I own three sweatshirts, and this morning, I opted to wear the gray, hooded one–which happens to have WESTERN stamped across the chest in blue “your-college-here” block letters. This, I realize upon entering the University of Washington campus, was not the best choice.
My mom, my stepdad Steve, Mitch and I are here for the Huskies vs. Somebody game–more specifically, we’re here to watch my brother Ross play sax in the marching band–and everybody we encounter within the gates of UW’s Campus is either a sorority girl, decked out for Formal Rush Week (think Mean Girls: The College Years), or a Husky fan.
The place is awash with purple and gold: Husky banners trail from pick-ups and sedans and RVs; men in Husky jackets and caps toast the game with Husky beer mugs; tacky gold W earrings wink from beneath carefully teased bouffants. Stuffed huskies, draped in purple and gold mardi gras beads, perch atop trash cans. Students rush by with pawprints fake-tattooed on their cheekbones, flaunting their “U of Wash” T-shirts; little girls in UW cheerleading costumes hang off their mothers’ arms, and one old woman sports an eyecatching cap, which is completely covered in sequins–lavender, surrounding a gold W.
“They don’t have a problem with Western here, do they, Mom?” I ask, folding my arms over my chest. I am sincerely concerned about getting mobbed–after all, I am pathetically outnumbered, and I’ve heard tales of the old-school feud that UW has going with Washington State.
Mom laughs. “No, down here they think you Western kids are nice.”
I’ll take nice, if it means not getting attacked by rabid Husky fans.
We left early this morning, after a brief tussle about our own Husky car flag (Steve wanted it up, proud and purple, heralding us as the half-hearted “I’m-really-here-for-the-marching-band” fans that we are, while Mom protested. Finally, the flag went up and stayed there, despite my attempt to sneak it back into the car), and, fortified with caffiene, we drove the 2 hours to Seattle in a comfortable, coffee-scented silence.
Once there, our first order of business is lunch, and this is a bit tricky, given the loosely interpreted rules about where you can and cannot have food around Husky Stadium. In Dempsey Indoor Stadium, for example, where Ross is playing in the pre-game “Husky Huddle”, you can not have “outside food”–only the five dollar chili dogs available at Dempsey’s concession stand.
So we spread our little hippie picnic out on a patch of grass near Dempsey Stadium, and unpack things like tapanade, olive bread, homemade brownies and Blue Sky All-Natural Soda.
And Baked Cheetoes.
I will say this: in the land of all things synthetic and impure, the Baked Cheeto is king. Not only is it tasty, fluorescent orange, and available in a wide variety of textures and cheese-related flavors, it also offers the comforting illusion of being good for you.
I love Baked Cheetoes.
When we finish licking the last sticky orange remainder of lunch off our fingers, we head into Dempsey, which is, of course, awash in purple and gold–and today is, oh joy, Husky Band Day, which means that Dempsey is packed with kids from high schools all over Washington, here in uniform to watch the Husky Band at work.
Thirty bands worth of high school kids. Hoo-rah.
We find a spot on the Astroturf and settle in, hoping that Ross will be somewhere within eyesight once the show gets going–and we don’t have long to wait to find out, because, a few minutes after we shrug off our raincoats and shuffle around, trying to make the most of our standing room, the Husky Band drum line sprints out onto the ‘turf, pauses for the briefest of seconds, and then proceeds to beat the hell out of their snares, cymbals and bass drums.
I love the drum line. Boy, with those drums they communicate some wild excitement; they deliver an intense anticipation of something, I do not know what–only that, in my case, it is not football. I couldn’t care less about the football, honestly, but I really like the drums.
With the drum line, out come the cheerleaders, and they are everything one might expect from cheerleaders: purple panties flashing beneath white pleated shirts, lean muscular legs, interchangable faces, and vari-colored hair ironed into sleek curtains.
They do handsprings and backflips, they bust out the pom-poms, while the boy cheer squad (oh, yes, the boy cheer squad) pumps their collective fist and chants something that I cannot catch.
I’m bouncing on the balls of my feet, clapping, as the rest of the band sprints out, purple and white uniforms crisp and accented by a glint of brass. There are nearly two hundred musicians, spread out over the front of the indoor stadium, and, though it’s tough to look cool in a band uniform, I’d say that most of them manage it pretty nicely–and that my brother, who is well over six-feet tall and standing dead center in front of us (“Yes!” my Mom calls over the drums, “How’s that for luck?”), looks mighty tough in his Husky threads.
But perhaps I’m a bit biased.
