An Oldster's "Bitter Old Man" take on the Vendor Controversy

I went to my first Iowa football game in 1969, I think I recall. At the time, I barely spoke in coherent sentences and had about a 50/50 chance of shitting in my pants if left unattended for more than an hour (1). Leaving a toddler unattended for more than half and hour nowadays gets you a date with a social worker. Back then, all you had to do was change a shitty pair of polyester kid-pants. Ah, the good ole days!

Okay, maybe I've lost the thread a bit. Back in 1969, we kind of stunk on the field most of the time. Had a decent squad in '68, but then the infamous race-based player strike and Ray Nagel's firing-rehiring took place, and suddenly we stunk. Fortunately, this was the late 60's and early 70's, so other diversions made themselves manifest:

1. Weed. There was a lot of weed around. And people smoked it.

2. Booze. My parents told me stories about drunk driving (not by them, BTW) from those days that, just hearing about them, would raise your BAL to a questionable level. EVERYONE drank, and a lot (2)

3. The Band. The Highlanders.

4. Streaking. Kind of a 70's thing, but I'm working my way there. (3)

Alright, so it's 1969 and I go to a game and since I'm a toddler I remain reasonably sober and innocent. But within a few years, when I'm a kid buying knot-hole tickets ($4-$6) my Eyes were Kubrickian-ly Not Wide Shut. By 1975, I could identify the aroma of pot even through the stench of nearby vomit. I saw people rounding third and on their way home on the hill in the grassy end zone triangles of Kinnick. And they weren't playing baseball. (4) I saw people puke, fall down, get up, stagger to a trash can, and remain there passed out for an hour as they pissed their own pants

Game? WHAT game? Everybody loved the band. Everybody tolerated the Scottish Highlanders. People openly drank beer, openly drank whisky (I sold pop as a stands-walking vendor more for mixing than for soda-drinking). People tail-gated everywhere: lawns, medians, the street. There was some trash, but not out of control (and this was BEFORE the can deposit, mind you). (5)

The team, more likely than not, would go 3-8. But they still filled Kinnick >80% of capacity. Why? Because it was a FUCKING BLAST. I went ten years in that bacchanalian environment, and never saw a SINGLE arrest. Or a SINGLE fight. And only a few wins to justify the "real" reason we were supposed to be there.

Cut to 2000. Botas are gone. Sex in the end zones is gone. (6) Pot is gone. Beer and booze inside are gone. Paradoxically, everyone gets ripped BEFORE the game--a "front-loading" of intoxication thing--but the overall in-game and post-game behavior has taken a downturn. I never used to see people passed-out in the first half, but I sure do now. I see more fights. More arrests. Melrose Ave turns into a street carnival, with vendors and a Mardi Gras-like open container tolerance.

And the team sucks. Attendance falls some, but it's still a blast.

Cut to 2010. One thing that's changed is the $$$ factor. In 2000, $100 might buy you a season ticket. Gas is under $1.50 a gallon. No "seat licenses" to pay for a prime seat. Nowadays, the team is a perennial winner, and a season ticket runs into the hundreds of $$$. In 2010, the "front-loading" with booze remains, if not worsens, and some people complain. Well, I can't blame them. I don't like walking through puke at 10 a.m., nor watch fellow Iowa "fans" get in the face of some 80 year old Cyclone fan, whom they call a "Pussy Motherfucker" in slurred drunk-tongue. (7)

The solution, though, is right out of a Banana Republic. Walk one foot out of a yard into the street and it'll cost you $130. Hell, walk onto a sidewalk and you're in danger of a citation. You can't even play "quarters" for fucking SODA without getting hassled. It's a PR nightmare, and deservedly so. All any of us want is for the Drunken Louts to be taken out of commission, but this is not the way to do it. Eventually, it equilibrates: drink beer, hide your booze, and stay out of the street with your brew. I can live with that. But the stench of that PR nightmare lingers for some.

