I walked outside one Saturday morning to find something new on USC’s precious few grass lawns. Red tents, sprung up like mushrooms overnight, covered the campus. As a freshman, the worship of football had already been new to me. But tailgating: alumni, Greeks and average study-heads alike coming together for beer pong, grilling and thousands of red cups. Pure culture shock. I knew I needed to enter this beast and discover how it breathed.
The morning crowd was oddly homogenous. Fifty year olds reliving their golden years clanked steins and rolled over on lawn chairs at 10:00 in the morning. Pre-gaming began at dawn. But at high noon, I reached the center of campus, the heart of the tailgate. I saw two peers clothed in fraternity T-shirts lifting up a funnel and downing golden liquid unlabeled. Music and sausage steam danced above beer pong tables. The Row had moved south. DPS workers celebrated and drove around in big fire trucks. They waved at me smiling, giving thumbs up to undergrads shotgunning beer. It was USC’s St. Patrick’s Day, and here I was drowning in a sea of red and gold clothing.
I found one of my friends. She had come to get me out of there before we were mistaken for away-team fans. We fled campus grounds as the crowds marched to the Coliseum. It appeared the tailgaters devoured back up all the food, chairs, TV and radio sets in one gigantic march. But one thing remained along with us non-devoted football fans: red. Thousands of plastic red Solo cups replaced the green in McCarthy Quad. The grass surrounding the red brick buildings had the blood of the tailgating crowd on it, people too smashed on booze and self-involvement to walk to the waste bins.
I walked over to the marked bins. There were three lined up: “COMPOST,” “RECYCLE,” “RECYCLE”. These ones were half full. I noticed a trail of red all the way up to the feet of the bins. “These ones are so close to the cans,” my friend said. I leaned down and clunked some cups into the recycle bin. It was easy to grasp these words when the crowd had vanished. We cannot expect people to go against conformity during such high stakes as a home football game. So collective irresponsibility was inevitable. Tommy Trojan stood gloriously around his children, the ones that danced in the slosh pit of their own filth. Some fans went quietly, dressed in uniforms but still aware of their bodily movements and trash. But others had completely lost something…
Suddenly the rumors of the surrounding libraries and offices locking their buildings doors to keep tailgaters out made sense. I looked at the red lawns and their damage. Minimal compared to what slammed fans would do in Leavey library. Soon, groups of volunteers and janitors began cleanup. As roars bounced from the Coliseum back onto campus, the determined volunteers restored the grass in silence. The phantom maid service: working out-of-sight, out-of-mind of the tailgaters. My friend and I mourned the temporary loss of the grass. There we were, on a campus where the school colors were red, red and more red.
The workers collected the trash with persistent smiles. I wondered what dreams these people had. Did they want to be the mothers and fathers of us Trojans, carry us through forgetful times such as drunken tailgates? They were the reason why thousands of fans could focus all their energy on cheering on their football gods. No time to walk to the trashcans. The workers will do it for us.
I felt guilty. I sat on the fountain ledge and observed the unsung employees of USC. Without them the campus would slowly become a landfill, and here I was, not doing a single thing to help. The tide of red slowly receded until the guilt was only a memory. But who would remember it? I knew I should have drunk some beer. At least then I could’ve relaxed.