You may not believe it, but in these increasingly divisive and contentious times, the best place to find real community spirit is in a parking lot.
At a tailgate everyone is a fan, even if they’re not wearing the right jersey. Strangers are greeted like friends, supplies are shared without hesitation, and the next high five is always just moments away.
On a recent Sunday morning, I spent a glorious three hours in the lot at Candlestick Park among thousands of gleeful 49ers fans. The gates opened only four hours before the game started, but in that short time the faithful created their own microcosm of San Francisco. Every facet of our delightfully diverse city was there, full of civic spirit and draped in maroon and gold. The tailgaters welcomed me and my peerless photo team to their paty without borders, offering fellowship, food, and freaking strong drink. Get ready to meet some great people.
Favorite tailgate meal:
“Got to be lobster tails and filet.”
Dean’s been coming to games with his brother for three decades. He converted his RV, originally a bright-yellow school bus from Idaho, five years ago and has driven it to every home game since. He’d been parked outside Candlestick since Saturday.
“I’ve missed two home games in the last 31 years.”
Looking at Terry, you might think the most interesting
things about his setup would be the hat, the mustache, and
the button-covered duster. But you’d be wrong. Using a motor from a woodchipper, Terry built a pull-start margarita machine that features wheels, a horn, and a siren. He shared one of his delicious drinks and explained why, exactly, he had gone to all that trouble. “Because you can. It’s America.”
On the grill:
“Tri-tip, wings, and linguiça.”
For the last five years, David has been grilling and chilling in his parking spot before games. That imposing piece of furniture behind him started as a simple wine rack, but now holds his supplies, which are numerous and varied. Who knows how big it might get in another five years? According to David, there’s just one rule for a successful tailgate: “Everybody is welcome.”
Farthest trip to the tailgate:
“This guy’s from Brisbane, Australia. He’s pumped!”
The Niner Empire, a remarkably well-organized fan group, was out in force with more than 60 members in attendance. Fearless leader Joe, from San Francisco, explained the Empire’s mission: “We’re a family. That’s the thing.” Meanwhile, the ladies minding the two huge grills had their hands full with ribs, tri-tip, and Hawaiian chicken. Niner Empire member “Uncle John,” of Oakland, was rightly proud of the spread, bragging, “We never go hungry!”
Favorite pregame game:
“ Cornhole. The best.”
Steve’s been coming to home games for the last 20 years, but he’s only had the “9R Party” for the last five. “It used to be my work truck,” he said with a smile. “I could have sold it, but this was better.” Steve can pull down a screen inside to show the early games while he and his friends enjoy their repast, which included pork tenderloin and Jell-O shots. (I couldn’t get a straight answer about the mask. Probably safe to assume the
Jell-O shots were involved.)
“Boys” or “Boyz”:
“Put a ‘Z’ on it! Put a ‘Z’ on it!”
Some people just bring some drinks and grub to the parking lot and call it a tailgate, but the Section 12 Boyz know there’s more to it than that. After 10 years of coming to games, self-appointed chef Bernard has learned that you can’t spell “party” without “art.” “I pick a theme every week,” he explained. This week was Oktoberfest, so along with a lot of beer, the Boyz were enjoying marinated pork loin and Bavarian cabbage.
Tastiest tailgate ever:
“We did chicken tikka out here once.”
As you can see from the variety of amusements on the table, Omar and his friends know how to have a good time. Along with puffing on the only hookah I saw all day, they were engrossed in serious games of cards and dominoes. Omar’s been tailgating for three years, but he’s already learned the best thing you can find in the lot: “The people. The people make it fun.”
Words to live by:
“Never trust a skinny chef.”
A former restaurateur, Glenn wasn’t messing around when it came to the food. His tailgate featured grilled homemade pizza and a High Holidays smoked fish platter, imported from New York. He explained his philosophy succinctly: “You’ve got to set it up the right way. You need to have the right equipment. I do.” He should — he’s been coming to games for 32 years and attended all five of the 49ers’ Super Bowl victories.
“You gotta have faith.”
Clyde starting going to games when he was 7 and the team
was still playing at Kezar Stadium. With all that history, I had to know what his favorite 49ers moment was. Clyde smiled. “ The Catch was pretty good, against Dallas and all. I can get with that.” Judging from the crowd and the smell in the air, everyone else was looking to get with Clyde’s ribs and steak.