He's another member of the Cheesehead diaspora, building a life in the big city, and about midnight on a recent Sunday, he's reminded: You can go home again.
The back bar of Mister Days, a well-lighted place on a dark alley off 19th Street NW, is packed with maybe 70 people wearing green and yellow. On long tables before the giant television screen are buckets of ice and empty bottles of the only acceptable beverage, Milwaukee-brewed Miller Lite.
The big screen carries the weekly epic struggle of good vs. evil. With a minute to spare, the ball is thrown . . . caught . . . and carried into the end zone. The good guys--the Green Bay Packers--win, and the ensuing tumult transforms the place into a delirious bleacher section at Lambeau Field.
Cheering at a back table is Pete Cinquegrana, 41, of Alexandria, who came to the area more than a decade ago from Chippewa Falls, Wis., after his family finally sold the shoe business. The scene reminds him of home, Octoberfest, neighborhood taverns, lifelong friendships, generations of family, roots sunk deep in the dairy farmland where Cheesehead is a sobriquet of honor.
He likes Washington well enough. He has made friends, and he's doing well as an account executive for Bell Atlantic. But compared with Wisconsin, the area still feels provisional, temporary, like a movie set. Nobody's from here. The people come and go. Some of them are shallow, all of them are competitive.
"I feel like a fish out of water," he says. He surveys his Packers pals, trustworthy Wisconsin exiles who have created a once-a-week kingdom at Mister Days. "Here, I feel like I'm in my ecological niche."
Football is just the catalyst, the excuse. This isn't about root-root-rooting. It's about roots.
In a transient town where all 50 states send delegations, followed by thousands on all sorts of missions, spending autumn Sundays in an expatriate sports bar is a Washington tradition.
Pick your good guys. There's a sports bar nearby where today up to 200 people who share your world view and favorite colors are gathering in a single room to eat the hometown cuisine, drink the native brew, sing the ancestral songs and watch the game.
An incomplete sampling: Buffalo (Grevey's, Falls Church), Pittsburgh (Brittany's, Woodbridge), Chicago (Whitey's, Arlington), Minnesota (Willy K's, Greenbelt), Dallas (Grand Slam downtown and Champions, Georgetown), New England (Murphy's, Alexandria), New York Giants (Crystal City Sports Pub).
A little homesick, the out-of-towners come here for jobs. Their hometowns had everything they needed--except a future. Some of the most intense expat bar scenes revolve around the evacuated cultures of Rust Belt cities.
"If I tried to do this in any other place in the country, it wouldn't work," says Kevin Grevey, the former Washington Bullets basketball player who owns Grevey's, where on football Sundays every table is reserved by Buffalo transplants bent on seeing their beloved Bills.
It is an overstatement to say the Washington area is without old neighborhoods, deep roots, a homegrown identity and born-and-raised residents. But those true to Washington carry their loyalty to the Redskins with them in their travels beyond the Capital Beltway. America is sprinkled with Washington Redskins sanctuaries--the flip side of the sports bar scene in the nation's capital. Whether in Hollywood, West Palm Beach or even the hostile suburbs of Dallas--no lie--there is a Redskins bar.
Before you travel, check out www.webskins.org or members.aol.com/aclayman/wwRedskins.html to find places in other states to watch games. Pack your memories, make your way in the wider world.
"In my little carpet bag that I dragged from the East Coast, one of the precious jewels in there is my Redskins heritage," says Sue Bova, an aspiring actress in Los Angeles who grew up in Springfield and Reston.
Sundays find her with the D.C. crowd in a sports bar on Hollywood's Sunset Strip.
Don Nevins leans over from his bucket of chicken wings to where John Krieger is sitting at the next table and mentions playing baseball in Cazenovia Park.
Oh, geez, sure, says Krieger. He used to play ball in the park, too.
That would be the rambling green refuge designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in south Buffalo. They've never met before, but here at Grevey's, about 15 minutes into a Buffalo Bills game, they feel like old buddies.
Nevins, 60, used to manage one of the country clubs just north of Buffalo and is now a travel administrator for the Pentagon. He's wearing his faded Buffalo Athletic Club T-shirt. Krieger, 72, was in local television until he says the blow-dried youth bumped him, and he got a union job in Washington. He's strictly old school, in a blazer.
Grevey's may reside in a generic suburban strip, but its pressed tin ceiling and dark wood trim hint at a specific vanished past.
