Wednesday August 7th
It's 11:26pm and I’m on a small American Airlines plane that has finally landed in Green Bay. It’s been raining heavily in Green Bay so the flight was delayed by around two hours from leaving O' Hare airport. I’m not supposed to be on this flight - my ticket was from London to Chicago - not London to Chicago to Green Bay but the incoming flight from Chicago to London was late by several Horus thus making the return fight around five hours delayed. So I tweeted American Airlines telling them I wasn’t happy that I would miss a Greyhound coach service from downtown Chicago taking me up to Green Bay and upon request, to their credit, they kindly offered me a free 40 minute flight which, if booked separately, would have cost me $450 Australian dollars. I arrive jet lagged - I don’t even notice one of my good mate’s Brad Toll at baggage carousel as I’m so tired/jet lagged - it’s partly because of him that I’m here - he’s one of two main people that made my move from Perth, Western Australia to Green Bay, Wisconsin to follow the Packers for every game both home and away for an entire season - the other person is his good mate Will Liebergen - who along with Brad have become two of my best mate’s.
So how did I meet Will - the story goes back several years. I first came to Green Bay in January 2013 in the middle of winter during my Australian school summer holidays - I’m a high school teacher based in Perth, Western Australia - originally born in England from a North Indian (Punjabi) family/heritage, with Australia being my new home for the last 11 years or so. The Packers were no longer in the playoffs but I still decided to make the trip as my flights were booked - I hired a rental car from O Hare to go on a short road trip around Wisconsin - Madison, Green Bay and Milwaukee. It was bitterly cold Wednesday evening when I arrived in Green Bay and after a checking into my hotel I decided to take a walk around town. I hadn’t walked long when I saw a bar open and decided to go in - little did I know this would change my life - like a sliding doors moment. I went in and ordered a drink - the bartender was interested in me being a foreign patron - he asked where I was from and I told him I was travelling from Australia. He asked if I wanted to go ice fishing tomorrow. I was interested in having a local experience but I had no cold clothing with me - the bartender, called Will, kindly offered to provide all equipment. The next morning I met him at a petrol (gas) station near his home and we spent the day ice fishing - what an amazing experience - I even caught a fish on my first day! Upon my return to Australia, Will and I stayed in touch and became good friends. During 2014, I went through a tough time in my life after splitting up with a girl that was seeing - it wasn’t a particularly long relationship but I took it quite personally with the way it ended. I was drinking a lot - even during the week - and I rang Will one Thursday night in August 2014 whilst in a taxi heading into town for drinks from my apartment asking him we should meet up in Cancun (as he had promised) for spring break the following year. Will said he had some special news for me - “what is is mate!?” I asked. “My wife is pregnant and the baby is due around next Easter so I can’t come” he replied. Rather than be grateful for him my mentality at the time was damn - he can’t meet in Cancun! So the next day whilst I was at work, I decided to change my plans for the next school holidays and go to Green Bay to visit him and his wife and attend my first Packers game at Lambeau. During my first visit back in January 2013 I had visited the stadium and had fallen in love with the town, history and felt like I needed to go back and go to a game and visit my mate and his pregnant wife. So for the 2014 spring holidays (which fall every end of September/early October for 2 weeks) I cancelled my trip to Laos in Asia and flew to America to attend a Thursday night game between the Packers and Vikings. Will told me he couldn’t come to the game with me due to working at his bar but I would be tailgating with two of his good mate’s - Brad and Sandy Toll. They really looked after me despite having never met me before - they were such great hosts and I went to the game looking forward to meeting them afterwards in Will’s bar. Despite the Packers defeating the Vikings pretty easily in a one sided contest I really enjoyed the whole experience - pre, during and post game. Once we were all in Keggers, Brad was telling me about a guy from Sydney who moved uprooted not only his life, but his young family of a wife and two young boys, moving to Titletown for an entire season. As soon as I heard this something inside me clicked - this is the kind of crazy, random adventure that I should do - I’m single, no wife or long term partner, no kids and no financial commitments, and ultimately I have found a new place in my heart for the Packers, Green Bay and Wisconsin in general. Plus it’s practically and financially viable too - a scheme exists back in Australia for state government workers like teachers who can go on a Deferred Salary Scheme whereby you work at 80% pay for 4 years having a sabbatical (year off) at 80% pay in the fifth year - which would coincidentally be the 100th year anniversary of the club in its 101st season. As the school year runs from end of January-mid December the plan would be to fly to India for Christmas with my mum and family, then head to South America for several months backpacking, a quick trip to England to see my family, catch up with some mates and watch some cricket (my number one love in sport) before moving to Green Bay for around five months or so before heading back to Perth via India in January 2020 - what a plan. So upon my return to Perth in October 2014 after my spring (fall) trip to Green Bay I asked my line manager to sign me the form requesting me to join the DSS. When I told him about my move to Green Bay to follow the Packers he started laughing - like many people would - including Americans - when I told them about my planned move to Green Bay for the 2019 NFL season.
