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Wednesday, February 20,2013

Athens, Ohio: The town that never sleeps

Hour-by-hour diary of a typical Saturday uptown

By Anna Moore
Photo Credits: Anna Moore
Photo Caption: A girl must be missing her teal Victoria’s Secret panties that lie confused on the sidewalk by ‘Angel Alley,’ a.k.a. Fern Street. Legend has it this was the section of town where “ladies of the evening” were picked up in the early 1800s by the rambling railroad men.”

3 a.m. Athens County Courthouse steps, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2012

A zombie is stalking this way, a bloody gash on his forehead, eyes bloodshot and dead. "IgottagettoKernStreet," he moans as a nursing student reassures him he won't require stitches for his mysterious face wound. With a scrawled scrap paper map, he disappears into the darkness to find some house he can't remember.

Another boy picks up his mini-skirted date and tries to stuff her into the sidewalk trashcan. She laughs uncontrollably and doesn't seem to mind. A new boy recites "The Highwayman," as he stares up at the clear November stars. Bedazzled-crowned birthday girl is having the best slice of greasy pizza in her 21 years, while the Picasso of penis paintings vigorously draws a large phallic figure on the steamy window of Big Mamma's Burrito's. Red and blue police lights illuminate the broken glass of a headlight – "Some idiot done plow right into an OU bus!"

This is either the apocalypse, or just another Saturday night in Athens, Ohio. To understand how the hell it came to this, we must start at the beginning when the day was new. There are sleepy small towns, there are cities that never sleep, and there are oddball college towns such as Athens that are both.

Meet Athens, Ohio:

Home to Ohio University and an outrageous number of cheapo bars, alternative coffee shops, burrito joints, bookstores and Subarus plastered with Obama-Biden stickers. Stepping onto the main drag of Court Street is like stepping into a postcard with 1900s-style storefronts resting against a bright Ohio blue sky. This town's ever-transient population of the young, beautiful and educated spawns many quirky subcultures that thrive on live music and never-ending parties.

Inside the Athens bubble, time stops. Until one day when the students wake up in caps in gowns, hungover and grappling with their adulthood. What if it was possible to stop time? Not pressing "pause," but crystalizing a day in this magical strange place with its eccentric characters and surprising history.

This is an experiment in existence. A chronicled full day, 10 a.m. to 10 a.m., because the story of Athens doesn't sleep. To leave out an hour would be to pull out a piece of the college-town puzzle. A paradox of higher education, and even more advanced inebriation, can only be told from start to finish – 24 hours in a day.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

10 a.m. Court Street

Sun shocks the periwinkle morning sky over Court Street, the coronary artery one-way street right in the heart of town that was paved with iconic Athens bricks in 1892.

The J Bar has flooded. Pools of soapy water spill onto the street, much like the countless floods of the nearby Hocking River, as a man in a camouflage baseball cap sweeps ocean waves of last night's sticky spills and bottle caps onto the glittery sidewalk. Cigarette butts roll neatly between the bricks, playing urban Tetris. The pace of morning walkers is molasses – for there is no real place to be this early on a Saturday. The town takes a yawning stretch before the day begins. A big glass of water and some aspirin might do the trick. Everyone seems to be wearing Ohio University sweatpant pajamas, to-go coffee in hand. Baristas are the bartenders of the morning. Let's do a shot of espresso – make it double.

11 a.m. College Green

The only thing worse than being a freshman is being an almost-freshman. Plastic white and green baggies blow their cover of hoped coolness while walking next to their parents. The tour is made up of about 14 students, the same amount that graduated in the class of 1812, when tuition meant bartering hogs and cattle to pay one's room and board. The backward-walking tour guides release their foot-dragging disciples, and mothers argue about where to eat lunch, embarrassing their already self-conscious kids. "I don't care where we eat, Mom!" The fathers just keep their eyes up, pretending to admire the architecture, hands locked behind their backs, keeping their minds off the over $40,000 this four-year college thing is going to cost (not counting room and board, books, and everything else).

