Outing #4: All American Tailgate Party 2009 by Bandwagon (Chad Stayrook & José Ruiz)

Saturday, October 24th: “All American Tailgate Party 2009" is an all-access outing by the collective Bandwagon (Brooklyn artist Chad Stayrook and Queens artist/curator José Ruiz). Assembling a car caravan from Brooklyn to Queens and ending at the far, expansive edges of Jacob Riis Park parking lot (at one point the world’s largest), Bandwagon will crown The Iron Maiden as collective member while honoring America’s most infamous pre-partying ritual. This family-friendly event will include baked beans, the hottest buffalo wings east of the East River, a 3-car sculpture, a 2-channel car stereo piece, and a tent. 

Plans started to change a few days before the outing as the forecast for a full day of rain seemed unavoidable. As much as I adored the idea of spending time in a parking lot that was once the largest in the world (5,000 parking spaces! For perspective, contenders for the current largest parking lot in the world range from 13,000 to 20,000, depending on one's definition of lot/structure/complex, with a 40,000 parking city currently in development in DuBai. To digress further, Robert Moses designed the park in the '30s as a beach getaway for poor immigrants, as it was close enough to the city to be accessible by public transportation. Then why did he build the big parking lot?), Jacob Riis Park seemed an impractical destination for both exposure and distance's sake. The great brain storming of Bandwagon (advantage of a collective brain) relocated the tailgate to the expanse of parking that runs underneath the Wiliamsburg portion of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE). Due to preparations and general casualness, the exact location was kept up in the air until we arrived.

José and I caravaned our European station wagons (his a black Mercedes) from Bedford-Stuyvesant to the entrance off of Union Street and chose a spot opposite Hotel Le Jolie, an oddity that sprang up in the last few years (hotels in Brooklyn are odd to me), and an abandoned gas station. We were concerned about drawing attention to ourselves because of open containers, reappropriation of space, and no visible football stadium next door. We had a few curious glances from Hotel Le Jolie staffers on smoke breaks, and shared the space with skaters and car service lineups. At one point, a car did a very slow drive-by, then back-up, and there was a brief discussion with Chad. It turned out to be undercover police (Chad noted the firearms in full display), and they were satisfied when he mentioned "film shoot." His earlier explanation of "art project" seemed to produce confusion.

Once Chad and his lovely assistant Katarina arrived (Chad's is a grey Volkswagon wagon), we got to work arranging the wagons, erecting the tent, setting up the tailgating amenities, and decorating the cars. Chad made banners for the hood of each wagon, emblazoned with the colors of Bandwagon (black, red, and yellow), with the outlines of José and Chad in a triumphant pose for their hoods, and an outline of my zaftig figure cheering for the Iron Maiden (emblazoned across my torso in heavy-metal-band font) for mine. There was also a Bandwagon flag that flew above the white tent, as if a little fiefdom were being declared.

Tailgaters began to show up at this point and helped set up the collective-color-coordinated cups, napkins, and plates, start the grills, open the snacks, and distribute the drinks. Bandwagon offered Dark and Stormies (so clever) and Bandwagon Juice that gave the added kick of Red Bull (ughhh). Once things got going, it all sort of blends together for me. I remember people coming and going, that increasingly I talked a lot about whoknowswhat, and anytime a camera was produced I had the urge to stick out my tongue and pretend like I was at a death metal concert. In short, I was drunk for an extended period of time and had a lot of fun. I can't account for much of it. I know Linn and Brian came, of The Last Days of the Iron Maiden Outing #1 fame, and I met José's friends Irvin, Mary, and Maria, and my friends Andrea and Jed brought their two year old, Clyde, who's experiencing a weird virus in his foot and now has a baby cast, and Brian Balderston and his sister and cousin, with whom we met up later in the night, and Stephen Crone, who's writing a film, and Sonja Blesofsky, of the beautifully curly black hair, and Raquel Hecker of the Hecker/Hacker Clan, and the JCAL curator, Heng-Gil Han. I know Raquel and I danced when Bruce Springsteen came on Chad's stereo (because there's photographic proof of it). I must have eaten a Tofu Pup, because Katarina did (they don't call it Bandwagon for nothing), and at some point three kinds of cookies were available where there had been none minutes before. Chad and José played dueling car stereos throughout; José found a particularly curious/obnoxious bastion of sped-up cover music that had the effect not unlike The Chipmucks joining Ken Kesey's roadtrip.


I'm only realizing now that the promised "mind-bending" on Bandwagon's original invitation really happened (also advertised as "free of charge"), which I'm attesting to from personal experience. Also part of their original invitation is this link to Wikipedia's entry on the "Bandwagon effect," a term coined by David Luder about the social phenomenon of doing things because other people are doing it, also termed "herd effect." While studied by behavioral psychologists, the realm of politics is where the phrase "jump on the bandwagon" was created, and it also plays a part in microeconomics. Usually it's used in a derogatory way, because of an absence of logic or individual thinking. But we're all subject to it, the social beings that we are. And I think Bandwagon, the artist collective, is using the name and concept to also look at the positive possibilities of bandwagonism.

Before I knew it, Chad began to talk to the assembled about the history of Bandwagon and its future events (in Holland doing this at the time of this writing), and that they are gathering steam as loosely defined interventionists, fringe-artists, and social platformers (here, YOU look at their artist statement). As part of this ceremony, they inducted both the Iron Maiden and me as honorary members of the Bandwagon Collective, and presented me with a t-shirt with the Bandwagon logo and a neat checkered hat that reminded me of José. The Iron Maiden was already decorated with her hood tapestry. I had to give a speech. Fuzzy photos were taken. It was still raining and now dark.

People started disappearing. The food and drink supplies were depleted. José had to rejoin his carless family in Queens. As we packed up, Chad variously ran around with and waved the Bandwagon flag on its huge PVC pole, I acted out songs from the stereo and showed my appreciation for the Iron Maiden, and Katarina took pictures and video.

Though the hedonism of the afternoon was over, we couldn't stop the overwhelming trend of the day. Union Pool was a skip away, where we found a taco truck out back and a photo booth inside. Sadly, I lost track of the strange quartet of photos of the three of us, one involving tongues. We pressed on to Pete's Candy Store, where a man insinuated himself into our conversation and caused a serious intra-relationship conversation between Katarina and Chad. I think I wandered back to the car and ate more cookies. Before long we were on our way to a late-night dance party in the edge of Bushwick, scouted out by Brian. The music was really good, mixing good seventies orchestral dance floor music with hip hop. Many people were on the floor, making a scene. I drifted into some meta-dance stance, then Chad and I mimed cleaning the dance floor and interacting with the speakers in primitive-influenced motions. In the past year when I've found myself inebriated on a dance floor, I've been subject to a hubristic and meglomaniacal attitude, like I'm Jafar in "Aladdin" when he gets power over the Genie. It's funny, and it scares me, and I'm slightly mortified the next day. Sufficiently tired, I left with Chad and Katarina before unsettling patterns could take over.

Though these later activities were not a planned part of the tailgate event, the day felt epic in its foregrounding of the audience as participant. Having been to a tailgate-and-football pairing a few weekends later, I'm now reminded of the collective experience of a crowd watching helmeted, padded men giving each other head trauma. It can be a very exciting and vicarious experience, but I was a physically inactive participant sitting on cold metal bleachers, wishing for a hot chocolate. This Bandwagon outing pointed out that my conversations, peregrinations, and internal pathologies were the event, as were every other participants' experiences. It was like we were walking around for twelve hours with stage lights framing our bodies. Man, that was fun.

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