Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Austin Chronicles: The Game

The Austin Chronicles are an ongoing series about a California gal (me) who decided that Texas during the Bush Administration would be the best place to get a graduate degree in Women's Studies. I learned much more living in Texas than I did in school.

When last we left our intrepid bowtied Californian in Texas I had successfully negotiated geeks, robots and Texas-specific beer - I had quite a a lot more to learn...

I had barely worked up a tolerance for Lone Star before the phone rang again.

"Hi, can you work The Game on Saturday?"

"Sure! What game?"

"THEE Game."

"Um, yeah, what game would that be?"

"The FOOTBALL Game."

"Oh, right...um, which football game?"

"The U.T. FOOTBALL Game."

"Ohhhhhhhhhhh....that game."

Here's the deal. I know jack-squat about football. Sure, I grew up in a small town in California where the only thing to do on Friday nights was go to the high school football game. After five years of attending, I finally asked my friend why the referees kept throwing their hankies on the ground. I was informed that they were not hankies, they were penalty flags. My bad.

But, my apathy for learning how many "downs" need to be completed and why they are being attempted in the first place and why a touchdown isn't enough and why you have to install giant tuning forks in the end of the field so the little guy can get one more point, isn't just because I think it is boring. I don't just not like football, I am opposed to it on principle.

In fact, I'm kind of against most organized sports - not the sports themselves because teamwork and exercise is good and all that - but the extent to which they are an obsession, a marketable, profit-driven, exploitative obsession. Lots of organized sports often require people to push their bodies beyond the limit, resulting in "career-ending" injuries at 17, but the whole point of football is to throw your body weight against other people that are doing the same thing - that is just not a good idea.

And how can we talk about "career ending injuries" when the majority of people playing won't be able to make a career out of it? And don't get me started on the billions of dollars that are pumped into everything from Pop Warner to the NFL. Oh sure, football generates income, but it also diverts it and a whole crap load of energy. Just imagine if we had "boosters" for the science-fair, drama department and Model UN. Or if all of that scholarship and sponsorship money went to preschools and preparing kids for college or apprenticeships to actually learn things that will allow them to have a successful career for more than a decade or two? A career that won't lead to early onset senility. Oh, and it remains one of the few sports where girls aren't allowed - unless they fight really hard to be able to kick the ball between the tuning forks. I'll stop there for now...

But, in Texas, saying you hate football is like attending a PETA convention and saying you enjoy clubbing baby seals on the weekend. At first, people think they might have heard you wrong. Then, they move past the sheer confusion to raging anger and some finally arrive at mournful pity over your inability to function with the moral parameters of society (though they might be totally cool with it if you do it naked...and have boobs). So when I arrived in Austin, it was a little like arriving on Mars, and not just because folks talked a little funny. Thanks to football, the color was a bit similar, too.

I was the editor of the art and literary magazine in high school (we could have really used a booster club). I was very familiar with burnt ochre and burnt umber, but burnt orange? In Austin, it's not just burnt orange t-shirts and giant foam fingers and bumper stickers. Its burnt orange clothing, burnt orange furniture, burnt orange cars and burnt orange street signs.

And lets clear the air - the outrageous use of burnt orange and longhorn profiles is not about school spirit. They are not worn and emblazoned on everything that holds still for .25 seconds because people are proud of academic achievement, or the choir, or even the tennis team. They are celebrating football, plain and simple.

So, if you are going to ask if I want to work "the game," sorry, but you are going to have to be more specific.

But, once I figured out just exactly what game I would be working, I donned my bow tie, found my way to the appropriate gate, waited with my fellow caterers in ill-fitting tuxedo shirts, and tried not to sweat. Once again, it looked like I was the only newbie. All of the guys still had their shirts unbuttoned, or draped over the arm and stood fanning themselves in undershirts. All the girls were still hastily putting their hair up. Once again, everyone was friendly and confused as to why I had moved to Texas (Answer: because 75 and sunny can get so booooring...).

Finally, a woman in a better fitting tuxedo shirt and vest came out to look us over. I couldn't tell if she was taller than me or if it was her hair (how much Aqua Net does it take to keep up a Texas bouffant in 98 degree weather?). After sizing up the group, I was told I would be going to the VIP section where I would be a cocktail waitress. After a brief moment of panic that I had signed myself up for some Division I version of the thinly-veiled-porno craigslist ads and would be "working the Champagne Room" I realized instead that I was about to be introduced to not just college football, but TEXAS LONGHORNS FOOTBALL - Hook'em Horns!

She ushered me and a few others who had been deemed VIP section worthy, into an elevator marked VIP ONLY.

"If we catch you watching The Game you're fired."

"Okay, but can I watch the marching band at half-time?"

The elevator doors opened to a giant room with windows running the length of it with a sweeping view of the field. She walked to one of the three bars in the room and started digging behind it:

"Here is your tray, your change apron - tips will be pooled - now 'git to it."

Um...okay. That probably would have been a good time to let someone know that I'd never had experience as a cocktail waitress. That, in fact, those beers I handed out at the conference center were the first I had slung. I did not. Beyond my lack of career experience, my drinking repertoire consisted of any red wine that cost under $6, California micro-brews (and the newly discovered Lone Star and Shiner Bock) and mixed drinks that fit the [blank] and [blank] model (gin and tonic, cranberry and vodka, rum and coke - well liquor only).

Without any customers, I wasn't sure what we were supposed to "git to" so I stuck by one of the guys that I had chatted with outside. Evidently that was the right move since he handed me limes and a knife. I decided then was the time to fess up:

"This is my first time doing this."

"Working The Game?"

