The Great Berkeley Road Trip


When I lived in San Diego and still had an alma mater, my old school came out to play Cal in football.  My buddy Manscape and I decided to make the road trip.  It was the fall of 2005…

Rest In Peace, Chief Illiniwek

We hit the road Friday morning and everything was going smooth.  My mother had just been out to visit and she left her rental car a few extra days to make the drive and not put the miles on my own piece of shit car.  More than a few people had questioned our decision not to fly, and the over/under on our drive was 9 hours with a high of 11, but I confidently predicted a 7.5 hour trek.  Traffic in L.A. was light and we cruised through the uninhabited wasteland of central California with ease.

In almost exactly seven and a half hours we were in Berkeley (thank you very much).  45 minutes after that we actually found our hotel (shut up).  Now, I must confess here that I had screwed around and not made reservations in a timely manner for this trip, so the hotel where the San Diego Illini Club and many other fellow fans were staying was filled up.  Fortunately, I had been able to secure accommodations at another venue.  This place was not only cheaper, but walking distance to both the stadium and the alumni’s hotel.  The only problem was that the place was a bed & breakfast and only offered one bed per room.  Although Manscape and I are tight, we aren’t close enough to start spooning yet.  But Manscape brought an aerobed and we were good to go.

Once we checked in we decided to take a tour of the campus and get some food. Berkeley is officially the worst campus I’ve ever seen in my life.  And I’ve seen a few.  This place is a shithole.  Homeless people, hippies who look like homeless people, people living in trees, ugly chicks, fraternity houses that don’t show even a hint of a weekend party (it’s 7 o’clock on a Friday and not a single person passed out on the lawn?  WTF?!?), just all around the worst place ever.  Walking down their main drag is like going through Tijuana.  On the light poles there were signs proclaiming the area to be a “Drug Free Zone.”  I thought that was pretty funny and decided to take a picture of the sign.  Some street vendor, a 250-pound black woman wearing a red cape, a hard hat painted like the flag of Israel and her face painted like a leopard (I am NOT making this up) thought I had taken her picture, so she gets all indignant, and as we’re walking away I hear her say, “That cracker ass white boy need to get his ass kicked!”  Manscape, who’s a pretty big guy, informed me he didn’t think we could take her so we quickened our pace.

After dinner we went back to the room to get ready to go out.  Thanks to my amazing foresight we had with us a cheap styrofoam cooler loaded with a big handle of vodka and enough Red Bull to explode an elephant’s heart.  We pounded drinks while getting ready.  I donned one of my favorite shirts, the one with Che Guevara that says “Commies Aren’t Cool,” and we walked down the street to our alumni’s hotel bar.

It’s always fun to drink with old people because they know they’re going to have to go to bed by 10 so they’re really intent on getting drunk before having to call it a night.  We, of course, get really fucked up and then keep on going.  So after the old folks went to bed a few of us younger alums hit a few more bars.  I got a lot of dirty looks for my shirt.  The bar scene in Berkeley is pretty weak, probably because of the presence of so many other mind-altering substances the kids can indulge in.  But we persevered.  We did a lot of shots, I got royally drunk and started blacking out, nothing too exciting happened and I was in bed by 2:30. 

Saturday morning I was less hung over than expected.  Manscape was hurting pretty bad and wanted to start drinking immediately to rectify the situation.  He still has a hard time accepting the fact that I won’t drink during Illini games, and tried in vain once again to convince me to tailgate with him.  I told him it wasn’t negotiable, I would be drinking nothing but water until postgame.

You guys remember Elizabeth Reid, right?  We’ve stayed more or less in touch as she’s moved about four times around the western United States.  Anyways, she rolled into Berkeley around noon and we met up at the tailgate area outside the stadium.  She was with her boyfriend and a friend who went to Berkeley.  She also knew someone who worked in the Cal athletic department and had all kinds of free food and drink coupons for the tailgate.  I hydrated and got some sustenance while everyone else worked on their pre-game buzz.

Up 17-7 at half, lost 35-20.

I’ll try not to get too lengthy with my game analysis, but to make a long story short, Illinois football sucked pretty bad back in ’05.  They played better than expected, made it competitive for three quarters, but in the end they were no match for a legitimate Division I program.  It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and we certainly didn’t expect much out of this season, so we didn’t take it too hard.  In other words, it was time to forget about football and let the drinking commence!

After the game we all went back to our lovely bed & breakfast.  The place has a sweet rooftop patio that has a view of San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz way off in the distance.  There were five of us and we started working on the vodka.  Five mere mortals would normally have trouble killing a handle of vodka, but there were three alcoholics in the group (Manscape, Elizabeth and myself), so we knocked it out in just a couple hours.  We had a riot up on the roof, shootin’ the shit, enjoying a rare nice day in the Bay Area, and generally being drunken idiots.  After we’d killed it we decided to hit the bars.

