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05 Nov 2010 - The One and Only Pinto Guy

The One and Only Pinto Guy

by Philip 'The_Philster' Brady

The One and Only Pinto Guy

By: Philip 'The_Philster' Brady

Being a season ticket holder for nine seasons, I've had the opportunity to meet many colorful characters. The most colorful of all would be Ken Johnson, known to all as the Pinto Guy or Pinto Ron. I recently conducted an interview with him.

We hear that you go to every regular season and postseason game the Bills play, home and away. How long have you been doing this? What's your streak at and where did it begin?

The first game in my streak was the season opener against the Jets in 1994. I had been going to several road trips a year in previous years. It had always been a goal of mine to attend all 16 regular games in one season. In 1993 I attended the first 5 road games, but fell short when I missed the last 3. Bankruptcy (a failed business) will do that. The next year I tried again and succeeded. I never attended to continue the streak, but the first couple of games the next year were either close or home games and suddenly I was up over 20 consecutive games. Momentum took over and here I am today at ten years. The last game I did not attend in person was the forth Bills Superbowl in Atlanta. I was in Atlanta, outside the stadium with $800 cash looking for a ticket but there were no tickets going below $1250. I did not anticipate they would be so high, they were only in the $350 range for previous Superbowls. None of the scalpers would take American Express, or any other major credit card.

Do you drive or fly to the road games?

Both. In the last few years I have flown more frequently as I built up a lot of airline credit by being "bumped". I keep flying Delta, they keep bumping me. As long as that keeps going on and I don't have to pay for flights, I'll keep flying. I have not paid for any flight for over 4 years. In the past I have driven to distant cities such as Dallas, Kansas city, Houston, Miami, Denver, Minneapolis, St Louis and Seattle. Just for the record, It only takes 41 hours and 7 gas stops to get to Seattle. I rented a car with unlimited miles for 5 days, put about 7000 miles on it and only paid $166 (after taxes) for it!

When you drive, do you take your Pinto?

No, the pinto is a Ralph Wilson Stadium car only. When on the road I hook up with various Bills backers' organizations and tailgate/party with them.

You cook on the hood of your car. What got that tradition started?

It was in 1989 that the first grill appeared on the hood of the car. I built an all-wooden grill from plywood and 2X4's, filled with charcoal. This seemed like a good way of getting some great burgers, cooking them on a flaming grill. Having not built any legs I put the contraption on the hood of the pinto. I did not think the hood would be damaged before our burgers got done. Alas, the plywood burned through faster than expected and a little burn mark appeared on the hood. Never to be beat, I came back the next week with a triple plywood grill to give it another go. That burned through also, increasing the size of the burn spot. At this point I decided that I would have to fix the hood (I never did), so for the next couple of games I did not care what happened to it. The next week I placed a metal grill (no legs) on the burnt spot and grilled our burgers. At some point I began to have an obsession with bacon double cheeseburgers. I brought some bacon and first attempted to cook them on the grill grating, then on tin foil. These attempts failed. In desperation (I needed that bacon double cheeseburger), I searched the car and surroundings for anything that would help. I spotted a saw that I had in the back of the car. I placed it across the coals and it worked great! As the years rolled on we added more items to the menu.

Can you tell us what exactly you cook on that car?

We have six main "grills" on the hood of the car, and two off to the side. On the car we have a shovel used for cooking pancakes and omelets, an army helmet for chicken wings, a saw blade for sizzling bacon, a rake for hamburgers and hotdogs, an old toolbox that we cook pieces of deer meat on (impaled on screwdrivers), and a hubcap for stir fry. Off to the side of the car we have a filing cabinet that we make pizzas in, and an old medicine cabinet for baked potatoes (sour cream served with a caulk gun). We have a bar out front featuring bowling ball shots.

Do you have anything special you cook for certain games?

Depending on the game I also have additional things, such as lobsters or a full thanksgiving feast (a cooler of potatoes and vegetables dumped on the hood). The season opener is always wine making day, where I make everyone jump into a barrel of grapes to stomp them into juice. I brew it during the season and return the next year with "pinto tailgating wine".

Have you cooked anything out of the ordinary or anything you deem special?

Most people would say at everything I cook on the pinto is out of the ordinary. I can't think of anything that stands out too far.

Why do you tailgate like this all the time? Do you get anything out of it?

The only thing I get out of running the tailgate is a lot of fun. I meet a lot of people and many of my good friends I met at the tailgate. I've been running the pinto tailgate for 15 years now, and to me it is just as natural as someone attending a 16 week bowling tournament.

Do people need to bring any of their own food to your tailgate parties?

The pinto tailgate is an open tailgate party, everyone is invited. Any one who is brave enough to sample some of our fine selections is welcome. Most of the regulars are not afraid, but first timers usually are a bit hypochondriac when thinking about grabbing something. If someone brings their own stuff, grills are available).

