The calendar, my phone, and all other tools of chronological measurement said it was a Saturday. But how was I to know? Days pass in a somnambulatory haze, the spontaneity drained out of them, the closest thing to look forward to being either my lunch or Thanksgiving, I guess.
Still, I awoke on Saturday, September 19, to a cloud of charcoal smoke that seemed less like the emissions from a grill and rather like a shroud in which a distant friend has surreptitiously returned. As my head cleared, I began noticing more and more elements of the jovial enterprise: the din of a SoundCloud mashup of pop songs blasted on a small JBL speaker, bafflingly styled Boston College apparel, and most tellingly, red Solo cups—at 10:30 a.m.
It was game day, baby, and the kids were tailgating.
I had heard the rumors, we all had, of those socially starved students about to erupt in a burst of White Claw from the volcanic Mods where they’ve been building up steam. I feared the calamity too much to involve myself. These students were playing cornhole—cornhole!—and when the law strikes down, there’ll be hell to pay; I wouldn’t be caught dead in that crossfire.
I hesitantly put on my slippers and sweater and clomped down the stairs, daring to peek out of my kitchen window toward the yard it faces, where four housing units find their back entrances and four more their front ones. I did the math—six students per Mod, four Mods plus another four if it got rowdy. My still-groggy fingers punched it into the calculator, and I immediately felt a shiver: 48 students.
I don’t think I’ve seen 48 people since March.
I decided to step outside and scope out the situation, only to find myself immediately flanked by police. The batons and handcuffs seemed to engorge as I imagined the repercussions for this gathering. What would set it off? Maybe it’d be a burning hamburger patty from a negligent grill-master. Maybe someone would forget to transfer their beverage into an unmarked container. And even if they did manage to evade the cops, who’s to say they wouldn’t meet their demise at the vindictive vigilante next door? The eyes, they were on us. On me. I scurried back inside, into my safe haven, ahem, my family unit, and watched from a distance as these students raged and raged against the dying of the light.
I could only ask myself why. Why these students, ostensibly smart enough to have made it to their senior year, would risk it all for a football game. I put myself in their shoes ten times over and couldn’t think of a justification for this jeopardy.
Until I realized I didn’t need to.
They were following protocol—pushing it, but following it. All of them were masked, there were no more than 16 there total, and, between the intermittent gale and the fact that they’ve all likely fraternized before, I came to realize that to impinge upon this event would be juvenile, callous, and above all else, useless.
The cops seemed to have noticed as much, oscillating between the boredom of obligation and the hint of a nostalgic smile. Common sense would dictate that this early morning pseudo-bacchanal was: a) not the first time these students have congregated, and b) relatively harmless.
I say relatively because in an absolutist world, this event would have sent them all to the gulag. It seems, though, that as we go on and on in this new world, growing ever more distant and isolated, the value of coming together over 10:30 a.m. hot dogs and beer rises. It really isn’t much—take a trip to the same day two years ago and you’ll see—but it’s enough. And it’s what they need.
I asked one of the attendees why they decided to go all out. “We were still abiding by the 12-person max rule…we still had the community feel.” It was that simple.
Did this tailgate signify the promise of normalities to come? Or was it a coup de grâce for one of the many forms of social interaction we took so deeply for granted? Only time will tell if students’ resolve will allow for future facsimiles of a normal college life, or if the changes are irrevocable.
As of writing this, all future tailgates are nominally banned. But something tells me that the early morning grilling and boozing will, like a hedonistic cockroach, find a way to outlive annihilation.
Cover photo credits: stadiumjourney.com