We’ve all seen it on TV. The ramped lunatics, the looting sprees, the flaming cars, the tear gas, the riot police. It’s all a part of a good riot, but yet few of us have had the chance to experience it for ourselves. And it’s the possibility of a riot that brought what seemed to be the epicenter of the collegiate party universe to East Lansing last Saturday.
I decided to make a trek to Spartyville ever since I learned the hat I wore during my St. Patrick’s Day adventure a few weeks ago was supposedly being held hostage there. But then, when the unthinkable happened – Michigan State barging its way into the Final Four – I knew what I had to do.
There was going to be a riot – and I was going to be there.
I had heard the stories about what happened in 1999 when the Spartans lost in the Final Four. 10,000 people engulfed the streets and terrorized everything in sight. Considering that I was going to graduate in a few weeks, I thought to myself, “Where else was I going to experience massive mayhem?”
I wasn’t alone. After I arrived at around 3 p.m., I roamed the streets looking to spend my afternoon going from bar to bar, hitting on girls I’d never see again and becoming as belligerent as possible. It wasn’t going to happen. Every bar in town was packed to capacity by noon – people were literally camping themselves out hours before the 8:40 p.m. tipoff.
Thus, I was relegated to the alcoholic’s failsafe – the 30-pack of Natty Light – and spent the afternoon at the apartment of a friend of a friend (although I must say that I have never seen a line at a liquor store that long at 4 p.m.).
You see, not being from the state of Michigan, I can count the people I know at Michigan State on one hand. So any appearance I’ve made in East Lansing has been as some random guy – something that didn’t help when, two years ago, I threw up and passed out on my friend’s cousin’s friend’s floor. But it also helped me coin the motto, “Whatever happens at State, stays at State” – something that I would have to tell myself later.
About six beers and a rout of Illinois over Louisville later, I received the opportunity to head to a different place (we’re now talking a friend of a friend of a friend here) to watch the Michigan State-North Carolina game in Cedar Village, where the 1999 riots began. The place, obviously, was filled with Spartan fans, which meant that I had to cheer for the Green and White in order to blend in.
We interrupt this column to ask that you not scold Bob Hunt for cheering for the Spartans. Bob is currently on strike from the Michigan men’s basketball team until coach Tommy Amaker draws up an offensive play for his team. We appreciate your cooperation and will now return you to your regularly scheduled reading.
While I wasn’t used to pulling for Michigan State, I think I did a pretty good job of going incognito. (Although a few kids that saw the photographer I brought along taking pictures of me turned to each other, and I swear I heard them say, “That’s not journalism.” Hey, I consider myself a combination between Hunter Thompson and the Detroit local news, OK?)
At halftime, when it looked like Michigan State might actually win, to say that people were going nuts was an understatement. People went out onto their balconies yelling wildly, and the riot police began to make their presence known on the streets. Anyone who dared leave their apartment building was told, true or not, that “The game is about to start again! Go back inside!”
North Carolina toyed with Michigan State in the second half, leaving the people imbedded within the soon-to-be war zone of Cedar Village in a somber state. But, after the game, people began to flood the streets.
It started out as a trickle, as the police were able to keep people on the curbs and away from the street itself. It was then that I found ESPN.com Page 2 columnist Jim Caple, who was in the midst of a “40-something-back-to-school March Madness” adventure. Knowing that he would be in town on Saturday, I had sent him an e-mail saying that I was a “professional campus party chronicler,” and that we should hang out.
He probably thought I was a lunatic, which is what it seemed he thought to think of me when I flagged him down and posed for a picture.
Soon, upwards of 3,000 people packed the streets beaming with pride for their school and yelling “Go Green! Go White!” back and forth. While it was ramped, it was also peaceful. Students were congregating in celebration of their team’s magical run.
But the police weren’t going to take any chances – and that’s when the tear gas came.
The police supposedly warned the crowd to disperse, but all I remember was how the gas made breathing a horrifying experience. It was something that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.
So I ran. But the problem was that I didn’t really know where I was going and ended up in a dead end with fences on two sides and an apartment complex on another. With the gas forthcoming, my instincts lead me to climb over the fence not knowing what was on the other side.
This ended up being the worst decision I’ve made in quite sometime. All of a sudden, I lost my footing and found myself rolling down a hill. I closed my eyes and braced for the worst. Roll, roll, roll, roll, roll, SPLASH!
I was in the Red Cedar River.
People have hence told me that the river is the most disgusting river that they have ever seen – that you can smell it for miles. At the time, it didn’t really matter. All I cared about was climbing up the 15-foot drop that I had suddenly fallen. But little would I know that it was actually more pleasant down there. Once I had gotten back up, the tear gas started to consume my lungs, and I began to cough uncontrollably.
So this is what a riot is like, eh?
Soaked from head to toe, I realized a wild night of partying suddenly became a pipe dream. I scurried over to the site of my earlier Natty Lite consumption to find an open door and running water, yet no one was present. But in my predicament, I decided to head to the bathroom to clean up. That’s exactly when my friend’s friend came back with his sister and his sister’s friend.
Hearing someone in the bathroom, he immediately freaked out. “Who the fuck is that?” he yelled. Thankfully, he was understanding.
All week, I envisioned my Saturday night being filled with wild partying and girls. Instead, it was filled with tear gas and a gross river.
I drank some more and passed out, only to be awoken by two girls blasting music at 5 a.m. My two buddies and I decided at that point that we had enough and went home without even spending the night.
And, by the way, I never found my hat.
Despite possibly being exposed to toxic waste, Bob has yet to grow a third arm. He can be reached at email@example.com.