Wisconsin hospitality and trailer-gating
There are the ubiquitous tailgating activities you’ll see on a Sunday in Green Bay when the Packers are home. There are the grills, the various gear worn depending on the weather and outlandishness of a particular individual, the bottles of booze and plastic cups of beer and Bloody Mary mix. There are the spreads, the snacky tables of joy, the passed around handles of Dr. McGillicuddy’s minty schnapps or creamy RumChata. There are all these things, with some mixed amount of variables, anywhere you walk around Lambeau Field on gamedays.
They are not usually done to the scale that they are done in the corner of the Lyndahl Funeral Home’s parking lot. Sitting between Lombardi Avenue and St. Agnes Drive, kitty-corner from Lambeau Field itself, Bob Chadwell has been making the trip from Wausau to Green Bay on gamedays for years upon years, perfecting and expanding his family’s version of tailgating – an artform one can’t really screw up, but one can certainly refine and design with an aim towards idealistic greatness. That’s what we have here: an essentially perfect Packers tailgating setup.
The trailer is the physical form of Chadwell’s specific plan. Years ago, they would come over in a van designed to haul eight people. But as the need for more stuff grew – the fire pit, the tables and food and assorted clothing, accumulated in the general craziness of a gameday then left for their owners to find in the days after – the space for actual people shrank.
Chadwell knew what he wanted the trailer to look like. He wanted people to know, when they saw it rambling down from Wausau, where the trailer was headed. He wanted legendary head coach Vince Lombardi looking down at the franchise he helped mold into a champion, wanted him to be peering from above at the franchise’s four Super Bowl championship trophies. Chadwell wanted people behind the trailer to get a view “inside Lambeau’s famous bowl,” as he says. It’s plucked straight out of his imagination, taken and brought to life by a local graphics company.
The trailer opens up and out comes a block U-shaped bar. The surface of the bar is adorned with photos of Lambeau and tailgaters sit around it in raised movie director seats and bar stools, a full compliment of garnishes and ingredients available for just about any sort of cocktail you’d like at whatever time of day it happens to be. As Chadwell explains, for noon games you have to get to Green Bay and start setting up the sprawling tailgate by eight in the morning; for late-afternoon games – like today’s against the Cleveland Browns – it’s eight in the morning; for night games it’s, as you might’ve guessed, eight in the morning. Consistency is one way you become an authority on tailgating. Showing up is half the battle.
There’s a lot to get situated. There’s the bar and the green event tent hanging over it. The two grills have to get warmed and ready for an onslaught of brats and burgers. The other, longer white party tent is put up and tables of food – from a bottomless pool of brats to what we guessed were bacon-wrapped graham crackers, whatever they were they were incredible, to customary tailgating finger foods like shrimp and taco dip and ham roll-ups – serve the crowd.
An above-ground fire pit crackles, bringing the smell of the Northwoods and necessary warmth on a chilly October morning. Next to the two kegs of light beer, there’s a green-and-gold-striped tackling dummy dressed in a Browns jersey. With a later kickoff time, the dummy does not stand a chance as people get more inclined to tackling something as the day goes on.
There’s bag toss and beer pong and a game of Don’t Leave The Circle Until The Bottle Of RumChata Is Gone – that may not be the correct name – country music from the speakers, a private Porta Potty and a satellite TV showing the Bears working their way towards a loss to the Washington Redskins. There is, in short, absolutely nothing wrong with anything in the world at this point in time.
Bob Chadwell is originally from Minnesota. He grew up a Vikings fan because of this and when he worked in banking in Appleton, Mondays were the Fridays of today, meaning that’s when everyone wore their team-inspired clothing to work. Chadwell’s bank worked with the Packers then, and sent him to pick up money from the team one Monday. Chadwell was only a few months into the job, working hard, when he received a call from his boss. After feeling him out, asking how he liked the job, things like that, Chadwell’s boss delivered some advice, saying in so many words: “If you like the job then take off that [REDACTED] purple shirt.”
So: that certainly helped push Chadwell towards the Packers, but so did meeting and forging friendships with former players like Ray Nitschke over the years. There wasn’t so much anything wrong with his home-state Vikings as there was this unending tidal wave of Packers-everything around him. His experiences eventually shaped his fandom, but he also allowed himself to get caught up in all that it means to be a Packers fan in Wisconsin. “How can you not?” Chadwell asks.
Now Chadwell is the president/CEO of Aqua Finance, Inc., in Wausau. He founded the company – which works with dealers nationwide providing water treatment, home improvement, medical and vacuum financing, among other areas – in 1986.
His daughter, Shanna Bucki, is the company’s national marketing manager. Bucki stitched the web of logistics together for today’s tailgate and many others. This particular one, however, was the reward for a company-wide contest. “Leap into Lambeau” brought Aqua’s top 10 dealers on an all-expenses-paid trip, ending with tailgating and a ticket to the Browns game.
For the entire trip, Bucki and the Aqua team rolled out the red carpet Wisconsin-style, bringing in the winning dealers from places like Florida, California, New Jersey and Washington state and treating them to a time-honored Friday night fish fry – with, of course, Old Fashioneds – outdoorsy activities like four-wheeling and, on Saturday night, an impromptu game of musical chairs. Some had their doubts when Bucki offered this idea. But the game got extremely competitive and, as one could imagine, tear-inducingly hilarious as chairs were pulled and butts hit the floor late on a Saturday night.
For Bucki, this weekend is all about showcasing Wisconsin hospitality and tailgating and love for the Packers – wrapping all that up into a weekend as a gift to people from other parts of the country, giving them something they simply won’t get exactly like this anywhere else.
“You guys are the nicest group of people I’ve ever been around,” a dealer from Florida said while relaxing by the fire on Sunday morning. A Ripon native who lives in Laguna says California is nice, “but it’s not Wisconsin.” Everyone in the party gets a green and gold “Leap into Lambeau” jacket, making this tailgate made up of people from all parts of the country one big family of Packers fans for the day. You can’t tell if someone is from the East Coast or East De Pere. Today, like any other Sunday, that hardly matters.
Winners of the contest mix with neighboring tailgaters that Chadwell has gotten to know over the years, or other habitual attendees. Another perk to being this consistent is making friends, knowing the guy who runs the funeral home’s parking lot, basically being an institution of this particular parking lot on a Packers Sunday.
The Aqua people – really, everyone at the tailgate – are gracious, make sure you eat enough and have a full cup of whatever you’re drinking ready. If you happen to look cold, they might give you a Packers pullover and have no problems trusting you to bring it back after the game. They might give you a pair of gloves if your hands look cold. (Full disclosure: they were cold. Thanks again.) As Green Bay wrapped up a workmanlike, hardly-in-doubt 31-13 victory over Cleveland, the green lights come on around the trailer and party tents and, before everyone piles into their buses and vehicles – all with designated drivers – back to Wausau, Bucki’s famous chili is served. It is served with noodles because that’s how delicious chili is served. On this night it’s a great option as the cool day turned into a cold and wet evening.
It is difficult to do tailgating badly. Simply being out there around Lambeau, swallowed up in the atmosphere and surrounded by like-minded fans, means you are heading about 12 steps in the right direction. But, as Chadwell’s tailgate illustrates, one can certainly do tailgating better, achieve a higher standard for Sundays in Green Bay. With an arrangement as inventive and all-inclusive as this, one can’t really think of a better way to explain to folks not from around here what the peak of Wisconsin hospitality and dedicated Packers fandom would look like. Did you eat enough? Are you sure? Help yourself. Whatever you want.