Kevin Costner said it – Clevelanders love their drink.
No more evident than a trip to Atlanta for a Cleveland Browns football game sponsored by the Charlotte Brown’s Backers. 40 Ohio transplants travelling on a bus from Charlotte to Atlanta, with wheels up @ 10 am on Saturday morning and returning after the game on Sunday evening. For those counting, that’s the potential for 36 hours of laughs, shenanigans, and basic Tom Foolery.
From the WalMart parking lot north of Charlotte, we loaded our belongings of one suitcase, carryon sack containing two bottles of water, Pringles, Chex Mix, Ranch flavored pretzels, rain gear and a bottle of Captain Morgan Spiced rum. The disposable ice chest containing a 12 pack of Bud Light, 2 bottles of sparkling wine, and a half liter of orange juice sat on the bus floor between Jennifer and I. We felt with these rations, we would be prepared for not only the bus ride to Atlanta, but also for tailgate the following morning.
We were willing to share any of all of these; but it wasn’t necessary. Everyone came prepared. The Backers provided 12 cases of Miller Light, a case of bottled water, boxes of individually packaged chips, and a clear liquid in a Mason jar. The nice couples beside and behind me cleverly poured vodka into small plastic orange juice bottles. Like Jennifer and I, a few others up front preferred mimosas. Two seats in front of me, a gentleman brought along a small hard sided suitcase; one side containing a bottle each of Irish whiskey, vodka and run, the other side containing bar supplies; all neatly arranged and attached to the inner side of the case. Beer was most common, with most sticking to Bud or Miller light, but a few brought some craft beer and a few more brought Great Lakes Christmas Ale.
But without question, the star of the alcohol show was Fireball whiskey. Several bottles were available throughout the bus and one of my first offers of a drink was from the two fellows in the seats in front of us, which was offered before we had left the parking lot. With a little hesitation, I declined this first drink, feeling that we should at least be moving towards Atlanta before we started the drinking.
The drive to Atlanta was festive and upbeat. It didn’t take long for folks to get to know each other and individual groups laughed and talked amongst themselves and easily included others in their conversations; which was easily done as fresh beers were passed throughout the trip. Suitcase guy was not shy with the Irish whiskey and several took shots straight from the bottle. The Mason jar moonshine made its way to the back and to the front of the bus with a few takers, but most just passed it along.
Jennifer and I quickly made friends with the couple next to us and were entertained by Tom and Charles, the two guys in front of us drinking Fireball mixed cider out of Dixie solo cups. Charles and Tom had joined this trip as solo and were paired together to share a hotel room, but you wouldn’t have guessed it by the smooth conversation and copious laughing between the two. Charles was a little louder and the more boisterous of the two and was quick to make friends from all around him. He mentioned he moved around a lot as a kid, I think an Army brat, and it was easy to see how likeable he could be and make those around him comfortable. Of course, Jennifer thought he was great and we warmed up to him quickly.
The partying continued and we made our way easily to Atlanta. Mimosas soon turned to rum and orange juice, beers being shuttled from front to back, Mason jar moonshine made another round the bus and the team of Tom and Charles, after killing the Fireball, moved on to beer and any other liquor that was available.
We arrived in Atlanta close to 3 pm, checked into the hotel and prepared for dinner with Jennifer’s brother and a few friends we knew in Atlanta. We skipped the pizza and beer provided by the backers and moved on to dinner, arriving back at our hotel around midnight.
Killing a bottle of Fireball whiskey can be expensive. Charles had difficulty finding his hotel room on Saturday night and, unfortunately, had a full bladder. I suppose in his state, relieving his bladder on the second floor hallway was ok, but the hotel disagreed. Charles left Atlanta with $100 less cash.
Sunday weather cooperated – if you live in Cleveland. Rainy and damp, we joined a few hundred other Cleveland fans and partied in a dirt parking lot a couple of blocks from the stadium. Interestingly, and I suppose not surprising, nobody complained about the misty rain. Everybody stood around in circles holding beers and plastic solo cups. A few made their way to canopies that were set up by local Brown’s fans. Most had some type of rain gear or poncho, some didn’t. A football was thrown about. There was heckling of a few Atlanta fans that passed thru wearing Atlanta jerseys, but the overall mood was fairly subdued and more like a picnic in a community park than a football tailgate.
Jennifer and I left the tailgate early to meet some other folks we knew in Atlanta and met up with the rest of the backers at the stadium. Thankfully, the game was held out of the rainy weather in the Georgia Dome and, equally thankfully, it seemed like about a third of the fans in attendance from Browns fans. Orange and brown dotted throughout the arena and, with the recent success, the Browns fans were loud and upbeat.
Of course, beer was flowing and had been for many of the backers since the tailgate. However, all was under control and most were content to have a few and cheer on the Browns. Well, maybe not all were under control.
The steps are steep at the Georgia Dome and the Charlotte Browns Backers tickets were close to the top of the upper deck. After halftime, Jennifer and I climbed the steps back to our seats and found one of the backers slumped in my seat. Lifted to his feet by a friend we noticed blood on his pants, nose and face. In a response to our quizzical looks, the smashed backer said while being helped into the seat behind us, “I fell down.”
A few minutes later the drunk backer was escorted to the bottom of the stairs and given the option of leaving with a friend or in handcuffs. He chose the former and I was told he watched the game from a local bar.
I’m happy to say the Browns beat the Atlanta Falcons on a last second field goal. The concourse felt like a Browns home game. Strangers were hugging each other and high fiving each other hanging over a railing to the crowd below. Groups in circles were cheering, laughing and shouting congratulations to anybody in a Browns fan clothes. I was offered a ‘name your price’ offer for the long sleeve Charlotte Backers tee I wore by some drunken fan in a Browns jersey.
Nobody wanted to leave, except for the Atlanta fans that seemed a little uncomfortable and tried to tip toe their way through the din.
As we made our way through the concourse to the exit, we noticed Frank and Ann, the cute couple that sat behind us on the bus, standing next to the wall looking a little confused. With blurry eyes and a little slurring, they asked if we knew the way back to the bus.
I found there is a true heartiness to folks born and raised in Ohio. Clearly exhibited by the apathy of the weather at the tailgate of the morning, but even more so by Ann who walked back to the bus thru cold and windy rain with a long sleeve tee and flip flops. When asked if her feet were cold, her response was, “They have been cold for so long today that it doesn’t really bother me.”
Speaking of Fireball. After stopping for a final rest stop on the North Carolina border, and as all of us were settling back into our seats, I noticed one of my fellow passengers standing in the aisle taking a final few drinks from an opened bottle of Fireball. The guy sitting next to me called out. “Dude. After all of the drinking we done over the past two days, how the hell are you drinking that stuff?” The guy replied. “I’m thirsty. And since I don’t have any water, I’m going to drink this.”
Kevin Costner was right.