Saturday, December 20, 2014

We're Not For Everyone (Day 1, Pt. 2)

[Click here for Day 1, Pt. 1]

Bub’s is the most college thing about this North Carolina “college” town.

Chapel Hill is really just a gated community disguised as a college campus. Lush, green foliage and the smell of lush, green cash dominate the landscape. Bars like Top of the Hill, with its modern, polished oak d├ęcor and tie-wearing bartenders, typically aren’t found within spitting distance of college kids—either geographically or economically. Bub’s, on the other hand, is the dirty, smoky corner bar with the cheap, strong drinks and battered arcade games that regular students at regular schools have always gravitated towards. The bar those of us who weren’t born with a college tuition receipt tucked into the pocket of a pair of Louis V. boat shorts have always called home.

I ordered myself a Jack & Coke and settled in. MoFo has spent quite a lot of time at Bub’s, and played up the man-about-town role with aplomb, shaking hands and talking to people like he’d grown up just down the street from them. He BS’d with the owner. He BS’d with locals. He was absolutely relishing this opportunity to show off “his” world.

While we watched all of this from the bar, T.C. pointed down to my drink; it looked small and flaccid next to his. He, Hurley, and Trip had made a similar trip to Raleigh last year. And of all the stories that were repeated and referenced ad nauseam prior to that moment, the one that had gotten the most spins was about how the guys had stopped at Bub’s for “one drink,” and subsequently wiled away an entire day there. “You gotta do a double at Bub’s,” he said, ordering up another Rum & Coke double. Captain, my captain. I tossed back the rest of my drink and ordered myself a double.

That, unfortunately for MoFo, was the last helpful tip T.C. would provide that night. Bub’s has a frequent drinker program, wherein each time you order a different bottle from their ample selection, they punch a little card for you. 50 punches gets you honor, respect, and your name on a plaque on the wall. MoFo’s name appears on that plaque. Twice. At the time, he was working on #3, and at the bottom of a bottle he asked T.C. for a suggestion on what to order next. The bartender gave him a list, and unfamiliar with the name, T.C. called for him to serve a bottle of Crispin to our buddy. Crispin, however, is a “hard” apple cider. MoFo shook his head, drank down the light, fruity beverage like he’d promised, and cursed T.C. the whole way through.

After several rounds, we decided to finish the night back in the Raleigh area, so MoFo could put away his car keys and get as serious as the rest of us about his boozing. I mean, he already drives with reckless abandon when he’s sober, and he’s got the type of career that would disintegrate into dust were the slightest hint of a DUI to show up on his record. And he’d had a few at Bub’s. And—*whoop-whoop*…

Navigating the surface roads on the way out of Chapel Hill, a trooper’s blue lights sprung to life out of the darkness. MoFo dutifully pulled over to the side of the road, and we speculated on his odds. MoFo wasn’t intoxicated, by our less-than-scientific standards of measurement. A cop’s opinion, of course, might differ. To his credit, the homie was calm, and somewhat confused about why he was being stopped at all. “I wasn’t even going that fast!”

The cop walked up to the driver’s window, and began speaking before he’d even shined a light into the truck. “MoFo, what the fuck are you doing?”

MoFo: “[Cop]! What’s up, man?”
Cop: “I spotted your ass doing like 75 in a 40. Slow the fuck down, man!”
MoFo: “I was doing 75?”
Cop: “Man, we’re out here snatching people. Slow it down.”
MoFo: “My bad, man. My boys are in town, I’m just taking them back to Raleigh.”
Cop: “Cool, cool. I’ll catch up with you later.”
MoFo: “Aight. Hey, good lookin’ out, man!”
Cop: “No problem.”

Maybe there was something to MoFo’s feelings of familiarity with the natives of this area, after all. Or, as someone (I think Hurley) put it once MoFo’s window had gone back up: “…are you fucking kidding me?”

Once we’d reached Raleigh, and MoFo had pocketed his keys for the night, the air felt electric. He led us to Natty Greene’s, with a basement bar full of relaxed people drinking and easing into the night. I seem to remember doing a shot at this bar, though what it was—or whether it happened at all—is anything but a firm memory. Then, while T.C., Trip, Hurley, and I jumped on a shuffle hockey table (coolest guys in the bar? *awkward thumbs up*) MoFo found a group of girls.

One of those girls was 5’4” with long brunette hair and a nice bum being cuddled by a short, striped skirt. Realizing that five guys were looking at her made her giggle and shyly turn her head—in other words, she loved it. But since (a.) this particular young woman was standing next to another young woman who looked like Justin Bieber, and (b.) when Bieber noticed us staring at her friend, she grabbed the striped ass and grinned at us, we were less than optimistic.

