For most of the country, the fall season is highlighted by the changing colors of the leaves, strolling through pumpkin patches to find the perfect jack-o-lantern, or drinking apple cider while watching the days slowly get shorter. But in Southern California, with the never-changing 70 degrees and sunny weather forecasts, fall is highlighted by college football, USC’s official religion (at least during the fall). As the calendar turns towards September, every Saturday becomes a Gameday. All work stops, and campus turns into the largest football tailgate on this side of the Mississippi River. Tents are pitched down Trousdale and across McCarthy Quad, generators are set-up to power large, flat-screen televisions, and grills are lit in preparation for a pre-game feast. And then, approximately two hours before game time, most students walk the two blocks south of campus to the Los Angeles Coliseum to watch Tre Maddon and our beloved Trojans.
Last Saturday, September 7th, was USC’s home opener, and therefore our first Gameday. While the football squad did fall short against the Washington State Cougars, I was content having college football back. Despite the 7:30 pm official start time for the game, I was awake at 9 am, preparing for the tailgate. As the social chair of my fraternity, I had the responsibility to make an early morning Ralph’s run, nearly buying all the hamburgers and hotdogs that packed the freezer aisles. With several liters of soda and enough chips to feed the fraternity, I arrived at McCarthy Quad with several of the fraternity’s new members. As we claimed our tailgating territory at 12:30 pm (seven hours before game time), my brothers and I were guaranteed a spot in the center of the quad, perfect placement. And by the time I completed set-up at 1 pm, the tent was pitched, the grill was lit, and I was ready for a great day of football.
Over the next five hours of tailgating, I came to several important realizations, many of which are applicable to any Gameday. First: putting on sunscreen is essential. While it is important to wear school colors, my skin was not a healthy shade of crimson. Second: playing touch football on McCarthy quad on Gameday is not a great idea. In my valiant attempt to start a game, I quickly threw a football into another tent, knocking over a table filled with sodas. In my next effort to play (this time as a wide receiver), I really didn’t have much room to run in the sea of tailgaters and tents. I think engineering is a much better career path for me than football. And third: I am a great cook. After five hours of grilling, I have mastered the nuances of grilling hotdogs and hamburgers. I avoided burning the hotdogs and kept the cheese on the cheeseburgers from touching the grill. Even when USC loses, I find the small victories from the tailgate that made my first Gameday special.
Despite my new-found talent, I probably will not make a living as Chef Coco. So, in two weeks, I will be missing Gameday to pursue a more career-minded goal. On September 20th, USC’s Rocket Lab plans to launch the first completely undergraduate-built rocket into space, and I hope to be a part of history. I joined USC’s Rocket Lab just this semester but will be continuing a project which has been seven years and several rockets in the making. So far, my role on the team has been limited, as I am still learning basic machine processes and developing an understanding of the rocket design process. Hopefully though, I will take on a larger role when we launch Traveler (our rocket’s school-spirited name) from Blackrock, Nevada. With Blackrock being a thirteen-hour drive from campus, the team will depend on every member to ensure that the launch is successful and no key components are left behind in Los Angeles. I hope to provide support for the launch tower team, which will erect the launch tower prior to launch and do safety checks. Currently, I am both overwhelmed and excited to have such an amazing opportunity on my hands and cannot wait for the launch!
So, maybe USC’s fall does not have the changing leaves and brisk winds of fall in my New England hometown. But between football games and rocket launches, I really don’t have time to complain. At USC, fall really is the most wonderful time of the year.