Hoya Suxa is aiming to attend 7 of Syracuse's 12 regular season football games this year. He'll be filing short travelogues from his journeys.
ALWAYS SAY ‘YES’ UNTIL YOU’RE FRESH OUT OF AFFIRMATIONS
“What am I, some kind of language scientist or wordologist or what-not?”
The Braindead Megaphone, George Saunders
It’s easy to say “No.” Saying “No” means doing nothing and risking zilch. “No” is often the structural foundation — “No” serves as a demarcating line and its presence creates an inelastic boundary. Pivoting to “No” rather than “Yes” breeds a certain balance on one’s personal experience scale.
But when you say “Yes” something beautiful happens. “Yes” is a rainbow highway with infinite destinations, including “Holy sh*t!” “Yes” — or at least “Yes, if . . .” — is a widening aperture that presses you into the unknown toward a lightning-struck discovery. “Yes” makes the universe richer, and the only way to make it through New Orleans and Baton Rouge on a game day is to say “Yes” over and over and over until you’ve finally maxed out your ability to push the edge of the envelope.
New Orleans, It All Tastes Good and You Should Shove It All in Your Face
The only way to describe the weather in Louisiana was that it felt like you were tucked into your own armpit with brief respites of air conditioned relief. The humidity was crushing and the heat was unrelenting for late-September — L.L. Bean would receive no quarter on the Mississippi River Delta — and it’s almost incomprehensible how everyone in New Orleans isn’t walking around with an IV plugged into their neck. So, obviously, we decided that the intelligent course of action with such oppressive conditions was to eat our way through town for the next six or seven hours until we were rolled home, fat and sweaty and happy.
The first item on the eating agenda was to turn the tables on nature and eat some alligator. Fried gator is a fine treat, and the ball of former-man-eater-turned-into-thing-eaten-by-man met its preordained expectation. We also learned more than is humanly necessary about what kind of alligator you should eat. The basic rule is: If it’s out in the wild, preparing to be a front page headline after eating 40-weight motor oil cans out of some schlub’s garage, you shouldn’t eat it because the meat gets stringy and awful; if it’s raised on an alligator farm, you’re basically eating dinosaur veal and it’s perfect. We did not, however, find out if alligators kept in some lunatic’s bathtub qualifies as “wild” or “farm-raised.” You’ll have to take your chances on eating Phil, Your Insane Neighbor’s Pet Alligator.
Next, it was off to Bourbon House for charbroiled oysters — half with crab meat, half without — and a bourbon sampling:
I always thought that my last meal would be endless pork ribs with a spicy dry rub and a gallon of Jefferson’s small batch bourbon. Piles of charbroiled oysters and flights of delicious bourbon, however, may have elevated itself to being the last thing I mash into my stomach before leaving this Earth and returning to haunt my enemies’ dreams.
The only other trip to New Orleans that I’ve made happened back in 2003, a sojourn to the city to watch Syracuse capture its first and only basketball national championship. That entire extended weekend is only a blur in my memory, with very specific moments — high-fiving Jim Boeheim on Bourbon Street; breaking up a fight with Sean McDonough; talking to some weird Mississippi State fan about the history of the cowbell in Starkville — clanking around in my melon. There is one event, however, that I will never forget, and it happened at Pat O’Brien’s, an establishment that slings hurricanes in a manner that could turn even the most elitist cocktail snob into a joyful imbiber: Following the Orange’s defeat of Kansas, my friends and I headed to Pat O’Brien’s for celebratory pops; short on cash and not wanting to leave the bar, I traded the “Real Men Wear Orange” shirt I was wearing — a shirt that probably hadn’t been washed for the better part of three months — to a bartender for a hurricane. The Soccer Jersey swap remains one of my favorite efforts in “There’s No Way This Will Possibly Work, Yet . . .” and the result is that Pat O’Brien’s will always be linked to Syracuse’s title, if only in a hyper-personal way.
Dinner options were a black hole for us — with our body clocks twisted into an Escher rendering, the early New Orleans evening felt like the far reaches of the night given our early flights and the time zone switch. To the rescue came Casual Hoya, a resident of New Orleans and, despite his tainted heart as a Hoya, generally good cat. His recommendation for the final face-stuffing of the day was an absolute banger of a restaurant — Cochon.
We got a little bit of everything: A meat pie to start — similar to tourtière for those with French-Canadian heritage (the best kind of heritage there is) — and then came the featured players: Smoked beef brisket with horseradish potato salad; an oyster and bacon sandwich that looked like it was built in a factory that had as its sole purpose to try and kill someone with lethal levels of deliciousness; and pork cheek with a massive side of macaroni and cheese.
This all, although it’s difficult to confirm through traditional science, was delivered directly from Heaven. There is nothing that we ate, looked at, smelled, or lusted over that bent toward a notable blemish. There are things that enter your field of vision that you never want to disappear; my eyes want to inhale Cochon permanently.
