Read Part One here...
Before I continue with the conclusion to my little road trip story I'd like to mention that the trip has, like all good road trips, cast its hue on the everyday lives of those who took part. Last week a good friend of mine, Serge the Psycho, got some unwelcome news: his in-laws were extending their stay by five days (they stay at Serge's when they're in town). For the record, Serge doesn't dislike his in-laws, but they are in-laws. It also meant that he couldn't play his Xbox 360 until they left. Yesterday when they finally left, Serge (who didn't make the Buffalo trip) fired off an email to Bruce Mr. Turk and I exclaiming in Braveheart-like fashion: "FREEDOM!"
Now for those who haven't been to the States in the past five years, or haven't bothered watching the news during that time, you wouldn't know that the word "freedom" has been hijacked by certain elements of the Establishment and used as a political tool and propaganda mechanism. As terrible as that is, this amused us to no end while we were there (in a Bill Maher kind of way). In fact, the whole drive back sounded like a right-wing radio broadcast, as if Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter were in the car. It was one of those "had to be there" moments - "Freedom" was mentioned once or twice.
Now, back to Serge the Psycho and Bruce Mr. Turk: Bruce's response to Serge's exultation had its roots firmly planted in that drive back from Buffalo: "Congrats on the Freedom Serge! Freedom rocks! You should even rename your 360 as the 'Xbox 360 Freedom Edition'. I love Freedom!"
Ah yes, "Freedom" will live on for a long time in this incarnation.
Now where were we? Oh yeah, we had gone back to the hotel for a good night's sleep (if we could get past the drunk and rowdy "Go Leafs Go" Nation). The next morning, after having settled our hotel tab, we set out for Ralph Wilson Stadium (when did it change from Rich Stadium!?!?). We had been tipped off by a colleague of Bruce's that cheap parking was to be had just off the main drag, where we could avoid paying full price on Bills' land. I don't know how much parking at Rich, err Ralph Wilson, Stadium costs, but we paid $15 USD to park in a mud-bogged field where people were tearing down trees to feed their tailgating fires - nice (picture at right).
None of us had eaten breakfast yet, since we assumed there would be plenty of culinary opportunities in and around the stadium. Well, no so much. Everyone brings their own food to the stadium and cooks it on propane grills while drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Although we kind of knew this, we still thought there would be food merchants on the grounds. If there were, we didn't find any (except for the Dad selling his kid's school chocolates - brilliant idea!). We therefore poured into the stadium once the gates opened, famished and desperate for any kind of sustenance. That's probably a good thing since I would have probably emptied a half-full stomach upon tasting these stadium offerings anyway. That's an exaggeration, but let's just say that Ambrosia this was not. One interesting menu item was a complete rip-off of Ottawa's world-famous Beaver Tails. In Buffalo they are un-inspiringly named "Fried Dough". Although you had the option of putting brown sugar on your fried dough, most people were putting icing sugar on it. One kid had so much icing sugar on his that I originally mistook it for a Studio 54 tabletop.
We arrived early enough to have the stadium pretty much to ourselves. As people slowly filed into the stadium, a buzz began to build. I recognized the buzz from the first time I saw Wayne Gretzky's New York Rangers playing at the Corel Centre, or PhillipStadion in Amsterdam when David Beckham's Manchester United were about to take the field. It's the buzz you hear when you know a superstar is about to arrive, much like crickets cranking up their chirping when they anticipate rain. Everyone was keenly aware that this was to be Brett Favre's last game in Buffalo, and the feeling was electric. We spent most of our time watching the players warm up, trying to count how many names we knew from the Bills "Ring of Honor" (O.J. Simpson!) and witnessing the rabble that was slowly surrounding us.
We seemed to be seated in a predominantly Packer-friendly part of the stadium. Nevertheless, many Bills fans were around us and tension was thick. I thought Sens fans were territorial - that's nothing compared to working-class Buffalonians. When Peter King tells his readers that he wouldn't bring young children to a football game, I can now see why. The things that were said to Green Bay fans were shocking. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing.
Finally, the teams took to the field. The manner in which they do is quite humourous. A big inflatable Bills helmet is brought out to about the 10 yard line. The players are to make their grand entrance by running through an arch in the helmet. However, everyone can see the players gathered behind the helmet, being moved along by a team rep. It makes for a very anti-climactic entrance, the exact opposite of the intended effect. And then we have the cheerleaders. Should I go on my cheerleader rant in this column? Ok why not...
Put me down as a cheerleader-hater. Yes, I am a straight male with a healthy libido. However, I can't stand cheerleaders (and no, I didn't get my heart stomped on by a cheerleader). They're very pretty, but that's about it. They look so out of place on a football sideline, it's ridiculous. For the Bills game there were 3 sets of about 10 cheerleaders. They stand with their backs to the stands until they decide it's time for a choreographed dance. Yippee. So they shake their ass and wave their pompoms, then turn their backs on the crowd again in a "I know you want me but you can't have me" manner. My goodness am I ever turned on. I think the worst part is that there's no hint on the part of these cheerleaders that they're in on the joke: they seem to take themselves so seriously. I am convinced that if you ask them, they'd tell you they contribute to the team's on-field success with their cheers. I don't doubt it for a second. They spend their entire week practicing their dance "moves", as if that's what we're judging them on. Yesterday during the Cowboys game one of the "Cowgirls" got bowled over by a player running out of bounds. I laughed and cheered. I am a very sick boy. By the ways, the Bills cheerleaders are called the "Jills" (gag).