Noon. Court Street

People quietly sip their $1.25 coffees at Perk's Coffee Shop, home of the cheapest cup in town, examining the front page of The Athens NEWS. The headline reads "Pot Legalization in Ohio?" An apt headline for a town where weed smoke can be smelled any hour of the day, and two uptown head shops stand merely a blow of smoke away from each other. A similar headline, "Athens Drug Use: A Widespread Issue," topped the 1969 student newspaper, proving that some issues have a tendency to keep burning.

1 p.m. Chipotle

Boys with biceps the size of burritos crowd the line at Chipotle. The building smelling of beans and onions used to be the Varsity movie theater where "dating seats" could fit two lovers comfortably. Today, true love means sharing tortilla chips and telling your date there's cilantro in his teeth.

2-4 p.m. Court Street

Athens takes a deep sigh of almost stillness that begs the question: Why doesn't America have a siesta? The uneventful hours of the afternoon are made of awkward campus tours, and a white-bearded man taking a walk while playing the harp. By 4 p.m., the bars turn up their music and open their doors to welcome the first of many "shuffles," the Athens expression for bar crawl. Shuffles (more like stumbles) have become a rite of passage for OU students and usually require strange matching outfits and even stranger titles to be Sharpied onto the walls of each dive and pub they enter. A patriot gang of guys and gals begins its "Made in America" shuffle barging out of the Pigskin Sports Bar. One bar marked off a list longer than most poor college students' grocery lists. They charge onward to the next beverage, resembling a demented Springsteen video and practicing their Second Amendment right to bear arms in their stars-and-stripes-forever tank tops. "USA, USA!"

5 p.m. Union Street

Two runners sprint across the intersection. One in spike heels with a case of Natural Ice in hand, the other in bright Nike's, getting her pre-party workout. Both girls are rocking the Spandex.

6 p.m. Court Street

The sun has set, flicking the switch from daytime laziness to nighttime debauchery. Although it's technically dinnertime, the show has already begun. Electric streetlights illuminate the Court Street stage, like they have since 1889, as the Saturday Night cast comes out in full costume, playing their collective role of the American College Student. After all, darkness brings our the darkest parts. People do what they want when they think no one can see.

7 p.m. The Court Street Diner

A classic American joint where everything appears to be dipped in aluminum and from the 1940s, even though the trailer was built in Florida in 1997. The wait staff huddles around the cash register like a family, all in matching black T-shirts. It is a slow Saturday, so they begin to plan their nighttime fun between coffee refills.

"Why aren't you out drinking?" asks the male server to an exhausted looking group of girls in Ohio University sweatshirts.

"We've been out all day, that's why we're here. Oh. My. God. It's only 7 p.m."

Apart from the usual milkshake date and those looking for a pre-drinking stomach liner, there is Harold. He helps out with maintenance around town but somehow finds a way to come to the diner's barstools twice daily for his regular coffee and water order. He mumbles about his medicine in an old-timey auctioneer-like language only select wait staff can comprehend. With a pouted lower lip and concerned brow, he stares at the wall where the Jukebox used to be. "We got a new kind of Jukebox, Harold," explains a kind blond waitress. Harold's empty coffee mug is now a Koozie for his ice water cup. "Heh? Heh? Heh?" he yells at the new MP3 player that sits above the wall's obvious jukebox outline. With a pull-up of the pants and a readjustment of his Auto Parts hat, Herald is out the door.

8 p.m. The Crystal Bar

The Crystal already has a layer of popcorn and beer topping the stained oak tables. Frat boys in bouquets of flower-colored pants are arm-wrestling – wait, real wrestling. A boy who looks like Hercules patrols his territory, shaking his golden locks as he greets his fellow Greek brothers, being careful not to spill Miller Lite on his argyle sweater. Greek goddesses in sky-high heels throw pong balls and pose, hands on their hips, for a soon–to-be-on-Facebook picture. The glow of flatscreen college football gives those who drink alone something to pretend to watch as they gain their liquid courage. Ahhh, the smell of popcorn, cheap cologne and urine.

