It's a Fiesta, not a siesta
In Tempe, New Year's holds barely a hint of football
Posted: Thursday December 31, 1998 10:36 PM
By John Donovan, CNN/SI
ON THE STREETS OF TEMPE, Arizona (CNN/SI) -- Somewhere around here, they're holding a football game.
But, evidently, that's not until Monday night.
On this night, smack dab in the middle of the Fiesta Bowl Block Party on New Year's Eve, 1998, football looks to be the fartherest thing from anyone's mind.
Booze, yes. Cigars and Polish sausages and tattoos and loud, loud music -- yes.
An inflatable tequila bottle as big as three or four Florida State linemen, an inflatable Pepsi One can that could fit Tennessee's entire starting offense ... sure.
And, of course, chips.
Everywhere you look, everywhere you turn there are corn chips. There are more chips here than in every fraternity house in America, put together. There are more chips here than on all the par-3 courses in America, put together.
There are more chips here than ... well, there are a lot of chips here, let me tell you.
For the record, these chips are Tostitos, Restaurant Style with a Hint of Lime. Or so it says on the 100,000-plus free samples volunteers are pushing on anyone who gets within 100 feet of the streets of this usually semi-placid town.
These samples come complete with salsa, poured from thousands of 96-ounce jugs of the stuff, and are given away, free, as part of the $15 entry fee to the FBBP.
Some 175,000 people, including about 100 who care anything about Monday night's national championship game, are expected to shoehorn onto Mill Avenue and the surrounding streets of downtown by the end of the night. From University on the south darn near up to the Salt River on the north, this is one raucous party -- and it's still only 5 p.m.
"It's a lot of hard work, but it is a lot of fun," says volunteer Jo Ann Harris of Tempe, who's taking a break behind one of the five stands pushing the new Tostitos chip. "If I didn't have a good time, I wouldn't be here, believe me."
No, this is not a place for someone who wants to wile away New Year's with a quiet drink and a chorus of Auld Lang Syne. This is margaritas and Corona beer. This is screaming at the top of your lungs, walking sideways and standing elbow-to-elbow. This is Times Square West, sans the overcoats and Dick Clark.
This is -- did I mention this? -- chips and salsa.
At the intersection of Fifth and Mill, dueling second-floor patios seem to be the place to sit and watch the crowd on this night, kind of a New Orleans thing without the Hurricanes and breast baring.
Well, not as much of the two, anyway.
On the one corner is Hooter's, the venerable restaurant chain. On the corner across the intersection is the Gordon Biersch Brewery/Restaurant. Mr. Biersch is charging $250 admittance on this fine night. A seat on the Hooter's patio is 20 bucks, and you can get in the door and sit inside -- if you want to stand in line -- for free.
"Now is not a good time," says an already-harried Lisa, the Hooter's manager whose last name I did not catch. "We're already full, and I've got to go over here to ..." She was gone, disappearing behind a waitress whose T-shirt, or what there was of it, read "Delightfully Tacky, Yet Unrefined."
Sure, there are signs of the football game of all football games. You can buy official Fiesta Bowl garb (a T-shirt will put you back $20, a sweatshirt $30-40). And, as the Tennessee and Florida State fans start to amble in for the long weekend, there promises to be the scattered pre-game strains of "Rocky Top" vs. the Seminoles' war chant.
But, for now, this is about partying and eating.
"So neat to eat," reads the sign on the stand at the corner of Mill and Sixth. "Jumbo Dogs. Great Anytime."
The owner of this establishment, who'd rather not give her name, brought in 200 pounds of Polish sausages (which, as near as she could figure, was a lot of sausages), 150 hot dogs and 100 or so corn dogs for the evening. She sold out last year.
She's also selling chips which, strangely, aren't going quite as well.
If you're thirsty -- and, with all those chips, who isn't? -- there are bars galore, beer gardens set up just for this event and, for the less wild among us, 16-ounce bottles of Pepsi One. In fact, there are some 40,000 bottles of the new Pepsi drink, every last one of them a freebie.
There are also rides for the kids, concerts on at least six different stages (bands ranging from the Goo Goo Dolls to The Naked Chollas), the Budweiser Clydesdales ... all leading up to midnight and the official ringing in of the new year.
When a giant chip -- no lie -- drops into a bowl of salsa.
Bring on the game!
Around the Fiesta Bowl will appear every day up through Monday night's game.
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