Baton Rouge, You Have No Idea What It Is and You Should Shove It All in Your Face
A tour of Louisiana State’s tailgate cuisine, a brief melody in two scenes:
- “Hey, you want some gumbo?” This is Dave, patriarch of our Carrier Dome tailgates. He appeared behind me as I watched Arkansas and Texas A&M go nuts on a television set in a two-tent set up, the owners of which invited us over after I asked them if Baton Rouge always feels like a steampot or if this was a special gift to the Northeast’s palest football fans. Dave went to take a squirt (the portable toilets at LSU are air conditioned in case you want to be reminded that this country is full of geniuses) and, on his way back, was offered and accepted a bowl of what I can only determine was red-brown. When Dave pressed the tailgate master why he cooks, basically, hot stew when it’s 90* out with 200% humidity, his only response was to tell Dave it was sanitary. The jambalaya was good, although I have no idea what was in it.
- “Y’all need a drink? Y’all want some food?” This is [man with a thick accent wearing a long-sleeved collared shirt in the terrifyingly hot mid-afternoon sun]. He has invited Dave and I to eat something out of a massive stainless steel pot with a ladle that could be used to serve a high class hippo. He tells us that there’s “pasta and some other stuff in it.” I have no idea what this means, but it’s too late to ask because he’s already hurrying to get us splits of Bud Light. (Important note to self: Splits still exist and were not erased from the planet after 44’s closed.) The — soup? pasta? — was spicy and strong, and you could put a gun to my head and I’ll never know what I actually ate.
This plays out everywhere on LSU’s campus — pots of anonymous feats of culinary achievement, massive gatherings where smoking canisters or grills breathe in the near distance, free-flowing drinks, and an unending ability to simply ingest at maximum degrees. It is the epitome of saying “Yes” and worrying about negative consequences — if there were negative consequences as they all seemed palatable at the time — at some later place and date. Nothing looks exactly the same and nothing tastes like anything you’ve eaten before. Everyone is gracious and gregarious and without the presumptuousness of desiring something in return other than a handshake, thank you, and the request that you have a good time. You don’t question this; you immerse yourself within it and trust that, in the end, your intestines will not cede from your body.
LSU HAS IT, AND IF SYRACUSE WANTS IT, THE ORANGE CAN HAVE AT LEAST A PART OF IT, TOO
The experience of meandering through LSU’s tailgating culture started with the basic logistical question of “How do you do it?” but morphed, at least internally, into a different kind of question — “Why do you do it?”
The prevalence of renegade tailgating — setting up shop wherever space allows, not unlike Syracuse’s urban tailgating scene — was significant, and while LSU did offer some expansive areas to build an encampment, it felt — based on impulsive roaming — as if the majority of the compelling tailgating was taking place on relatively small plots of territory staked and worked in a way that functioned similarly to Syracuse’s situation. Maybe the space seemed smaller due to the sheer volume of parties, but the setting was decidedly more Syracuse-like than MetLife Stadium-like. That difference in landscape — endless grey tarmac against old oaks in a relatively tight habitat — is important: The thought that endless space is the prerequisite to a heightened pregame atmosphere is bogus.
There’s a further instruction in that: It’s the desire to construct a community culture and escalate the situation that’s ultimately important, yielding the special pregame spectacle that flows throughout LSU’s campus. The cultural motivation to encourage something special is the only prerequisite to erecting the concept. The decision to welcome others with open arms and make them part of your family and friends, even to only engage in conversation, is not something in which there are barriers, and if barriers do exist, they are easy to hurdle. This is a choice; the infrastructure is purely human and not of spatial constraints. It’s “Do you want to make this happen and, if so, this is how we do it!” versus “These are all the reasons I can’t do it, real or otherwise.” It’s action — real action that moves people to come together and take full advantage of all circumstances — and a disposition to adapt and operate as necessary.
Syracuse fans are more than capable of finding a slice of what LSU offers, but it’s a matter of whether Orange supporters are industrious enough to develop its potential. Thoughts of “I wish that Syracuse had this” or “Syracuse could never do that” is attitudinally defeatist; there is so much more that The Hill provides that hasn’t been tapped and stretched to its limitations. Taking what’s available and processing it into a greater form is not without effort, but the return on the endeavor is exceptional.
I have seen what Syracuse’s pregame culture can look like, complete with married plot points, and its compass is 1,400 miles away. Don’t (a) sit with envy over Baton Rouge’s tailgating show, or (b) regret that you probably won’t take another trip to (this particular) Death Valley. Initiate a quest to build Syracuse’s own version of Baton Rouge on game day.
I MET SOME VERY GOOD, AND VERY BIG, DOGS
Look at these good dogs. They’re good dogs, Brent.
(The cops sitting on their large dogs let me pet their very good dogs. They were very pretty dogs.)
Games Attended: 4
Syracuse's Record in Games Attended: 2-2
Miles Driven: ~1,186
Miles Flown: ~2,874
Next Syracuse Game: North Carolina State
Next Syracuse Game I'm Attending: Pittsburgh