We were going down the stairs to street level when Manscape, just stupid drunk, took a fall and tumbled down the last flight of stairs, nearly taking me with him and sprawling out in the middle of the lobby with a busted ankle.  He was alternating laughing and moaning in pain.  The girl working the front desk was mortified.  I tried to help him up but he just stayed down right in front of the desk, groaning about his ankle.  I told him to suck it up and pulled him to his feet and we started off for the bars, Manscape limping like a cripple.

The first bar we came to had a patio area that was clearly marked exit only, but since Manscape was hammered and in pain he determined he was going to get in that way no matter what.  Bad idea.  The bouncer stopped him, then radioed to the bouncers at the front to be on the lookout for a belligerent limping idiot.  We got to the front and they informed us Manscape was too intoxicated to enter the bar.  Manscape was seconds away from erupting into an Incredible Hulk-like rage.  I did my best to calm him down, rounded everyone up, and we all headed for another bar.

At the next bar we settled in to drink heavily and wash away the pain of Illinois’ loss and Manscape’s busted ankle. Elizabeth was completely ignoring her boyfriend while she talked to her friend from Cal, and I could see the boyfriend getting angrier and angrier as the night wore on.  Manscape, meanwhile, was trying to drink the pain out of his ankle with vodka on the rocks and bitching non-stop about being denied access to the last bar.  Two angry drunk people, things were bound to get ugly sooner or later.

The three of us were talking football while Elizabeth was talking to the other guy, and this toolbox started lecturing me and Manscape on how little we knew about football.  It all started when I said Denny Green was one of the worst coaches in football.  The jackass actually asked me if I knew anything about football.   I calmly pointed out Denny’s losing record at Northwestern, his losing record at Stanford, and his perennial 8-8 teams at Minnesota before acquiring Randy Moss.  The boyfriend tried to go into a dissertation about how college and pro football have nothing to do with each other, and Denny Green was a masterful coach who had developed Daunte Culpepper into one of the finest QBs in the NFL.  (For the record, see Daunte’s career stats with and without Moss: 18,598 yards, 129 TDs, 74 INTs in five years with Moss; 5,555 yards, 20 TDs, 32 INTs in five years without Moss.  I rest my case.)

At some point Manscape got into the argument and the guy called him a “condescending asshole.”  Manscape just shrugged and said, “Well, I may only have one leg right now, but I’m pretty sure I can still snap you in half.”  He had a quiet, fiery intensity that told me he could explode at any point.  Knowing I had no chance of holding him back once he snapped (like I said, he’s a big dude), and not wanting to spend the night in a Berkeley jail, I did my best to diffuse the situation and was rewarded with the boyfriend not talking to anyone for the rest of the night.  He just sat and sulked.  Which freed Manscape and I to set about drinking even heavier.

The rest of our time at the bar is somewhat of a blur.  Manscape and I were drinking with reckless abandon.  I vaguely remember the lead singer of Counting Crows coming into the bar, walking by our table and acknowledging the Cal guy Elizabeth was with.  And I remember Manscape and I having an in-depth discussion on the relative merits of vodka versus gin.  (A foolish argument, I love them both!)

At last call we all parted ways.  The boyfriend was still sulking like a bitch and not speaking to anyone, so I gave Elizabeth an entirely inappropriate hug as a final parting shot, and Manscape and I stumbled off towards our bed & breakfast.

We took a couple wrong turns but eventually found our way, and we were stumbling up the stairs when we ran into this girl talking on her phone.  She stopped us and made some rude comment about our Illini shirts.  I was about to start some serious shit when Manscape somehow got hold of the girl’s phone and started talking to her friend, leaving me alone with the girl.  (He’s a clever bastard and a great wingman.)  She was in search of a lighter and we of course didn’t have one, so she left to walk down to a coffeehouse to find one.  But before she disappeared Manscape told her to stop by our room later.  She similarly invited us to join her in room 303.  She was not particularly attractive, but at 2 in the morning she seemed acceptable.

Up in our room Manscape was all over me to pay her a visit.  His logic was impeccable.  (“A hole is a hole… Pussy has no face… You’re not going to remember it anyway… I’ll never tell anyone…”)  Eventually I succumbed to his badgering and went down the hall.  Mostly I was just hoping she had some alcohol, since we had killed our handle of vodka earlier.  Alas, she wasn’t there.  I went back to our room.  But then he came up with the ingenious idea of leaving a note on her door.  We had a good laugh about it, I didn’t really think he was serious, but Manscape was once again using his ultra-persuasive arguments, and my will power was too inebriated to fight back.  I grabbed a sheet of paper and started jotting down my phone number.  It seemed like an asinine thing to do, but then Manscape had a brainstorm.  “Hey!” he slurred, “Put ‘For a good time call’ !!”

So I took the note down the hall to her room and left it there.  Went back to the room, crawled onto the inflatable bed and was just about passed out with when she called.  Manscape jerked awake and seemed more sober than he’d been in a day and a half.  “Holy shit!!  Is that her?!?”

