Letter From California
09/14/07 0430.11 pst
San Jose, California
More fruits and nuts than California, one of my Aunts has said to me of her favorite food store’s sign in New York city, amusing me yet again not because of the snark but because of the absurd reputation of California as some hotbed of rampant free sexuality and mental quirkiness. NorCal isn’t laid back, either, California is very much a place of conformity, capitalism, productivity and patriotism, check out the state casualty map for the Iraq war.
In my time around the bay Oakland always has had a very hard and gritty rep, until recently a huge Navy presence in neighboring Alameda supplementing a serious modern port, heavy hard labor on the ships, trains and trucks. In a story I don’t know Oakland became the primary city of the region’s black population, very hard times and quick death on the streets in places, a festering wound of American racism that’s so USA.
My nephew is an Oakland resident of the very tony Montclair district and a charmingly innocent Raider fan, so it was finally time to take him to a game, apple pie just win baby NFL football, the Raider Nation in full glorious force in warm weather, tailgating’n club seats, the hope of Opening Day rippling through a fanbase that hadn’t experienced a loss yet.
It had been far too long since I joined the Raider Nation on game day myself, but sane ticket prices and the chance to take my nephew tailgating fueled an absurd optimism in our phone calls as we got ready for the big day. Tailgating with the Raider Nation is definitely a butch hetro atmosphere, but we’d see how nutty it was, it was time to put my claim of California normalcy to the ultimate test.
Game day was cool and overcast for the Sabbath tailgating crowd that promptly showed up at 9:00 am (a RV caravan had been waiting at the gates since Friday). We thought we knew what to expect, but we were still amazed as we set up right in the middle of the main lot as 35,000 fans instantly hoisted innumerable flags and canopies. Thousands of barbeques fired up that soon fogged the place with fatty smoke, savory slabs of flesh awaiting throngs of Raider Nation fanatics who immediately began to drink heavily, happily setting up chairs and tables under cool skies four hours before kickoff.
We cruised the RV section, my nephew admiring many of the rigs that cost well over $100,000, music and televisions set up everywhere. Getting back to my F-150 we fired up the q and the stove for a dozen sausage SF sourdough sandwiches with onions'n peppers, far too much for the two us, yes, but I was confident good food would not go to waste in the Raider Nation, never.
Sure enough ten guys right next to us ravenously took up my offer when all was ready, they’d gotten the timing perfect on their drinking but started the q far too late, their odds of getting completely plastered well before kickoff now extremely good.
“Eat it, it’s great!” One very nice guy said to one of his friends, pressing the fine food upon him. “Eat now or you’ll get too fucked up!” he declared, nodding with happy firmness. All the food vanished in ten minutes, good men of the Raider Nation talking to my nephew, who is 15, like a man. I was touched to contribute to the sanity and sobriety of the happy times, seriously.
I was also very happy to observe zero nasty excess in the huge crowd, not one instance of vomiting or fighting among the thousands of good American families that chatted away in the swirling smoke. One very brave group of Detroit fans walked through in full blue regalia to enormous jeering and boos, but nothing remotely menacing, no threat at all of anything unpleasant.
Perhaps it was because of the biggest security and police force I have ever seen for a sporting event, hundreds of police officers and sheriffs everywhere. As we approached the gates at game time two very professional sheriffs darted their gaze everywhere, frowns of real concern seriously clamped on their faces as they looked for any trouble. A very tough, very intelligent black security officer looked me dead in the eye, looking for pupil dilation, before he patted me down.
“Takes just a second, brother,” he said smiling, the barest hint of apology in his voice. “I know, man,” I said easily, not tensing for a thorough check of my person. For once I was in full agreement with invasive American security, the level of drinking in the crowd simply demanded it.
The Oakland Raiders lost in a regressive disgraceful futility, but at least the few Detroit fans enjoyed the game in very civilized jocular Raider Nation American football. Disgusted fans streamed out to the lots, angry but still completely devoid of violence and vomiting, a pleasing confirmation that the tough hard-working California I know might get a little excessive, yes, but never nutty or abnormal.