Nail the Tailgate Party

Football season’s best action isn’t on the field -- it’s in the stadium parking lot. Here’s how to throw a bash that’ll make people forget about the game.



Sure, the real celebrities are inside the stadium getting ready for kickoff. But the parking lot is your place to shine -- as the Peyton Manning or Tom Brady of tailgating parties.

Reaching elite level isn’t easy, though. It takes discipline, practice, the proper equipment and the right coaching -- which is provided here by two of the world’s top minds in this ever-competitive field. Follow their game plan, and you may never even bother making your way to your seats inside for the main event.

Know the Ground Rules
Stadiums set up strict rules for tailgating -- and their security crews enforce them aggressively. Are bottles legal? Can you use only charcoal grills, or does it have to be gas? “What’s most confusing is that the rules can change from year to year. So even if you’ve been to the stadium before, check on its Web site beforehand to know what you can and can’t do,” says Joe Kahn, who runs the Tailgating Web site and has cooked out at 31 NFL stadiums, 123 college stadiums and nine NASCAR venues.

Create a Checklist
“The biggest mistake people make for the tailgate barbecue is actually forgetting to bring the grill or the food,” says Deidra Darsa of the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association. (She should know. Her organization actually took a poll on the topic.) Trying to come up with a new game plan from the parking lot is always a disaster. So before you go, write a list of everything you need to bring -- the food, fuel, grill, condiments, ice, utensils, napkins, chairs, cheese-heads and whatever else. Then, as you’re loading the vehicle, double-check that all’s accounted for.

Get There as Soon as the Parking Gates Open
The time varies, usually between three and four hours before the event -- though in some places, like Penn State, visitors can arrive up to two days beforehand. Arriving at the parking area early “will allow you to get the grill going so you can enjoy the food and socialize,” says Darsa. Adds Kahn: “A tailgate is like a community social. You want to enjoy yourself and not feel rushed.”

Keep It Simple 
Overlook this rule at your peril. Serving up prime rib and chicken cordon bleu sounds great, but in practice can be a pain to prepare, and more important, hard for partygoers to eat. “This isn’t a cooking contest. Emeril isn’t going to show up,” says Kahn. His advice: Prepare the food beforehand as much as you can so it’s easy to cook at the tailgate, and make everything bite-size so your guests can eat with one hand. Instead of steaks, do kebabs. Instead of super-size burgers, make sliders. And leave the deep fat fryer at home. Not only is cooking with it a hassle, but it’s a safety hazard in confined areas like parking lots.

Spy on the Opposition and Steal Their Plays
“Walk around while you’re there, look at what other people are doing,” says Kahn. “You’ll get a lot of great ideas for future tailgates.” The more you learn from the success of others, the greater your chances of becoming a prime-time player -- in the parking lot.

Movies to Make You a Better Man

Looking for a get-smart shortcut? The right mix of flicks will serve as a veritable Cinema U: You can really learn something by watching them. Here’s our brain-boosting lineup.



Where can you find a better blueprint for life than the movies? These days we look to cinematic fiction for answers to life’s most perplexing questions, such as, Where else can an over-the-hill fat dude like Jack Nicholson be paid zillions to parody himself again?

Ah, but we digress. Educationally speaking, the movies don’t just lecture you like a burned-out, tenured professor: They put you in the action. Plus the movies can out-multimedia just about any lecture class. Watch enough of the right flicks, and you may just qualify for a degree in business, politics, sociology -- even grifting. And think how far all that will go when time comes to make career choices, sound witty at social mixers and impress a worthy lady.

Yes, Cinema U is officially in session. These flicks are packed with smart bombs that’ll serve you well for the rest of your life. Watch and learn:

Shanghai

Check It out: September 4

John Cusack is a U.S. intelligence operative desperately trying to find his missing American buddy in Shanghai just days before the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. As he frantically tries to find his friend, the search is complicated by local gangsters, Japanese invaders, a Chinese chick (Gon Li) who runs sweet and sour on him, and the realization that he’s not sure he can trust his own government.

