T-Shirt Road Show

If you want to make friends on vacation, you’d better represent Cleveland.
My husband retrieves his entire vacation wardrobe from a jammed dresser drawer. He folds and packs everything into a carry-on suitcase large enough to fit three pairs of my shoes.

The contents include two Indians shirts, one of them a Larry Doby “throwback” design; one yellow Fear-the-Roo University of Akron shirt, for the sake of alumni support, with a fitted cap to match; one Ohio State Buckeyes Dot-the-i number, an impulse purchase before the season kickoff; one green Cleveland State University hat with stark white C-S-U block letters; and one navy blue Indians cap with the politically correct cursive-I logo.

This packing takes 12 minutes.

“Normally, the Browns would be my first priority in September,” Haven remarks, tossing a second Ohio State

T-shirt into the mix for good measure.

We’re leaving for Clearwater Beach, Fla., on Sept. 24 — the day after our first wedding anniversary, also a couple of weeks after Charlie Frye’s terrible season-opening performance that resulted in a swift trade. That was tough. Haven tried to doctor his Frye jersey by covering the name with masking tape.

“My wardrobe really took a loss,” he announces, while I decide which of the two new bathing suits from Dillard’s I’ll leave at home. I’m going minimalist on this trip. That means no luggage that exceeds the 50-pound Continental Airlines limit.

“It will be too hot out to wear a jersey anyway,” I tell Haven, yanking on the suitcase zipper. “So you see, it all works out.” I think my words are comforting. I’m finding a bright side.

But I miss the real point.

Wearing team shirts on vacation is all about representing. Travel gives Haven a grand opportunity to take his show on the road, and he’s got all the props packed. He already knows his stash of officially licensed gear is a vehicle for meeting people in faraway places who also have a Northeast Ohio connection. He says the airport is a key place to wear a jersey to find out if other Browns loyalists are in the vicinity.

The shirts win points with more people than I expect during our week’s vacation. We encounter Cleveland expatriates, Boston Red Sox haters, fantasy football addicts, OSU Buckeye alums, and a roll call of waiters, beachgoers, hotel personnel and passersby in flip-flops and on bicycles who are rooting for our home teams.

Let the games begin.

We walk to the end of a boardwalk that extends, like an estranged appendage, into the Gulf of Mexico to take a panoramic picture of the shore’s resorts and clusters of beach umbrellas. Then we stop for a refreshment, a very cold one in a bottle, and settle into some patio chairs.

A man with a neck the size of a tree trunk, sporting a Yankees shirt, passes us en route to the men’s room. He stops to offer a slice of New York candor.

“I don’t know about the Indians, but I hate Boston.” The Tribe’s game that night against the Seattle Mariners could land our team in the playoffs. Ultimately, New York guy wants anyone to win the World Series but Boston. We are safe from his hate for now. He actually says good luck.

Not a half hour later, a beach guy wearing no shirt sees Haven’s Indians garb. “We have a tough game coming up,” he says.

“It’s magic time,” Haven eggs on.

He and beach guy launch into a baseball wrapup, followed by an NFL preview, then a lively exchange centered on fantasy football. Haven is pleased with his own Browns picks: Derek Anderson and Kellen Winslow.

This is the first year I haven’t joined Haven’s fantasy league. I typically neglect my players. I never switch up my team’s online roster. While my fantasy strategy of drafting the guys with interesting names (Alge Crumpler, Jay Feely) worked well in years past, my second-to-last-place ranking in 2006 was a clear sign that it was time to call it quits.

Life goes on.

By midweek, we have our beach routine down. We load chairs into the trunk of our borrowed black Hyundai Elantra (thanks to Haven’s Uncle Gary, who is also letting us crash in his guestroom). At a stoplight on a two-lane strip that leads to the beach, Haven rolls down the window.

“Screw the Blue!” Haven shouts at helmet-clad guy on a mountain bike who’s showing Michigan pride on his chest. The light stays red. Biker guy is speeding up closer to our car.

I’m used to these situations. Haven barks like a loud Lab at the Convenient cashier who sells him the Sunday
Plain Dealer.
He acknowledges other fans wearing Browns gear with the same greeting. I expect this at home.