9 p.m. Casa Nueva, The Cantina

There's still an hour wait for a dinner table at Casa Nueva, The ultra-Athenian locavore restaurant and music venue for a more sophisticated Saturday-night crowd. Members of a band tighten their guitar strings, and "Test one two, test one two." The warmth of dark wood, red-wine walls and the smell of sautéed onions surround trendy ladies, who delicately squeeze lime slivers into their $6 margaritas. Though it is "No Shave November," (the nationwide phenomenon of men refusing their razors during the 11th month of the year for charity, or just for fun), the beards of the bartenders and loyal Casa customers have been in the works for years. Facial hair never goes out of style in Athens.

10 p.m. Casa Nueva, The Cantina

The folks at Casa are too busy tapping their toes to the live gig to notice a shaggy-haired boy who is drinking for free. He unzips his tattered book bag with a bike helmet buckled to the strap and pulls out an entire bottle of rye whiskey. With a goofy smirk, he pours three hefty glugs of whiskey into an empty glass. Sneaking booze makes every hour happy hour. He giggles and says, "Whiskey, best when you drink it heavily."

11 p.m. BP Gas Station

Court Street is a circus. A scene more ridiculous than when the Ringling Brothers brought their feather-crowned horses and bedazzled elephants to town in 1902. Tonight's ringleader is holding his manhood in one hand, his cell-phone in the other as he nonchalantly pees on the back wall of the BP gas station. "Yeah, man, I'm on my way," he says as he zips up and carries on. Let the Saturday night parade begin. Bar to bar. House party to house party.

These in-home gatherings provide a whole other world of educational experiences for the young student population. Teaching many lessons such as how to do a keg stand, how to hit a bowl, or how to deal with the police who come for a noise complaint. Even during Prohibition when downtown saloons were boarded up, in-home bootlegging and speakeasies continued despite the steep fines and punishment. In the 1920s, an Athens man named Jim Bobo was found with five bottles of beer in his basement and fined $200 ($2,000 in today's dollars). Quite the expensive not-even six-pack.

Midnight. Mill Street

Midnight on Mill Street means red Solo cups and underage mistakes. Bass and laughter shake the apartment building walls and brisk night air doesn't stop porch parties from shotgun beer races. The Ohio University Police have slowed their car to a glass-crunching crawl and come to a stop when a little-too-drunk girl is being hauled like a rug on its way to the cleaners by three of her guy friends. If it were any year before 1971, she would have already been back at her dorm by the midnight curfew for young ladies. No doubt her sleeping parents will not be happy about being awakened by an OUPD officer. Beyond grounded.

1 a.m., Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, House Party

The farther away from Court Street, the more unique the bash. Welcome a real American living room hoedown. Banjos are pulled out of their cases like precious cigarettes from a carton. Everyone is spinning with swigs of gin and whiskey shared between Do-Si-Do's. An exchange student from Brazil doesn't quite understand the boot-stomping bluegrass song about some girl named Black Eyed Suzy. The Brazilian asks, "How is this dancing sexy?" To be honest, it never has been and probably never will be. A Pabst Blue Ribbon shares a table with a wooden flute, binoculars and a book about yoga. A puff here, a hit there, and optical illusion posters become extra trippy against walls painted purple with moons and stars.

2 a.m. Court Street

Outside of Redbrick Sports Bar, riotous crowds assemble, smoking cigarettes and having conversations they won't remember tomorrow. But unlike the student riots of 1970, these crowds are not reprimanded by the National Guard. There is no Vietnam for these kids to protest. A car rolls up to the Crystal Bar and a gorilla-sized boy stomps out, casually shoves a handle of vodka down the front of his jeans, and covers it with his white T-shirt. For the life of him, he cannot understand why the bouncer won't let him in the closed bar. It's hard to believe that in1825 profanity, drunkenness and riotous behavior was enough for expulsion from the university. So far, Mr.Vodka-pants is three for three.

