Thursday, April 22, 2010

How to organize a tailgate

Every year there has been a tradition to return to our old stomping grounds in Charlottesville for the annual Foxfield races. This is basically one giant tailgate and reunion, and there are some horses somewhere in the background. Matt and I aren't huge football fans, so we don't make it down to many games, and a couple years ago we missed our college reunion for a friend's wedding (which was more fun anyway!) so we take advantage of Foxfield weekend as a time to reconnect in the place we fell in love....with school, with friends, with each other.

Matt and me in 2004
Matt and me in 2005
Matt and me in 2006

Matt and me in 2007...the year that doesn't exist in photos because it's the year we lost the camera through a hole in Matt's pant pocket...but I can guess I wore a strapless dress and sunglasses, and Matt wore a button-down shirt.

Matt and me in 2008

Notice any patterns here? We are so predictable! Clearly we will have to get the same picture this year.

Foxfield is an awesome weekend, always the last full weekend in April. It's fun, but it requires some real organization. Here's where I come in.

In previous years our friends Alex and Megan have done the bulk of the group organizing, and they have done an amazing job. I felt bad, though, not being more involved, so I vowed that this year I would tackle the challenge with the help of my trusty husband.

So, in September I got a "deluxe" room at a hotel in the middle of all the action, and I told my friend Lindsay and her husband Jason to join us.

In February I sent out an Evite to gauge group interest. We got enough positive responses that I figured it was time to organize a plot.

Then I started visiting the annoying Foxfield website  (which at the time looked like it was designed by an 11-year old with minimal computer skills, but has since been redesigned) to figure out exactly when tickets and plots go on sale. The results were inconclusive, so I called the office to confirm that tickets do, in fact, go on sale on March 1 just like they do every year.

And, of course, on March 1, I called the office as soon as possible, spoke to a real, live human, and got the best possible plot in the entire field we'll be standing in on Saturday. I won't reveal that here, because we like to keep this plot in the family. Thankfully, Megan had the poor-quality, Xeroxed-one-too-many-times map that Foxfield distributes saved as an image in her computer files, so she sent that over to me to confirm that we were, in fact, getting the same awesome plot as in years past.

Then comes the physical planning. An event like this is tricky because:
1) The rules established by the Foxfield racing association are constantly changing regarding what we're allowed to bring, especially regarding glass items
2) The responses from potential guest are constantly changing. At this moment it looks like we'll have either 14 or 16 people at our plot space on Saturday.
3) It's outside in a potentially hot/wet/muddy field.

I started with the easy stuff, the stuff that doesn't change regardless of how many people show up at the party.

We hunted down the big items:
1) Two folding tables -- one from Alex, and one from Matt's parents
2) One giant tent that belongs to Megan and I promised to treat as well as my unborn first child
3) Folding chairs that my friend Christine will bring along
4) Two big coolers that Matt and I already owned (one was a recent acquisition from friends who were moving away)
5) Possible outdoor entertainment, like ladder ball and cornhole (or bag-o, or that bean bag game, if you're me), that will be provided by Christine if we have space in the car

Then, there are the smaller yet highly important items:
1) Toilet paper! A must when dealing with Port-o-Johns.
2) Hand sanitizer, for the same reason
3) Suntan lotion. If you're a Foxfield novice, you're going to get burned. After over a decade at the races, we've all learned our lesson.
4) Bug spray
5) Bandaids, because you never know when someone's going to punch you in the face, or, more likely, you'll get a blister from your shoes (wear sensible shoes!)
6) Name tags, because they're fun and a conversation starter
7) Markers
8) Trash bags! We get fined $75 if we leave trash at our site. We're supposed to even take a digital photo as evidence of our well-cleaned plot before we leave should there be any debate. We will do this.
9) Paper towels
10) Plastic tablecloth, because we're classy
11) Napkins
12) Forks
13) Lots of cups (this is Costco-sized)
14) Straws, because the girls in our group love them
15) Serving spoon
16) Super cheap plastic serving bowls
17) Spreaders for cream cheese/dip

Now, on to food.

This is another tricky part. You don't want to have much in the way of dairy that will spoil in the sun and turn into sweaty cheese (that your friends might later place all over the face of an unsuspecting friend napping in his hotel room post-race). You also want to be classy-ish, because, you know, you're not 18 anyone so you can step it up a notch. And you need items that will generally make it overnight in a cooler or, in our case, the mini-fridge in our hotel room.

I asked people to contribute a couple food items. My great chef friend Lindsay (who is not a professional chef, but she should be) is making a pasta salad and a dessert. My friend Courtney is bringing some amazing peanut butter dessert.

Matt and I did a big Costco run on Wednesday. We were going to initially do this earlier, but this was actually the perfect time because it gives us tonight to go to the regular grocery store and get anything we didn't need in Costco-size portions, along with anything we may have forgotten.

At Costco we made the bulk of our purchases (pun intended):
1) Case of bottled water
2) The aforementioned cups
3) The aforementioned sunscreen
4) Big bag of baby carrots
5) Two containers of hummus
6) Bag of pita chips
7) Container of honey wheat twist pretzels
8) Bag of tortilla chips
9) Container of salsa
10) Container of layer dip
11) Package of brownie bites
12) Two packages of salami
13) Four bottles of cranberry juice
14) Two bottles of orange juice

At Wegmans we bought:
1) The aforementioned straws
2) The aforementioned hand sanitizer
3) Tonic -- 3 bottles
4) Lemonade -- 3 bottles
5) Two-liter soda bottles (Coke, Diet Coke, ginger ale -- only one each)
6) Cream cheese -- 3 varieities

We also took a trip to Party City for the paper products (tablecloth, napkins, forks) and cheap plastic serving bowls, and of course we have adult beverages on board, but for fear of the wrath of the Foxfield board I won't cover those details. Let's just say Martha Stewart recommends that cocktail party planning account for guests drinking about two drinks per hour, and that seems excessive for a day-long event.

We'll divide up the cost of supplies, food, drink and the plot itself among all the people who show up, so I will do the tally and have the final results after the event. I assume I won't have to hire a bounty hunter to get this teacher reimbursed for her expenses.

One thing I did not do this year is buy a new dress. Instead, I'll be wearing the dress I wore to my bridal shower four years ago. It hasn't made an appearance in a while, so I think I'll be safe from the wrath of the fashion police.

When the event is over, I'll tell you if we ran low on any items and what items we bought too much of, which I will gladly return to the stores if at all possible.

Get out your straw hat, and enjoy the ride!


  1. Ha! I'm hardly a professional. But I will be posting the recipes for the gazpacho pasta salad and toasted coconut shortbread I'll be bringing along, so stay tuned.

    LOVE the yearly Matt and Steph shots. Can't wait to see this year's :)