“Roll up the window!” I say, reaching over Haven to press the power up button. Haven is laughing maniacally, his eyebrows doing a Joker thing. “Did you see that?” He’s impressed with himself. He likes to taunt. Biker guy is getting closer. This is sort of funny, if you can ignore that red light.

Smack talk is not a good idea when there isn’t an escape route. But most of our encounters are not so risky.
To be honest, I’m getting a kick out of all this shirt business, too. How many people can Haven really meet on the road? How many different combinations of the same five shirts and three hats are possible? “What if you wear the Cleveland State hat and the Ohio State shirt?” I offer. “Wait — why not partner the Indians cap with the Akron shirt?”

Haven rummages through the suitcase, shakes sand out of the Ohio State and Indians shirts, then decides to go with the Akron-wear. He puts on the cap, too.

“Too much?”

“Yep. No double teaming,” I say.

We’re having a fashion show. Well, sort of. Haven is taking his dress more seriously now that it’s reaping social rewards. I am, too. We want to see just how many friends Haven will make. I’m keeping an informal tally. By day four of vacation, he’s up to 13.

“This or that? Akron or Indians? One or two?” Haven is switching hats. He can’t decide. As his style consultant, I advise that the Indians hat with the Akron shirt won’t be blue-and-gold overkill. I never have this problem with my Ohio University sweatshirt. The green and white even doubles as St. Patty’s Day dress.

“You know, Akron’s colors don’t fall in line with the rest,” Haven reports, really digging to the core of this whole shirt-hat debacle. “I don’t want to look like a friggin’ sports clown!” Haven, I swear, I’m being honest. Wear the other hat.

I can do this job. I am now participating in sports talk in a meaningful way.

The last day of vacation, we check into the Sheraton Sand Key Resort as a special treat. Promises of sand pail-size drinks and an amoeba-shaped pool fulfill the “second honeymoon” portion of the trip.

The pool area is equipped with a towel hut, a snack shack, a tiki bar and an unobstructed view of the Gulf of Mexico. I shamelessly use the children’s water-wings and float about in the water. This is fun. Haven goes to the hut to get us some towels.

“Akron — that’s my school,” says towel boy, who is wiry and tan. He’s taking time off. He tries very hard to look busy as he and Haven chat by folding, refolding and stacking towels. Next to Haven — pale and slathered with sunblock —our Ohio counterpart looks like a beach-bum veteran.

“All right, Akron,” towel boy reaffirms.

“A.K. Rowdy!” Haven throws back, adjusting his Akron hat, which is hiding a tuft of wild, curly-blond pool hair. He’s psyched. Brotherly love.

I notice arms flailing at the towel hut. What’s going on?

Haven comes poolside and explains the happy coincidence, which doesn’t seem all that accidental considering the luck we’ve had with shirt recognition so far. During our stay at the resort, Haven and towel boy dive into a good half dozen conversations about sports, the city of Akron and favorite Cleveland hot spots. They decide that our Shooters is a lot like Clearwater Beach’s bar, Shephard’s.

The pool manager picked up on this bond, which appeared to affect towel boy’s job performance. “We have to pretend we’re getting towels to discuss OSU,” Haven tells me, pointing out a dad across the way who has played equal partner in towel boy’s distraction from hotel service duties.

Saturday morning, we take a cab to the airport and rehash the week. Haven glibly offers me Dear Abby advice on what I should pack next time. “The goal is to match and look somewhat normal, but you have to weigh what’s more important: looking good or showing pride,” Haven says, pretending he’s on WTAM 1100.

We reflect on all the color matching, the remorse of leaving the Frye jersey at home this year, the thrill of meeting out-of-state fanatics and the pride in getting to chant “A.K. Rowdy” to towel guy.I’m just as pleased, because I only have five shirts to wash when we get home.

I ask Haven to sum up his advice for Cleveland Magazine readers.

“If you’re in another part of the country, go for broke,” he says.

For the record, none of those five shirts have been retired.
Share this story: