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My First Pro Football Game

     Two Raider fans left at dawn, charging up the pass!, in, due to sudden circumstance, a minor traffic accident on Halloween is all, for truth, though still, it's better than what had happened to that football team of late, which is how we got two tickets so cheap, and so, better late than never, but still late, we charged that VeeWee up the mountain!, into the face of the first storm of winter, the worst in seven years, which is also what they were saying about the Raiders that season.

     Seriously, we were driving my '73 Volkswagen Bug into the face of a winter storm so fierce that only the howling winds kept the windshield clear, as the wipers were blowing uselessly, if excitedly, in the Blizzard as we slid our way around that sweeping corner built like an amusement park ride along the mountainside climbing into Weed, where we couldn't stop, because we'd just started, and we Raiders had a long, long way to go.

     We stopped in Dunsmuir for gas and a reality check.  Yes, it was snowing like hell.  Yes, people were still driving, so, No..., we Weren't crazy.  Except...except all those other folks had modern four wheel drives and semi-trucks, ABS, headlights that weren't just for looks, window defrosters, heaters, and radios that would have filled that big hole in my Volkswagen's dashboard where the winter's winds swept in.

     I've torn everything out of that car that doesn't make it run.  Flying down the south side of Mt. Shasta I was wiping the windshield, pumping the brakes, riding the clutch, fighting the wheel, gasping for breath, and freezing my ass off.  I was dodging trucks, chugging beer, and holding my eyes tight shut as we crossed that damned high narrow bridge before we settled into Redding, where a crosswind held me tight to the wheel until we finally pulled off at Anderson Valley to smoke a bowl.

     It went on that way down the valley, and it only got worse as we entered Bay Area traffic, the rain turning to hail, and the San Francisco drivers acting like they had to get home before the Big One hit again.  I was well into my fourth beer and a migraine when we stopped for gas and directions.  A very nice black lady, a customer at the gas station, gave us our directions and sent us on our way.

     We pulled onto the freeway again, rush hour traffic pulling us 70 mph and another beer through Berkeley, Oakland, and into San Leandro.  Two really nice drunk black dudes at the corner liquor store sent us back on the freeway another exit or two, where we found the motel our friend had reserved for us on the Internet.

     I don't want to suggest that this was one of Those motels, but late on a Friday afternoon, those were Awfully Fake Furs those Very Suggestively Dressed young ladies were wearing, and the Gentlemen accompanying them to and fro from the rooms were Awfully Big, and wore an Awful Lawt! of Diamond Rings!  Turns out, they were Raider Nation, all come in to see the game.

     I ventured up the street to the 7-11 for more beer, noting the steel-barred windows and the dirt bare lack of yards.  A machine shop barricaded itself behind corrugated steel and big signs warning about their dogs.  The owners of the house next door had the machine shop build a big corrugated metal gate to block Their driveway, and posted even Bigger signs warning about Their dogs!

    The first time I looked out the motel room door, a huge lightning strike hit just a block away. I opened the door to a blinding flash and a deafening roar.  The second time I opened the door, a car rounding the corner on the elevated freeway outside our motel started hydroplaning, started spinning, spun around three times, crashed into the median barrier, throwing sparks as it crossed back across the freeway to crush three small shrubs before coming to a crooked halt in the roadside landscaping.

     We spent the night at Ricky's Sports Lounge, "Home of the Raiders".  Actually, we spent most of the night Outside of Ricky's.  There was a long line to get in, and a ten dollar cover charge.  In line were people from all over California and the West Coast, and even some from the Midwest and New York.  One guy was wearing a Minnesota Vikings jacket, but no one gave him any trouble over it.

     Inside, a live band played old rock and roll songs with newly-written Raider lyrics.  We toured the exhibits of Oakland Sports Stars, but we're not from Oakland, so we didn't know any of the players.  We drank, danced to the band, and listened to several different drunks tell us how they'll never forgive Old Al Davis for once moving the Raiders to LA.

     You start drinking that way on a weekend, you'd better not stop.  Sunday morning, I walked up to the 7-11 for coffee and a six-pack, noticing along the way that all the cars parked on the street had their windows broken out during the night.  We headed back to Ricky's for breakfast and more beer, no cover charge on Sunday morning, just some hard-drinking, carbo-loading Raider Fans packing down the Bacon Bloody Marys.     

     We actually couldn't find Ricky's, we'd been that drunk the night before.  We were walking below the bart tracks beside the storm water canal, checking out the shopping carts and broken bottles, we were wandering around the parking lots at the BayShore Mall, smoking bowls and drinking beers as we searched for the magic Raider's lounge, but a nice, really good-looking black guy in a track suit showed us the way.

     The plan was to ride bart to the Oakland Coliseum, so we retrieved my Volkswagen from the motel, drove to bart, parked in a spot where lots of people would see my hippy paint-job, and went to the platform to get tickets.  We were staring at the maps and the ticket machines, completely confused because in our little town we barely have buses, and they don't run on schedules, but a nice black teenager showed us where we were, where we needed to go, how much it would cost and how to buy our tickets.  We Needed tickets, because the alternative was to jump the turn-style, and there were transit police on the platform, so we'd have gotten busted if we'd tried to ride for free.

