The always venerable Wikipedia defines an expatriate as “a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country or culture other than that of the person’s upbringing.” In other words, they’re strangers in a strange land. University of Kentucky fans have always identified themselves as members of “Big Blue Nation,” and in many cases, the BBN really CAN be found almost anywhere your travels take you. With that in mind, the series “The Ex-Pats of Big Blue Nation” will profile those Kentucky fans who have moved away from the Bluegrass State for whatever reason, asking how they’ve managed to maintain their devotion and fanhood despite living in areas where every exhibition game isn’t televised or where no one in the neighborhood understands the significance of the date April 2, 2012. Tonight, we get acquainted with Brynn in Brooklyn- how great is that alliteration? Read on and enjoy hearing about life as a UK fan outside of Kentucky.
Let’s start with the basics. Please state your name, where you’re from, and current location for the official record. No need for exact addresses, I don’t want to get you in trouble on the Internet.
Brynn White, residing in Brooklyn, New York by way of Louisville, Kentucky.
How did you get from Point A (Kentucky) to Point B (where you are now)?
I was born and raised in Louisville, but left to attend the University of Georgia in Athens, where I proceeded to develop zero loyalty for the Bulldogs and probably wasted too much time in the music scene. I graduated early to hightail it to New York City, where I’d always dreamed of going, and proceeded to promptly grow almost paralyzingly wistful for the South. I re-adopted my Wildcat fandom upon the weathering of the Gillispie era as I desperately needed a connection to home. Seven years later I am planning an imminent return after successfully seducing my New Jersey boyfriend to the idea. I’m hoping I am not just perpetually discontent, but I feel pretty lucid that I’m destined for settling back in SEC territory.
What team’s fans dominate your area? (College or professional)
College sports fandom is a pretty foreign concept in these parts. You know how it goes, Mets vs. Yankees, Knicks, Jets, Giants… now the Nets. None of them have captured my attention, though occasionally Yankee fans and I commune over our proud and deep-rooted histories, recurring dominance, and the resentment of pretty much all other fanbases in our respective leagues. They definitely don’t stop court trials to announce when sports coaches are leaving and have a moment of silence in New England (as our lawyer neighbor reported upon Tubby’s departure).
Was it a hard adjustment going from living where everyone knows every detail about UK sports, to where people may conceivably think UK and Louisville are the same team?
I had many, many people remark “you must have been thrilled for Louisville to win the championship,” to which I promptly set the record straight. I never pass up an opportunity to explain that Rick Pitino = Judas. We even had Pitino Pasta in our pantry growing up, I was raised worshiping the man and I just can’t really let bygones be bygones. He announced when I was enduring mean girls and puberty, so epic betrayals acutely stung. My father has tried to steer our whole familial Wildcat ship towards magnanimous maturity and forgiveness, and he hasn’t succeeded with a single one of us.
I genuinely tried to root for Louisville this year, I really did. We all went through the same internal battles: it elevates the state, it creates one of the great contemporary sports rivalries, it’d make next year’s victory all the more sweet (and we already had the acknowledge we beat the same essential team last year, twice). It genuinely made a whole lot of people I love very very happy. But I couldn’t even go on Facebook for a week. I peeked in once and one of my favorite ladies in the world was remarking about how many strangers she’d given high fives to in the past 24 hours and it just made me sick. Let’s face it, I still remember the dividing lines of my 6th grade homeroom class, the rivalry is that ingrained. And I at least can say that like a good sport and genuine basketball fan I watched their championship run, even when having to choose between them and the Blue Devils, which absolutely none of my UofL fans can say for us last year.
And at the end of the day, I hate the Hoosiers more, as is want to happen in Louisville right across the bridge. When they lost this year my mother left me a message the next day where she let out the most fairytale villain cackle, a noise I’ve never heard her produce before, and I replayed it about 10 times until I realized I had been evilly cackling myself for the past 12 hours.
How many Kentucky fans would you say are in your general vicinity? Is there a local UK alumni group or bar?