So the band leads us in some rousing renditions of “Tequila” (we all know the words to that one), UW’s fight song “Bow Down to Washington” (surely one of the weirdest songs ever written) and, ah, yes, “Louie Louie.”
That’d be the one where the whole sax section gets up in front and dry-humps their horns for the duration of the song–while playing the lead. It’s rather impressive, I must say. (Quote from my brother, later that night: “God, my quads just burn–I mean, you can only hump a saxophone for so long…”.)
Partway through the show (cue theme music)…out comes the baton twirler. Pretty and blonde, decked out in a sequined leotard (yup, complete with a gold W over her midriff), she is…possibly stupendous? I’m not sure there’s actually a word for it, but wow.
The only thing I’ve ever seen to rival her for hotness was at a funk show in Salt Lake City, when a dread-locked, bandau-topped, tattooed girl stood off to one side of the dance floor and executed all kinds of hula hoop moves that I’d never dreamed possible–shimmying the hula hoop from ankle to waist, waist to neck, neck to the fingertips of an extended arm, and back down again; whipping the hoop around her body, limb to limb, without any evident pattern, all while keeping perfect time to the music.
That was probably the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time, followed very, very closely by UW’s baton twirler.
Oh yeah, and I saw a firedancer once. That was cool, too.
So the baton twirler juggles and tosses and somesaults and smiles, as the band plays, dances, and occasionally sings, and all the while the cheerleaders shake their booties, pompoms and hair, and throw each other around.
Mitch and I elbow each other constantly, pointing and calling, “Ooo, look over there,” while trying not to miss our cue to shout “Go Huskies!” or “Tequila!” or whatever.
By the time it’s all said and done, and the last tassled cap has marched out through the stadium door, I’m thoroughly overstimulated.
And the football game hasn’t even started.
Okay, let’s just say it: football is weird. Does any game really need that many rules? C’mon.
Halfway through the first quarter, as Mitch is explaining to me what the hell a touchback is, I decide that there’s really no point asking “What just happened?”, when any explanation will require five minutes, several diagrams and some elaborate hand gestures.
Eh. At least I know what a touchdown is.
In keeping with Northwest tradition, it looked miserable this morning, making us all think jackets, hats and sweaters were necessary, but by noon the sun’s out and shining and I would trade a whole bag of Baked Cheetoes for my sunglasses, which I mistakenly left in the car (O cursed lack of foresight! How could I be so blind?).
As I my eyes glaze over with inattention, I watch the planes zoom in close overhead on their way in or out of SeaTac (I can just hear the captain: “…and to your left, you’ll see Husky Stadium, where a game is currently in progress–the Huskies are probably losing again, so you might not want to look…”), fiddle idly with my pile of discarded clothing, and stare unabashedly ’round at the crowd.
Finally, I pinch my mom and ask if she has a pen. “Why?” she squints at me, “what for?”
“…take notes,” I mumble, and she laughs.
“You’re not going to blog about this, are you?”
“Maybe,” I say, but by then she’s given me the pen, so ha! I dig out my trusty notebook and start scribbling.
Somehow, I make it to halftime, and I get all excited about seeing the band march and make funny, purple shapes on the field…but to my dismay, all the high school bands start filing onto the field with the Husky Band.
Combined, they take up the entire field. There will be no marching, I can tell.
Instead, they serenade us with a rather spotty version of “New York, New York” (“For your halftime confusion,” Mitch narrates for me, mimicking the announcer’s voice, “thirty-two different bands will play thirty-two different renditions of the popular Frank Sinatra tune, ‘New York, New York’–at thirty-two different tempos!”).
And then the game’s back on.
To summarize: what the crap?! The Huskies won!
After the game, we do a bit of shopping on University Ave., because I need more of my favorite notebooks, and I only know of one store on the West Coast that carries them, and Steve wants another Husky flag for the car.
“So we can have one on each side,” he says, and I swear he’s smiling mischeviously. “Like a hearse!”
Mom rolls her eyes. Ah, how well I know that look.
We shop, we eat burritos, we drop Ross off at his frat house and say good-bye as Mom hands him a parting gift of laundry detergent, brownies and $10 in quarters.
“Go forth and do laundry!” We call, as we climb back into the flag-bedecked car and hit the road. The only tough spot on the way home comes when Mom tries to roll her window down, nearly tossing one of the Husky flags into traffic.
“Oops,” she says, as Steve reaches over her seat to snatch it out of the window and save it from almost certain demise–but not before a passing car (whose driver is, I notice, wearing a purple and gold windbreaker) spies the flag and gives us a solemn, supportive thumbs-up.