So it’s August 2019, nearly five years after deciding to make my move here. After my first experience at Lambeau in 2014 I have been coming back every spring holidays not only to Green Bay for Packers but also to travel around America and go to music festivals - which are the best in the world - where I make new mates and catch up with old mates at music festivals and/or go and visit them in their home towns around the country. Brad and Sandy pick me up from the airport and take me to their lovely home where I have stayed a few times in the past. I’m gonna need a place to live and a vehicle to drive for the next few months and my two good mate’s have kindly offered me a room and car - this is why I love Wisconsin - the people are amazing and I feel like it’s a homecoming every time I visit. It’s great to be back to live my dream.
Thursday 8th August
It’s game day in Titletown - the first of 32 games this season - 4 pre season and 16 regular season for the Packers and 12 for the Badgers. Sandy is a flight attendant for Delta and has recently returned from a few days of work. Brad is CEO of Greater Green Bay Visitors and Convention Bureau and has asked me to come and meet his team - who have all heard about me through him. It’s great to meet them all and share my story - the support I get when I tell people my story from Green Bay/Wisconsin is really nice. Whilst I’m there, Brad gets me to speak to a friend of his - Rich Ryman - a Packers Business Reporter at Green Bay Press-Gazette-he is really interested in meeting me and we decide to meet at some stage before tonight’s game. After lunch, I am back to the house for a nap before heading to Badger State Brewing for pre game drinks, where I meet Rich. We have a brief chat about my story above and he wants me to come to Lambeau on Monday morning for a media shoot! I’m so excited - I don’t want/think I will become a celebrity but I think my move is a great story to tell the people of Green Bay and Wisconsin. Also during pre drinks I meet one of Brad’s mates, Sean, that shows me how to buy last minute tickets using an app called VividSeats-I manage to get in for $11-regular season games will be a lot more difficult and expensive than pre-season! Sean and I leave the others in the beer garden and make the short walk over to Lambeau on what is a warm, sunny night. As we head in, I’m excited about the season to come and end up meeting and chatting to some teachers from Minnesota that are Packers fans. Once I find my seat, it’s not long before the Packers come marching out and it’s on - what a time I’m gonna have living here in Green Bay and living my dream which has finally come to fruition. It’s a fairly even first half but Packers take control third quarter at 28-10 and I decide to leave as tiredness/jet lag is creeping in. Once I get back to the house and get back on the wifi, the final score comes through and the Packers let in 16 unanswered points thus the game finishing 28-26. I won’t mind these kinda finishes too much as long as the Packers score more points than they leak.
Friday 9th August
For the next few days it’s time to relax before catching a flight to Philadelphia - I plan to do some sightseeing before travelling down to Baltimore for the Ravens game. I have done lots of travel over the past few days and I spent lots of time relaxing and napping to recharge my energy levels. Brad and Sandy head off at lunchtime to Madison for a weekend away kindly leaving me with Sandy’s car so that I can get around town. I meet up with Will and we head to the Cellcom mobile phone store where one of the assistants, Hannah, helps me set up a new phone - Will has kindly offered to get the phone and plan on his contract/account and I will pay him back at each billing cycle - such a great guy. After lunch we also go to Associated Bank to open a new account - it has to be that bank because they are associated with the Packers and branch worker Trey provides me with a cash card with a picture of the Packers on it - phone and new a bank account - I’m starting to feel settled in. Later that night I stop for a beer at Keggers, to say hi to Will and go back to the place where I originally decided to make the move. I don’t drink much plus I’m driving so after one I head back home, stopping at Gilligans - a small dive bar in the suburbs. I love these places - everyone is super friendly with a foreign Packers fan and bartender Steve in a great gesture puts on an Australian Rules Football game live from Melbourne - their are two guys siting at the bar who have never seen the game before so for the first quarter I explain the rules to them - switching them off the Brewers-Texans game on the screen that they were originally watching. Steve takes a photo of him and I with the Aussie rules game in the background and posts on Facebook about my move and how I’m looking for a place to live - a nice, kind gesture.
Saturday 10th August
After breakfast I head to the supermarket to do some grocery shopping. Whilst paying for my groceries the checkout assistant is super excited for me, wishing me well and tells me she has always wanted to come to Australia. One of Will’s worker’s/mate’s (Tom) who I met last year during my annual Green Bay trip, has a family gathering at his home and I have been invited - Tom’s wife is Hispanic and similarly to Indian families, the Hispanic community are very warm and welcoming providing great food and hospitality. I end up playing a game of bean bags and both times Will and I loose due to my poor skills - hopefully I can improve them during my stay in Wisconsin. Keggers is also a live music venue called the Lyric Room, whereby rock bands not all from America but all over the world come to perform. I catch a couple of acts before heading back and again I stop at another dive bar in the suburbs on the way back to the house - Symba’s. It’s nice again to meet some locals again - who are asking lots of questions about Australia - I’m clearing lots of stereotypes which are not true in the process.
Sunday 11th August
Today is the exact day that the Green Bay Packers was created. I have an Instagram blog/post about the past week’s travels and this Sunday I am writing about how the owners at the time could not have remotely thought about how global the club would become and how Packers would move to this small town, uprooting their livelihoods from the other side of the world to come and live here to follow the team for a season. I spend the morning travelling to Ray Nitschke Field to watch the team in an open training camp - it’s good to see all the players especially Rodgers who is enjoying himself. I’m watching with two people I met in the car parking lot at Lambeau stadium across the road - Chad and his sister Nicole. We enjoy each other’s company and after we part ways I heading back to the house for lunch and to relax. Later I went back to Lambeau field to see what was happening for the 100th year anniversary - in the Atrium they were offering freebies and a special video was playing on a large screen - it was interesting learning more about the humble origins of a club which started off as a group of meat packers playing in a small field and relying on supporters for food, accommodation and transport. Not far from Lambeau field is the home ground of the Green Bay Booyahs - the local minor league baseball team - it was the last game of the season and as they did not make playoffs I decided to go and see them play - I left for the house at the end of the sixth innings where they were losing 5-1. After dinner with Brad, I start booking flights for my trip to the road games around America - luckily qantas frequent flyer points can be used with American Airlines saving me a lot of money and Southwest are a low cost airline with great fares if you book in advance. It’s all starting to come together.
Monday 12th August
I’m a bit nervous this morning. Shortly I have my media shoot with Rich at Lambeau field. I head there for our 10am meet up in the Atrium - today it’s a lot quieter and Rich has come with media assistant Sarah who is filming. Katie is a stadium employee and let’s her into the stadium - which is also a lot quieter than my last visit. Rich is a true media professional and helps me relax through his friendly, calm manner and questions - mainly based around areas such as my background, travels during the year so far, reasons for following the Packers and moving to Green Bay, as well as my schedule for the season. During the interview, a couple of times I felt nervous but I felt that I had done alright with Rich saying it went well. He encouraged me to send photos/videos for the next two pre season games away that I will be attending in Baltimore and Winnipeg and for the final home pre season game against the Chiefs, how he and Sarah would like to follow me around pre-game - seeing my interaction with the fans - that will be really fun. Once the shoot is complete, I head to Kohl’s for some clothes shopping and at the payment counter I end up talking for a few minutes with the assistants who are really interested in my move. For lunch, I meet Brad and his colleague Cameron at Stadium View who gets me to join his fantasy tipping competition - I’m not expecting to win but will be a cool way to learn more about the game. I make a quick visit to a Dollar Tree branch to pick up some small bits for my trip starting tomorrow. It’s been a long time since I did a yoga class so once I find a studio near the house with an afternoon class I jump at the opportunity. The class is slightly more difficult than usual due to my lack of practice and as soon as I have found accomodation for my stay I’m going to join a studio. Brad and I have Chinese takeout for dinner which I collect - after leaving the restaurant I forgot that Americans drive on the other side of the road, getting a confusing and angry look from a driver at the traffic lights - phew. I complete some laundry, pack my bags and I’m all set for tomorrow morning.
Tuesday 13th August - 1300 KM 800 M
Early start today - I’m up at 4:30 as I’m flying out at in a couple of hours or so. At check in the agent recognises me from a Facebook post last weekend! Everyone starts laughing and I walk away a bit nervous - she is a friend of Steve from Gilligan’s bar last Friday night - I think this will be happening a lot when living in Green Bay! It’s a short flight and layover to Chicago then another American Airlines flight to Philadelphia. Upon arrival I’m dismayed it’s not sunny - particularly as it’s summer and also the sitcom. It’s a train to downtown and then a bus to the inner-north suburb where I’m staying with my Couchsurfing host. Of those who are not familiar, Couchsurfing is where you can stay with someone upon request for free - it’s meant to be a more interpersonal form of Airbnb and surfers are expected but not officially required to help out with food, cleaning etc I used to be a host back in Australia when I lived on my own but as I was saving up for my trip I was living with a mate to put more aside which makes it more difficult to be a host - savings which will be needed as the Australian dollar has been pretty low against the American dollar. My host, Michael, is starting a new job tomorrow so conveniently he has seeking my arrival - we go and get Cheesesteaks for lunch - I’m not much of a meat eater but this is essential being in Philadelphia. It’s so good - from a small Italian deli not far from his house. I decide after lunch not to get the bus back into town for sightseeing - that’s an all day activity for tomorrow. Michael is a sociology major so we spend the afternoon watching political based documentaries and discussing politics in general - I have an interest in the subject as I studied it as part of my double degree. We head to the supermarket for dinner supplies and Michael makes a really nice Italian dinner - he knows how to cook as he’s half Italian. To celebrate Michael’s new job we head after dinner to a liquor store to buy a couple of craft beers then it’s an early nice as it’s been a long day and tomorrow is going to be full on.
Wednesday 14th August
It’s an early start - but thankfully not as early as yesterday. A busy day of sightseeing awaits - I have a list which will take the whole day to complete - the essential Philadelphia I think it’s called. First stop is Elfreth’s Alley - the oldest inhabited residential street in America - going back to 1712. Its starting to rain now, so I quickly make it to the Independence Visitor Center - then across the road for Liberty Bell. I take lots of pictures of the information boards as I might need them for teaching in the future. It’s interesting to learn about how the Liberty Bell has been an important symbol for influential figures in history fighting for freedom such as Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela. The independence hall is across the road and it’s here where America gained independence from Great Britain. I picked up a pamphlet from the visitors center with more ideas of places to see and decide upon the National Museum of American Jewish History - luckily I arrive on a free admissions day and spend around an hour or so gaining knowledge about the history of Jewish migration and settlement in the country. It’s lunch in Reading Terminal Market at a place awarded America’s best sandwich a few years ago by the guy that does the Man vs Food challenges on YouTube - and wow it’s so good. I have a tour booked at 2pm to Eastern State Penitentiary so I catch a bus from Reading Terminal Market. It’s a good tour of America’s oldest penitentiary with lots of questions being asked by tour members to the leader Brendan. One particular area that gains lots of discussion is the graph showing the 600 per cent increase in incarceration since the penitentiary closed down back in 1970. It’s pretty clear that prison doesn’t work but clearly a more suitable method of dealing with criminals has not materialised. Once the tour is complete I go on a short audio tour learning more information such as prison food and riots. Before heading to the Philadelphia Museum Of Art I’m lining up to have my photo taken next to the Rocky Statue - I then climb the tours - slowly - whereas other tourists are running like the character in the classic movies based on a working class Italian migrant boxer from Philadelphia. Wednesday evenings is pay as you want with most paying half the admission price - myself being no exception. I spend an hour across various galleries but the one that stood out is the Middle Ages European portraits - one striking painting was of the archangel Gabriel telling the Virgin Mary that she will bear the son of God. By 6pm I’m pretty tired so head back to Michael’s, stopping at a pizza takeaway outlet to pick up for dinner for the both of us. Once dinner is over I decide to relax and find myself falling asleep to the baseball which is on in the background.