Jack Demsey’s is of course the one stop shop here in New York for UK fans wanting to brush shoulders with our kind. I profess I went once and had a good time, but my family has always been weird about basking in our intense obsessions amongst company. My parents almost never went to parties for important games, serious game connoisseurship was an activity to be conducted in private and I have inherited such habits (and loud noise-making).
When I tried to watch the big Final Four game at a bar across the street last year a drunken fool kept wildly expressing his confusion that I could be from Louisville yet root for Kentucky, an instinct as natural as recoiling from fire that I have never felt inclined to articulate… I went back home at the next commercial break. I’ve been wanting to give Demsey’s the ole college try again but this season was too agonizing to inspire such excursions. It was probably best I stayed out of public view for some of those games.
Luckily my UK alumnus aunt and converted husband and children live a train ride away in Connecticut so I usually head there for tournament games. I got to watch the Cats win it all with them, which was a treasured experience. I even recorded our celebration on my phone.
How do you show off your fandom while living away from Kentucky?
I knew I’d really entered a new frontier when I started sleeping and operating around the house and on neighborhood errands only in Kentucky t-shirts. I paint my nails during the season and stick buttons on my bags, and have a necklace pendant in the shape of the state that I wear all the time. I am grateful the UK/UofL game is always at Christmas when I am guaranteed to go home. I think this year I packed a week’s worth of UK blue, which is conveniently my most fetching color. I have started supplying my boyfriend’s family with UK gear as well, so they can spread the love to California and Ohio. They’ve actually taken to BBN more than him.
Recently, however, I procured a pair of unworn vintage blue Specs athletic shoes from the 1960s emblazoned with Kentucky on both sides that I pretty much didn’t take off for a week. They’re the ideal medium for strutting my loyalties, and keeping comfortable for New York walking, even if some people don’t understand how I found a pair of shoes with my home state’s name on them (that’s how bad the college sports ignorance is around here). I’m just glad there aren’t too many men around who can fit into Size 6’s, otherwise they’d had gone on eBay for ten times the price. They are a treasure I hope I don’t spill coffee on.
What’s the hardest thing about being a fan outside of the geographic BBN? The best thing?
I never got to go to a single UK basketball game growing up since tickets were so expensive and hard to come by (football: no problem). Ironically I had to move away to get to see the Wildcats! Barclays Center is about a fifteen minute walk down the hill from my apartment and you better believe it I scored seats right behind the goal and beside the players’ entrance to the court. It was one of the most euphoric, rewarding experiences of my life, though painful to kick off the season with that view and then go back to the couch. My dad texted me when this year’s Providence tickets were available, but they’d already been purchased. I put up with a lot of email alerts on bad concerts just to stay on top of the annual Kentucky pre-sale. Now I just have to wait until December!
The general apathy to college sports is the worst part. The Pitino affair got way more attention from the New York Post than any basketball game. Not that I didn’t admittedly enjoy that a bit.
And also last season, come the Final Four when it was open civil war in Kentucky, I have never felt so homesick for the electricity and excitement in the air. It would have been nice to live somewhere that couldn’t possibly expect you to get any work done for the days preceding one of the biggest games of our lives. However, by all accounts, it was just dismal being in Louisville this year following the tournament, so I did dodge that bullet.
What has been your favorite memory as a UK fan?
My most visceral early memory in life is the Laettner shot and my dad crying. He shed tears again in ‘98 when we came back from a 19-point deficit and beat ‘em, and by that time I could fully grasp what was going on and the sheer pride and triumph he felt, because it was mine as well. We watched the second half of that game every couple of months until I went to college so it’s pretty hard to cite any other moment as more vital than that. One of my favorite things about Kentucky teams is their endurance, I’ve always been able to keep the faith that they’ll keep it together til the final second, and that game and that team were as good an illustration of that as anything.
What do you do for games?
I clear the schedule and rush home, log in to the KSR live blog, and text constantly with my family. And I have a lot of beer and peanuts, bourbon if things are going especially well – or especially terrible. And I often scare or humor my boyfriend, usually simultaneously. Our family dog used to be so unnerved by our behavior during games that he would bite the backs of our knees. The current family pets know to just leave or go to sleep.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to follow a game live?
