Wednesday, August 06, 2008

PCB on assignment: 2008 San Diego Chargers Fan Fest (Part 1) 

Posted by Sasha at 8:01 PM ET

Warning: This is VERY long. Deal with it.

Normally, I start this off by going into the whole experience leading up to the actual event. Unfortunately, every time I do that, it winds up being very long. I run out of steam before I get to the actual goings-on I’m there to cover. So this time I will limit my pre-event commentary to the following, and then move along to the main event. There are photos here, of course, but I will be adding more on flickr toward the end of the week.

Getting There
I had a hard time figuring out how to tackle Fan Fest. I called Charger Girl Director Lisa Simmons for logistical help. I needed to know who was going to be where and when because Qualcomm Stadium is a big place.

I was absolutely shocked when Lisa called me back. I don’t think I’ve ever received a call/email response when I don’t already know the director or someone on the team. Not when it comes to NFL/NBA/AFL anyway. So when I got Lisa’s vmail, I was surprised. Amazed. Nonplussed. Gobsmacked, even. But her message did help me get my strategy together.

Lisa Simmons has officially been added to my running List of People Whom I Like Because They are Cool and Do Not Suck.

The stadium parking lot was set to open at 8. I left home at 5:30. IN THE MORNING. As you know, there is a huge difference between being awake at 5am because you happen to be awake, and being awake at 5 am because there’s something you have to get out of bed and do.

The trip was mostly uneventful. It was dark. Then it was hella foggy. Then it was light.

I started to fall asleep at the wheel about ¾ of the way there. Not good. It was very dangerous and stupid of me to keep driving. But then I missed my exit and there’s nothing like missing your exit on a strange freeway to snap you to attention.

The rest of the journey was trouble-free. I got there about 20 minutes before the bulk of the crowd. As the crowd grow, I started to feel mighty conspicuous as (A) the only person there by myself, and (B) the only person not wearing some combination of blue, white and gold. I was waiting at Gate C, which happens to be where the pro shop is, and I felt an overwhelming, lemming-like urge to dash into the shop and buy something – anything – in navy or power blue. Not powder blue, mind you. Power blue. There’s a difference.

The pro shop was conveniently open during the hour and a half between the parking lot opening and the gates opening. They were selling all kinds of stuff. Most people showed up in full Chargers regalia, clutching a variety of souvenirs. This did not, however, prevent them from running into the store to buy more stuff.

I saw an entire family go in there wearing white jerseys and come out wearing blue jerseys. That guy LT must be way popular. Another family went in bareheaded and emerged minutes later wearing matching Chargers cowboy hats. Seeing as how the Chargers are about to play the Cowboys, those hats seemed somewhat inappropriate.

Standing around with total strangers for 90 minutes leads to numerous observations about human behavior. Like, why would you BEG the guys from tv to film you?
...Then threaten physical harm if they filmed someone other than you.
...Then jump around like a nut when they did film you.
...Then yell at your son for not showing enough enthusiasm on-camera.
...Then call all your family to ask if they saw you.
...Then stand around talking about how you got on tv and everyone saw you.

Also, I have to wonder why people bring small children to this type of event. I promise you, your infant does not give a crap about the San Diego Chargers. So maybe you didn’t have a sitter. Ok. But how do you navigate a stroller up and down the stairs? And it’s not like you can leave it in the aisle. Hello – fire hazard!

But then I saw a couple of kids on leashes and you know what? Maybe the stroller thing isn’t so bad. They have these new plush leashes that are supposed to look like toys. I saw two of them, a monkey and a lion. The tail part is the leash. If not for the sturdy crisscross chest harness, and the 5ft long tail, they would’ve looked like toys. Nevertheless - parents, you can cute it up however you want, but a leash is a leash is a leash. If you’re going to use one, embrace it for what it really is.

The crowd hit critical mass about 15 minutes before the gates were scheduled to open. It’s a funny thing about human beings. As individuals, we’re pretty smart. But put us in a big group and we’re the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen. I spent those 15 minutes approximately 8 inches away one of the most pointless conversation I’ve ever been privileged to hear. After about ten minutes of it, I felt moved to transcribe the rest of the discussion. That’s how bored I was.
    Itchy: What time are they opening the gates?
    Scratchy: 9:30. Stop asking me that.
    Itchy: What time is it now?
    Scratchy: Nine…. twenty…….seven.
    Itchy: So…about three minutes.
    Scratchy: Yeah.
    Itchy: Do you think they’ll open right at 9:30?
    Scratchy: Maybe they’ll open before 9:30.
    Itchy: You think?
    Scratchy: That girl said she heard they were gonna do it early.
    Itchy: Early? How early?
    Scratchy (yelling): Open up these gates!
    Itchy: Yeah – what are they waiting for?
    Scratchy: There’s some people in there. I can see ‘em.
    Itchy: How much longer is it now?
    Scratchy: About 5 minutes
    Itchy: Wait - you just said it was 9:30 already.
    Scratchy: It’s after that now.
    Itchy: But how can it be 5 minutes more if it was already 9:30 like ten minutes ago?
    Scratchy: Shuddup. I think they’re getting ready to open the gate
    Itchy: It’s after 9:30 now. I think your watch is broke
    Scratchy: Then why the hell do you keep asking me what time it is?
    Itchy: Because there’s no ******* clock.
    Scratchy: Did you see that? I think I saw the gate move.
    Itchy (on his tippy toes): I can’t see nothin’
    Scratchy: Nah, it ain't moving
    Itchy: Is it open? I can’t see
    Scratchy: They’re not trying to open it. They’re just making noise - rattlin’ that ***** for no good reason.
    Itchy: Is it open yet? How hard is it to roll up a gate, *****it?
    Scratchy: Now they got it halfway up but they can’t make it stay up.
    Itchy: How long is this gonna take? What time is it?
    Scratchy: Now they’re using a piece a coathanger or somethin’ to hold it up
    Itchy: This is bull**** man. I gotta take a leak.
    Scratchy: There’s some cheerleaders in there. Woo baby! That’s how I like ‘em!
    Itchy: *******!!
    Scratchy: Hey Charger Girl – over here! Wooo, I’m your biggest fan!
    Itchy: What time is it?
    Scratchy: Who gives a ****? gimmie the camera.

