to pour assorted other beverages into throughout the day, or to fashion into a stealthy sheath that sits over a can of beer. Not that we ever did this.)

Tailgate Time Is Family Time

More than just a mass of slobbering drunkenness, Browns tailgating is an inevitable celebration of family unity among folks who would never claim relation to one another in any other context but this one.

And as with all families, Cleveland's tailgating clan is known by its unique tics and obsessions. People look out for each other, save each other's time-honored parking spaces, and make concerned phone calls to those who were expected to show but haven't.

There aren't turf wars so much as appropriate right of way given to elders, with various bits of wisdom imparted along the way. Often with plentiful cursing, if the turf infractions are blatant.

More valuable than any police presence is what local radio guy Mark "Munch" Bishop calls "The Munitown Neighborhood Watch." It can make your day and save your ass.

"Most tailgaters go out of their way to make sure a few bad apples don't ruin the bunch," says the host of ESPN Cleveland's Munch in the Morning, who also hosts a pregame show broadcast from the Muni Lot each game day.

In the wizened words of Munch: "No one wants to ruin Cleveland's dysfunctional family picnic."

Truer words were never spoken. Because until Mike Holmgren, Pat Shurmur, and Colt McCoy land us the sizzling sausage of Super Bowl victory, that bratwurst sandwich and suspicious-looking Hairy Buffalo punch bowl is really all we've got.

That, and the best party on the planet, should be enough to see us through the hard times.

Peter Chakerian is a tailgate nomad, longtime Scene contributor, and the author of The Browns Fan's Tailgating Guide (Gray & Company). Chakerian's first tailgate was in 1989, and he still isn't over Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

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