As the patron of parking lot partying, Joe Cahn has turned his love for food and travel into a football fan’s dream.
By Doug Uhlenbrock
As the sun set on Cincinnati, Ohio, three hours before the Bengals and Denver Broncos kicked off their “Monday Night Football” contest, Joe Cahn, F202477, was primed for action. As he made his way through the parking lots around Paul Brown Stadium, shouts of “Hey Joe, where you been?” and “Joe, over here!” guided him into groups of orange-clad fans, all his newest best friends. Handshakes were exchanged and flashbulbs popped. After the pleasantries were completed, it was time to get down to business: “What do you got to eat?” he asked, setting his sights on the nearby grill. Game on!
The self-proclaimed “Commissioner of Tailgating” has perhaps the best job any motorhomer/football fan could imagine. He travels to dozens of college and professional football stadiums each year to eat and drink with the thousands of fans who congregate before and after the games. When he’s not munching on a Wisconsin bratwurst or a hunk of Texas beef brisket, he’s more than likely talking of football, food, or motorhoming, the essential elements of his yearly tailgating tour.
“Tailgating is unique in U.S. and world culture,” he said. “You see people talking and conversing. Individual parties become one large collective party. It is the last great American neighborhood. It is where people can get together and enjoy the company of each other.”
Joe’s responsibility as commissioner is to make sure tailgaters enjoy themselves, although he’s found that most folks don’t need much assistance. Still, he’s out there each weekend passing along tips, testing the local fare, and bringing smiles to those he meets.
Although Joe has become something of a celebrity through the stories about him in national magazines and appearances on network TV programs, many still don’t know this lovable Louisiana native. In Cincinnati, while discussing the finer points of grilling with a fan, the young man’s companion stood nearby with a puzzled look on her face. After several minutes, she could hold back no longer.
“What do you do?” she asked.
“I’m the Commissioner of Tailgating,” Joe replied, pointing to his T-shirt, which was emblazoned with the words.
Not satisfied with his answer, she pushed on. “How did you get to be the commissioner of tailgating?”
“I made it up, and it’s the best thing I’ve come up with so far,” he replied, a knowing grin spreading across his face.
The beauty of Joe’s answer is that it’s entirely true. He actually created a career that requires him to travel to tailgate parties, eat, talk to people, and enjoy the parking lot camaraderie. And the whole idea blossomed once he bought a motorhome.
In 1980, after working various jobs, Joe opened the New Orleans School of Cooking, where he was able to combine his two passions, food and interacting with people, into a successful business. But after 16 years of teaching folks the basics of Creole/Cajun cooking, he knew there was much more to see outside the French Quarter. He sold the business and his house, and committed to a new plan. “I wanted to travel around the country like Charles Kuralt and do an on-the-road show that involved food,” he recalled. “I thought the best way to do that was in a motorhome, so I bought a new 1996 Holiday Rambler Endeavor.”
New Orleans just happened to be the host city for the Super Bowl for the 1996-’97 season, so Joe figured he’d be a good ambassador and travel to each city that had a pro football team and welcome fans to his hometown. He mapped out a schedule to visit each stadium, fired up his coach, JoeMobile I, and unknowingly began what would become his next job.
Funny thing is, Joe never really experienced tailgating until he hit the road. Although he attended Louisiana State University, he couldn’t recall tailgating while going to school. Also, at the time, parking lot parties were prohibited at New Orleans Saints games, and even today are only permitted in lots a good distance away from the Louisiana Superdome. But what he discovered that first year “” the fun, enthusiasm, and esprit de corps shared by fans wherever he went “” inspired him to become the unofficial leader of the tailgating nation.
During that inaugural tour Joe also realized how much he enjoyed full-time motorhoming. Crisscrossing the country on wheels gave him a different perspective on the people and places that make up America. “I’ve found that one of the fun parts of doing this is the travel itself, not just getting to the destination,” he said. “This is a great country, and it’s the journeys that are the memory-makers.” Each morning Joe queues up Ray Charles’ rendition of “America The Beautiful” to remind himself to look beyond the pavement and relish the landscape and people along the way.
It’s been nine years since Joe motored out of New Orleans on his first tailgating expedition, and he’s seen just about every part of the continental United States since. He estimates that he’s traveled more than 300,000 miles, 30,000 this year alone in his latest motorhome, JoeMobile III. Several years ago Monaco Coach Corporation agreed to supply Joe with a Monaco Signature for his duties as commissioner. In 2004 he moved into a Safari Zanzibar, which, although it is smaller than the Signature, provides plenty of room for Joe and his feline companion, Sophie.
A typical weekend for man and cat involves a college game on Saturday, a pro game on Sunday afternoon, and the Monday night game. Scheduling can be tricky, as all three sites must be within several hours of each other. After that, it’s off to the next weekend’s sites. His longest one-way trek this year took him from Oakland, California, on Sunday to the University of Toledo (Ohio) on Saturday, with a detour to Monaco’s Elkhart, Indiana, facility for motorhome service thrown in.
Although Joe’s primary duties on game day are to make sure the drinks are cold and the chicken wings are hot, as the un-elected leader of the tailgating legion he also serves as their spokesman. He appears on local TV and radio programs to educate and inform tailgating neophytes as well as those who arrive just before kickoff and miss the party. Many, he said, are misinformed about these pre-game fiestas. “Tailgating isn’t about getting drunk in the parking lot before the game,” he said. “It is a community social. It’s a reception, a reunion, a banquet. It’s a chance to get together with friends you haven’t seen in awhile or haven’t met yet. It’s the world’s largest covered-dish party.”
One of Joe’s biggest tailgating concerns is the lack of portable toilets available to his constituents, who sometimes waste valuable tailgate time waiting in long lines. Of course, with a motorhome, Joe never has to worry about this particular problem, although he admits that if you have a private bathroom, “everybody becomes your friend.”
The commissioner is quite proud of his coach and enjoys showing it off to those who have never seen the inside of a motorhome. He has become a vocal advocate of the motorhoming lifestyle, spreading the good word about RVing wherever he goes as a spokesman for Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). For his efforts, he was awarded RVIA’s Spirit of America award in 2003 and recently was named by RV Business magazine as a Newsmaker of the Year for 2004.
What he enjoys most about traveling by motorhome is that, no matter whether he’s in Seattle or Charlotte, he’s always home. On the rare occasion the commissioner has to fly to an event “” usually because of a scheduling conflict “” he is not a happy camper. “I feel uncomfortable on a plane,” he said. “I don’t know what to pack and I never know what to bring. When I’m in the motorhome, I bring it all.”
He also finds it interesting that people think, because he’s in a motorhome, that he needs a place to stay. “People will say to me, ‘When you come to town next year, call us up; we have an extra bed for you,'” he said. “I tell them that I have my own bed and my own home. When I get into town I’ll go to the campground, and then visit. Sophie would be awful mad at me if I didn’t stay in my own bed.”
At the end of the 2004-2005 football season, Joe will return to New Orleans; enjoy Mardi Gras; gas up his Holiday Rambler, which he said still runs great at 225,000 miles; and start rolling again. Perhaps he’ll go lobstering in Maine with friends he met at a New England Patriots game; do some cooking shows aboard the Delta Queen steamboat; hit some NASCAR events; attend a couple Jimmy Buffett concerts; and visit several of the interesting places he whizzed by during the football season or has read about in Family Motor Coaching magazine.
One of the first things Joe did after he bought his motorhome was join FMCA. “It is an incredible value, if only for the magazine,” he said. “I love the ideas you get out of it. It’s perhaps the greatest educational tool [motorhomers] have. There aren’t a lot of places for this kind of information.”
Before he knows it, the 2005-2006 football season will be here, his 10th tour. How long will Joe go? At 56, he said he doesn’t feel his age and when you see him in action “” ignoring the salt-and-pepper beard and shiny scalp “” you might agree that he has the energy of a teenager. When asked for a prediction, he paused for a second, and with perfect Joe Cahn timing, replied, “I’ll do this as long as possible . . . or until my first cholesterol check.”