Saturday August 19, 2017
Of all the places one could meet their soulmate, a Jimmy Buffett concert is about as improbable, and unexpected as they come. Especially when you consider Talita had never heard of him before that day. 😂
Yes, that Jimmy Buffett. The then 70 year old musician whose music could be considered a cross between country and Caribbean, or as he calls it “Gulf and Western” and most famously sings the song Margaritaville.
Jimmy has a cult like following, his obsessed fans call themselves the Parrot Heads.
Don't get me wrong. Jimmy’s music is great, and his performance is a whole party experience, but main reason we were there that day was for the party before the party, the Tailgating.
For 8 hours, in the 85° August New England sun, thousands of Jimmy’s dedicated legions turn that vast concert parking lot into a complete circus, unlike any other sporting event or musical festival I’ve experienced.
2017 was my 5th straight year attending the annual event at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA. At this point I was a seasoned vet, contributing to the festivities, and that contribution was the Wheel.
In the summer of 2016, for about $200 in materials, and 20 hours of labor, I built the wheel in my garage with a friend. Earlier that spring I sketched out the design on a piece of paper at lunch. The key to building it would be the spinning mechanism. For what I had planned, I needed something strong enough to spin a large sheet of wood. After discovering a marine boat seat swivel on Amazon, I knew I could make this work. The project took about 2 weeks to complete.
Before continuing, I should first explain the motivation for why I took on this ridiculous project. I’m competitive.
4 years earlier…
My first year at Buffett was an eye opening experience. I love to party, I love to plan, and I really love going overboard on insane over-the-top homemade projects centered around drinking shenanigans. Jimmy Buffett tailgating is a unique convergence of these 3 things. And each year, generations of die-hard fans come together in this yearly tradition to have a crazy party in a parking lot with whatever they can transport in their vehicles.
Ingenious was the word of the day.
Amongst the rows and rows of parked vehicles, there were countless constructions, contraptions, and creations celebrating the easy-going Caribbean vibes Jimmy sang about. The spectacles of that day were limited only by the imagination and creativity of the attendees, and the size of their trucks.
There was a beach party, ... in the parking lot … with sand.
A group trucked in enough sand to create a small beach at the intersection between the rows of cars. The perimeter of the sand was lined with huge outdoor speakers. A DJ had the sandy dance floor packed with about 60 people grinding in the summer heat.
There was a water slide.
A guy used plastic lining in the bed of his pickup, filled it with water, and built a slide over the cab with a good 7ft drop into the makeshift pool.
My friend Kelly testing it out 😂
Thousands of people roamed between the isle of cars that seemed to stretch endlessly in all directions. Like neighborhoods, there were sections, and the epicenter of it all was the RV/ Bus zone.
Representing the final level of tailgating mastery, masses weaved through the maze of decorated campers, and custom rebuilt buses.
There was a pirate ship, built out of a bus.
The inside of a U-Haul rental was converted into a club.
A two story school bus complete with a roof deck patio.
I salute this level of effort and dedication, even if it borders on the absurd.
Carnival style games of chance tempted the dense traffic of partygoers with free drinks at the risk of becoming PG-13 (and occasionally R 🙈) rated entertainment for the crowd.
It was not uncommon to see breasts flashing, bare butts getting spanked, or strangers making out in front of the throngs that gathered.
Winning was rewarded with alcohol, and the delivery methods were as creative as the games.
There were body shots, jello shots, water gun shots, and 4 shots on a ski.
One of the more common games were the wheels of chance. Imagine Wheel of Fortune. Now imagine something bought off Amazon, about 18 inches tall and for office parties. The dry erase pie slices overwritten with “show your tits” or “shake you ass” intermingled between the alcoholic prizes.
Sex and alcohol. All good fun in the spirit of Jimmy’s classic, Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw?
I went home from that first Buffett feeling a calling. I loved to build dumb shit to impress people, and I wanted to showcase that talent at Buffett tailgating because these were the people who would appreciate it the most.
Fast forward back to 2017.
Introduced a year earlier, this year's version of The Wheel included all the lessons learned from the year prior including involving more players in the game at one time and more embarrassing tasks for male players to complete.
Always looking to improve, Version 1.0 of The Wheel was my solution to what really bothered me about the other wheels of chance, they were too small.
