COLUMBIA — The community atmosphere of the RV lot is symbolized by how close the RVs of Jim Curless and Perry Beger are parked. The distance is so small that a human arm can’t even fit between the flat front of Curless’ camper and the rear of Beger’s trailer.
“I told the parking attendants I didn’t want him to park next to me,” Beger says, joking.
Even the parking attendants knew he wasn’t serious. The two are that comfortable. After meeting in the RV lot five years ago, the two families have been tailgating together for five years. They talk like old friends. Their wives share stories. Week One is a time to catch up on old business. They haven’t seen each other since last football season ended. There are updates on kids, husbands and life in general.
The surrounding parking lots are mostly empty. For most fans, tailgating doesn’t begin until the day of the game. But southeast of Hearnes Center, under the light of an orange crescent moon, the party that is college football is already under way.
For most, tailgating is an activity. In the RV lot, it’s a lifestyle. Missouri apparel is required. Every piece of glass inside Curless’ camper is adorned with at least one Tiger decal. Mizzou flags fly outside almost every RV in the lot.
Perry Beger’s wife, Kate, has her menu both for this Saturday, and the game on Sept. 17, posted on the side of the family’s trailer. Burgers, brats and breakfast burritos, among others, will be served. Her friend Linda Sale will join her in the cooking before the game Saturday. The pair said they have their menus planned through homecoming.
While the Begers focus on the food, Curless watches his kids and nieces and nephews zoom around the lot on Razor scooters. They call themselves “The Scooter Gang.”
“It’s the thing I look forward to the most in the fall,” Curless’ son Gavin, 11, says, before adding an important qualifier. “Other than my birthday.”
For Curless, a 1992 MU graduate who now lives in Kansas City, the RV lot provides him with the perfect blend of a safe place for his family to bond while he can enjoy football, and of course, a beverage or two.
“I love it because my kids can ride their scooters around this big parking lot and I don’t have anything to worry about,” Curless said. “And the last thing I want to do after a game is drive home after I’ve had a sip of beer. It’s great that the university lets us stay overnight.”
Actually, for the price of $150 per game, RV’s can stay both Friday and Saturday nights. According to Colleen Lamonde, director of game operations for the Athletics Department, this particular lot can accommodate more than 100 RVs. The school has space for another 25 vehicles in Lot X, bordered by College Avenue and Stadium Boulevard.
It’s not just families in the RV lot, either. On the other end of the lot, the “Big Old Bounders” have set up shop. Led by Brad Perry, a former Tiger quarterback from 1981-83, and Craig Franklin, a professor from the Veterinary School, the group has turned the southwest corner of the lot into a party zone unlike any other, at least in their opinion.
“It’s the best party in Columbia,” Franklin says confidently through a long cigar. “Absolutely.”
If it’s not the best, it’s likely the most meticulously planned. The Bounders hold weekly planning meetings where they decide what to cook, what games to play and even try their hand at poetry.
“Come one, come all and join the bounder crew./Don’t forget to bring a dish and a bev or two.
"Sign the tent to document your stay/And join in on all the games to play.
"Eleven o’clock start; breakfast wraps at nine/Post game will bring lots more food oh so fine.
"Be bold and wear lots of gold/Definitely put the pink and green on hold,” the last four stanzas of this season’s opening salvo read.
They bring boards for cornhole and even glowing Frisbees to toss once the sun goes down. Ladder golf and washers equipment are also on hand in case anyone wants to play. They have customized plastic cups. There’s a binder where Franklin takes T-shirt orders. They are convinced they have the best tailgate.
“You can ask people in St. Louis,” Franklin says. “They know about it.”
Back over in Curless and Beger’s neck of the woods, a new visitor has entered the lot. He inquires about the availability of a vacant section of asphalt next to Beger’s trailer.
“Do you have a big TV and a satellite dish?” Beger asks.
The man nods, clearly serious.
“All right then, any time,” Beger answers.
It looks as if he’s made a new friend. Probably a good move, as the man soon pulls up in a giant coach bus-turned RV. The inside looks like a Ritz Carlton on wheels. Wine glass racks adorn a full kitchen; the shower is trimmed with chrome; and the closet off the bedroom has a button to automatically open and close it. The owner, Richard Schneider, says the original sticker price was $1.6 million, but he got it used for $500,000.
Not everyone invests that much. Curless bought his 2000 Bounder used for $50,000, and while Beger played coy as to the price of his trailer, he assured everyone that he “got a good price.”
As the night wears on, younger kids get tired. Bedtime depends on game time, says Curless’ wife, Kristy, and Saturday’s game is an early 11 a.m. kickoff. Sleep will be interrupted by band practice, which is an adjacent lot and begins four hours prior to game time. That means 7 a.m., Saturday, but it’s no bother to Curless.
“What better alarm clock could you imagine?” he asks.
It would be hard for the Begers to argue with that. Both their son and daughter played in Marching Mizzou. For them, the band was the main attraction. Now, their son, David, and daughter, Erica, join them for the tailgates. Now, it’s about the camaraderie.
“And watching the women,” Perry Beger adds, as his wife rolls her eyes.
Kristy Curless sums it up very simply, through a wide smile as the clock gets close to midnight.
“You don’t see these people for almost a year,” she says. “We walk in tonight, and we’re all hugging.”
For six weekends this fall, beginning Friday night, the families are back together again.