by Terry Barr
This fall I saw the most important college football game of my sixty years of fandom: Alabama versus LSU in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The game itself turned very one-sided after halftime, mainly because Alabama held superstar Leonard Fournette to less than 40 yards rushing for the night. For me, a devoted Tide fan, while the victory was sweet and fulfilling, what I’ll remember most about the night occurred ninety minutes before kickoff in a Chipotle restaurant on the campus strip.
I had journeyed the day before to my mother’s home in Bessemer from my home in upstate South Carolina. For the past three years, I have taught Creative Nonfiction at a private liberal arts college, a course that has rejuvenated my teaching bones. Now that I am three times as old as my students, I wonder if I have anything vital to teach them, if we can relate at all to each other’s life experiences. When these experiences—pleasing a father, feeling alone at the college of your dreams, declaring one’s political or religious independence—click, sometimes I forget our age disparity.
Sometimes I feel twenty again.
My wife refers to my born-again relationships with these excellent, young writers as “distant crushes,” the distance, of course, being that I could be their grandfather. That description, my feelings: they’re all true.
So is my love for Alabama football; however, this game day brought torrential rain, and given Tuscaloosa’s history with tornados, I wondered if making this trip was worth it. Still, I bought a $2.00 Crimson Tide poncho, a beige and crimson Bama hat, donned my houndstooth sport jacket, and waited for my friends to pick me up. They had the tickets, the coveted parking spot. Our seats would be under the upper deck roof and we could stay dry there.
What I didn’t know was that one of the guys going with us was an LSU fan, dressed completely in purple and gold. I could hear my even more fanatical Bama daughter saying, “Karma, Dad! You can’t let that guy go with you!”
But I wasn’t commandeering this trip. The LSU guy was extremely cordial, it turned out. And very stoned. In fact, for the entire back roads trip from Bessemer to Tuscaloosa, joints were firing, beer was passing, though not through me. I like to watch my games sober and free. Afterwards, depending on the size of the Tide victory, I celebrate.
The coveted parking space cost $20; nevertheless, my friend Joe treated us to this 25-foot length of asphalt, and we began weaving our way through crowds and rain. Halfway to the stadium, Joe realizes that he forgot his flask and heads off to find a liquor store. The other two—Bobby and LSU Fan—and I decide that food outside the stadium would be better than nachos or dogs inside. Maybe Chipotle fits that bill, maybe not, but soon we’re in line waiting for tacos.
To my peripheral right, I see a girl in a #27 Bama jersey steadily approaching. She’s smiling right at me as she walks up, and I resist the temptation to smile back or to turn my head to see the college hunk she’s surely marking. Her eyes are glittering, though, and she’s getting closer.
I know she can’t be coming on to this old man. But then, as if I’m not who I am, she touches my arm, leans in, and then whispers what we all long to hear on game day: “If you let me break in line, I’ll buy your food.”
God help me, I let her break.
“You really don’t have to buy my supper,” I say. “I can cover it.”
“No way. I’m buying. I couldn’t live with myself if I broke in line and didn’t at least make up for it!”
I smile at her. “What year are you?”
“A sophomore.” Younger than my youngest daughter.
When the server asks “For here or to go?” this nineteen-year old student says, just a little too assertively, “Mine is for here. His, to go.”
I thank her nonetheless, and watch her gather her food and disappear somewhere onto the festive November strip night.
When I tell the story later, one of my friends says, “Why’d you let her break?”
“Because she was cute.”
He looks back at me, and just shakes his head. “Well, Roll Tide.”
Roll Tide indeed.
Terry Barr’s essay collection, Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warnings From My Alabama Mother, has been recently published by Red Dirt Press. His work has also appeared in The Bitter Southerner, 3288 Review, Hippocampus, Under the Sun, and Belle Reve Literary Journal. He loves in Greenville, SC, with his family.
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Passionately Ran, Compassionately Fed.