It was indeed her.  She was out in the hallway and having trouble getting her key to work.  By this point I was so exhausted from the weekend that I wasn’t even interested, but I figured I had to play it out, so I went back down the hall to her room.  Just as I got there she got her door open and then turned to me and said, “Thanks, have a good night.”  And shut the door in my drunken face.  Guess she didn’t think the note was as funny as we did.  Bitch didn’t even have the courtesy to give me a drink for the road.  So I went back to bed and passed out.

Sunday morning we were both hung over as fuck.  We got on the road right after breakfast, stopped to fill up with gas, got some water to combat the hangover, found an ESPNRadio station for NFL updates, and we were on our way.

And that’s when it all started to fall apart.  About an hour out of Berkeley we got a flat tire.  So much for a 7.5 hour trip back.  We pulled over to the side of the road and assessed the situation.  We were officially in the middle of fucking nowhere, in the three hundred or so mile stretch of road between L.A. and the Bay Area that doesn’t have a town of any significance anywhere along it.  We popped the trunk and found that the spare was one of those worthless donuts.  So I dug out the rental information and called their roadside assistance number.  Of course, we had no idea where we actually were, so as I was calling Manscape started limping down the highway to find a mile marker.  Someone actually stopped to see if he was alright; they thought we had had an accident and he was injured and delusional, limping down the road in search of help!  Yeah, that’s how bad we looked from the weekend.

Roadside assistance was no help.  There wasn’t another rental place for at least 100 miles, so we were going to have to drive all that way on the donut.  She offered to call a tow truck to come change our tire, but it was going to take at least an hour and all they could do was put on the spare that we were more than capable of changing ourselves.  I decided to go to the absolute nearest location, even though it was well out of our way, because I didn’t want to drive 55 mph any longer than absolutely necessary.  We changed the tire and got on the road, set the cruise in the low 60’s (I would rather die in a car wreck than get passed by semi trucks).

We had to get off the interstate and drive through the end of civilization, and almost three hours later we were in Fresno.  Got a new car, hopped on the road, plugged in Manscape’s radar detector, and I started flying well in excess of 90 mph down a busy road that was most definitely not an interstate.  My hangover made me care a whole lot less about my personal safety.

We made good time due to my insanely reckless driving, and we were just hitting the northern edge of L.A. around 5, planning on being home by 7 (a little over 9 hours).  Then Manscape’s phone rang.  It was his girlfriend (the Iowa alum, Squawkeye, as I call her).  She had gone up to L.A. for the weekend, and she had just gotten into an accident as she was leaving for home.

Jesus, what else can go wrong?

We pulled out the map and quickly figured out where she was, changed course and weaved a swath through about four different L.A. highways, all the way to the other side of the valley and to the scene of the accident.

The poor girl had been rear-ended, and the mini-jeep thing she had been driving had been rammed good by an SUV.  The impact had completely shattered her rear window and shaken her up pretty good, but thankfully she was okay.  The cop was wrapping up when we arrived, so we stuck around to lend emotional support.  After half an hour or so Manscape threw his bags into her wreck and told me to take off.  Seeing there was nothing more I could do, I hit the road again, this time alone and without the radar detector.  Just my hangover to keep me company.

I finally got home around 9pm, 11-plus hours after hitting the road.  I watched the last couple minutes of the Sunday Night NFL game and passed out.

If there’s a moral to this story it would be this:

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5 Comments

  1. First! Just fucking with you. Wow, I can’t believe that you waited until the tire blew to say the weekend started to fall apart. I would say somewhere around my falling down the stairs would have been more appropriate. BTW, you forgot the ingenious diffusing of the situation after the tumble down the stairs. The front desk girl, after the look of horror, looked like she was considering kicking us out, but when I asked her if I was safe (it did end up being a good hook slide down the last set of stairs), she laughed and let us go. God that was a great/awful weekend.

    • I had indeed forgotten that. You’re not the only one who was drunk. There’s probably lots more I’ve forgotten. Hell, we might have eiffel towered that girl and blacked it out…

  2. This sounds like one hot mess of a weekend.

    Berkeley is not that bad, I grew up there. You make it sound like it’s Woodstock on the streets all the time. However… there has to be a reason why I still live in San Diego.. 🙂

  3. Stumbled on your blog by accident earlier and have been reading and laughing all night. Great stories and I have enjoyed them. As a Minnesotan I would like to say thank you for your analysis of Denny Green and even more Culpepper! I continue to have this argument constantly, Moss made both of them relevant PERIOD! I look forward to reading more.

    • For my money Moss is at least the 2nd best WR of all time. I’m still wrestling with the idea of him being better than Jerry Rice, haven’t made my mind up yet. Certainly didn’t have as long of a career, but he was more explosive in his prime. I’m torn.

      I actually just moved to MN. If you know of any jobs in athletics administration or event management let me know!

      Thanks for reading!


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