You get the feeling that no one wants to say much about it because no one wants to think about it, which you have to think factored (understandably) into the decision to maintain the cherished status quo for at least one more season.
Most of the folks I talked with from the Office of the Auburn City Manager and Auburn University’s Office of Communications and Marketing about the future of rolling Toomer’s Corner beyond 2011 as imagined in a recent university press release spoke only in the most general of generalities. Maybe. Could be. Time will tell. There are, after all, still so many questions in need of answers—about the future of the oaks themselves, yes, but also regarding the nature of Auburn’s relationship with toilet paper. Do Auburn fans have to roll something to celebrate a victory? The issues wrapped up in the reason why are trickier to untangle than the Toomer’s oaks on a pre-Updyke Sunday morning, but right now, and for the foreseeable future, the answer is yes.
“I think our fans would understand if we didn’t allow rolling this year, but it’s such an important tradition, and really what made continuing it possible this year was the feedback from our horticulturists and foresters that said rolling them wasn’t going to hurt them,” says Auburn University Communications Director Mike Clardy, current point person for an unofficially official joint City of Auburn and Auburn University committee to study the logistics of preserving the Toomer’s tradition. “If we go in there and pick it off piece by piece by hand, then they told us it’d be the same the Monday after the game as it was the Friday before the game.”
But whether Saturday afternoons and nights will—or even can—ever be the same, even with a green light from the experts, is another issue.
“It’s going to be interesting to see,” Clardy says. “We’ve heard from so many people through Facebook and email and phone calls. Some that are normally up here every week are saying ‘well, we want to protect the trees and I’m not going to roll this year.’ Then some who don’t normally come [to the corner] after games are saying ‘if this is the last year, I’m going to roll ’till we run out of toilet paper.'”
The problem is that Auburn fans are never going to run out of toilet paper; when it comes to gameday, the spectacle of rolling Toomer’s Corner is as established in the modern Auburn psyche as tailgating and Tiger Walk. However, unless God’s green thumb reaches down for a horticultural miracle, the oaks’ days are numbered.
Enter the “attractive intersection structure.”
“The university’s Facilities Division is exploring a long-term solution we hope will return the tradition permanently: Create an iconic, attractive intersection structure, in partnership with the city and with its approval.”
What exactly does that mean? For the time being, whatever you think it means.
“Understand that we’re very early in this process,” says Clardy, the one Auburn official able / willing to elaborate on the subject. “But that was one option we (the committee) had discussed—some sort of permanent structure at the corner that fans can roll after a ball game.”
Let that sink in: The heart of downtown Auburn might soon feature some sort of structure, apparatus, erection, fill-in-the-blank designed (by whichever architect wins the contest) and built specifically to be rolled with toilet paper.
According to the press release, the purpose of the system of portable poles, or the life size bronze replicas of the oaks, or the toilet paper-filled bounce house, or cops on motorcycles, or whatever it—if there is an It— turns out to be is to return the celebratory epicenter to the town-meets-gown neutral zone in the center of the intersection.
“The idea is getting back to the original tradition of rolling the corner and not the trees,” Clardy said. “People didn’t start rolling the trees until the early 80s, or I guess the late 70s.”
He guesses right. The oaks—noble Auburn icons in their own right, but not yet imbued with their modern, almost religious significance—were actually all but off-limits back in the day. Folks who were there will sometimes remind you that rolling them was generally considered to be something close to tacky, at least until 1978, when the power lines that received the brunt of the toilet paper were buried beneath College Street, a development that in the minds of many actually threatened the tradition—“What will we roll?” Despite the etiquette, the trees were the instant answer.
This time, there are no obvious solutions. The traffic lights that have always received some strands somehow don’t seem up to the task. The university has discouraged the proliferation that last year kept you rubbernecking all the way to the arboretum. Clardy says that transferring the tradition to other trees at another spot on campus—as the equestrian team did this spring —was deemed impractical (and bad for downtown business). Location is everything. And the location is, and can only be, The Corner. The Corner. Something at The Corner.
“We had discussed so many options, from bringing in something temporary to building something permanent. Something that stays there at the corner to something that gets put up every fall,” Clardy says. “We’re going to get a group together that has interest and expertise in this area and try to come up with ideas for the future… but we don’t want to rush in. Being able to still roll the trees kind of bought us another season.”
See you at Toomer’s?
* Harvey Updyke in high school
* That time Green Day played an Auburn house show
* Fantastic photos of Bjork inside Jordan-Hare Stadium
* Auburn buses still driving around Phoenix
* David Foster Wallace wants to be your best friend
* Behind the scenes at the New York City Heisman Tiger Walk
* The Mysterious Auburn Man
* Preacher from ESPN ‘Roll Tide’ commercial repents
* Sleigh Bells bring out the pompoms
* Stanley McClover (prints) get sacked
* Playboy at Auburn! Pics!111!!!!!11!