The loveliest office view in sports doesn't belong to the starter
at St. Andrews or the Sherpa summiting Everest or the bikini
valet to Tyra Banks. It belongs to Joe Cahn, a professional
tailgater who lives in a motor home and says, "It's a wonderful
thing to see America from your bathroom."
Cahn is both epic traveler and epic eater, the unholy offspring
of Homer and Homer Simpson. Every week during football season he
tailgates before and after a Saturday college game and a Sunday
NFL game, and most weeks makes it to the Monday Night Football
game, almost never setting foot inside a stadium. "I might skip
the wedding," says the 55-year-old retired businessman, "but I
never miss the reception."
For the last eight years, since he sold his house and cooking
school in New Orleans, Cahn has been clogging America's
arteries--automotive and otherwise--in his JoeMobile, a 40-foot
Cholesterolls-Royce. Along the way he and his cat, Sophie, have
discovered what Joni Mitchell never did: that paradise is a paved
"The parking lot," claims Cahn, "is the ideal American
neighborhood in an idealized America." Want the parking lot as
Melting Pot? A fan outside Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego once
gave Cahn a bratwurst rolled in a tortilla.
As Land of Equality? Cahn knows groups of women in Buffalo,
Pittsburgh and Kansas City who tailgate while their husbands stay
As the New World? He met a pair of tartan-clad Scotsmen on
holiday in a Tennessee Titans' parking lot and, one year later,
met them again, in the lot at the Meadowlands in New Jersey,
where they asked Cahn if he remembered them. "Believe it or not,"
replied Cahn, "there are very few others who wear kilts to Giants
Cahn has tailgated at baseball games and NASCAR tracks and polo
matches and steeplechase events and, next summer, will bring his
beloved Bar-B-Gater grill to the alfresco Santa Fe Opera, where
the game really won't be over till the fat lady sings. But his
true love is the football lot, be it in Baltimore, where Cahn
parties with members of a SWAT team (Stop Working and Tailgate),
or Buffalo, where a fan known as Pinto Ron cooks on his car hood
and serves libations from the thumbhole of a bowling ball.
How does Cahn do it? How does a man sip a thumb-and-Coke at Ralph
Wilson Stadium and call it a job? How can Cahn afford to be at
Purdue on Saturday and at the Colts on Sunday and at the Rams on
Monday night and at Stanford the following Friday, in between
living on leftovers provided by other tailgaters?
Cahn cajoled a modest grant from Coca-Cola to collect demographic
data on the American tailgater. (The company also donates a
dollar for every mile Cahn drives to Share Our Strength, a
hunger-relief organization.) And the Monaco Coach Corporation
lends him the JoeMobile, which Cahn parked, last weekend, in the
Louisiana campground he calls home. (It was his first week off
the road since mid-August.) Even so, the professional tailgater
loses money on the year. "I may not earn a lot," he points out,
"but I ain't going hungry.
"Thin people have no credibility in a parking lot," continues
Cahn, whose belly, white beard and bald head give him the air of
an Eastern mystic, a man who finds transcendent beauty on the
10-acre Grove at Ole Miss, where tailgaters set up camp the
evening before home games, the field blooming with tents
throughout the night. "I watch the tents go up," says Cahn, "and
think of the old Disney time-lapse photography of flowers
The professional tailgater is an exceedingly contented man.
Divorced for 10 years, Cahn remains the best of friends with his
ex-wife, Karen, and will even give her away at her wedding this
year. "People can't understand that," says Cahn. "Many tailgaters
have told me, 'I'd like to give my current wife away.'"
Of course his calendar isn't all days of wine and Rose Bowls.
Tailgating can be hard. Which raises the question: If Cahn could
make one improvement to American parking lots, what would it be?
"Depends," he says. On what? "They should pass out Depends," he
clarifies. "Or add more Port-a-Lets. In Dallas you spend half an
hour waiting to use a Port-a-Let. In Baltimore and New York,
where cars and RVs park together, people come to my door with
very sad eyes. They don't have to say anything. How can you turn
them away? It's not neighborly." And so he opens his bathroom
with a profound sense of duty, and hits the road, alas, with a
profound sense of doody.
More often, though, tailgating is a glamorous life. This very
month Sophie is featured in Cat Fancy magazine. And seven days
before the Super Bowl at Reliant Stadium, Cahn will perform the
ceremonial lighting of his grill, which will remain aflame for
168 consecutive hours, seven straight days and nights, in the
parking lot of a Houston food store. Says Cahn, "We will not
allow those charcoals to go out."
An eternal flame, too, burns in Cahn's heart. And a million
Zantacs will never douse it.
COLOR PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER
The stadium parking area, says professional tailgater Joe Cahn,
"is the ideal American neigborhood."