The early morning dew not only accumulated on the grass and leaves but on nylon canopies and polyester folding chairs and any other objects that had been set up the night before or in the pre-dawn hours. A lone SUV breaks the relative silence of the early morning and reflects the blinding low rising sun as it pulls into one of the three quarter empty parking spots. A man, slightly puffy-eyed but with a satisfied Da Vinci-esque smile, exits the car with a tall, paper gas station coffee cup. He’s about 30 and, judging by the bare essential contents in his Ford boot, a tailgater in the smallest sense of the term as defined in Columbus, Ohio in the fall. He extracts two chairs, a medium-sized cooler, a football-shaped charcoal grill, tiny generator and finally he positions his twenty inch TV to face the rear of the vehicle. His whole setup process takes only about fifteen minutes in total. Adjacent to his ongoing arranging of objects rests a repurposed ambulance painted in scarlet and gray with a license plate that reads BUXSQD. The rear of the vehicle seems to have exploded strewing debris over a full thirty yards in a circular shotgun blast arc. Multiple canopy tents, dozens of chairs, folding tables and a multitude of kitchen and household items. The man wondered if his home kitchen is as generously outfitted. A woman in cowboy boots, a silver belt buckle and a black shirt with an Ohio State logo on the lapel stands over a black barrel-shaped steel smoker fashioned with bulls’ horns on one side and a tail on the opposite with. White hickory smoke seeps from its chimney ando fills the morning airwith a pleasant if not slightly misplaced aroma.
It may be hours yet till the smoked meats are ready to be enjoyed but east across the Olentangy River, on the other side of campus, students who rarely wake in time to see Saturday morning are already beginning to stir. It’s different for them in the fall. In time they appear on the front porches of their large, once upon a time upper-middle class homes. Their dress is proper for the occasion but almost always improper for the weather. However, the elements pose little danger as they are fortified with youth and cheap discount beer consumed in the most complicated manners, either in red solo cups with ping pong balls in them or through punctured holes made in the side of cans with car keys.
A yellow cab originating from a downtown apartment and making a detour stop in the Short North now drives past the off-campus homes of beer pong playing students, north onto High Street and west along Lane Avenue, the University’s northern thoroughfare. Dodging the growing number of pedestrians and cars it pulls over to the curb just shy of a huge crowd encircling a two-story brick house with a large sign reading Varsity Club. Two young women, no older than 25 in fitted football jerseys, Capri jeans, flip-flops and sunglasses, climb out of the car and, in a half jog, scamper up to the gates funneling lines into the churning mass of scarlet clad revelers. The scene as a whole is remarkable as it appears there’s a magnetic pull sucking everyone who enters the large intersection to the brick building. The two women hurdle piles of crushed beer cans and puddles of mystery liquid, their flip-flop footwear hardly ideally suited for the terrain and in short time promptly join friends. Squeezing through the pulsating crowd a man of similar age and attire so striking similar it appears planned joins the women and passes out cold cans of lime flavored beer burgeoning from his arms. He pulls an Ohio State coozie from his back pocket and slides the condensation soaked can into it. He smiles then audibly laughs at the stories about an absent friend. As he tilts his head back and raises the chilled can to his mouth his eyes catch a glimpse of the seven story hotel across the street. His attention is pulled away from the conversation and now he’s imagining what the football players must be doing in their pregame preparation at the hotel in which he knows they stay. Pulling his phone from his pocket and looking at the time he wonders if they have yet made the traditional walk to St John Arena to attend the marching band’s ritual pregame warm up known as the Skull Session.
The Blackwell Hotel has been abuzz since the previous night. The football team always draws a large retinue of both the staff and fan persuasion. The hotel also manages to accommodate College receptions and lodge many who’ve come from afar to attend the game. But now, the entire premises more resembles a busy train terminal combined with a sports bar rather than a hotel.
The lobby elevators open and two couples exit. Both are 40 somethings, the men very well groomed with freshly cut gray peppered hair, scarlet golf shirts crisp and neatly tucked into jeans complimenting their stout yet slightly round physiques. The women are sharply and appropriately dressed with new OSU gear, sunglasses resting atop their heads and Block O earrings dangling from earlobes. All four walk tall now in the company of old friends and in the comfort of their presumable Alma Mater. Strutting up to the Bloody Mary bar all four place empty plastic cups on the temporary table and one of the men, crunching on celery, orders four more drinks, three Bloody Mary’s and one Gin and Tonic. He hands the bartender $40 and subtly gestures that he expects no change in return. Once satisfied with the acquired provisions the four again confidently strut to the permanent bar area and affix their gaze to the TVs and ESPN’s College Gameday coverage without even a minute break in the current conversations of nostalgic stories and past adventures. There is no single pregame location that reminds attendants that football is the reason they gather more than The Blackwell.
With game time closely approaching most who’ve packed the lobby of The Blackwell descend on the bar for one last drink. Casually traveling in the opposite direction of the energetic crowd, as though completely oblivious to their existence, an older couple exit the front doors of the hotel. Having just come from The Faculty Club, a historical, stately and exclusive University institution on The Oval next to the University’s most prized Halls, where they dined on brunch with former colleagues, they now just stopped by The Blackwell for coffee before the game. No one encountered yet is more comfortably dressed than the two septuagenarians. The gentleman wears a simple thin sweater over a collared shirt and loose khakis. His short yet athletic physique suggests he may have been a former football player. His wife too has a thin embroidered OSU sweater and carries a light jacket. Each hold 20 year old yet mint condition seat cushions by simple nylon straps in one hand and paper coffee cups in the other. They stroll down the sidewalk with the greatest of leisure as though taking a walk in the park on a Sunday afternoon and disappear into the darting pedestrians that criss-cross their route to the stadium.