Thursday 15th August - 160KM 100 M
Michael is off early on the second day of his new job and we part way, wishing him all the best for the future. I make breakfast and then take the bus to downtown and get off at the closest stop to the Greyhound bus terminal. To my dismay I realise the bus is going to be late due to an absent driver - it’s a 90 minute or so wait until she arrives but the comedy continues - she gets lost getting out of Philly and eventually we arrive into Baltimore 2 and a half hours late - which means I can’t have lunch with my next Couchsurfing host - after catching the bus from the Greyhound terminal in Baltimore I arrive at my next host - Charlie’s at around 3pm. Charlie is a elementary school arts teacher and once we have briefly introduced each other it’s time for me to get ready for the game. The light rail line near Charlie’s house is currently being repaired (apparently) so instead its replacement shuttle bus service time. I got dropped off at Camden station and then it’s one stop on the light rail to the stadium- this line is working - yay. It’s a couple of hours before start so I wonder into the tailgating parking lot - not many people are here as it’s pre season but I get to meet some Packers fans based in the local area - a couple of the older women are flustered when I speak - as per usual. One of my good mate’s is originally from Baltimore (Jen) and so she puts a facebook post asking her home town friends for recommendations - I go to a street which attract attendees at the game both pre and post match. I’m hungry as I haven’t had any lunch so have a burrito before heading in for a beer. I choose Mother’s as they have a DJ playing in the beer garden. I’m on the way from the restrooms and I meet two local fans. One of them, Jibrell, is fascinated by my story and after introducing me to the rest of his mate’s invites me to sit with him in the ground - I have a ticket but it’s way high and he says he has a spare 3 rows from the front as his girlfriend can’t make it. Jibrell proudly claims that these seats will be the best I have all season and upon arrival I understand where this claim was coming from - they were amazing seats right in the corner where the Ravens players came out at the start - the entrance show was pretty cool and ended up recording a whole minute or so - something which I usually don’t do. Jibrell is a member and I met some of this friends around where we were sitting - there were a couple of other Packers fan’s too. I had some great photos taken and going along with what Jibrell said, maybe some of the best photos all season - hopefully we are both wrong. Jibrell was a great host - he also shouted me a couple of beers and I told him he’s the kinda person that makes me like America and it’s people. As he had work the next morning and a 40 minutes or so drive to get back home we parted ways at half time - I told him I was grateful to have met him and providing me with an awesome experience - so far Ravens fans are the best fans in the NFL - away from a Lambeau - of course. So to the game now - Rodgers wasn’t playing as his back was playing up - poor guy - and our offense struggle against a really good Baltimore defense with final score 26-13 to Ravens. I’m too concerned with this score line as it’s pre season and not all our starters were playing - I’m looking for a good road pre season game in Winnipeg next Thursday night. I left a few minutes before the game was to finish due to tiredness, catching a bus to an area 15 minutes or so away from Charlie’s house. As I was feeling hungry I went in search of somewhere to eat and found a late night deli selling sandwiches - I purchased a full sub - half for tonight (which I ate once I got back) and half for breakfast.