When I’m done with my graduate studies and live somewhere else, I believe two things from Fayetteville will stay strong in my memory: Leverett Elementary School and cars. Of course, there’s no need to mention that I will always treasure friendship and knowledge—and a degree, Insha allah! But cars and Leverett Elementary School, they’re different. Coming from a moped culture, I learned to drive around the end of my first year living in Fayetteville. Being able to drive has helped me with so many things, including an adventurous summer job. As for Leverett Elementary, the school has introduced me to various interesting things: progressiveness, public service, patience, and many other things. Put together, Leverett Elementary School and cars introduced me to the football culture, outside the stadium.
My first relationship with Leverett Elementary School was somewhat easy. Indeed, it’s often easy for me to start a relationship with elementary schools. My parents are elementary school teachers, and they have both been School Principals at different times. I know for sure that elementary school teachers are nice to be around. When I started my Master’s degree, I joined the International Culture Team, which later introduced me to Leverett Elementary School, where I gave my first cultural presentations about Indonesia. The first presentation I gave was to a group of second graders, who were so excited about the stories we told—for example, during the Q&A session, one of the students asked if we wore shoes in Indonesia.
When I came back to Fayetteville for my Doctoral program, I upgraded my relationship with Leverett Elementary School. Instead of only giving presentations, I became a PTO member because my son went to that school. As a consequence of my upgraded status, I also got emails from the PTO, including the invitation to be a parking volunteer during ball games. We use the school parking lots that are otherwise vacant on the weekend to welcome people who want to park.
Hungry for adventures, I decided to participate, initially only to find out what this parking thing is all about.
It turned out that I was hooked. I liked seeing people with their happy game day faces pulling into the parking lot. I liked to chat with other volunteer parents, many of whom are also international students at UofA. I got to know some parents and teachers who dedicate themselves to helping with the parking from planning the event, contacting potential customers, using their architectural skill to draw a detailed map of the parking lots to make it easier for other volunteers, and to spend 30 minutes to an hour of their Sunday morning to help pick up trash from the parking lot. It takes much skill and I respect those who help, including Brett, Meridith, Melissa, Amy, and many others. I think, I unconsciously also enjoy the experience of holding a bundle of twenty dollar bills from people who park.
I’m not much of a sports fan—with all due respect to our hard working athletes. I watched NBA games quite often when I was in middle school—I guess it was before I realized that I wouldn’t be tall enough to play basketball. I enjoy watching FIFA World Cup (which is “real” football), although I always have to root for other countries, including our former colonizer, the Netherlands, some of whose players have Indonesian ancestry.
However, I’m just happy to see other people happy. It’s so uplifting to see the tailgate parties. I have realized that it’s more than just rooting for the team. It’s more about being together with people and talking about things, often random things. I believe if people eventually decide not to hold the football season, they will find an excuse to tailgate, just like movies are only excuses for people to eat popcorn. People love the sport and the players, and to make it more enjoyable they throw tailgates. I’ve seen people have fun during game days, doing unimaginable things, bringing fun things, and eventually going together to the field.
Many of the spots are reserved by proud Razorback fans who want to secure their spots for all five home games in the season. Most of these people go to all the games. However, some stay in the parking lots, under the tent, with a TV and satellite dish, and hot dogs in their hands, enjoying the game from far away. Trust me, even these people have their tickets to the stadium. That’s what I call rooting for the team.
Of course, what I consider really wonderful is that thanks to this volunteer activity, we can raise quite a lot of money each year for library books, money for classroom back-to-school supplies, after-school club scholarships, instruments for the music room, planners, etc.
Of all the things I’ve seen throughout the history of my volunteer parking, there’s one occasion which I think is the most emotional: a blend of fandom and romance. It happened during the Razorback VS Auburn game in October. When I arrived at the parking lot for the first shift (7 – 9 AM), it was still dark. There was a car waiting in front of the entrance into the parking lot. A gentleman of probably 70 years of age came out of the car when I removed the cones to open the entrance. He was an Auburn fan. He said he wanted to park and had not reserved a spot. After talking to my friend Tedy, a parent who also happened to be an Indonesian, we gave him one spot that had not been taken.
Once he finished parking, he came out of his car and chatted with us. From the conversation, Charles—the gentleman’s name—said that he came from Alabama, and it was his second Auburn game to attend alone, without his wife. His wife had passed away recently, after one of Auburn’s road games. When Auburn was scheduled for the road game in Fayetteville, he decided to drive down here, still mourning his wife. Charles said, “I think she would want me to come here.” He had been married to his wife since 1964—after graduating from Auburn—and had made it a habit to go to Auburn road games with his wife. This was another aspect of the game that I’d never seen before. While people celebrate togetherness and loyalty and fun, Charles celebrates the game in memory of his wife.
I know we’ll always say “Beat Auburn,” but I think in the future saying “Beat Auburn” won’t feel the same to me. While living in Fayetteville, the Arkansas VS Auburn game has introduced me to the beautiful story of Charles. All of this happened thanks to the magical mix of Leverett Elementary School and cars.
Wawan Eko Yulianto is a Ph.D. student in the Program in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies funded by the Center for Middle East Studies. Read full bio. Comment below!