Joe Cahn, self-proclaimed “Commissioner of Tailgating,” pulls into Cleveland’s Municipal Lot with the rest of the diehard tailgaters around 7 a.m. on Oct. 24, 2004.
Cahn stands out from the sea of brown and orange in his Safari Zanzibar RV by Monaco Coach Corp. He’s traveled more than 300,000 miles to all 32 NFL stadiums, 73 college stadiums and nine NASCAR tracks during the last nine years. As always, he’s looking forward to the day’s game, pitting the Browns against the Philadelphia Eagles.
In 1996, Cahn, a 50-something former New Orleans cooking school owner, sold his house and cooking school, bought a motorhome and hit the road full-time to experience America through tailgating. At the time, he needed a change and wanted to create an on-the-road cooking show. Instead, he ended up becoming a professional tailgater, complete with sponsors who help defray the costs of his travels.
“This is the last great American neighborhood,” Cahn says as he surveys the party along the Shoreway that seems to go on as far as the eye can see.
Cahn knows most of the folks who have been staking their claim here longer than he has. Greetings, hugs and generous helpings of food bombard him as he makes his way through the aisles.
Shouts of, “Hey, Joe!” “Joe Cahn for President!” and “Where’s the food?” resound from friends such as Marian D’Amico of Cleveland. D’Amico finds her place in the tailgating scene handing out brown and orange bead necklaces to people who stop by her spot.
Cahn says he sometimes has more in common with his “once-a-year friends” than his long-term friends. “People like Marian who come down here for the fun and camaraderie. She’s not selling those necklaces, she’s giving them away,” Cahn says. “You don’t find that kind of attitude everywhere.
“Tailgating changes a 3-hour game into an 8-hour spectacular event — at no extra cost. It’s like you can walk into people’s back yards,” Cahn enthuses.
Cahn is purposely evasive on his pick for best tailgating in the NFL. “It’s a 32-way tie,” he says, not wanting to alienate any of the friends and supporters he’s made across the country.
But his favorite thing about Browns tailgating is an easy choice: “The tradition, that’s really big here,” Cahn says. “It looks like a carnival midway – with no vendors.”
Cahn isn’t cooking today, but instead hands out samples of an all-purpose spice packet he’s planning on launching soon (check out his Web site at www.tailgating.com). He isn’t going to the game, either, and he usually doesn’t because he has too much fun in the parking lot.
Maybe he’s just old-fashioned at heart, “Here there are no televisions, no computers; it’s just people sitting around enjoying each other’s company and I love it. Every place I travel it’s like going to a new ‘welcome to our city’ party.”