Hey, ticket prices increased AGAIN! Thanks, University of Iowa! The team should win more than they lose at home in 2011, so I'm not much worried about being entertained on the field. But now a few persons have decided that they don't like "Vendors" on Melrose Ave. This I do not understand. There are about ten houses across from Kinnick affected by vending. There's hardly any other houses or streets immediately behind them. It's hardly a "neighborhood" in Vendo-land.

Let's examine what happens on Melrose on game days. You have food and apparel vendors. You have some cars being parked. You have people crossing the street to go to the game. THAT'S IT. It's a carnival atmosphere, but as carnivals go it's pretty tame. And most of it, you will NEVER change. Get rid of the vendors, you still have 70,000 people milling around. You still have cars being parked. You can't get rid of the cars--where the fuck are you going to put them? They've already about maxxed-out the "park a mile away and take a shuttle" concept.

But what you WILL get rid of is the atmosphere that makes going to a game in Kinnick--win OR lose--a special and unique experience. You're not going to get that inside the stadium any longer, like you did back in the seventies (hell, we haven't even had a decent streaker in 30+ years). The H M Band can't supply it, and I haven't smelled doobie in the stands since 1984. As long as we win, it MAY seem worth it. But crap, for the $$$ it takes, and the hassle it takes to get there sometimes, and the time it takes (since I no longer live in IC), I want every ATOM of fun I can get out of the experience, and for someone who doesn't even LIVE on Melrose to tell me that vendors cause trash and vendors cause congestion and vendors cause chaos and vendors caused the mortgage crisis (8) is ludicrous.

Get rid of vendors, and as far as problems go, you've eliminated--nothing. There will still be trash, and crowds, and drunks, and mouthy students. Only now they'll be hungry and pissed-off and have empty stomachs in which they will fill with gallons of un-opposed Jagermeister and Mike's Hard Lemonade. If Jean Walker et Co. think that vendors are the problem, then they probably also think that we really landed a man on the moon. (9)

The only way to create the atmosphere these idiots want on game day is to no longer HAVE a game day. In 1973, the team went 0-11. A clean slate! Yet they still averaged about 40,000 per game at a time the stadium sat about 55,000. Read that again. We went oh-fer and STILL, in the cold of the Midwest, filled the stands to 75% of capacity.

And it wasn't for the football. It was for the EXPERIENCE. So when there's no more EXPERIENCE.....


(1) Both of which are still somewhat true, depending on the day.

(2) My favorite: a guest drinks too much, waves a happy goodbye to the other party-goers, hops in his car, and proceeds to drive down a series of front-yards, as if they were a road, one after the other, for an entire block.

(3) I sold pop on the day of the infamous streaker. He ran under  the south end zone stands--right beneath me--and ducked into a bathroom. Never got caught.

(4) I never saw the Beast With Two Backs myself, but heard others say that blankets would mysteriously begin to move in a rhythmic fashion on occasion. I did watch some hippie examine every millimeter of his girlfriend's breasts once. Maybe he was checking for lumps, I dunno. For a ten-year old, this was a lot of fun.

(5) In the old days, drunk people were nicer, though just as drunk. And high people were super friendly, though usually really fuckin' hungry. As for trash, it will always be in the yards, and a little in the street. Hey, how about MORE trash-cans around the stadium? Since I thought of it first, I should get the Nobel for that brilliant concept. How about bins for 5 cent deposit cans, with the $$$ going to rotating charities? I'll see you in Stockholm, gentlemen.

(6) Now even the end zone grassy areas are gone, replaced with the ESPN Gameday Team. But when they existed, those two little triangular hills by the south stands were like Woodstock without the music, but with just as much mud, sex, drink, and drugs. There was some grass to the north as well, but the areas in the south were always the more decadent, I recall.

(7) This kind of thing upsets me. I do think that the early a.m. imbibing is out of control, and so I remain in favor of cops hassling the obviously shit-faced and obnoxious when necessary. The "front-loaded" drinking is part of the cause, but maturity is something that you can't really legislate in a college town. Some of these problems will always occur, I'm afraid.

(8) I think this will be coming out soon from those people.

(9) Remember, Neal Armstrong went to PURDUE. 'Nuff said.

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