Columbia hates me.
I’m starting to wonder if it’s personal. During my first visit last year, an icy wind howled through the parking lots. Cutting through layers of clothing, upending tables and tents, we were driven out of tailgating, retreating instead to the comforts of Shakespeare Pizza. As the Tigers moved to the SEC Conference this season, I circled the biggest game on the calendar at Memorial Stadium in 2012; the #1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. A short two hour drive from Saint Louis, Mizzou would be a welcome reprieve to the long travel hours I’ve already logged this year, and a chance for Chrissy to give me the VIP tour of “COMO” (an abbreviation of Columbia, MO).
Cruising into town after work, it feels good to be back behind the wheel of the Jetta. Friday night starts promptly at Booches Billiard Hall when I drag Chrissy and her family there. A 128 year old throwback of pool hall splendor, I wrote extensively about the Columbia institution last year here. Settling into a sturdy oak table, the aloof waitress delivers a few of their signature burgers, each slid onto the table on single sheet of wax paper. A couple of Stag lagers wash the feast down, under the glow of those same classic neon beer signs. I note a yellowed sign above the bar that reads “unattended children will be sold as slaves”, one of a handful of crass statements found tacked on the walls.
A few hours later we slip into Campus Bar and Grill, knocking on the alley back door in speakeasy fashion and gliding past a familiar bouncer. Formerly known as the Big 12 Pub, the joint was forced to change its name after a lawsuit from the football conference bearing the same name. Stainless steel bar tops swarm with red Cardinals shirts, students clutch pitchers of cheap swill, all glued to flat screen TV’s aglow with the MLB playoffs. In the 9th inning the Cardinals come back in thrilling fashion to clinch the opening playoff series. The entire bar erupts in celebration, fans standing on tables, beers tossed into the air in a foamy shower. Chrissy’s friend Mary slings drinks behind the bustling counter, the entire length stacked three deep. Our drinks flow constantly, perhaps too quickly. We take shots. Then take a few more. A few Irish Car Bombs follow. What started innocently turns into a big night.
Saturday morning, I wake up to the patter of rain. A glance out the window confirms the weather turning even more lecherous than last year. We tempt the tailgate anyway. An ash sky swirls overhead, and clouds hover ominously above black tents and flapping yellow flags scattered throughout tailgating Lot X. Unsure if the weather will hold, we drink beer to appease the tempest. Craft beer actually, a fine offering of local Schlafly seasonal ales presented to the gods. Mine goes down like battery acid, a reminder of the late night before, each sip a test of will.
After a few hours in the lots, we brave the elements and file into the student section in Memorial Stadium. The gate attendant inspects student ID cards methodically like a rookie bouncer, but not carefully enough. I glide past her with my phony plastic credentials. Assuming standing positions on the greasy aluminum bleachers, our footholds grow slicker each moment as the rain gets heavier. Before kickoff the drizzle turns to a downpour, and, without raingear, we’re woefully underprepared. A few students produce flimsy plastic ponchos, others remove their shirts entirely. For lack of alternative, we get wet.
The game kicks off under the steamy, warm rain and Missouri is whiplashed by the caliber of the defending National Champions. Hardly 15 seconds into the game, Alabama reels off an 80 yard touchdown run, dampening the already soaked spirits of the crowd. A few minutes later Alabama scores again and the rout is on. Despite performing competitively with the middle of the SEC pack this season, against the Crimson Tide the Tigers are decidedly outmatched. With a 28-0 blowout mounting in the second quarter, a flicker lights up the blanketed sky in the distance. Then another, closer. Finally, a flash of lightning penetrates the grey fold, erupting in brilliant tendrils streaking over the press box of Faurot Field. The referees halt the game, a mandatory 40 minute rain delay leaves the crowd stranded in the deluge, staring at an empty field.
Soaked to the bone with a blowout mounting, we hoof it out of the stadium for drier pastures. After a quick wardrobe change, we retreat to the shelter of Campus Bar once again, burying my nose in the thick foam of a fresh Guinness pint. It nourishes the soul. I stare into one of the few TV’s playing the Notre Dame game, erupting in fits and glee during the Irish dramatic overtime win against Stanford. From there, the night devolves into a pub crawl. Sprinting between bars, splashing though puddles and huddling beneath awnings amidst heavy showers, each pub is crowded and steamy. Despite the weather, the town still swarms with revelers. We put together an impressive string of bars, Willie’s, The Field House and a handful of others. A small cross section of the impressive night life to be found in Columbia. Underrated among the college football town landscape, perhaps the move to the SEC will help more traveling fans discover the jewel of Central Missouri. It’s truly a magnificent college town.
Perhaps next year I’ll finally catch some decent weather there…
Special thanks to Chrissy for playing tour guide all weekend, and showing me just how popular she still is in Columbia!
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