Wednesday October 21st, 2009

I can't remember the last picnic I went on. I mean one of those classic old-fashioned picnics where you take a blanket and a hamper, a cooler, maybe, or a thermos, and drive out to the countryside and sit down peacefully in a lovely field of wild flowers, alone with nature, and ... have a picnic.

Really, does anybody do that anymore?

But, of course, what Americans do now is tailgate, that grand old football tradition. Jammed together, on asphalt, 'midst exhaust fumes and exhausting vulgarities. Tailgating seems pretty much an American institution confined pretty much, in sports, to football. Even on soft Summer days, most baseball fans, arriving at the park early, will eschew the charms of the parking lot and rush inside to watch batting practice. But even late in the season, football fans will tailgate, foregathering on the cold, hard tarmac for hours, dining al fresco Americano, when it's cold and raw and very un-picnicy.

There is nothing selective about tail gaiting. It crosses all ethnic, racial and religious lines. You just have to like football, and, likewise, alcoholic beverages. You don't even have to have a vehicle with a tailgate in order to tailgate.

I suppose the reason tailgating originated with football is because football games only come once a week and are events. In fact, traditionally -- especially at college games -- we refer to football "weekends," not merely football games. They don't sell corsages at hockey games, do they? There was once an episode on The Simpsons, the essence of which was that tailgating was more important than the game. This is not, I do not believe, an opinion held only by Homer Simpson.

And while tailgating has never fully migrated to other sports, there is one other entertainment where it has caught on: rock concerts. We used to think that the most popular item consumed by concert-goers was weed, and while that sort of thing has hardly gone out now, I am assured by my crack concert spies that nowadays the primary smell wafting around parking lots before concerts is more likely just to be that of good old all-American football-style hamburgers on the grill.

Concert tailgating appears to be limited, however. It is more likely to be the case where aging entertainers, like Bruce Springsteen or U2, are performing. They attract a more mature, boomer audience. Teenyboppers don't tailgate. Tailgating is a sign of growing up. People tailgate before the Santa Fe Opera. Honestly.

And, of course, another reason why tailgating has superceded picnics is because at least there ain't no ants in stadium parking lots.

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