"It's like a saloon restaurant like we had in Western New York for years and years, where our fathers and grandfathers used to go," says Nevins, the son of a schoolteacher, grandson of a steelworker. "Even if I don't meet anyone I know, it still makes me feel close to my roots. . . . I get goosebumps."
And yet, few of these people are hankering for a permanent return. The Washington area gave them opportunities they never would have had. "Buffalo is the only place I know where you can have a conversation, leave it, come back a year later and finish it," says Charles Intrabartolo, 56, of Falls Church, who works in computer security. Sure, he misses family, the old neighborhoods. "We do love it, but we wouldn't move back. Mama didn't raise no dummy. It's a good place to be from."
Grevey's isn't the next best thing to being home--it's better.
"Washington doesn't have a place to hear polka on Sundays and get a good kielbasa sandwich."
And that is Washington's loss, says Hank Guzda, 48, a Pittsburgher now living in Burke.
But the area does have several places to watch the Steelers, including Brittany's, where several dozen people clad in black and gold gather for the rites of fall.
Guzda's grandfather came from Poland to work in the steel mills, his father installed floors, and Guzda was in the first generation of his family to go to college. He got a job in Washington with the Labor Department. "I miss Pittsburgh, but I've made a nice livelihood for myself, so I have divided loyalties in that way," he says.
Bill Geiger's Pittsburgh roots go back to about 1800. Now he's an accountant in Springfield. He started the D.C. Black & Gold Club, which has 940 dues-paying members, including two who met at a Steelers bar and are engaged to be married. "Even though I left Pittsburgh," says Geiger, 57, "Pittsburgh has never left my heart."
Drive 1,000 miles south on Interstate 95 and exit on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard. The Palm Beach Ale House is on your right. Just inside is a neon sign of burgundy and gold: "Redskins Sports Bar."
Tonight, if it's a good crowd, there will be 60 or 70 Redskins fans. Before kickoff, Bill Unger will lead everyone in "Hail to the Redskins." They will sing all three verses after touchdowns, the first verse after field goals.
"It's gone beyond a sports thing, and we've become a family," says Unger, 43, an insurance agency manager who grew up at 16th Street and Military Road NW. He started in an office on Capitol Hill, but the big corporations he has worked for moved him across the country like a chess piece. The one constant was finding a place to watch the Redskins.
In Plano, just north of Dallas, Bryan Capps kept his Redskins allegiance quiet when he opened the Austin Avenue Sports Bar. Once the bar was successful, he showed his true colors--burgundy and gold--and now more than 100 Redskins fans gather for a game. Between Sundays, Capps takes down his Redskins paraphernalia, having learned it will be defaced.
Hollywood's Sunset Strip doesn't suffer Capital Beltway-style stadium traffic, but early on a Sunday, it has a long line of cars waiting for valet parking at Dublin's, a sports bar that draws fans of many teams.
Redskins fans are a minority even in a town that doesn't care much about football. On a good Sunday, Dublin's and the sports bar in the Biltmore Hotel will draw two dozen Washington fans between them, though Redskins partisans are organizing.
It's a thin slice of home, but it's enough. After a week of pursuing projects in the entertainment industry, "it's an outlet of normalcy for me," Bova says. "You seek others like yourself, who are from where you are. . . . The friendship is immediately established. You're lifelong Redskins fans, and it's like you've known each other for 20 years."
Washington may not have a trademark cuisine to rival chicken wings or a beer to match Miller, but Sundays evoke powerful memories of all the individual ways families forge their game-day traditions. Bova sits in summery Southern California and tries to remember how it felt to live where the seasons change, especially the burgundy and gold chill of autumn leaves.
There's no place like home, especially if you had to get away.
Cheering for the Home Team
In a town full of transients, spending autumn Sundays in an expatriate sports bar is a Washington tradition. Some of the most intense bar scenes revolve around the evacuated cultures of ailing Rust Belt cities. A partial sampling:
Willy K's, Greenbelt
Grand Slam (downtown Grand Hyatt); Champions, Georgetown
Grevey's, Falls Church
New England Patriots
Crystal City Sports Pub
New York Giants
Green Bay Packers
CAPTION: Tony Intrabartolo, right, cheers the Buffalo Bills at Grevey's in Falls Church, along with his mother, Jean, left, his wife, Carrie, and his father, Charles.
CAPTION: On Sundays, Grevey's displays signs reminding people from Buffalo of home. On game days, bars across the country host fans watching teams from their home towns.