And now all of you are dumber too.

Doors Open
So they opened the stadium gates at 9:35. A contingent of Charger Girls was there to greet everyone and hand out programs.

On a side note, I have decided that being a Charger Girl – or any NFL Cheerleader – has got to be like the weirdest experience ever. One minute you’re in a bedazzled outfit, signing autographs and people are clamoring for your attention. An hour later, you’re at the Whole Foods, shopping for arugula in total anonymity. It has to be a little jarring.

I breezed past the Charger Girls and went into the stadium. The priority in that moment was to get a good seat. Lisa said to sit on the home side for the performance.

Once I hit the concourse, I had to make a decision: right or left. The stairs to the left would take me down to the field, BUT they were only letting kids 14 under down there. So did I take my chances going to the left, or did I behave like a good little citizen and head to the right, where the grownups are supposed to sit? I went to the right.

When I emerged into the stadium, I saw that much of the area around the field was fenced off. Kids were allowed to run right up to the fence but adults were supposed to stay in the stands. Security tried to keep the parents out, but a few bulldozed their way in. Those were the gutsy ones. Most of the parents sat in the stands. The kids crowded against the fence, in some places five or seven people deep. I wound up having to move back a dozen rows just so I could see over all those heads.

Meanwhile, I had to figure out my camera situation. Outside the stadium the speaker system was on a continuous loop, repeating the stadium policies over and over until I could recite them verbatim. No coolers. No oversize bags. No alcohol. I didn’t really pay attention until I heard “No camcorders and no cameras with telephoto lenses allowed.”

Hm. Please define “telephoto.”

My zoom lens is pretty big – about 8 inches long. I carefully rearranged the items in my camera bag, so if there was a search, they’d have to dig waaaaay down deep to find anything.

Imagine my surprise when they let us all in the gate without even a token bag search. Now, I’m not complaining, it’s not like I wanted to be searched. But dang. I could’ve smuggled a lot of contraband in there, if I wanted to. A supersoaker. Sparklers. Cans and cans of silly string. Enough to really piss some people off.

When I found a seat, the area was pretty empty. Turns out most everyone else was (A) trying to fight their way onto the field, or (B) sitting higher up, in the shade. I was out there in the open. Not in much of a position to do something surreptitious with my camera. I knew right away my regular lens wasn’t going to do the trick. It was the zoom or nothing. So I attached the big lens and hoped for the best.

Just before 10, the Charger Girls came out and lined up on one side of the field. I counted – there were 19 of them. It seemed a few Charger Girls were missing. I looked across the way, and saw a Charger Girl with her arm in a sling. Cripes – first performance of the season and already one of the Charger Girls is broken.

The Performance
This next section is painful for me to write. Really really painful. Like, excruciatingly painful.

The Charger Girls took the field and I immediately realized that - after downloading a map of the Q, after specifically asking Lisa for information, after asking one of the Red Shirts where to sit, I STILL managed to wind up on the wrong side of the field. I am an idiot. *%^%%^&#@@!!!

I thought about running around to the other side, but I knew I wouldn’t make it in time. Oh I was SO mad. 95% of my reason for being there was to photograph the performance. I spent two hours in the car and spent another 90 minutes waiting outside the gate, and sat in the hot sun for half an hour, only to watch the BACK of the performance. And this was really my only chance to ever see the Charger Girls perform, since I can’t afford a ticket with decent seats.

Pardon my French, but dammitdammitdammit!

Thankfully, the girls did turn around some, so I did get a few good shots. But this is going to sting for a while.

And that wasn’t even the worst part of my day. Just you wait.

After a little while, a few of the Charger Girls and Charger Boys came out to sign autographs along the fence. They came out in drips and drabs. A few cheerleaders. Then a few more. Then a few more. They started on my side, actually, but because of the crowd, I couldn’t see anything but the top of their heads. Who wants to see a photo of the top of some girl’s head?

When I went around to get photos from the other side, I realized how scary that crowd must look when you’re up close. Yikes!

At that point, it was time to figure out just how diligent the security people were going to be about their jobs. I spent the next 45 minutes or so running laps around the stadium, trying to take some good photos. The closest ones I got were when a few CGs made their way over to the end zone. I was standing practically on top of them, so I couldn’t see anyone’s face, but hey – they’ve all got great hair.

Pretty soon, rookies Tonya and Giselle made their way over to my area. You should know that I have a “history” with these two particular Charger Girls. I met Giselle briefly at last year’s Clippers audition. Tonya, I feel like I sort of know through Bari. (Check her out in the sidebar. Bari, not Tonya.) I’d never met Tonya, but according to the Transitive Power of Coolness, if Bari is a cool chick, Tonya must also be a cool chick.

Now that I think about it, that’s not much of a “history” is it? It was more like they were the only two rookies I recognized. So it’s not like we go waaaaaay back. OR even a little bit back. Or back at all, actually.

Part 2...

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