CLEVELAND — A crazy “bucket list” goal is more than halfway to completion as an Ashtabula group of Cleveland Browns fans are tailgating before every home and away game from Boston to San Francisco and everywhere in between.
Larry Laurello, of Ashtabula, started tailgating in the Cleveland Municipal Parking Lot in the 1970s and has been enjoying the pre-game festivities in a big orange bus for about 20 years.
Actually one bus has been “retired” and the second is six years into it’s duties that were expanded this year.
The bus usually arrives at the lot around 6:30 a.m. for home games with a small group of people on board but becomes a meeting place for Browns fans of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and life experience.
Luther Ward, of Dayton, has been hanging out with Laurello and his crew for more than 10 years.
Marty “The Driver” Hayes, also of Ashtabula, came on board four years ago to drive the bus and is now in charge of getting it safely to games from coast to coast.
Last year an idea to go to all home and away games began to circulate.
There is a bit of a difference of opinion as to whether Ward or Laurello initiated the idea of traveling near and far in 2019.
“There is a bit of controversy,” Ward said with a sly grin.
The net result is Hayes is driving the bus from one destination to the next and others fly to the game and then meet the bus.
On Sunday just four people were on the bus from Ashtabula but the numbers are expected to go up to at least 15 for the Steelers game.
The friends just bring their own drinks and hang out.
“It is pretty much anybody shows up,” Laurello said.
One of the people who found his way to the bus on Sunday was literally an ocean away from home.
Darean Lupishtani watched the 2012 Super Bowl and eventually became enamored with the game.
“I had to pick a team. The helmet struck me,” he said of his reason for choosing the Browns.
“I saw their records wasn’t too good and the British like a good underdog,” he said.
“I love the sport. I follow it more than soccer.”
Lupishtani hung out on the bus talking with his new Ohio friends. He said he is also going to the Browns-Steelers game on Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
“It cost me $450 to $600,” said of his different airplane flights to come to the United States.
“This is my first time in Cleveland. I love the city,” he said.
Another positive by-product from the cross country tour has been the collection of donations for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. Laurello said the the bus’s motto is “100 percent Hope, 0 percent Expectations.”
He said they have been selling the shirts with the motto to help the homeless as well.
“We gave the Greater Cleveland Food Bank a check for $4,700,” Laurello said.
The nickname has also helped keep the fans grounded during a year that has probably not met many fans’ expectations.
“Having no expectations means a lot [this year], doesn’t it?” Laurello said.
Ashtabula resident Dave Rozzo doesn’t travel with the bus but often stops by to party with the crew.
“I’ve been a season ticket holder since the 70’s,” he said.
Jess Laurello, Larry’s niece, said she has been coming to games since she was a young child and in the early days was outside.
“I remember coming down in snow suits. We enjoy it a lot more in the bus,” she said.
When Hayes is asked what stories can be told about the bus he answers with a sly grin.
“What happens on the bus stays on the bus,” he said.