The Smart Bomb
Cusack’s undercover navigation of pre-war Shanghai reveals a fascinating, culturally rich -- but also slightly seamy -- melting-pot community we never knew existed. The film shows that pre-World War II Shanghai was an international community of refugees, artists, spies, and best of all, breathtakingly beautiful Gon Lis.

Also …
Creativity cannot be stifled. Shanghai’s international community was the birthplace of China’s thriving film industry, which was squashed by the Japanese occupation during the war. The industry clandestinely slipped out of what became Red China and off to Hong Kong to give birth to the careers of our favorite imports: Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.

Whiteout

Check It out: September 11

Based on the wildly popular 1998 graphic novel, Whiteout is the story of the world’s hottest United States marshal (Kate Beckinsale), who is, um, hot on the trail of the first and only serial killer in the world’s coldest place, Antarctica. The problem? Winter is only three days away (so forget about seeing Kate slip into a bikini at the polar ice cap). Also, with winter come six months of darkness … in which she would be stuck with the Abominable Snowciopath.

The Smart Bomb
Geography meets criminal justice studies meets ice-onography. The story offers the eye-opening and groin-freezing scenario in which we see how U.S. marshals are the only law enforcement agency charged with protecting the world’s largest and least inviting continent. When Carrie Stetko (Beckinsale) is sent to the most isolated, barren and scariest landmass on earth to shut down a serial killer terrorizing a U.S. research base, she has to do it in temperatures that drop to 120 F below 0, winds that will rip your skin off at up to 200 mph and a serious absence of backup when the bodies begin to pile up -- all of which leads us to wonder who her high school career counselor was.

Also …
In the original graphic novel, Stetko was a little overweight and got a bit of help from a female U.N. investigator … with whom (it was implied) she melts a little ice. In the film, though, the investigator is a dude (actor Garbiel Macht). Maybe we should go back to using comics as reference books.

The Informant

Check It out: September 18

Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) was bored working at an Illinois food processing company. So, more to make himself feel important than to actually help anybody, Whitacre goes undercover for the FBI to uncover his company’s massive price-fixing scandal -- while he’s in the midst of stealing $9 million bucks himself. True story.

The Smart Bomb
Aside from focusing on Whitacre’s clueless efforts to be a hero, this story offers riveting detail about how the food industry holds not only your tummy hostage but also your wallet. In real life, Whitacre wore a wire for three years and helped record video footage of high-level meetings, where execs conspired with each other to set food additive prices well above market value so they could stuff their pockets as you stuff your face.

Also …
Elaborate FBI stings follow white-collar crime everywhere -- even in boring industries. That’s right: Somebody’s making dough by charging too much for, um, dough. So if you’re jacking up the sugar packets at your local 7-Eleven, watch your back, Jack. And if you’re going to be an informant, you may want to avoid being a thief while working for the man. Whitacre’s prison term was three times longer than that of the guys he helped nab.

Capitalism: A Love Story

Check It out: September 23

Michael Moore, that hefty dude with the baseball cap and suspicious nature,  celebrates the 20th anniversary of his breakout film Roger & Me -- about the suspicious collapse of the auto industry -- with a new film about the suspicious collapse of the overall economy. The new flick takes a comical look at the corporate and political high jinks that culminated in what Moore has described as “the biggest robbery in the history of this country”: the massive transfer of U.S. taxpayer money to private financial institutions to bail out fat guys with billion-dollar bonuses.

The Smart Bomb
Forget smart bomb -- this one’s an all-out genius bomb: A study of economics, politics, business and thievery all in one! Were this one to translate to college credits, you could cash it in for a quadruple major.

As in his previous documentaries, Moore blindsides his targets when they least expect it. Here, he corners top corporate and banking executives as they fly to their private islands on personal jets that they bankrolled with bonuses they set aside for themselves -- despite managing funds that bankrupted investors. Then Moore gets them to not explain how they can live with themselves on our money.

