At the end of March, the DS and I went to the Oakland Warriors v. Portland Trailblazers basketball game with his swim team, which had reserved the Skybox. I’m not a basketball fan, but I figured I’d just go for the experience. The outing left an impression on me, but not because of the game play; what has stayed with me was what a whacky total-immersion cultural experience it was—kind of like going to Disneyland, but not as much fun—and the schizophrenic food messages embedded in it.
Happy pop music with a driving beat, amplified to a mind-numbing roar, set the mood as we climbed up to the entrance of Oracle Arena. As we passed security, near-continuous chatter by an M.C. was layered onto the throbbing music so that conversations had to be carried on at a quiet shout. We were drowned in odors blasting from the fried-food vendors. Eye-popping billboards screamed for our attention. Basketball per se was sandwiched in between hula and maori dancing demos (it was Pacific Islander Day, coincidentally); peppy cheerleaders in small outfits shaking their things (and I’m not talking about their pom poms); stuntmen making improbable baskets after bounding acrobatically from a trampoline; couples encouraged to kiss, or audience members to dance, on camera; and lots of advertiser-sponsored breaks.
And here’s where the head-trip really hits a Cozy Foodie, and why I’m writing this post. Throughout the evening, we were bombarded with bizarre food messages. Let me set the stage. “Guests” are forbidden from bringing “outside” food or beverages into the arena. It’s an understandable precaution when a friend pointed out that it’s impossible for security to distinguish water from vodka, but Cynical Foodie that I am, I thought about the unfettered profit margins that could be wrung from the captive audience. Indeed, water went for $5.50 for 1.25 pints; prices went up from there. The food choices ran the usual gamut of fast food options: burgers, chicken tenders, pizza, fries, nachos, popcorn, beer, and soda. But while fans downed their greasy cardboard pizza, they gazed up at Lucky Supermarket’s full-color, bigger-than-life banners advertising healthy meal choices; during the game, the M.C. asked rhetorically which meal the fans would choose, but nobody could actually get any of those healthy meals at the arena. Lucky also sponsored a break where a fan was pulled from the stands: if he could make a basket, he would win free groceries, but the poor schlub missed all his throws. Seems like Lucky wasn’t so lucky for anyone that night. Meanwhile, McDonald’s parachute drops with coupons, and advertisements for 20 chicken McNuggets for $4.99, had people practically diving and wrestling in the aisles. And coupons for free 16-ounce smoothies from Jamba Juice if the Warriors won and kept the Trailblazers from scoring 100 points or more fed the frenzy of the home crowd.
The group of swimmers I was with eventually did find dinner at a small stand tucked behind a big column. Staffed by two African American women, it purportedly sold Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, but which were really just heros dressed up with a large slice of cucumber, shaved carrots, and some cilantro on top. A bunch of us opted for these as the best option. I ate my banh mi and was hungry again before the end of the game. When I got home, I snacked on leftover chicken fajitas in the quiet coolness of my kitchen with the lights turned down low, ruminating about this upside-down trip where I paid a lot to have a three-ring circus shot at me from point-blank range so that ads could then be injected directly into my inert, overwhelmed brain. Now that’s entertainment!
Obviously, I wasn’t the target audience for pro b-ball. I’d rather clear poison oak! …from around the base of that tree with the wasp’s nest! …(it’s not even my tree, or my poison oak!) …on a high pollen count day! …than go to another game. I’m only exaggerating a little. But if I ever do go to another game, say hello, you’ll recognize me. I’ll be the Crazy Foodie with the empty water bottle that I can fill at a fountain after I get past security.