A few weeks ago I mentioned I was going to Buffalo to see my first NFL football game. I promised to try and write a travelogue, and this is the ensuing attempt. It’s probably written more for those who were on the trip or who know someone who was on the trip, so I apologize to those that find this incredibly mundane.
The trip was to be made with seven other (ahem) gentlemen, in two cars. I drove my car with three gentlemen in tow: Bruce Mr. Turk, Karl the Rabble-Rouser and Scott the Wing Man. What follows is a breakdown of the low-lites.
We set out in my car. I had picked up Bruce earlier in the morning while Karl drove Scott to my place and parked his car in my spot. Bruce was the navigator, as he always is on these roadtrips, with Karl and Scott in the back of my Mazda 3. Before I go on I should give you a small biography of the principle players:
Bruce Mr. Turk: works for a police agency, very knowledgeable when it comes to sports. Known him since I was eight, college roommate and a no-nonsense type. As you may already know, a huge Niners fan who loves to remind me our NFL teams suck.
Karl the Rabble-Rouser: plays a prominent role in a major political party. Funniest guy on the trip, but not in a hijinx kind of way. Sharp wit which turned out to be a little dangerous in northern New York. “You know, a drink can also…”
Scott the Wing Man: one of Karl’s colleagues in the aforementioned political party. Exactly what you would think of when you imagine a pol. He’s the guy in that Toyota road-trip (Fits Four…Friends) commercial who gets his Blackberry thrown out of the truck. The overtly intellectual of the group.
The other party included Matt, who seemed to be in both groups at once, and the other three who had their own road-trip going (no one’s fault, that. It’s bound to happen with such a big group). They ended up producing a kick-ass video of the roadie.
1000 Islands Border Crossing/Duty Free Shop
A few days before, Matt had sent us this email reminder: “Guys, make sure you stop at a smoke shop/variety store/gun shop on the way to Buffalo to get beer, since our hotel is in the middle of a war zone”. We decided to heed this message and stock up booze at the Duty Free. We wanted to be able drink good beer instead of getting stuck with Genesee or some similarly awful excuse for a beverage. It was beer for me, beer and rum for Bruce Mr. Turk while Karl and Scott loaded up on beer and gin. Looking at our loot from the Duty-Free, that’s where I started to get worried about the next 36 hours.
We get back in the car and get queue up for the border crossing. Bruce entices Karl: “I’ll give you 20 bucks if you get out of the car and RUN across the border”. Fortunately Karl wasn’t drunk yet. No worries, though, as Bruce got very creative in finding means of parting with his money.
After a few minutes of the boys harassing me about picking the wrong queue, we got to the crossing. We hand over our passports and the US border agent begins the questioning:
USBA: So you boyz going to the Bills game?
Ottawa Sports Guy: Umm, yeah. (my god, he’s psychic!)
USBA: You boyz got any alcohol in there?
OSG: Yes sir, in the trunk.
USBA: Alright, pop the trunk.
USBA proceeds to go through our stuff in the trunk and returns our passports.
USBA: Alright, you boyz are good to go…
OSG: What? You don’t care that we’re here to rape and pillage?
Fortunately the filter caught that last bit.
Saturday, 1:30 pm
Fort Drum, NY
The first thing that struck me about northern New York is the difference in advertising. It shouldn’t feel all that different, because we get most of the same ads in Canada. “It’s the little differences”, as Vincent Vega would say. This gigantic roadside billboard, for example: “Cigarettes: Lowest Prices Allowed Under the Law!!”or “ABORTION is MURDER!” You just know you’re not in Canada anymore.
We begin musing over lunch, and the decision was basically left to me. Choosing a restaurant for a group of people is one of my biggest pet peeves, but no one would bring forth any preferences. So I made an executive decision and decided to follow one of those “Fork and Knife” roadway signs (how assertive of me). Fifteen miles off the main highway later, we’re in Fort Drum (home the 10th Mountain Division) and there are two choices for fast food; McDonald’s and Arby’s (both located next to Freedom Plaza, the local mall – I wonder if you can park there without a “Support the Troops” magnet on your car?). Bruce and I had never had Arby’s so we decided to venture into a new culinary experience. Any of you who’ve ever been to an Arby’s are probably chuckling right now. I decided to play it safe and have a chicken sandwich, Bruce mirroring that choice. I don’t remember what Scott had, but I do remember Karl’s penny-saving decision: the special was four beef melts for $5, and Karl never met a deal on beef melts he didn’t like. This, however, was not the highlight of our stay in Fort Drum - on Karl’s soft-drink cup was an advertisement for Arby’s Jamocha Shake (I’m paraphrasing here because I must have heard it 50 times over the next 36 hours):
"You know, a drink can be both a drink and a dessert at the same time. Take our signature Jamocha Shake. Between bites it's a drink. After the meal, or on its own, it's dessert.