There's another tradition at your tailgate parties that involves a bowling ball? What's the story behind that? What's in it?

The bowling ball shots began in 1990. We had broken our shot glass and someone suggested (in humor) that we use the thumbhole of a bowling ball that was in my car. I guess we never replaced that broken shot glass. I added a bar in 1997, where thousands have lined up since then to get their "bowling ball shot ". I serve a 100 proof cherry liquor called Wisniowka. That stuff is absolutely horrible. I brought a bottle to the tailgate in the late 80's as a joke, just to have a good laugh about why would anyone would actually drink that. I guess the jokes on me since we have gone through over 600 bottles since then.

And you take a bowling ball with you to all the games?

I take that bowling ball on road trips to other NFL Cities to bring a little piece of the pinto tailgate with me. The bowling ball has been on the road to every NFL team.

Your Pinto was in a few scenes in the movie Second String. Did you receive any compensation for that?

No, I was just thrilled that the clips make it. They actually filmed those clips about three years before the movie came out. One of the BillsZone columnists was in one of those clips - Herdwatcher. They panned on a group of 3 standing in front of the pinto (the car was not too visible). One had a freak wig on, one had a spiky hat, and the other holding a beer up was Herdwatcher.

Do you ever wash that car? What kind of shape is it in to pass inspection?

I'll hose down the car before the start of the season, and take a wire brush to the hood area to just like you would for any other grill. The pinto has held up remarkably well over the years. You would not believe how much effort it has taken to keep the car in such good shape, yet still look so ugly. The car was my primary car until 1991 when it retired to become just a tailgating vehicle (my wife was grateful). Just for the record, a 1980 pinto is NOT one of the exploding ones made famous in the 70's. In 1992 I rebuilt the engine and replaced most of the parts that support the engine (starter, alternator, distributor, etc). Since then only 16,000 miles has been put on the car, so by many standards it is essentially still new. New floorboards were put in a few years later. Every off-season I spend time working on the car. Except for the body, the only original parts left are the engine block, coil, springs, steering box, drive shaft and rear axel/differential.

What's the deal with this ceremony that involves you getting sprayed by ketchup?

The ketchup opening ceremony always occurs 1.5 hours before game time. John or Jodi climbs onto the pinto and squirts a 64 ounce bottle of ketchup as high and far as he can. I run under it to sauce my burger. Of course, a significant amount gets on me. This first started back in the early 90's, but the idea was to get the ketchup on the burger without getting any on me. If I could catch the ketchup without getting a drop on myself, it was a successful event. I'm not sure how it evolved into what it is today, but success today seems to depend on how much of the 64 ounces gets on me.

How does it keep driving from Rochester to Buffalo?

It is no secret that I keep the car nearby during the season. I drive it in from Rochester a few days before the first preseason game. I have done that for the last 5 years. The main reason is not that the car could not handle the drive, but I need a cargo van to bring the supplies from Rochester, and I can't drive both at once! The tailgate party grew too big to fit in the pinto.

Can anyone attend your tailgate parties?

Anyone can attend. There are probably about 75 regulars, a couple of hundred who come by a few times a year, and a host of others that are drop by for a short time each game. If you come and hang around enough you will get to know others, and eventually realize you are one of the "pinto gang". There are a number of "Zoners" that are pinto gang members.

You're a member of all the major Bills message boards. Why don't you post on more of them?

Time mostly. For 16 weeks of the year I am traveling all over the United States. Even home games take a lot of time. I arrive at the Ralph about 3:00 Saturday, and spend Saturday night partying with the RV'ers in the parking lot. I am also a Sabres season ticket holder (75 miles from my home), frequently attend Nascar Events (I just got back from Daytona) and travel to miscellaneous sports related events like the NFL draft and Hall of fame ceremonies. In addition to that I am rebuilding my home, have a full time job and raising 3 kids. I only have the luxury at work of doing quick scans, and at home I never have enough time to just sit down and spend an hour posting. I probably could get addicted easily, heaping one more time consuming thing on my plate, so I am careful not to get sucked in.

You're called Pinto Ron by some, but your name is Ken..care to explain?

There was an article about my tailgate in the "Athlon Sports Magazine" five or six years back. The author lost some of his notes and when it came out he had called me "Ron". The regulars at my tailgate thought that was funny and started kidding my by calling me "Pinto Ron". The author was Joe Cahn, the commissioner of tailgating. When he came around the next year he promised to correct his mistake in a future tailgating article, but was talked out of it by a lot of the regulars at my tailgate. Like Clark Kent is the secret identity of Superman, he now claims Ken Johnson is the secret identity of Pinto Ron.

When are you getting into the Visa Hall of Fans?

I have entered to contest the last couple of years. If my credentials have not got me in so far, I don't know what it will take. I am beginning to think that they think I am blowing smoke about my consecutive game streak. Interesting enough, I know all but one of the past winners personally, having met them on numerous road trips. They are all deserving of the honor.

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