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Sweet Home Alabama (Roll Tide, Roll): Recapping Tuscaloosa

rolljesus

Rammer jammer yellow hammer…give ’em hell, Alabama!

This post is about a month late. My bad.

Some traditions are simply unmatched. My (fairly) new “Yankee SEC Tour” just might fall into that lofty territory. For those catching up, the quick story is this…screw it, just read this post. Fine, I’ll even pull the relevant passage from November of 2010:

It started as a silly, little throwaway. A bunch of high school friends huddled around a table nursing one last drink and putting off the inevitability of heading back into the blustery city night. We’ve all known each other for near 30 years. Each of us grew up together, attended the same HS, and largely wound up in New York City. And none of us (save one) had attended a collegiate institution of any gridiron repute whatsoever. The closest any of us had come to SEC football (aside from my trip to LSU a few years back) was watching it on CBS.

Most of our crew spent their four years of college in sun-drenched locales stretching from Ithaca to Ann Arbor to Philadelphia to Western Massachusetts. So it was that the faint idea of sundresses and boots, booze and sunshine and tailgating of a different breed, came to dance in our head for the first time that night. And then the notion, like so many other glimmers of brilliance, faded away. Thankfully, there were a few who refused to let the dream die.

At 33 and change, we needed only a simple dose of peer pressure to resurrect an opportunity to destroy our bodies and remind ourselves our college years are more than a decade in the rearview mirror. A date was selected. The weekend of 10/31. Halloween as it turned out (ain’t that a trip?). And, if the SEC was our destination, The Grove and Ole Miss seemed the only logical destination. So, we circled the date on the calendar back in March: Oxford, MS for Ole Miss and Auburn. Our agenda was set.

That was then. This is now. Three years later, and officially in my “mid-thirties,” this has become one of my most anticipated annual weekends (with Oxford, Athens and, now, T-Town in the books). So it was we found this same crew (down one man) in the Heart of Dixie a few weeks ago. Once again, the SEC did not disappoint. Aside from the stunning game  (apparently this “Johnny Football” character has become something of a folk hero, we hear?), we’ve also managed to really start getting a handle on how to run these here weekends. Below are some of the key factors to a successful swing:

Easing Into the Weekend

A cultural reminder

While one could espouse the many trappings of an SEC college campus, as you get up in years hanging for three or four straight nights in a collegetown pushes the boundaries these days. There’s less tread on the tires, so you need to build up to top speed. Therefore, we made a stop in Birmingham similar to our Memphis one-nighter before Oxford. I can’t lie. Birmingham’s seen some better days. Regardless, it was another chance to take in some sights — many of which were historic landmarks representing major milestones in the Civil Rights Movement. It was fascinating and a sobering reminder of where we’ve been as a country — and not all that long ago.

We also snuck in a few damn tasty meals, of course. Lunch time was a stop at Miss Myra’s Pit BBQ (pictured below). Quaint. Authentic. Of, for and by the people. Completely what we had hoped for and did not disappoint. We followed our typical protocol for these trips – ordering basically everything on the menu. High marks across the board, with the winning nods going to the baked beans and the BBQ beef which was almost of a chipped variety but delicious nonetheless.

Whoever Miss Myra is, she does it right

The folks at Myra’s couldn’t been sweeter, and we managed to rest up a bit following that animal protein overload before attacking a few local establishments for drinks and appetizers…followed by dinner at Hot and Hot Fish Club (where again no menu item was spared, in part thanks to chef Christopher Hastings taking some strange liking to us and our mission, which we chalk up mostly to sheer fascination)…followed by bars…followed by bars. Birmingham played its role and did so admirably.

