There is a group of guys that I call the “Verona Boys” who I have heard a lot of stories about over the years… stories that involve such things as motorcycles, cars, women, guns, cops, the shooting and eating of various animals (including squirrels), gambling, drinking, etc. The source of these stories is my good friend Bill who I know from a different circle of friends.
So when I got invited to go along with Bill and his Verona crew on a road trip to a Badger Football game at Purdue I jumped at the chance to see firsthand how much of what I had been told was true. I figured if one in five of the stories I had heard over the years were accurate then I was in for one heck of weekend.
And I wasn’t disappointed.
Since I assumed the others all drove El Caminos with gun racks and caked on deer blood in their cargo beds I volunteered to drive the Madison/Verona contingent in our vehicle which seats up to eight. So Friday afternoon I cleaned out the family minivan and headed out to rural Wisconsin to pick up the first passengers.
I imagined I would be driving up to farmsteads with old trucks/tractors hidden in plain sight behind tall grass, so I was a bit surprised when the first two stops were at custom built high-end homes with expansive views of the hilly countryside. We met the next two participants at a business near the interstate and we drove from there down to Chicago to meet the others who were already en route.
What we did for entertainment on the drive was similar to what my two teenage sons do when they get in a car with their friends. We hooked up smart phones to the car’s a/v system and played funny youtube videos which in turn led to some funny stories. A little later when the conversation slowed down a bit, I threw in a DVD of Will Ferrell’s movie Anchorman and we all enjoyed a few hard laughs at the non-pc portrayal of men’s life in the 1970s. About the time the movie ended we arrived in Chicago.
We played pool and drank beer at an Irish Bar in Chicago before heading out for a steak dinner at the Capitol Grill. The restaurant was crowded and I wasn’t optimistic about our chances of getting in without a reservation, but one of our group talked to the maitre de and gave him “the republican handshake” to ease any concerns about our relatively gruff appearances. It worked and we got in and had a great meal complete with $20 sides of green beans and what we all agreed were some of the best steaks we had ever had.
Now that I brought politics up with the Republican handshake bit, I should probably mention that many/most of these “Verona Boys” are renowned to be somewhere to the right of Ghengis Khan in their political views. I heard several references to over-funded school districts that somehow don’t have enough money for sports programs, crazy high taxes, etc… on the way down and I chose to bite my progressive tongue at least until I knew them a little better. The person who invited me along on this trip was what I sometimes describe as my “republican friend” Bill. Over the years we have argued back and forth about politics, but Bill is always respectful and makes reasoned arguments and I very much enjoy and benefit from talking with him about issues of the day. I actually found his friends to be about the same. Their politics were clearly different than mine, but the few times we talked politics things didn’t get out of hand and we were all pretty much content to live and let live. Before long we moved on to other topics.
This was actually a part of the trip that I enjoyed the most. Over the course of the weekend a few other myths were also busted. First off the Verona Boys aren’t rural hicks or rednecks. There are all accomplished professionals in their respective fields, but to a person they were modest and never boastful about their day jobs.
Politics and the media around politics (I hesitate to use the word journalism) seem more poisonous these days than at any time I can remember. This trip reminded me that people who belong to and/or vote for candidates of particular political parties are not the same as the media associated with their respective parties.
The Verona boys come from the heartland, their parents worked hard and they work hard too. They don’t expect or want a lot from government and they don’t want to pay for programs that they think are unnecessary or ineffective. I can appreciate their perspective, but see many things a bit differently. But when we can talk about our differences rationally, we have the potential to increase our understanding and find solutions that work better for each of us. I believe that type of discourse is underrepresented in the political spectrum of today and that is a shame.
Anyway, back to the story. We returned to the Irish Bar, played some more pool, and took in the atmosphere (think slightly above Chicago dive bar – e.g. they had big cans of Schlitz beer on special but also had 20 kinds of vodka on display).
There was a couple at the bar that caught our attention and we were thinking one of them “has got to be a pro” (which in this case I believe was accurate) and they provided some unintended entertainment for our group. We smartly turned in early so we would be ready to hit the road by 7 a.m. the next day and drive to Lafayette, Indiana in time for the Purdue Football game which started at noon.
A short drive, another guy movie (this time “The Hangover”) and we arrived on Purdue’s campus. We were all wearing our Badger Red that set us apart from the Purdue crowd and earned us some good-natured ribbing. The locals were friendly which may have had something to do with a tradition at Purdue called the “Breakfast Club” whose motto goes something like, “It’s not drinking All Day unless you start in the morning.” Breakfast Club participants wear costumes to every home game and get up at 5 a.m. to start drinking. It might sound a little extreme until you see the Purdue football team which isn’t having a very good season., so getting up at 5 a.m. and drinking probably makes the games more enjoyable for the locals. Then again, I doubt too many of the breakfast club participants were still awake for or actually attended the game.
The game was fun. Purdue kept it close in the first half, before the Badgers made it a blow out in the second, which is how all road games should be scripted. It gives the locals something good to talk about, and makes it so they aren’t ticked off at the opposing fans.
After the game we took in more local color at a few places near the stadium before settling into our deluxe accommodations at the Red Roof Inn. We picked up some beverages, cards, and poker chips on the way back to the hotel, ate a restaurant with the words “Roadhouse” in it’s name where you can throw peanut shells on the floor (what more could you ask for?) , and then played some parking lot football (that lasted as long as our 40 something shoulders did which wasn’t very long) before embarking on a night of card playing, drinking, storytelling, etc.
The final highlight of the trip was looking for, and after significant effort finding, one of the guys wedding ring in the parking lot that flew off his finger while playing one last round of catch. There was lot’s of joking/commentary by the other Red Roof Inn guests who were heading out at the same time when they saw eight guys combing the parking lot for a wedding ring. Five short hours later we reverse the order of pick-up for the drop-off and this weekend is in the books. It was a fun weekend, one that busted a few myths and reinforced a few others about the boys from Verona, a great bunch of guys who still know how to have a good time, but who have grown up just enough in the last 25 years to keep things mostly respectable (and that is a good thing).