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.

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