     But if the cops were on the platform, that meant we were free to finish our beers and get more stoned in the parking lot.  Parked next to us were a couple of Stoners from Stockton with a 12-pack of Miller High Life, the Champagne of Beers, a bag of pot, third-level 50 yard line seats, and a bunch of psychedelic mushrooms.  They loved my hippy-painted Volkswagen.  We smoked and drank and climbed onto the train together, where someone started cracking jokes in the standing-room only game-day crowd, and we all laughed as a sage and serene black woman cackled,  "You people are out of control!"

     Of course we were out of control.  We were Raider Nation!

    Pro football in person is everything Hunter S. Thompson said it was.  Crassly commercial; in terribly bad taste, from the spin-the-wheel for a free prize from the mobile phone company, where we won a ballpoint pen, to the Raiders memorabilia vendors in the parking lot, there was an awful lot of tacky stuff for sale, all of it in silver and black...

      Pathologically hedonistic; all suburban mores and common sense tossed to the winds with the fourth beer at ten am.  We stumbled through the parking lot ducking between cars to smoke hash-filled joints.  At one point, I had three beers, two joints and a pipe in my hands all at the same time...

      Pathetically force-fed; fat-filled fried foods competed with charred and bleeding animal carcasses roasting on the spit, spittle dripped from double chins of the uninhibitedly overfed inhabitants of Raider Nation.  Four dogs and a rack of ribs into the morning, there's a bucket behind the pickup but no one needs it, there's plenty of room beneath those Raider Jerseys, though it may get a little tight squeezing through the arteries around the heart.... 

     The blood-lust is up.  The rage is raging.  Testosterone and Bovine Growth Hormone, steroids to strengthen the Stupid side of the American Soul, surge through the crowd as we down our last beers, smoke our last bowls, stuff that last damn chicken down our gullets, bypass the already almost unusable Porta-Potties, and charge up the ramp toward the gaping maw of the concrete beast, the open jaws of the cement monster, the cavernous entry to the Oakland Coliseum, home of the Raiders, and perhaps one day soon, detention center for all those hippies over in Berkeley.

      The Black Hole!  The famous booster section in the end zone!, where touchdown-scoring Raiders leap into the seats and throw footballs to the fans, where face-painted, body-armored, hairy chested, burning-bearded behomeths, the Bad Boys of the Bay, hold court on winning Sundays, sloshing suds and elbowing little white guys like me out of camera range on Monday nights when the Raiders are on National TV.

     It had been a long time since a winning Sunday for This team, there was no reason This year to put the Raiders on Monday nights.  The running backs and receivers were so slow and out of breath that they couldn't get the ball in the end zone, none the less make the leap into the stands.  This team hadn't scored a touchdown in three weeks! 

     So for us the Black Hole was exactly that.  Two seats in the end zone, in a stadium where the field is sloped up for drainage so that we couldn't see any action past the nearest thirty yard line.  Even our views of the Jumb-Tron View Screen was blocked by the goalpost.

     The fan behind us is so disgusted in the first quarter that he tears up his ticket and stomps out.  Maybe he had money on the game, which would have been a tragedy.  By halftime, the Atlanta Falcons were beating the hometown Oakland Raiders by a score of 24 to 0.  The Raiders had a total yardage; offense, defense, And special teams, of minus three.  We decide to go look for those Stoners from Stockton in their top-deck fifty-yard line seats. 

    To get anywhere in the Bay area, it seems, you have to follow the signs pointing you to somewhere you don't want to go.  To get out of San Francisco, follow the signs to San Francisco.  Trust that somewhere down the line there's a "I really want to go the other way now" exit, and that you don't end up eventually, and again, in downtown San Francisco, four bucks flatter for the tolls. 

     A Very Beautiful young black woman in flashy clothes and four-inch heels was lost as well, and we found our way to the third tier by following the signs to the second tier, turning around, heading the other direction!, and then heading Up.  And Up, and Up, and, looking once again at her ticket, Up Again!  I was way, way, Way Too Drunk! to be up that high.  A teeny tiny knee-high railing kept me from falling, but a vertiginous despair, and shame over the Raiders performance that day had me leaning towards the edge.

     Beers were scandalously expensive, so when this young white guy offered me a bottle of Schnapps, I eagerly toasted his health.  Then we toasted the health of the Raiders on their way to a number one draft pick.  I wisely declined to toast the health of Old Al Davis, who once had the nerve to move the team to LA.     

Then I threw up over the railing, and watched my vomit spiral down what seemed like a thousand feet to the ground, and felt good enough then for yet another shot, in farewell to my new-found friend and his newly-emptied bottle of Schnapps.

     The smoking section was caged, tiny, and full.  I bummed a couple of hits off some joints, but when I hit up the guys with the crack pipe in the corner, I had a "Dorothy's not in Kansas anymore" moment, and decided I'd had enough drugs for the day.  We left early, the Raiders behind 24-3, bart leisurely and uncrowded, a couple of beers waiting for us in the VeeWee, and easy directions home. 

     Just take the 8 to the 80, they told us.  Which I swear I would have done, until I saw the signs that told me I was heading for Stockton....

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