Perhaps the most rewarding experience I've found in my time as an ISU fan, is that of the football road trip weekend. Starting in 2005 with a trip to Columbia, MO for the ill-fated "Pick 6 = down by contact" game (Big 12 refs screwing ISU? Why I never...), I've been lucky enough to attend at least 1 road game in Big 12 play in every season since. In that time I've been to Manhattan (x2), Lincoln, Waco, Kansas City (x2), College Station, Austin, Columbia (again), Lawrence, Ft. Worth, and Morgantown. In my travels, I've been beneficiaries of some amazing hospitality (by and large the rule) and had some bad times - but I've always come away with a better appreciation of our conference brethren, and perhaps more importantly (like any good vacation should do), a greater appreciation for what a special thing we have in Ames.
This year's trip took me to a familiar place (Oklahoma) for an unfamiliar reason (watching a college football game). As those of you who have followed the road trip recaps over the past 4 years know, my cousin (often referred to as The Cousin) has been a major factor in these trips. You may also remember that he attended law school at the University of Tulsa, so Oklahoma has been a lace I've gained some familiarity with over the years. Thus, I was well-versed in Okie hospitality, and was full prepared for a great time.
My buddy CR and I left northeast Iowa after work on Thursday and headed south for Des Moines. Inclement weather delayed our progress, but by halftime of the Vikings/Packers game, we were at my buddy Luke's basement knocking back Confluence Oktoberfest (lived up to the hype) and watching football.
Friday morning came early as Soho16 met us at 6:30AM, and by 7:00AM we were putting the DSM metro in the rearview mirror. With the exception of a car on fire in the Flint Hills of Kansas, drive down was fairly uneventful, and by 2:30 we had rendezvoused with the infamous of We-We at our Stillwater hotel. To avoid showing up anywhere without a little alcohol in our system, we busted out We-We's cornhole boards and got a little pre-lunch tailgating in at the hotel courtyard.
Eskimo Joe's lived up to the hype. By getting there at mid-afternoon, we were available to avoid the vast crowds known to inhabit it. Our server was knowledgeable and hospitable, and we made short order of local brews, sweet pepper bacon cheese fries, and various sandwiches. After loading up on souvenir Joe's cups, we headed out to procure tomorrow's alcohol, and means for transporting said alcohol. After some confusing run-ins with Oklahoma's archaic Bible Belt liquor laws, we were set for Saturday's tailgate, and were ready to head out to the Strip.
The Strip is OSU's version of Campustown, and the vibe between Ames and Stillwater is alarmingly similar. Between ISU, OSU, and KSU, there is a very strong theme, vibe, and feel that runs among the ag schools of the old Big 8. There's just something about the type of individual whose drawn to that Midwestern ag school, and the attitude they bring to the table that helps makes these places feel like home on the road, and really make a road fan feel welcome. 80 years of brotherhood was on display as Cowboy hospitality put on a display of welcoming friendliness that I've only ever seen bested by the aggressive hospitality of the WVU fanbase. "Welcome to Stillwater!" was probably the most common phrase we heard uttered Friday night, as we bounced around the Strip from Murphy's to Crosseyed Cricket, to the Copper Penny (where copious amounts of the infamous Limey were consumed), to the College Bar, and eventually to Coney Island to soak up the booze, we were feeling the love from Cowboy Nation. We cabbed it back to the hotel, and basically took a nap before preparing for Saturday's insanity.
6AM came early, and The Cousin in particular, wasn't feeling the early kick off. Nonetheless, we soldiered on and began the 2 mile walk to Boone Pickens Stadium. Thanks to a helpful local, this trip got cut in half. Did I mention that OSU fans are great? Anyways, leave it to say that nobody tailgates like the Cyclones. It just doesn't happen. The closest I've ever seen our the pricks to the east. We got to BPS around 7:00, and there were very few OSU fans out, while the DFW ISU Alumni Association was already getting set up. That tailgate filled in pretty thick within the hour as Cyclone fans made a nice showing in the lots. We mingled with the ISU contingent, and also headed to The Cousin's OSU tailgate for a bit, and were again showered with Cowboy hospitality.
From there, we headed into the game. Boone Pickens Stadium is a gorgeous facility and a great place to watch a game. There was a giant damn cannon mounted behind the visitor's section that was ridiculously loud on OSU scores. We left right after the botched kick off, so we missed the controversy of the day in person. We were headed to the Stonewall, which would set the pace for the rest of the day.
After a quick halftime drink at the Stonewall, we headed back into the stadium. As the game got away from us, and Soho16's death virus set in, we started making a plan to head back to the hotel. A general darkness washed over the group, and before we knew it, we were cabbing back to the hotel while Cousin stayed at the Stonewall, with some Okie friends of his for the duration.
After a rest up at the hotel, and another round of bags, we (minus the now violently ill Soho16) headed back out to the Stonewall to rejoin The Cousin, who was now on 10 straight hours of partying. He would last another 6 as we proceeded to make friends with some former OSU football players (who plan on swinging by the WRNL tailgate next year), before leaving the Stonewall to return to the Strip and continue to revel in the glory of a Plains state college town at it's finest, darkening the door of all the haunts we frequented Friday night.
Sunday morning came fast, and we were on the road before sunrise. Buoyed with a great time under our belts, we made good time across the vast prairies of middle America, and found ourselves back in NE IA via Des Moines by 6:00PM.
I can't overemphasize how great of a time Stillwater is. The only superior hospitality I've found is in Morgantown, and that's more of a compliment to the 'Eers than a slam on the Pokes. OSU fans are friendly, welcoming, and respectful. Stillwater is laid back, fun, and "scenic". I can't recommend this trip enough.
I will now leave you with some wisdom from a KC truck stop bathroom: