Tailgating is the not-so-ancient American art of pre-gaming before any sort of team sport event, usually in the carpark of the stadium itself. I experienced this previously-unfamiliar phenomenon in Baltimore, where the Ravens were meeting the Indianapolis Colts in the wild card play-off to reach the divisional play-offs in January 2013.
I confess to not being a big follower of the NFL, and with that came the ignorance as to what tailgating actually was, but, led by my trusty local guides, I donned several layers and replaced the water in my bottle with wine ready to try do my best at it.
We walked to M&T Bank Stadium amid a sea of people trying their best to show off their purple Ravens jerseys while also staying warm in the chilly Baltimore winter. There we were met by an expansive carpark full of the overly large vehicles that only seem to exist in this part of the world, where people were camped out with grills, beers in hand, and music blaring from all sides.
The capacity of M&T Bank Stadium is over 71,000, and while not all those attending the game took part in the tailgating, many did, so you can imagine the size of the party. As far as my eyes could see were vans and 4x4s, people on lawn chairs and purple team merchandise.
Amid the grilling of hotdogs and hamburgers were mini dance parties, clusters of people catching up before heading into the stadium, games, and a general buzz of anticipation as the crowds made their way into the arena for the game. While many were warming up for the festivities inside the stadium, we were there only for the tailgating portion of the day before relocating to a Mexican bar for the game itself.
We met some friends of my friends, who had (rather pricey) tickets to the game, and stayed with them until it was time for kick-off. We danced, ate, drank, lined up for the port-a-loo, met random strangers and danced some more, then finally it was time to move to our location of choice for game viewing.
A couple of blocks from the stadium we found a bike taxi, and our entire group (including some very lanky men) piled in for a rather rambunctious ride of a few blocks to the bar of choice. There, as we waited for the game to start, I was presented with a menu of Mexican dishes, which was an incredibly appealing idea to follow the water-bottle wine.
After the most satisfying, cheesiest enchiladas of my life, the game began. Baltimore won 24-9, and the atmosphere in the bar as they increased their hold and the clock ticked toward full-time was unbeatable. The Ravens went on to win the Divisional title, the AFC Championship and finally the Super Bowl XLVII – news I followed from afar with fond, albeit a tiny bit fuzzy, memories of what takes place before such events.
Courtney Gahan is a serial expat, traveller and freelance writer who has bartered with Moroccan marketeers, seen the sun rise at Angkor Wat and elbowed her way through crowds on NYE in NYC