Editor’s Note: Here’s one example of how creative, die-hard LSU fans make tailgating special. SEND US YOUR PHOTOS of how you and your friends and family tailgate and we’ll include them in our Tiger Tailgating photo gallery. Email photos to email@example.com
The goal posts are painted, the field is lined, the footballs are properly inflated and Purple Haze is on its way to Tiger Stadium. Football season is finally here!
Purple Haze, the ultimate in tailgating trucks, has everything devoted LSU fans Jeff Koonce, Eric Oberlander and Kirk Fisher need for a home game — a bar, built-in beer tap, two flat-screen TVs with satellite service, barstools, captain’s chairs, a disco ball, a smoke machine, speakers, a music system, lights and lasers and, new this year, air-conditioning.
From the purple and gold LSU flags and Tiger symbols, you might find it hard to believe that the old Ford L7000 diesel spent a full life as a Coca-Cola delivery truck and was in the process of being “decommissioned” when Jeff Koonce and his late brother-in-law Fraser Landreneau happened to be at the right place at the right time.
“It was about 2009 and Fraser and I and our families were having brunch at the Country Club of Louisiana when we ran into Darian Chustz. We had been talking for some time about trying to get a truck for LSU games,” says Koonce, a local lawyer.
Fraser Landreneau was a neurosurgeon who died of cancer in 2011.
At the time, Chustz, who is also deceased, was Baton Rouge president of Coca-Cola Bottling United, which at the time was getting a new fleet of trucks.
“Jeff and Fraser went into the kitchen and talked the chef into decorating a chocolate cake with the message, ‘Have a truck and a smile,’” recalls Edy Koonce, Jeff Koonce’s wife.
The Koonces and Landreneaus had their six children deliver the cake to Chustz’s table with the request that if he ever had an old rundown truck, they would be interested.
“Within six weeks, a truck drove up in our driveway,” says Amy Landreneau, Fraser Landreneau’s widow. “We traded a chocolate cake for this truck.”
Jeff Koonce and Fraser Landreneau bought in as owners as did Fisher, now chief operating officer of the Plexos Group business consulting firm, and Oberlander, a neurosurgeon in Landreneau’s group.
At first, the guys thought they would just cut out the old Coke bins and use folding chairs.
“We tried to fix it ourselves but realized we couldn’t,” says Jeff Koonce. “One of Fraser’s patients had a body shop. He painted the truck purple and gold, put reinforcements on the floor and welded in the components.”
Fisher says the three owners run the tailgate like a business.
“We have an operating budget each year and a capital budget to put things back in the truck,” he says.
Someone drives the truck to the tailgate spot on the Friday before every home game. Depending on kickoff time, the owners and their families arrive sometime on Saturday.
“We plug in the generator and open the door,” Koonce says. “We watch the other games on the TVs while we wait to go into the stadium.”
Like so many season-ticket holders whose families have kept the same seats for generations, Purple Haze “inherited” its tailgate spot.
“We tailgate at the Indian Mounds on the bus stop side because that is where my parents started tailgating in the 1950s with their other friends from Eunice who all had season tickets and attended every home game,” Edy Koonce says. “My parents did it for 50 years while my older siblings were in college in the 1970s, then after that for my brother and me and our friends.”
Purple Haze is part of what Fisher calls a tailgate consortium with converted bread trucks on each side.
“We take turns bringing food, and, for the big games, we have a mobile bar with bartenders,” Koonce says.
Even though Fraser Landreneau is no longer with the group, Amy Landreneau represents him in spirit.
“He was a big fan,” Jeff Koonce says.
One of the most important items on the truck is a win bar with Fraser Landreneau’s initials on it. It’s a tribute to Landreneau and the old goal post win bar LSU players tap for good luck as they run onto the field.
“Before we go into the game, we tap the win bar,” Jeff Koonce says.