Tim Whyte | How I Almost Hitched a Ride on a Freight Train

By Tim Whyte

Signal Editor 

Climbing between two cars of a parked freight train in Norman, Oklahoma, I had two thoughts:

One: “This has not been a typical weekend.”

And, Two: “If this goes wrong, I guess the up side is I’ve always wanted to visit Tulsa.”

Thankfully, the train remained parked, and my 23-year-old son and I made it safely across as we traveled on foot to Campus Corner, the hub of postgame activity at the University of Oklahoma. 

Luc and I had gone to the OU football game versus Houston, featuring the debut of transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts, who torched Houston for a combined 508 yards passing and rushing en route to a 49-31 win before a packed house of Sooner faithful. 

It wasn’t my first time in Norman, but it was my first time seeing a football game there. On all my previous trips, I’d gone either to drop Luc off at school or I’d gone with my dad to watch Luc play for OU’s hockey team. 

It’s Luc’s senior year, and I’d never seen an OU home game. He acquired a couple tickets to the Sooners’ opener against Houston. More than that, I think the boy wanted me to experience the tailgate scene at OU just once before he graduates. 

Oh. I experienced it alright. I also experienced many reminders of my advancing age. 

I saw things. I heard things. Can’t repeat them all here. I was tired for three days after I got back home. 

What happens in Norman stays in Norman, right? That is, except for the bug bites — apparently I received multiple visits from the unofficial Oklahoma state bird, the mosquito — and a mysterious bruise of unknown origin on my right shoulder.

The G-rated version of the OU tailgate scene starts something like this:

The game was to be played on Sunday — a rarity for a college game — so I mistakenly assumed Saturday would be kind of a chill day. I even thought we might squeeze in an NFL fantasy draft with Luc and his buddies. 

We didn’t. 

Luc awoke on Saturday before 7 a.m. Why? Because, in order to secure a good spot for the tailgate, he and his friends had to get there by about 8 a.m. 

In other words, nearly 36 hours before game time. You may think we like our football here in California. In Oklahoma, it’s religion. 

So off they went, with a table and an EZ-Up, to hold their spot. And then they did something I wouldn’t imagine doing here: They left their stuff at the spot, confident in the knowledge that it would still be there when they returned the next day. 

And it was, except the frat next to them had “borrowed” the table on Saturday night. No harm, no foul. 

After that drop-off, they went shopping. Burgers, dogs, etc. 

Bottled water. You know. 

There were multiple errands to run, grills to pack, ice to buy, a hockey team-building meeting to which I was not invited (I stayed back and watched Luc’s dog, Lily) and even game equipment to assemble, including a yard game I’d never seen before: My son, using power tools, created two 2-by-2-inch-wide stakes, about 4 feet tall, each with a hockey puck nailed to the top, serving as a platform. 

At the tailgate, the stakes were to be placed about 20 feet apart, each with a beverage cup or bottle sitting on top of the puck. As far as I can tell, the object was to throw a Frisbee and knock the cup off the puck. 

Points were accumulated until there was a winner, or so I assume. 

When we arrived at the tailgate around midday Sunday, the crowd was just starting to build. Soon there were dozens of people at our spot, and my son manned the grill. He served up 48 cheeseburgers and 48 hot dogs, and the crowd seemed to agree he’s pretty good on the grill. 

I take credit for that. 

Once the tailgate scene wound down, we cleaned up and made our way into the game. Had a blast there — electric atmosphere — and after the game we had to make our way back to Luc’s house to let the dog out for a while: Lily, a border collie, had gone to the first couple hours of tailgate with us, sporting an Oklahoma doggie T-shirt, but then Luc had Uber-ed back and forth to his place to drop her off so we could go to the game. 

Once we’d given Lily a postgame play break, we called another Uber to bring us back to Campus Corner to meet up with his friends for postgame debriefing. 

That’s when we came upon the train. 

Traffic was at a standstill. It was going to be a while. By this point, it was more than an hour past the end of the game and there were a lot of Oklahomans waiting to go home, irritated by the train standing in their way. 

The train was parked at a street crossing, the crossing bells ringing and ringing, and, somewhere, there was an engineer in no special hurry. 

We had places to go. People to see. It was getting late. 

So we hopped out of the Uber and, like many others doing the same thing, we clambered up and down the short ladders mounted on each side of the freight cars, and crossed over to the other side. 

It was unnerving — but, thankfully, I never made it to Tulsa. 

Lily the border collie holds down the fort at the tailgate in support of the Sooners. Tim Whyte/The Signal

Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays. On Twitter:  @TimWhyte.  

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