Filing out of the Runcible Spoon with a distended belly, it was, as they say, a great day for a good stretch of the legs.It was a pristine and crisp fall morning in Bloomington, one of the quintessential college towns in the country.I fell in line with the crimson herd shuffling along the sidewalk on Indiana Avenue for a leisurely stroll up to Memorial Stadium.The Halloween contingent was out in full festive force, many students garbed in garish and clichéd costumes, toting boxes of beer alongside.Predictably, a couple of bearded “Allen” from the Hangover characters passed by one another, chest bumping in their baby bjorns.
At the approach to Memorial Stadium a sea of lush grass parking lots open up, flooded with cars parked beneath the hardwood canopy overhead.Dotted with massive oaks and maples ablaze in full autumn splendor, tents and grills smoking away beneath, the Indiana tailgating scene in late October is magnificent.The picturesque fall backdrop was eerily reminiscent of the infamous Grove at Ole Miss, minus the opulence and Southern mannerisms of course.
Heading further east on 17th street towards Woodlawn, the tailgating scene takes on a decidedly more rowdy atmosphere.Thousands of students were jammed into a muddy field, packed in tighter than an all night rave, the ground littered with empty solo cups and aluminum cans.A handful of trucks were scattered haphazardly throughout the mob, loaded over the sideboards with beer, doors flung wide open with hip hop music bumping away.Naturally, the Bloomington cops were perched around the perimeter like eagles scanning for prey, glassing the riot for brawlers or the unruly.They had a gated tent set up nearby as ad hoc drunk tank, a couple of cherub faced undergrads sat handcuffed, whimpering dejectedly in metal folding chairs as they were processed.
I’ve seen a lot of tailgating in my travels, but nothing as dense and intense as this particular student scene at IU.With that level of raucousness, it’s no small wonder why most of them never make it into the stadium.
With game time approaching, I sauntered across the street and swooped up a quick ticket for twenty bucks.With the uninspiring IU vs Northwestern matchup, the scalpers put up little fuss at the negotiating table.As I walked past the west side of Memorial Stadium, displayed on the concrete stood a couple of WW2 era anti aircraft guns and a towering ship mast draped with Big 10 flags.It turns out the mainmast came from the decommissioned USS Indiana, a South Dakota class Battleship that served in the Pacific theater of the war, and now enshrines the football stadium.
Predictably, the game itself was a side note on the day.Similar to Kentucky, Indiana fans make it clear that basketball is the real season in Bloomington.The stadium barely filled up halfway, and I retreated back a row to spread out across a row of cushioned seats left unoccupied.The PA tried to pump some energy into the aloof crowd, belting out an exaggerated “First down Hoooooooooosiers” after Indiana moved the chains, punctuated by a brassy military band march straight out of the inspection scene from The Dirty Dozen.Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to will the Hoosiers to a victory on this day, in typical Big 10 doormat fashion they were drubbed by the Wildcats 59-38.
Interestingly, Indiana was the first venue I have been to that doesn’t have a tawdry school mascot dancing around on the sidelines.It was refreshing to see a school that doesn’t feel compelled to send a giant inflatable “Hoosier” costume fumbling away behind the bench.
Following the game, I took a leisurely stroll around the IU campus, reputed to be one of the more picturesque campuses in the Big 10.Decked out in resplendent fall color, the classic gothic architecture and iconic Indiana limestone are the standard for collegiate campus architecture.Football aside, Indiana University in the late fall is a magnificent place to visit, and Bloomington one of the all time great college towns.
Special thanks to my friends Gordon and Ken, both esteemed IU alums, for their excellent recommendations during my Bloomington experience.
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