Way to go, Jamocha."
On the surface, that’s not very funny. But throw in Karl’s Québécois accent and the fact that soldiers from the 10th Mountain are in the restaurant, and he’s reading it so pretty much everyone can hear him, and we’re sinking into our chairs, desperately trying to mentally figure out how quick we can get out of here and if a Mazda 3 can outrun an Army Jeep: well, that’s high comedy (once you get home safely).
Saturday, 4:00 pm
Adam’s Mark Hotel, Buffalo, NY
After beating a hasty retreat from Fort Drum, our afternoon went by without further incident, except for Karl who would occasionally go into his “Way to go Jamocha” spiel. After parking the car in the hotel parking lot, we got into the elevator carrying our bags and beer cases, where we were joined by two mothers and their 6-7 year old daughters. They were obviously in a cheerleading troupe, their team jackets a dead giveaway. For some reason I couldn’t quite figure out which button to press to get to the hotel lobby, which led us on an elevator tour of the various parking garage floors. This lead to the mothers cracking jokes at my expense and, forgetting that there were young girls in the elevator, defending my actions by saying “Don’t worry, we’re just drunk”. Everyone started laughing except the little girls, whose panicked eyes brought me back to reality and an even more fervent “no, no, look, we haven’t had any yet!” while I pointed to the unopened beer case. Now everyone in the elevator is cracking up; my friends because they were embarrassed with nowhere to run, and the mothers out of fear because there was nowhere to run. I felt like such a dunce.
We finally get to the lobby and find it to be buzzing with activity. Apparently the Bills game was only one of many events in Buffalo that weekend; the Leafs were in town for a Hockey Night in Canada tilt against the Sabres, and the rowdy “Go Leafs Go” chants made me think I was at Scotiabank Place during the playoffs, there a Cheerleading competition for little girls, the Marines had a gala event for young recruits being sent off to war and Packers fans were everywhere with their “Favre #4” jerseys. We even spotted Pierre Lebrun of the Canadian Press (I resisted the temptation to approach him and ask him whether people ask him if he’s my twin) and Al Strachan of the Toronto Sun. It was a rather hectic scene. We finally got our room keys and headed up to our road trip HQ.
A few hours later the second group arrived and we all gathered in our room for a game of poker. I had never played poker for real money before, and I made it out of there in good shape, doubling my original ante. Copious amounts of alcohol were being consumed in the meantime, and some Leafs fans were getting rowdy in the hallways. Karl the Rabble-Rouser, now fully lubed up with gin, decided to confront them. Having warned him that we didn’t have his back if he got himself into trouble, he ventured out there – this was to be a running theme throughout the evening. Turns out the gang was from Brockville, and he ended up making some friends in the hallway after some initial tense moments where both sides were sizing each other up.
Saturday, 11 pm
One of the members of the second group had been talking about this “awesome” bar in downtown Buffalo, hyping it up by telling us it was like nothing else in Ottawa. Turns out it was a dud (for me and Bruce, anyway – a dance club type place with 18 year-olds running around). However it got me out into downtown Buffalo. What shocked me was the beautiful architecture and the feeling of being in a historical setting. This was at night-time, which it turns out created its own set of optical illusions (take the photo of Buffalo City Hall on the left, for example. Seen at night and lit by strategically placed spotlights, it is stunning. When you see it during the day, it looks like it’s about to fall apart.) Bruce Mr. Turk and I decided to turn in early to get a good night’s rest. However, the Leafs had soundly beaten the best team in the NHL, and Buffalo became Toronto 2 for a night, with Leafs fans everywhere chanting “Go Leafs Go”. It was nice to see that they don’t reserve their annoying chanting for Ottawa. So much for a quiet night in Buffalo. That wouldn’t dampen our spirits, though: Our first NFL game was right around the corner!
Part 2 tomorrow…