Size mattered, and the repercussions for spinning those fun-sized wheels seemed disproportionated to the presentation. Nothing about them compelled someone to want to play.
I wanted to build the biggest wheel possible. I wanted people to feel like they actually were on a game show. I wanted a huge crowd. I wanted stakes. I wanted a spectacle.
“Spin the Fin” was born.
(An homage to Jimmy’s song “Fins”, the wheel was on brand)
I actually devised an entire game around this wheel. Feel free to appreciate the attention to detail and read rules here.
I know… it was a lot. 😅
Running the Wheel required multiple jobs:
Our MC was bold and banterful. He drummed up crowd participation and provided play-by-play for the audience.
The DJ kept the music bumping on the insanely large speakers we had running on generator power.
1-2 assistants would manage crowd control and direct the line of individuals waiting to play.
Lastly there’s the Bartender. Shirtless, in the best shape of my life, donning a Flava Flav style bartender necklace (I also constructed), I maintained the order of the whole production, and distributed the alcoholic winnings to our participants.
How was the Wheel received by Buffett Culture?
To pure pandemonium.
MC bellowing, stripper music booming, a guy is giving a lady a lapdance, and now someone’s licking a whipped cream vanilla body shot off a stranger's belly button, all the while a crowd of 100 roars as Security threatened to kick us out if we can’t get things under control.
My favorite endorsement from all that hard work paying off, came from an absolute stranger 6 months later. At a random bar in Worcester MA, someone mentioned they had gone to the Jimmy Buffett concert that summer and saw the craziest thing ever, an enormous wheel where all the girls were taking their tops off.
A single tear rolled down my cheek.
Kiss the Bartender
Talita has entered the chat.
So if you took the time to read the Wheel rules, you might have noticed a space called, “Kiss the Bartender.” As “bartender,” it was the additional job of the individual (we were all guys) adorning the Flava Flav necklace, to kiss any lady whose spin landed on that spot.
Not expecting the popularity of the wheel, the 1 in 10 chance of having to kiss someone seemed a reasonable task. Seriously, how many people would actually play the game, and be women, and hit that space? 10? 15? After hours of constant contestants, that estimate became laughably miscalculated.
As T likes to tell me, I was definitely a hoe that day.
Speaking of her, she’s about to make her entrance…
So, back to the MC, and stipper music, and the whipped cream shots. Always scanning the crowd, I was curious who would next try their luck at our game.
And then I saw her. On the edge of the crowd. She was stunning. Olive skin, slender, gorgeous.
And weirdly out of place. Amongst the sea of typical New Englanders, she looked uniquely intriguing. Also, she was brown, and let’s face it, there’s not a lot of brown folks at a New England Buffett’s. 😂
Our eyes met and I immediately knew she was waiting to spin the wheel. The excitement was electrifying. As she approached, she flashed that coy smile, and I went into explaining the rules.
Basically, I highlighted the prizes, and consequences, but before I could finish, she let me know that,
“I will not be showing my tits or my ass.”
“I don’t control the Wheel, it's up to luck”
And before I completed that sentence, she had already spun.
It was now in fate's hands. In my head I was calculating all the outcomes. There was just one chance in 10….
The Wheel continued to spin for what felt like an eternity, then began to slow.
It clicked past the bartender space, and didn’t have enough momentum for another round.
I thought she’d walk if it landed on a flash or ass space, she didn’t seem the type.
I’d lost, and I wasn’t even playing.
The wheel slowed to its final resting place,.. No, wait, There was another spot, one I completely forgot about.
The Wheel stopped.
The Universe has entered the chat.
“Ladies Choice” was designed to give the contestants a little more agency and one could choose any other space on the Wheel to land on, (a new addition for Version 2.0.)
I let her know what her options were, and she let me know that she had come up there with one thing on her mind, to kiss the bartender.
I chuckle to myself. A perfect retort.
Never had I wanted something so badly…
And to have it happen.
Things NEVER work out like this.
It felt almost supernatural. The universe. I felt it at that moment. And I felt it in that kiss.
You see, I kissed more women that day than any other day of my life. Probably more than all the other days combined.
And in that moment, I immediately knew something was different.
This was the best kiss of the day, and it wasn’t even close.
Looking back I can’t remember any other kiss of my life affecting me that way. There was something beyond the real world happening.