Also …
Moore details how these guys siphoned funds, pensions, savings and more while the people who trusted them with their life savings went broke. So if you’re up to no good, you may want to stay on Moore’s good side.

More Than a Game

Check It out: October 2

This documentary follows five poor kids from Akron, Ohio, through their high school hoop careers. Not unusual, except when you consider that one, LeBron James, has gone on to become the world’s best player and that they wind up playing for the national championship.

The Smart Bomb
The kids are shown dealing with the pressures of poverty, publicity that comes with competing in the national media spotlight and the heat from that spotlight intensified 100 times because James has been earmarked by the media -- and NBA scouts -- as the best high school player in the cosmos. But despite everybody wanting to get their hands on James, nobody is able to pull these five guys apart. Even when James is banned from a game for allegedly accepting the gift of a car (a no-no he was later cleared of), the kids rely on the bond they formed in Akron to keep them together and help them achieve their individual goals -- as a team. 

Also …
Be true and loyal to your friends, and teamwork will always win out. (Of course, it’s easy to win games with LeBron James on your team.)

Where the Best Unknown Bands Are Hiding

If you think Top 40 is not so tops and want your tunes to be more cutting-edge, you need to know where to find the best music. Read on.



Your local radio station plays the same 10 songs over and over again. MTV is too busy airing "Real World/Road Rules Challenge" marathons to actually bother showing videos anymore. Print music magazines are rapidly dying off.

So where can a music fan such as yourself find out about the newest, edgiest tunes? Here are a few expert tips for discovering music outside the realm of the Top 40:

Enter the Blogosphere
Blogs are a great place to learn about -- and, just as important, to hear -- indie and alternative rock. The challenge for beginners is finding the good ones.

“There are roughly 5,094,947 music blogs on the Internet,” jokes Ryan Dombal, a staff writer at Pitchfork, a popular indie rock Web site (technically not a blog) credited with helping break acts like the Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. “Pitchfork breaks through the MP3 din, hitting on things people care about” via album reviews (the site employs an infamous 0.0 to 10.0 rating scale), artist news and interviews, and links to the latest videos and audio files.

Another good starting point is the indie rock blog Stereogum. “After you find one blog or site that corresponds with your personal taste, check out the other blogs or sites it links to,” Dombal recommends. “It’s a process of trial and error, but it's worth it when you’re eventually exposed to your favorite new band.”

Tune Into the Net
“Commercial radio is all about finding that mass-appeal audience, and if mass appeal is your bottom line, you’re going to cut out a lot of interesting music,” says Mike Taylor, program director and DJ for the Cincinnati-based Web site WOXY. A terrestrial radio station in the past, WOXY has been broadcasting exclusively online since 2004. Its DJs cater to a select audience; current station faves include the female singer-songwriter St. Vincent and Brooklyn indie rockers White Rabbits. If you like a song you hear on WOXY, you can click on the link to the Web site Lala and buy the MP3. “We act as a filter for new music,” Taylor says.

To find other online broadcasters catering to your tastes, check out station aggregator Web sites like Shoutcast or Live365. iTunes also offers free Net radio streams. Or let a computer try to figure out what you’d like: Web sites like Pandora, Last (.fm) and iLike will personalize playlists for you based on your top artists.

Get out of the House
The Internet is a wonderful tool for discovering cool new tunes. But sometimes it’s nice to talk music with an actual human being -- you know, face-to-face (like back in 1999). If you’re lucky enough to still have one or more independent record stores in your town, visit! “I think it’s easier to talk to someone working at a store than hunt down music on different blogs,” says Scott Wishart, co-owner of Lunchbox Records in Charlotte, N.C. “I can recommend something similar to what they like and play it for them on the stereo -- or they can listen to it on headphones in the back.”