House/Condo Over Hotel

Friday morning we loaded our sorry asses into two rental cars and cast off toward Tuscaloosa and Tideland, only after an obligatory Chick-Fil-A swing to keep us all “regular” and re-establish a base. A straight shot down highway who-gives-a-f, we seemingly found ourselves heading into the mouth of the beast. Before our now-customary group campus walk, we parked and set up shop at the Houndstooth Condominiums. Now, a quick note before we move on. More and more campuses are welcoming “game day” condo-type facilities and/or opening up off-campus housing for big football weekends. These are increasingly modern, clean and adorned with a gratuitous amount of schwag from whatever school. These are the no-brainer accommodations for these excursions with our crew. A three bedroom condo with a kitchen and big fridge, multiple bathrooms and a walk to stadium/campus? Done and done. It’s also more economical. If you’re doing a similar weekend, ditch the hotel rooms and go this route. Plus, it makes the whole grocery shopping and stocking the fridge for Saturday that much more fun.

BBQ or BBQ, That is the Only Question

A good lesson. Do a few things…really well

We ate BBQ on this trip. Because that is the play in Alabama, and almost anywhere in the SEC. Findings? Dreamland serves ribs, sausage and white bread. They do all of these things exceedingly well. We commend them. And the young lady who made the banana pudding that Friday afternoon? You, darling, are a revelation as is your beyond-tasty concoction. Perfection. Side note on BBQ…we ate more on game day too, of course. Our find tailgatin’ friends smoked their own meats for hours…to be anticipate. They also did their own sauces. You see, no self-respectin’ Southerner would break out a BOTTLE of BBQ sauce. I love that. They also do one other thing a bit differently down yonder. White sauce. Yes, a white BBQ sauce. It’s mayonnaise-based. I tried it. It does some nice things with a smoked pork loin. Not for nuthin’ though, I’ll stick with the traditional sauce of the burgundy-hued variety.

When in doubt, follow the ladies on the mobile cooler/scooter

Follow the Locals and Make Friends with Both Sides (funnel = great marketing device)

The rest of this post is pretty basic. If you don’t know this stuff, Tommy will come back there with a tack hammer and hit you over the head because you are a…anyway, if you are third party observers like us on these gigs one need only remember three simple things: Gear up in the home team garb. Ingratiate yourself to the natives. Do the same with the visitors. As the ultimate tourists, we look to party with everyone and offend no one. We’ve also found having an ample supply of alcohol (booze helps) and a funnel (because, who doesn’t love a funnel) are paramount and serve as excellent marketing tools.

Stop by the Game

My wife had a hard time getting her head around this one. Just stop by the game. You don’t have to commit to the whole deal. Scalp tickets closer to kickoff. Stay for as long as you’re comfortable to get a feel for the stadium, the fans, the spirit. Then? Leave. Go back and tailgate. Chances are the view on the 75-inch plasma at your tent is just as good, plus the other TVs are monitoring the rest of the fine Southeastern Conference. Oh yes, and there’s more to eat and drink. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against those who stay for the long haul. I am the biggest college football fan of my crew, but I’m all for leaving the  stadium and getting in some more tailgate. More time — real time — with the people. That’s my motto.

Not too bad a game either

Finish with a Flourish

Last but not least, make sure to bring it home…or at least put your best foot forward. By post-game Saturday, things are usually a bit hazy. Just play through. It will all work itself out just fine. It’s always fun to catch the respective fan bases after the final whistle has blown. Mostly congenial. Perhaps a few fistacuffs here and there. It’s all part of the experience. Drink it in. Literally. We always do. And it always seems to work out just right.

In fact, there’s not a whole lot about this annual trip that doesn’t work right. I highly recommend it for anyone. We’ve managed to find ourselves right at home no matter where we’ve gone. Next year, it’s a trip to Death Valley for the Tigers and Gators. I’ve been to Baton Rouge and have warned/advised/prepared my crew for a different type of beast.

But, really, it’s all good. We love you, SEC and can’t wait to see you next fall. We’ll bring our A-Game, and we know you’ll bring yours. You always do. Thanks for your hospitality.

Sincerely, Dem Kids (not so much anymore) from Up North

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