Sweet Home Alabama – Football and NASCAR weekend

Just when I thought I was redneck enough, there we are, on a flight to Birmingham, Alabama via Houston on Thursday October 20, 2011 to visit Katie’s friends Shay and Christina.  The menu for the trip includes the Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Tennessee Volunteers college football game and the Talladega Nascar Sprint Cup race.  We arrive in Birmingham around 10pm and are immediately picked up by Shay in her black BWM 545i as she likes to call it.  Her hometown Tuscaloosa, home to the Alabama Crimson Tide is about an hour and a bit away.  We share

Katie and Shay on a walkabout in Tuscaloosa

stories on the way home and tell her that Adrienne Barbeau was on our flight. Shay starts screaming and jumping like a school girl in a candy store at this celebrity sighting.  Actually, no she didn’t, but she was pretty excited.

Katie met Shay in 2007 during a trip to Antarctica and have stayed in contact ever since.  Shay paid us a visit in Calgary few years ago and ticked off the usual tourist destinations of Jasper, Lake Louise, Banff etc.  She is an environmental lawyer at The Pearson Law Firm and as most people, I have a strong allergy to lawyers, but for some reason, the allergy lies dormant around Shay and all the lawyers I met on this trip.  She is the perfect stereotype of Southern hospitality and we feel right at home during the visit.

Friday we set off quite early from Shay’s beautiful house in the suburbs of Tuscaloosa for breakfast at the famous Rama Jammas restaurant near campus.  We have a traditional eggs, bacon and hashbrowns breakfast only rivaled by the manly Jack-E at Jaks in Eureka MT. We then visit the university grounds before all hell breaks loose before tomorrow’s game. We/I want to nerd out a bit so we go into the geology department which is also home to the State’s Museum of Natural History.  After a few pints on a sun-soaked patio, we check out the carnage caused by an F4/F5 tornado this past April.  It is amazing to see the enormous swath of destruction caused by the funnel cloud.  There is nothing left in its path, no houses, no trees, nothing. Over 30 people were killed during the storm as it missed Shay’s neighbourhood by a couple miles on route to the Georgian border.

We stop by Shay’s office to pick up the game tickets for tomorrow generously donated by her boss and then briefly made a pit-stop at a Mexican restaurant where her boss was having margaritas with fellow employees.  Ward, a late forties curly-haired lawyer with a sunny personality together with his girlfriend and two co-workers makes us feel really welcome once again.  What the heck is going on with all these friendly people??  Aren’t they supposed to be southern rednecks chewing and spitting tobacco on my bare feet while shooting their concealed weapons into the air?  Oh wait, that’s tomorrow… Talladega.

For dinner we go to Dreamland and for desert Katie has to make a stop at ChiChi cupcakes… sigh.

Game day

The Quad

Sleep-in and leave the house around noon. Head straight for the tailgate party Shay has lined up for us with her friends Gary and Becky that we also met last night.  After a few refreshments, Chick-Fila appies and a game or two of cornhole (yes, that is correct), we pop into the sorority house that Shay belonged to when she went to college here. After my severe dissapointment that the sorority girls were not dawning their lingerie and no pillow fights were about to erupt we went to check out the “Quad”. The “Quad” is a very large green space field in the middle of campus now littered with Ez-up tents, barbeques

Alabama-style "tailgating"

and believe it or not, tens if not hundreds of large screen TVs with satellite dishes. Everyone is ready to watch the game.  If you can’t make it to the game, might as well enjoy it in style I guess.  It’s crazy, its like a religion down here.

We meet Banyan, Christina’s husband, who proclaimed that he’d “cut off his left nut” for one of the tickets.  He was upset that this private comment was relayed to us, saying how “now the whole world knows”.  Well, Banyan, now it does.  He’s the fourth in our foursome.   As kickoff time approaches, we make our way to the 103,000-seat stadium with a quick pitstop at a university club for a one-of-a-kind yellowhammer drink.  As we enter the “president seats” comparable to our Red and

Full to the brim

Full to the brim

White club at McMahon stadium, the smell of fresh beef roasts, salads and chocolate greets us.  We have our dinner, a few healthy refreshments and in we went to enjoy the spactacle of a fanatic-crowd chants, songs, school band banter, Phil-Dunphy-like cheerleeders and, oh yeah, football.  The fans here take their pigskin seriously.  Everyone is decked out in crimson colors, and I’ve never seen the sheer volume of team paraphanelia and clothing worn over the last two days.  Even compared to soccer-mad Europe.  It was

Katie, Shay and Banyan

amazing to see.  After the third quarter, we make our way up to the SkyBox belonging to Ward’s firm.  We truly felt like royalty the way we were treated by Shay and Ward for this event.  After a longish traffic jam on the way home, we pack up the car and head to Christina’s and Banyan’s house in Talladega arriving around 1am.

Sunday we get up bright and early and are out of Christina’s house by 9:30am.  Christina, an Assistant District Attorney in Talladega County was also part of the Antarctica trio and it is the first time I meet her although I feel like I know her well from all the stories Katie has told me.  We go down for breakfast and I am told that my breakfast is outside on the porch.  After a quick glance I notice a freshly killed squirrel on the railing.  I’m pretty sure Banyan is serious since Katie told me of Christina’s and Banyan’s neighbours who eat squirells quite regularly.  Banyan’s dry sense of humour is quite similar to mine, so we get along just fine.

Pre-race pit row

We arrive at the tracks police and security headquarters.  We meet a few of the very friendly cops, Christina picks up our passes and my request of being thrown into the drunk tank is quickly fulfilled.  Maybe not thrown in but I saw it.  We are lucky and one of the officers is going to give us a lift into the infield.  Sweet!  After a tour of the infield we head into the pits, pit lane and pit row.  Even if you’re not a Nascar fan, it truly is a must-see for any motor-head.  From the toolboxes to close ups of the cars, 18-wheelers, and all the behind the scenes was phenomenal.  I’m like a kid in a candy store.

Pre-race snack in the garage

After hanging in pitlane during the start, we headed up to our seats in the grandstand where we watched the remainder of the race.  Watching M&Ms flushing down the toilet, is how I viewed Nascar on TV is nothing like that live.  You can see the whole oval, see every bit of the racing and on top of that, you get to people watch the “characters” in the stands.  On the way home, stopped at a Mexican restaurant for dinner and were home around 9pm.  Went to bed relatively early as Christina was driving us the next at 6am the next morning for us to catch an 8:20am flight home.

Christina, Katie and Shay

What a weekend.  A huge thank you to Shay and Christina for welcoming us in their homes, the great times, tickets, passes driving us around etc.  It was a truly Southern Hospitality tour. Also a big thank you  to Ward for the tickets to the football game.  Thank you.

 

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