Wishart advises developing a rapport with a local record store clerk so he or she can get to know your tastes and avoiding the snobs (think: Jack Black in High Fidelity), if possible. Finally, once you’ve found music you love, separate yourself from the computer as often as possible to see your new favorites live. “Show up early for shows and catch the opening bands,” advises Pitchfork’s Dombal. “That’s how I first heard about this band called The Strokes. And if the opening act sucks, you can make fun of them with your friends.”

Best Cars for Go-getters

Slick, safe and cheap to fix, these autos are the hot choice for young men.



It doesn’t matter how much you pimp the family minivan: It will never be a date magnet. But now that you’re earning a steady paycheck, you’re ready to buy your own -- hopefully racier -- set of wheels. Ideally, you’ll find something sporty that won’t freak your parents out about safety or economy -- a task that’s easier today than ever.

“Almost all cars are coming with high safety ratings now, and they’ve never been more reliable,” says Armaan Almeida, automotive editor for Cars Direct, an auto research, rating and buying site. “That’s why manufacturers are starting to give such stout warranties.”

So don’t feel guilty about giving in to your driving id with these new and upcoming rides. Almeida helped recommend them for their top-of-class handling, safety and ease of repair when those inevitable dings appear. And they look a lot better at the curb on Saturday night than that old minivan.

2010 Chevy Camaro Coupe: $23,040
Yes, the Camaro. The 2010 completely redesigned model -- from the cocky sneer of its grill to its iPod USB port on the dash -- makes it cool to drive a Chevy for the first time since the Bee Gees were hip. The standard V-6 engine (though you can upgrade to a V-8) catapults you from 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than six seconds and gets up to 29 miles per gallon on the highway. When you’re behind the wheel, the front air bags, antilock disc brakes and electronic stability-control system will keep you as safe as if you were driving a granny sedan.

2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe: $22,000
Behold Hyundai’s first coupe. And if you can peel your eyes away from the sculpted, European-looking body of this four-cylinder rear-wheel-drive Adonis (or Aphrodite, if it makes you more comfortable), there’s just as much to drool over beneath the skin. There are the beefy 12.6-inch disc brakes; the electronic stability control; Bluetooth capability; front, side and curtain air bags; and even the soft feel of the leather-wrapped manual-shift knob. For a few extra grand, we recommend bumping up to the 306-horsepower, V-6 version. Close your eyes in it, and you’ll feel like you’re purring along in a $50,000 sports car. On second thought, maybe keep your eyes open.

2010 Mazda 3 5-door: $19,230
If you lug a lot of gear, like bike equipment or a surfboard, a coupe won’t cut it. That’s why the newly revised hatchback version of the top car bargain for the past half-decade makes so much sense. Open the rear door of the Mazda 3, fold down the backseats, and you’ve got a sporty gear shed on wheels -- complete with a 4-cylinder engine that gets 29 mpg on the highway, a satellite radio-compatible six-speaker stereo system and a roomy air bag-laden cockpit.

2009 Honda Accord Coupe EX-L V-6: $28,805
We agree that the dependable Accord sedan is about as exciting as a chess match. But the coupe version manages to strike a near-perfect balance between fun and utility. On the one hand, you’ve got the trademark Accord high resale value (that alone justifying a price higher than the other buggies featured here), safety, low maintenance (no tune-ups needed for the first 100,000 miles), and the knowledge that it’ll last longer than most modern marriages. On the other, this six-banger peels across the pavement from 0 to 60 so fast (actually 5.3 seconds) that the music blaring from the 270-watt, seven-speaker sound system barely has a chance to keep up.

2009 Nissan Altima: $19,900
Maybe it’s the four doors, but there’s something more professional and slightly less ostentatious about the four-cylinder Altima than the other rides here. It’s definitely the right choice if you’re working out of your car or taking long road trips. After all, the sub-$20,000 price and 31 mpg highway efficiency make business sense. There’s enough room to hold your high school basketball team’s starting frontcourt comfortably in back -- or all your sales samples -- and the Altima consistently receives the highest safety and reliability marks of any car in its class.