Going into the game, I didn't have high expectations. I absolutely adore American Football of the NFL variety, which is the only reason I subject myself to the advertising barrage that is NFL programming every Sunday. I've always wondered if I'd enjoy the stop and start nature of an NFL football game live, in the flesh. Turns out I don't. Having commercials while watching it on TV allows you to either switch to another game or be otherwise entertained by another channel (Much Retro, for instance). In the stadium, you are a prisoner to your surroundings. What's worse is that you can see how absolutely pointless, in terms of the actual game, TV timeouts are. When people at home are watching commercials, the players stand around waiting. The referee stands in the middle of the field checking his watch, and when enough Budweisers and Bold Ford Moves have been hawked, he blows his whistle and everything resumes. This happens every couple of minutes. What you're left listening to is the collection of white trash and hooligans around you. On the upside, they fight a lot so there's at least that to keep you occupied staff Seriously, watching the small army of yellow-jacketed Event Staff is high entertainment! However, on the scale of spectator sports I've attended, NFL football ranks very low:
1. Soccer (White Hart Lane, Philips Stadion, Gillette Stadium, Commonwealth Stadium, Frank Clair Stadium, Richardson Stadium, U of T Stadium, Skydome)
2. Baseball (Fenway Park, Olympic Stadium, Skydome, Lynx Stadium)
3. Hockey (Scotiabank Place, Montreal Forum, Aréna Robert Guertin, Centre Bell, Civic Centre)
4. Formula 1 (Circuit Gilles Villeneuve)
5. NFL Football (Ralph Wilson Stadium, Olympic Stadium)
6. ATP Tennis (Jarry Park)
The game itself was fairly entertaining. It was close 'til the end and watching Favre have one of his patented "Either I'll win the game or lose the game by myself" displays was fantastic (this one was of the "lose" variety). The highlight came when the Packers were driving when the game was still close. The Packers were inside the 5-yard line, with Favre in the Shotgun. The snap came unexpectedly and boinked Brett in the helmet and the Bills recovered the fumble. It happened if front of the end zone where we were sitting, so it was pretty sweet (it's in the official video). In any case, the final score was 24-10 to the Jills, err Bills. I wonder if the cheerleaders took any credit in the post-game press conference?
Our return home was to begin straight after the game, but first we had to get out of the parking lot/farmer's field. It was quite funny to watch all the SUVs get stuck in the mud, while lighter cars easily pulled out (Too Smart To Be Categorized, and to negotiate tricky Buffalo mud). On the way to the car, Karl the Rabble-Rouser decided to make our Escape From Buffalo interesting, and so decided to speak French to strangers around us and scornfully pretended he didn't speak English - I even activated the child-lock on the windows. Karl has a lot of pent up anger for a socialist. As all this was happening, I was keeping a close eye on the gas gauge on my car, which was getting dangerously close to the "E". Since we weren't moving, I decided to kill the ignition. Just as I did, an old woman in a 1991 Zubaz Bills jacket walks up to our car. She was selling wonderfully ugly Bills t-shirts. Scott the Wing Man yells out to her that he wants one. We all start giggling, but it turns out he was serious and couldn't resist the unbelievable eyesore that was the tye-died Bills t-shirt (I wish we had taken a picture). Finally, and to my relief, we got out of there.
My relief was short-lived. The orange light on my gas gauge came on, and there didn't seem to be a gas station anywhere in the vicinity. I have a terrible record when it comes to keeping the gas tank filled during road trips (remember the Toronto trip, Steph?), and flashbacks to flagging down cars at 4:30 am from the side of the 417 and the sound of duelling banjos haunted my thoughts. Finally, on a whim, I took an exit and thankfully there was a gas station right there.
The trip home was a collection of "Freedom" jokes and "had to be there" moments while listening to the Pats-Colts game on the radio. Needless to say, the highlight of the trip for me was the voyage there and back again. At the Canada-U.S.A. border crossing, we had a scary moment. Bruce had packed some of his leftover rum, but the guys in the backseat didn't know this so when the border agent asked us whether we were carrying alcohol, all he got from us was a garbled cacophony of "yes-no-yes we do-no we don't". He looked me up and down and asked: "Well? Is it yes or is it no?" I turned to him and said "Yes, we do. It's in the trunk." He then looked at our passports again and inquired: "You're French? At least three of you?" to which I replied "Oui, 3 d'entre nous". In my head I was thinking "Ah shit, we've got a bigoted border guard". Quickly he says in perfect Québec slang: "Quossé vous faites avec l'angla?" (Lost in translation: Watcha doin' with the Anglo?" ). We erupted in laughter and he waved us through.
When we got home, Karl tried to unlock his car with his keyless remote. Nothing. "Strange, the remote's battery must be dead." He unlocks his car using the key and turns the ignition and - nothing. The car's battery was completely dead. A call to CAA and half an hour later, I was stepping into my apartment.
I don't know that I'd make the Buffalo trip again. If I do make another football trip, I'll get better seats in a better stadium in a better city. The camaraderie always makes or breaks these road trips, and in this case it saved it. Next road trip will most likely be a Blue Jays-Toronto FC double-bill in the spring, followed by (hopefully) Yankee Stadium in the summer. I bet you Yankees fans love freedom!