"Yeah...and also cocktail waiting."

"Ha! Its okay, its super easy. Just take drink orders - they are free, by the way, since these f*ckers give a bunch of money, so your apron is just for tips - and come to me to fill them."

At that point a streak of blonde and a whiff of Aqua Net rushed past and whispered "Doors open!" I handed my bartender buddy his limes (which he proceeded to re-cut correctly), took a deep breath, channeled my highish-end retail customer service identity, and a twang of what I thought was Texan hospitality, straightened my bow tie, and walked up to a friendly looking couple in their 70's.

"Hi! What can I get for you folks?"

"Oh hi, honey. We'll have two cooooba leeeeebras."

And he handed me a twenty. "Sure thing!"

In any other situation, I would have been strategizing about how I could educate him that "honey" was not good manners, but condescension, but I had bigger problems - like what the hell was a cooooba leeeeebra?

I dodged groups of twos and threes in burnt orange greeting each other with "Hook 'em!" on my way back to the safety of the bar:

"They want two cooooba leeeeebras. What the hell are those!?!"

The bartender smiled and narrated as he poured: Ice, rum, coke, and a slice of the just-cut limes.

"It's just a rum and coke!?"

"With a lime."

"Oh, okay, thanks. Um, they handed me a twenty."

"That's your tip."

"But they are free, and I haven't given them anything yet."

"It's so you keep coming to them. Don't worry there will be more at the end."

Evidently the tipping was going to be much better than the ones and nones I got at the convention center. But I had more important things to do - like try and find the right friendly looking couple in their 70's in burnt orange, when the room had filled to the brim with other friendly-looking couples in their 50's, 60's and 70's in burnt orange.

But, I found them, delivered their drinks and continued to make a bunch of other rich, football-loving Texans happy throughout the game. I tried not to stare at the whole new inventory of burnt orange accessories, though I'm pretty sure I spotted a silk scarf covered in longhorn profiles with "Hermes" in the corner.

Luckily, Cuba Libres seemed to be the drink of choice - second only to diet Cuba Libres. With the exception, of course, of the one cranberry and vodka ordered by the granddaughter of one of the friendly folks - which, I promptly spilled down the back of her white denim jacket.

Thanks to true Texan hospitality (assisted by a half-dozen Cuba Libres) she and her grandparents were nice about it, blamed the guy behind them for bumping into me, and worried that I would get fired. Surprisingly, it turned out she had nothing to worry about.

The Longhorns ended up losing the game really, really badly (blasphemy!) so folks started to clear out early and we were already gathering all the discarded limes and cocktail napkins before the teams left the field. At one point, I smelled the distinct smell of Aqua Net next to me.

"You did a good job today."

"Thanks, but...um...even when I spilled that drink?"

"Well, that always happens. Too bad we can't hire folks full time."

Evidently, when the Longhorns lost the bar was lowered.

-Photo by Alycat.


  1. It's funny to read this because Austin is probably the least-football-obsessed city in Texas. Just be glad you don't live in College Station; they re-ran a story in the college newspaper lately about how when the bonfire collapsed and killed a bunch of people, they still played their football game against UT (which, for some reason still unexplained to me, they call t.u. as an insult) and felt like they HAD to win, so that the "Aggie community" could feel good about something. And they did win, which made them fucking HEROES. Because it, you know, made all those people come back to life. Or something.

  2. Oh wow, Courtney. Another reason I'm glad I was in Austin.

  3. Not all Texans are anywhere near as addicted to football as the stereotype dictates - I swear.

    Nor do we all have cows in our back forty or oil wells in front of our house and vote republican.

    And yes, I bet there were designer label longhorn scarves in view.

  4. This is a great story!! Being a born and bred Texan (but who grew up overseas) I can truly attest to the die hard love of football. Thanksgiving is not thanksgiving unless the Cowboys game is on. My earliest recollection of doing "Hook Em" was at the age of 4! According to my father, the second best day of his life (the first was my birth...LOL!) was the day I took him to the Ohio State and UT game in Memorial Stadium. My mother always agonized over the fact that she didn't have sons so she could watch play high school football. Yep, in Texas football is close to religion.

    So when I told my parents that I was going to get James into tennis they immediately hissed at Andrew. My father blamed such thoughts on my "Yankee influencing" husband. My mother exclaimed, "But James could be the next Vince Young!"

    The thought of my son's head being crushed repeatedly on the field coupled with the fact that pee wee football included practice 3 times a week (for a 6 year old!) in addition to a Saturday game was enough for me to pull the plug on football for James.

  5. I'm a California girl who moved to Austin about 6 months ago. I still can't get over the burnt orange cars. Burnt orange sweatshirts would be normal, but burnt orange cars?! Like, how much can a person possibly like football? I really like the White Stripes, but I don't go out and paint my car red and white. There are even Longhorns Snuggies in the supermarket! What the HELL!

    One of my coworkers moved here from Illinois about the same time I moved from California, and she goes to all the UT games. Apparently this is a completely normal and expected part of moving to Austin. Is there anywhere outside of Texas where you're expected to devote yourself to a college that you've never been associated with in any way?

    My first day at work, I was introduced to the two company owners. One was introduced to me as "an Aggie" (this was my equivalent of your "Shiny" beer moment). When I didn't know what an Aggie was, they explained, and then told me football is a religion in Texas. I was like, "Yeah, not so much in California." They replied, "Surfing is a religion in California," demonstrating very clearly that they had never been to California.

  6. Seriously, Lauren, I think it was the cars that put me over the edge!

  7. There are not burnt orange Snuggies?!! Sweet!!


be nice.


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