Joe Cahn calls himself the Commissioner of Tailgating. For 16 years, he has spent the entire football season -- just shy of six months -- driving around the country in his RV, going to tailgate parties. These road trips allow him to connect with people in a way that can't be done by staying at resorts and going just to tourist attractions.
"Tailgate parties are the last great American neighborhood. It's what neighborhoods used to be,” he says. “Now we live in gated communities and have privacy fences. People leaning over the back fence to talk, we don't have that anymore. Tailgate parties are like walking through thousands of backyards with no privacy fences.
“You break bread to become friends and for a tailgate, the kitchens come into the parking lot."
Cahn, a native of New Orleans, said in the first year, the 1996-97 football season, his goal was to go to every one of the 30 NFL stadiums across the country. He had to make complicated schedules, sometimes going to four stadiums in a weekend, sometimes taking a plane instead of driving in order to reach that goal. Most seasons now, he doesn't try to hit every single stadium.
One reason he was able to make that goal: He doesn't usually go to the games themselves, just the pre-game tailgating, which means he can tailgate before a 1 p.m. game in Baltimore and still make it to RFK stadium in Washington D.C. in time to party before an 8 p.m. kickoff.
Since he started, he says he's traveled 800,000 miles, close to 700,000 of them by road, and has been to all 48 contiguous states in his RV. His road trips aren't like yours and mine -- he often has a corporate sponsor. This year he's promoting recycling on behalf of the Aluminum Association's Can Crusade, a 17-city tour of NFL cities created to educate fans about why using aluminum cans during a tailgate is the smartest choice.
He'll be in Miami Sunday for the Dolphins v. Raiders game, his 12th of the season. As always, he'll wear the home team's jersey (he has a collection) and walk through the parking lot, talking and eating with fans he's never met before, spreading the recycling gospel.
He's been on the road since Sept. 3. He'll go home after the Super Bowl -- or maybe a week later, after the NASCAR race at Daytona.
Cahn had never driven an RV when he bought his first one, says he had never even been in one. But he bought a 36-footer and put 225,000 miles on it. He's now in a 40-footer with 212,000 miles and six years on it (there were others in between). He travels with his cat, Sophie, who he says is the real party animal. His wife, a registered nurse, stays home – he says she enjoys the quiet time – and occasionally flies into a city to meet him.
Cahn says a lot of people dream of taking the kinds of long, cross-country road trips that he does. “People say 'When I retire, this is what I want to do.' I have a catch phrase for them: Retire one weekend at a time. Take a short trip, don't take a cross-country trip, you don't have to go from Miami to Alaska on your first trip. In Miami, within 250 miles, you can go into the Keys, you can go to the Everglades, to Naples, to Tampa. In Broward County, there are amazing parks where you can get away from it all and have some quality time with your family.
“I always suggest renting an RV before you buy it, rent different units, see what size you want. Go to campgrounds and talk to people. People love to talk about it, they'll give you the good and the bad [about RVs].”
You can follow Cahn here.