USC football fans barbecue outside of the Coliseum during a tailgate party. (Axel Koester / For The Times )
This might be the worst sports bar in the world. Traditions, or colloquially, Traddies, resides down four flights of stairs, below Middle-earth, on the cramped but still-sexy-after-all-these-beers USC campus.
As sports bars go, the vibe is just OK — neither unpleasant nor pleasant. The service is a bit noncommittal as well: 40 minutes for a beer, an hour for a burger. Guess they weren't expecting such a big crowd for a USC-Notre Dame game. Would somebody horse-collar that waitress? My kingdom for a Coors!
Like the service, the TVs are out of sync, one a few horrible seconds behind the other, a flickering disconnect that would trigger madness in lab mice. And just before halftime, they decide to swab the restrooms, leading to TSA-caliber waits.
So, to sum things up, it's a great bar, unless you're looking for a place to eat or drink or watch a game.
More troubling, though, is that they booed Matt Barkley here. That's right, when he showed up on the big screens before the game, they booed him, right here in a USC campus bar.
Seemed a rather unexpected backlash against a four-year golden boy who postponed an NFL signing bonus for another year of pro bono work. All he did was set all those USC records. All he did was play almost every down. If you believe in sports karma, those classless boo birds cost USC the game.
"Hell is other people," Sartre said, and by that he mostly meant bad waitresses and fair-weather football fans.
Was out among them last weekend, completing my PhD in tailgating, with my buddy Shaughnessy, who might be the funniest person on this very funny planet. We're both intrigued by tailgating in all forms, what it says about our need for extended families, camaraderie, nature and our near-beastly appetites for beer and smoky foods.
Best way to get to a USC game these days — football or hoops — is on the Expo Line, which on game days becomes a wobbly light-rail journey into sports insanity. Fans sing, jaw at each other, cer-uuuush open a sweaty can of happy juice.
L.A. mass transit remains the best free service in town. Ostensibly, you need a ticket, but no one ever asks. Yet, there I go again, filling my TAP card with enough chits to get me from the Civic Center to USC. Hope that new bullet train works out equally well, with me and Shaughnessy shouldering the entire burden.
Outside, at Tommy Trojan, the mood is so quiet, you could hear a sophomore drop. A little further in, though, and things get scuddly. They allegedly cleaned up the pregame festivities here on the USC campus, but the beer blowouts continue, a sort of superstorm of foam.
This particular tailgate party, the last of the season, is extra special because:
a) The fair-weather fiends can't wait for the season to end.
b) Notre Dame is in town and doing rather well.
c) The two schools evidently have some history.
When Notre Dame is winning, God gets richer — collection plates fill, alumni pony up an extra 20 grand. In fact, at a giant pregame Mass at Exposition and Vermont, there are more Irish than in all of Dublin.
No one has less patience than an Irishman — I know, I used to be one. And it seems like yesterday that Shamrock Nation was calling for Brian Kelly's scalp. Now they're ready to carve him in marble and ship him to Rome.
At the half, Shaughnessy and I escape to a psyche ward called Casey's Irish Pub, where yet more Irishmen reside. Some, I think, get their mail here.
"What's that guy doing wearing No. 9?" Shaughnessy yells of a Notre Dame lineman on TV. "He's 400 pounds. He should be wearing triple digits!"
My other obsession, after tailgating, is shouty saloons, and this one is far better than Traditions. Casey's, on Grand near 6th, is an older and dirtier version of the bar in "Cheers." You don't ever scrub a good tavern, you just lacquer over the grime and the drunks and the history, and that's what they've done so well here.
Plus, at Casey's, they seem eager to serve food and drink.
They also serve something called a Pickle Back, which is a shot of Jameson's, with a chaser of homemade pickle juice.
Sounds like suicide to you, but might I remind you that to an Irishman, pickle juice is a vegetable and whiskey is meat.
Football season goes so fast, doesn't it? Now USC heads to the I-Don't-Care-Bowl, while Notre Dame heads for a national title showdown.
As seen Saturday, Irish fans are such nervous Nellies at this point, not trusting this run of good luck, afraid what they're seeing is an apparition, or a card trick, or some other kind of Protestant ruse, that most can barely even watch the game.
Triumph is such agony sometimes. But losing tends to be even worse.