Filling glasses

Three shot glasses being filled with a drink

Tusk to Tail: Tough times, virtual tailgates and real bourbon

Like a bad Razorback football game, our good friend Mark was ready for 2020 to be over before the first quarter had ended. The PhotoHog was having a tough go before COVID-19 began to spread locally, but the coronavirus sure didn’t help.

This goes far beyond just having to work from home or struggling to find toilet paper. Mark may be on the verge of losing two family members, and he is unable to be with either of them. Mark’s elderly mother lives at Briarwood nursing home in Little Rock, recently called “the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Arkansas.”

Though testing negative, she had been exposed to the virus and was forced into isolation. The mandatory quarantine has confused and frustrated Mark’s mother. There is nothing her son can do for her.

The woman likely to have one day been Mark’s daughter in law entered hospice care in Colorado. Allison has bravely fought cancer for more than two years. Mark’s son Zach has been with her every step of the way. But due to travel restrictions, Mark could not be there for either one of them. Mark and his family opted for the next best thing: a Zoom videoconference. For the first time in weeks, everyone could see each other’s face and hear one another speak. Mark found it therapeutic, and texted our group of tailgaters to ask if we would like to try something similar.

“A virtual tailgate,” Mark called it, setting the online meeting for 6:30 Wednesday night.

As the time came near, I poured a glass of bourbon and logged into the app. One by one, the nine of us popped up in little video tiles. You could instantly tell who was completely shut in and who had left the house from the way people were dressed. Nothing says social distancing like sweatpants and a ballcap. In gallery view, it looked like the worst game of Hollywood Squares ever.

Sean was a little under the weather – he was certain that it was not Coronavirus – so he drank from a bottle of water. Craig had just come in from a long day at the office, and said he may pour a drink with dinner. The rest of us were already drinking the good stuff. Dale was sipping on Lost Forty’s Double Love Honey, their bourbon barrel-aged honey bock. Greg had a glass of red wine. Jeff started with a local Atlanta cider before switching to bourbon, the drink of choice for most of us that evening. Jeff mentioned he hadn’t eaten dinner, but when Craig, Chris, and Sean each logged off to go eat, it never occurred to him to do the same.

The call started the same way any digital conversation with men of a certain age and maturity does these days, with a specific picture of a large naked black man. If your friends are a bunch of degenerates like us, you have probably been tricked into seeing the same photo, and it is pretty hard to unsee. They say more people have been exposed to that man than COVID-19. In
this time of lockdown, our circle of friends has grown to include the likes of Tiger King star Joe Exotic and a deceased porn model named “Wood.” It shouldn’t be difficult for biblical historians to pinpoint what started a global plague.

Our group originally bonded over Razorbacks sports, so it was a natural starting point for the videoconference. We discussed the virus sending sports to an early shower and wondered if the football season was in jeopardy. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said the conference has begun to develop contingency plans for fall sports if the pandemic continues to postpone or cancel large gatherings. We fear that the non-conference games could be scrapped, taking away our opportunity to visit Notre Dame next September.

If the season is played, the lost time could have a severe negative impact on the Hogs. There is an entirely new coaching staff, and a new strength and conditioning coordinator who have been unable to meet and train the players. All gyms across the country are shut down. Dale pointed out that the individual tutoring and academic support for the players has also been lost as the young men return home from campus.

“So if you thought we were slow and dumb before, just wait,” Mark quipped.

“Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” I replied, quoting Dean Wormer from
Animal House.

It was a wonderful way to go through a videoconference. We might have gotten a bit carried away. Our boy Forrest told us he had eaten 10 Eggo waffles while sequestered at home Tuesday. He was asked why he didn’t just finish the box. Don’t ever say Forrest walks away from a challenge. The 24 Waffle Challenge has been tentatively set for this weekend, with odds and live streaming links to be posted on his social media. (@Coach_Acuff) The lack of sports has clearly not diminished our love of competition and gambling.

We may not have been solving the world’s problems, but we sure were having fun. When Mark received warning that the free portion from Zoom was about to end, we could have called it a night. Instead we asked what it cost to keep going. A $15 portion of our tailgating budget has now been set aside for a month of video conferencing, with another call scheduled next week.

Jeff’s wife Hope asked him to eat dinner before joining us so he doesn’t pass out in his mashed potatoes again.

Mark summed it up best as we signed off for the night.

“Thanks guys,” he said. “I really needed this.”

Editor’s note: Now in its eighth year, Tusk to Tail is the sport of tailgating as organized, performed and perfected by a group of Hog fans who have been tailgating together sober and otherwise for more than a decade. The primary focus of Tusk to Tail will be to follow the Hogs through the fans’ perspective with their insightful, irreverent, smart-alecky and sometimes practical style. Tusk to Tail sponsors are the Arkansas Lottery Scholarship program and Turn Key Construction Management. The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter and Instagram, all @TuskToTail.

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