It didn’t deter MoFo, though. Instead he strolled over to their table and introduced himself. After several minutes of small talk with the lesbian and her lesbian-for-the-time-being girlfriend, MoFo rejoined us—alone. The table of ladies had decided against accompanying us in our move to the next bar. Shocking.

We walked to Hibernian Irish Pub, where pretty people buzzed everywhere in a library-like motif that left the standing room strategically minimized in some places. Shrinking the area around a bar leads to strangers being forced into close proximity. That leads to a shlammered, 5’7” brunette beauty in heels turning to her right, seeing me a foot away from her, and saying bluntly, “I bet you have a huge penis.” That then leads to me being speechless for just long enough for her three girlfriends to drive block her down the stairs and out of dicks’ harm’s way.

MoFo (who had been standing next to me) and I found the others standing out on the deck, and reported the experience. The others, of course, immediately headed back to the scene of the crime, trying to find this gal, despite the futile attempts by MoFo and me to restate the part of the story where she got pulled away by her friends. What we found instead was a different group of women, this one nowhere near as attractive or interesting as the first (granted, “I bet you have a huge penis” are the only words I heard anyone in the first group of girls say; but you can’t deny that that’s pretty damn interesting).

Two of the girls (“Participation Award” and “Eager Beaver”) clamped down like a mousetrap when these five handsome older men came strolling within their reach, and were instantly in our faces with lame conversation. T.C. and Trip were drunk, which meant T.C. and Trip were the friendliest guys in the hot tub bar. They were also the two furthest removed from the game of the five of us. So, not knowing any better, they quickly struck up newfound friendships with these gals. MoFo, Hurley, and I, meanwhile, headed for the exit. The married guys would pay for not doing the same.

A block or two down the street we discovered Cornerstone, a bar built around the concept of the house party. Such a simple idea, yet this was the first I’d ever seen it brought to life. With the layout of a frat house, it was a crowded bar featuring various rooms. Each room had a bar and a crowd, as did the back deck. Fucking. Party. Here MoFo found an old friend who the others had met last year when ____ _______ it __ ___ _____ of the _____ ____ where ____ were all _______, IN FRONT __ _____.

[When I’m a billionaire and can financially compensate my friends for what they’d lose due to awesome stories getting published, I’ll fill in those blanks.]

From Cornerstone, MoFo, Hurley, and I set off in search of food. When we realized that the snack stands and restaurants on the same block as our hotel were closed, Hurley headed back to the room while MoFo and I pressed on. Soon enough we found a guy with a hot dog cart, making a killing on a corner as people lined up for street meat. He soon made four more sales, and my buddy and I were double-fisting kielbasa sandwiches as we strolled back to the hotel.

Any joy I’d gained from cramming food into my drunken vessel on the way back to the room was obliterated, though, by hearing familiar voices coming from inside as I pulled my keycard from my wallet. I looked at MoFo and said, “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.” Sure enough, we opened the door to find the annoying chicks from Hibernian sitting in the room.

This was a foul. A huge one. You don’t bring annoying chicks back to the room you’re sharing with your boys, unless (A.) they’re hot, and/or (B.) you plan on doing god’s work. Neither A. nor B. was going on here. T.C. and Trip tried to claim they had let them come back for MoFo and me. Bullshit. They got stuck talking to two drunk chicks who were giddy from the thought of finally getting a piece, and couldn’t muster up the balls to tell the girls to fuck off.

I looked at Hurley, who was sitting up in his bed looking bothered, and he just shrugged his shoulders. Neither MoFo nor I acknowledged the trespassers. I changed into gym shorts and got into a bed, nearly pushing Eager Beaver off the foot of it in the process. MoFo sat down in a chair and finished his second sandwich. Hurley and I didn’t lower our voices at all as we exchanged various versions of, “This is bullshit!” and "Why the fuck are they here?" Sensing our displeasure, the girls finally left.

Trip and T.C. would get clowned for the rest of the trip. It was only right.

[To be continued...]

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

We're Not For Everyone (Day 1, Pt. 1)

[Click here for the Intro]

Friday, March 21st
Of the many ways to start a road trip, the best one isn’t getting only three hours of sleep beforehand. T.C. had suggested Hurley, Trip, and I meet him in WashPa at 6:30 a.m.; I started packing about 11:30 p.m. Thursday night. Still, I arrived on time (and somewhat delirious). T.C. and I loaded up the Yukon with our bags, as well as some cases of beer and Red Bull, while Hurley commanded the driver’s seat. We made a quick run to the Krispy Kreme next door—for coffee (…shut up)—while waiting for Trip. A few minutes later he arrived, and we got on our way.

One thing was very clear from the beginning: The guys in the truck with me, all being in committed relationships, could not WAIT to spend the weekend without their significant others hounding them. Maybe it was my delirious, sleep-deprived state, but I was the most sedated of the four of us. The others seemed to be shaking in their leather seats, rambling like sherm heads. While they talked about boobs and butts they used to know in their respective heydays, I melted into the front passenger seat and listened from a distance.

I couldn’t sleep though, which is somewhat of a tortuous thing given those conditions. Trip saw my turnt down state and knew what the situation called for. When we made our first stop for gas somewhere inside of West Virginia, he grabbed a six-pack of Sam Adams out of the convenience store cooler and strutted toward the cash register.

The next leg of the journey would see T.C. driving, Hurley sleeping, and Trip and I casually working our way through five of those beers (one was saved for when T.C. passed off driving responsibility to someone else). Suddenly, I was much more involved in the group’s conversations. Life, in general, seemed brighter. While friends in Pittsburgh complained about having a snowstorm on the second day of spring, I was sipping beer and cruising across Virginia in warm sunshine. I’ve had worse Fridays.

As we neared the outskirts of Raleigh, we listened to the tourney’s first major upset: #14 Mercer – 78, #3 Duke – 71. The game was played in Raleigh; we passed the stadium on our way into town. And we had pooled our money into a bet on Duke. Not only did we miss a chance to see a huge upset live and in person, but we’d lost money on it. Yayy
courtesy of SB Nation
We found the hotel and waded into the lobby. People swirled past in every which direction, as we quickly realized that the University of Memphis and their fans were headquartered there. “I want cheerleaders,” came from someone’s lips. I think it was mine. It may just as well have been a stranger saying those words; after several hours of highways, beer, severe sleep deprivation, and guys-trip euphoria, I’d achieved out-of-body consciousness (and pretty much wouldn’t come back from it until the detox drive home a few days later).

In the room we cracked more beers and began playing a game called “Head’s Up” on Trip’s phone while we waited for MoFo to arrive. Once he got there we began weighing our options for the night ahead. While Trip and T.C. insisted on going to the hotel’s hot tub (where they soon befriended a middle-aged guy named “Dick”; yes, the jokes wrote themselves), Hurley and I opted to stay behind and get cleaned up instead. We then walked down the street to Jimmy V’s with MoFo while waiting for the hot tub boys to catch up. When everyone was finally cleaned up and focused, we hopped into MoFo’s truck and gunned it towards Chapel Hill.

Despite being friends for many years, that drive—to the best of my recollection—was the very first time I’d been a passenger in a vehicle piloted by MoFo. You know how your grandmother reacts when she’s in the passenger seat of your ride and you go over 35 mph? Well MoFo drives like your grandmother thinks you drive. He drives like he’s a protagonist in a Roland Emmerich blockbuster. He drives like he’s out of earplugs, and Nicki Minaj is behind him with a megaphone and her rhyme book. He drives like a rapey velociraptor with an erection is within an inch of his bumper.

A consequence of being in unfamiliar territory in a vehicle traveling at unsafe speeds, is you believe your captain when he tells you the trip will take “20 minutes.” Even when, 20 minutes in, he still says, “20 minutes,” you believe. And 20 minutes later, when you’re still squeezed into an SUV doing 60 in a 15 mph zone on the University of North Carolina campus and you’re told you’re “almost there”? You believe 20 minutes.

We parked and began strolling through Chapel Hill. Part of me wished I was 10 years younger; part of me really didn’t care that I wasn’t. You expect the hub of a major US college to be youth-oriented. Maybe it was. But, while I knew 24-year-old me would’ve felt as though he owned the land on which he walked, 34-year-old me was hardly alienated.

And I felt even more at home when we made it to Top This. It’s a burger bar with a beer habit, and it’s every bit as warm and inviting as a place could be, thanks to the owner, Tom**.

Tom is a saint. Don’t ever let the archdiocese or some other “official” tell you otherwise. When we walked in, thirsty and hungry and distracted by the UNC tourney game, this beautiful man saw no other pursuit more worthy than getting us (1.) a waitress, (2.) beers, (3.) a table, (4.) beers, (5.) beers, (6.) burgers, and (7.) beers. And when I say he got us beers, I don’t just mean he pushed the watered-down light beer on special at us; I mean he encouraged us to taste test the various brews that they had on tap and asked each of us about our personal beer preferences BEFORE expecting us to order anything on our tab.

Tom is a saint.

And, even without the superb customer service—which certainly includes Tom insisting that we all do a shot with him—I would still be singing praise for Top This right now, simply because the food and beer are amazing. That’s not hyperbole for blogging sake; everything was fantastic. I mean, my mouth is watering right now as I type this, and I guarantee it’ll start again each time I proofread before posting. [Ed. Note: Yup.] Absolutely delicious.