Nothing too crazy but I am in graduate school, working two jobs with long commutes, and multiple freelance gigs and I have to plot out my schedule just to see friends well over a week in advance. That being said, I only missed two or three games this season, and those I watched later in bed on my iPhone. When I started boring my family with emails rejoicing about the holidays that conveniently precluded night classes on big SEC game nights three months away I knew things were perhaps getting out of hand. Luckily I’m a multi-tasker. And yes I have streamed ESPN from work.
I’ve streamed ESPN3 during a grad school night class. We’re soul sisters. How do you keep up with UK news without the local media readily accessible?
I read KSR, too much. Way too much. And I listen to post-game shows after fulfilling victories. I do miss getting to mute bad TV announcers and turning on local radio instead.
If I embark on a cross-country road trip with my friends, a la Britney Spears in Crossroads, do you have a UK-themed room I can stay in?
No, but after many years of railroad apartments, basements, and no living room I finally have a wonderful apartment with a futon and a decently sized TV. I almost bought a vintage UK bathmat on eBay but I saved the money for essentials.
Since becoming an ex-pat, have you returned to Kentucky to watch the team play or seen the team play live in a different area? Any stories there?
I’m too broke to even go away for the weekend, unfortunately.
How do the locals respond to your fandom?
People in general are surprised to find I’m an uber sports fan. For lack of a better way to say it — superficially I don’t fit the mold: I’m in library school, an avid early 20th-century scholar, I wear dainty 80-year old dresses, people gasp when I actually wear jeans. Most people find it refreshing and charming, though I can sometimes see their eyes glaze over when I start rambling about “the winningest school in college basketball history.” In general I am always trying to educate people about the fine, underestimated, and misunderstood state that I hail from and essential to that is preaching the gospel of the holy trinity: bourbon, horseracing, and college basketball. I can cover the former pretty regularly, the middle every year at my blowout Derby bash complete with smorgasbord of local delicacies, but the latter is a full-time job. And now we at least have the prize that is Justified, which really needs to get its Wildcat on.
What advice do you have for anyone who may be considering a move from Kentucky who is concerned about missing out on following UK?
My sister who went to UK is now in Vancouver (I usually have to give her game updates through Gchat). Relatives used to be in California, my deceased grandmother is surely watching from somewhere (I could always feel her shaking her head over Archie’s drives), while my other 94-year old grandmother doesn’t miss a game. We’re all still so united under the flag of BBN. As you may have gleaned, I haven’t been able to answer a single question without mentioning a member of my family. We’re a tight-knit group that is very, very far away from each other and basketball has been an invaluable way to embrace our long-held traditions and shared passions and feel like we’re all together in some way. I always intended to try to write something about the profound experience of watching last year’s championship run at a remote locate yet feeling like I was just in the other room, but I was usually too adrenalized so sit still.
And there are always ways to bond with other folks. I have a handful of close friends here but they are all, including my best and oldest friend, Cards fans. However the sheer desperation to have someone, anyone, to discuss college basketball with has made the rivalry a lot more fun than its former hostile unpleasantness (I had a Notre Dame fan co-worker once during March Madness, who I even charitably humored as being relevant). I’ve attached a photo of us having a truce, New Orleans-themed dinner the night before last year’s Final Four, and it was pretty fun. But I also knew we were gonna win.
Any general stories that the readers of KSR would be interested to hear about living as a BBN ex-pat?
The Maryland fans were pretty dreadful at Barclays last year, booing five-year-old kids on the Jumbotron and whatnot. However we all came together in one glorious moment when they cut to a dude wearing a Duke cap. It was one of the largest, most beautiful collective groans I’ve ever heard. Some sentiments are universal.
Shoutout to Brynn’s dad, who celebrated a birthday this past Friday. Happy 66th birthday Mr. White!
Are you a BBN ex-pat who enjoys talking about yourself? Email [email protected]