COLUMBIA — Logan Drake had just set up. A couple of buddies helped him hammer the sign into the ground. It was 10:50 a.m.
“PARK,” the sign read. The letters were spray-painted orange. Drake would charge $25 per car. As of 11 a.m. Saturday, he had no customers.
“It’s a slow start,” Drake said.
His friend, Joe Wiesehan, agreed. “There’s usually tons of people walking down (Providence Road) around this time.”
On the morning of Missouri’s football season opener against South Dakota State, Columbia felt a bit sleepy. But there were signs of life: longtime tailgaters were in their usual spots; music started filtering out of the fraternity houses; and the first smells of grilled meat filled the air.
Elm Street was dead around 9:45 a.m. Saturday. The only action was a group of 30 people performing tai chi in Peace Park. Farther down Elm, closer to Providence Road, a regular group of tailgaters had set up. Roger Kay, the first to arrive to the group’s usual spot, had been there since 6:45 a.m. He was by his lonesome until 8 a.m.
Kay is always the first one to the spot, his friend Brian Begemann said. He added that Kay is known for his pasta.
It’s coleslaw, Kay said, correcting his friend. “It’s Chinese coleslaw.”
Kay has been tailgating with the same group for 19 years. He’s seen little children become college graduates. One of those graduates, Nicole Begemann, was there Saturday. Her father, Jim Begemann, was also there.
Jim Begemann woke up early Saturday to get out to the spot as soon as he could. He took his morning walk. He showered. He left for Columbia. He came alone.
“I always drive separately,” Sarah Begemann, Jim Begemann’s wife, said. “I bring the tickets, money and food.”
But Sarah Begemann said her husband had convinced her to come out earlier than usual for Missouri’s opener.
“Like he says, ‘I only ask for seven Saturdays a year,’” Sarah Begemann said. So here I am, she said.
Around 10:25 a.m., a new friend had just arrived to the tailgate. He brought homemade jalapeno jelly. It was just the second food item on the table, next to a bowl of candy corn and peanuts — “sweet and salty,” as Sarah Begemann calls it.
Stick around, she said,. we haven’t gotten the washers and playing cards out yet.
Walking down Providence Road toward Memorial Stadium, Columbia appeared to be slowly waking up. Around 10:35 a.m., a couple of cars pulled into Southside Liquor. A man drained water out of his cooler to make room for beer. A woman came out with a couple of packages.
At the intersection of Providence Road and Stewart Road, the Lambda Chi Alpha house blared country music. The house had been quiet an hour and a half earlier.
Still farther down Providence Road, the first table — of the beer pong variety — was being set up in front of the Pi Kappa Alpha house. Next door at the Sigma Phi Epsilon house, the food line was just starting to form.
Close to 11 a.m., Drake and Wiesehan stood back and admired their parking sign work. They’d drilled holes in the cardboard sign and secured it to the stakes using green zip ties. They didn’t have much of a plan when they woke up.
Drake and his father, David “Baldy” Drake, had come up with a system to park the cars. Each driver would be given a numbered index card with Logan Drake’s initials. The card served as confirmation of payment, and the driver would place it on the dashboard. On a separate card, Logan Drake would copy down the driver’s information in case he needed to get in touch with him.
The Drakes came up with the system “on the fly,” Logan Drake said.
Logan Drake is new to “The White House” — as he calls it — on 929 S. Providence Road. His dad just bought the property. It’s an investment, Logan Drake said.
The location is golden: "The White House" is the last house before the intersection at Providence Road and Stadium Road. It’s prime parking space — great tailgating territory.
But Columbia was sleepy Saturday morning. The spreads of food weren’t yet out. The washers and the playing cards hadn’t yet surfaced. And you could walk across an almost empty Providence Road.
The town felt like it was struggling to remember what to do on football Saturdays.
Maybe it was because the Tigers were playing South Dakota State, a tailgater on Logan Drake’s front lawn said.
“Maybe it’s the Labor Day weekend,” Logan Drake said.
Or maybe, like Logan Drake’s friend, Jordan Rose, said, “It’s the calm before the storm.”
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.