After we’d filled up with beer and burgers, and T.C. had pitched Tom on opening a Pittsburgh location, we bid Top This adieu and moved down the road to Top of the Hill. This…was my kind of place (well, one of my kinds of places…I’ll explain in a minute): a swanky second floor bar overlooking the main drag, filled with TVs and good looking people watching the end of the UNC game. I drank a Jack & Coke as we watched the nail-biter, shouting in unison with the natives and high-fiving them at the end of the Tarheel victory. My switch to hard liquor had been a gut decision. As in, it felt like it took up less real estate in my gut than the gallons of beer I’d consumed thus far. That feng shui would be important, as we moved on to our third and final Chapel Hill stop: Bub O’Malley’s.

[Day 1, Part 2 coming soon...]

**I just now learned that Tom Scheidler has sold Top This, and is no longer behind the bar in Chapel Hill, making all feel welcome with fine eats and sumptuous ales. It saddens me to hear this, as I was hoping to make Top This a regular stop when I'm in town. I may yet, and the new ownership may make an honest effort at replicating the red carpet treatment that Tom provided. And though I'm skeptical, my skepticism shouldn't be seen as a mark against these new owners, but instead as testament to the unattainable bar that Tom set. If you're out there reading this, Mr. Scheidler, allow me to say thank you, for your incredible hospitality and fantastic food and drink.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

We're Not For Everyone (Intro)

Some people deal in absolutes. Never wear brown with black. Always wait an hour to swim after eating. Always let the boss win. Never fake the funk on a nasty dunk. I’m more of a realist. And, as a realist, I recognize that nothing’s black-and-white. Sometimes things go one way, sometimes they go the other. So when someone inevitably tells you “No good ideas are thought of when you’re drunk,” pat them on the head and just smirk.

Last Christmas Eve I stopped at William Penn Tavern on a whim, looking to catch up with my boy MoFo, who I hadn’t seen in years. While I was there, he and Jed mentioned a trip that T.C. and Hurley had cooked up for March. A “guys’ trip,” wherein gents from Pittsburgh would descend upon Raleigh, NC—where MoFo lives—to enjoy a weekend of heavy drinking and NCAA tourney games. I considered it somewhat half-heartedly, knowing I had the Chicago trip coming early in that same month, which was going to bite a serious chunk out of my bank account. A couple of nights later, before I blacked out, T.C. and Hurley pitched the trip to me themselves. Nearby Chapel Hill is always packed with booze and coeds, I’d been promising MoFo for years that I’d visit him in NC, the hotel room would be free (T.C. has rewards points out the ass), and nearby Chapel Hill is always packed with booze and coeds…

“Sure… *sips Manhattan* Why not? *gulps Manhattan* It’s only money! *orders another Manhattan*”

When I sobered up a couple of days later, I guarded against disaster by telling T.C. my participation would hinge on how big of a hit my finances took in Chicago. And so, when I somehow made it home alive from the Chi in March, I tallied up what I’d spent. It was about half what I had expected to drop. I quickly texted T.C. “It’s on.”

The last time T.C., Hurley, and I went on a trip together was Buffalo in 2011; before that was San Diego in 2008. So…yeah. This time around we’d be adding Trip and MoFo to the mix [Jed had to bow out due to family issues]. There’s a network sitcom writer out there somewhere who’s kicking himself for not thinking up a pilot with a plotline based on this gathering of guys in their early 30s, all in different places in their love lives. A summary:
  • MoFo – Having married a girl thought at the time to be his soulmate (by him and all around him) in 2005, in the last few years he’s enjoyed the highs of becoming a dad and the lows of a bitter divorce. Now a bachelor, he dotes on his daughter on the daddy weekends and dotes on the ladies on the Who’s yo daddy weekends.
  • T.C. – Happily married for 7+ years, the homie is a consummate family man, with two rambunctious blonde-haired boys, a dog, and a beautiful house in the suburbs. Funding the construction of a new house for his clan at the time, he continues to break his back every day to keep everyone happy, healthy, and fed.
  • Trip – A renowned playboy in his younger years, our goofy friend has finally met the woman for him, and at the time was engaged to be married to her later in the year. And the transition of his private life mirrored that of his professional one: In the year prior to the trip he had given up his dream career in front of cameras for one behind a desk. Once out there living the public (albeit local) glamour life, he’s now dedicated to a quiet existence with his bride-to-be, focused on long-term happiness.
  • Hurley – For quite some time my homie has been a fellow bachelor, doing bachelor things. Several months before that March weekend, however, he’d succumbed to a much younger girl who had locked him down. Newly in love, he had been doing the dance we all do when re-familiarizing ourselves with domestication. You know, avoiding bar sluts, fewer weekend nights unaccounted for… The standard.
  • Me – I just don’t give a fuck. As previously discussed.

Ready to roll. Let's go.
Honestly, you couldn’t imagine five friends with more diverse personal lives. And yet we all fit together like pieces of a puzzle. A GMC Yukon was rented, days were called off from work, I listened to “Raise Up” a few hundred times, and we prepared to unleash ourselves upon the South.

[To be continued...]