2:30 a.m. Court Street Bench Outside of Subway

A long-haired street musician sits on a cold metal bench and strums his guitar for every stumbling passerby. The Athens High School senior hopes singing "Hotel California" while solving a Rubik's Cube with his numb fingers will get him a few bucks. Every bit of loose change and even the Monopoly money in his guitar are going into his college fund. He receives no applause, just shouts of an onlooker. "Good job, hippie asshole!"

A loud drunk girl falls and decides to stay seated in the middle of the street. With brunette tangles sticking to her lips, she is paralyzed with laugher. She must not have read the Ohio University Co-Ed's Handbook from the mid-1960s that taught young freshman girls: "The most important thing about being a college woman is being a lady." That was during a different time, post-World War II, when the 6:1 guy-to-girl ratio meant "going to college" was finding a husband.

"You can't sit here!" yells her friend to her laughing face. She finally gets on her feet and runs toward a street musician's drum set. She ninja kicks the cymbal — missing entirely.

3 a.m. The Athens County Courthouse

Boys perch like pizza-scarfing gargoyles on the courthouse steps. The same spot where Teddy Roosevelt, then a former president, stood proudly giving a speech 100 years ago a few weeks after the Titanic sunk. In a speech less historic, one of the gargoyles exclaims, "My nipples are the size of dimes!" This riles his posse into a full-on Best Nipples Competition. With shirts still lifted, doughy beer belly buttons exposed, they shout at a passing girl, "Hey babe, it's your turn!"

4 a.m. Union Street Diner

Union Street Diner is not exactly known as a place to impress a first date, but the breakfast all-day griddle grease joint is open 24 hours. When there's no place else to go, when the bars lock their doors and student organizations selling grilled cheese and cupcakes for a late-night buck go home, Union Street Diner is still there.

Life is bleakly more real underneath the fluorescent glow of the ceiling lights as a man and woman who appear to be in their late 40s sit across from each other, warming their hands on coffee mugs as they talk about the hardships of love. "I'm scared as hell," she says. "I'd rather spend the rest of my life alone than get f***ed around with and beat on again." The dream of settling down in maternal bliss is graying, like the roots of her dirty blonde bangs.

A drunken younger couple sits at the booth directly behind them. The boy whimpers between sips of hot chocolate because, "Like, you don't even talk to me anymore!" The girl keeps her eyes to her phone and says, "Let's go."

"Have a good night, hon," chimes a tired waitress. She runs on coffee and three hours of sleep most nights but still manages to cook her kids breakfast after her 10:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. shift.

5 a.m. Fern Street

The hours when morning and night blur together, when every drunk-dial ends in regret and the faces of street wanderers all seem to match campus police sketches. A girl must be missing her teal Victoria's Secret panties that lie confused on the sidewalk by "Angel Alley," a.k.a. Fern Street. Legend has it this was the section of town where "ladies of the evening" were picked up in the early 1800s by the rambling railroad men. Bass still bumps from an eternal house party. Sleep is for the weak.

6 a.m. Court Street

By this time, the only souls awake are stumbling, arms crossed and shivering, coming home after an "after-hours" party. The after-hours folks are the workers of bars and drunk-food establishments who buy cases of beer before work so they can finally start drinking right after the floors are swept and doors are locked. For all those workers who served greasy gyros and pizza slices until 5 a.m., it's their time to party.

However, there are no after-hours parties for the boy who closed up Goodfella's Pizza after his eight hour Saturday shift. Two and a half years of night shifts of pounding pizza dough (much like he pounds his punching bag hanging in his apartment) has left him severely nocturnal and deeply pessimistic. It was an uneventful night, in that no one hit a hole in the green wall by the cash register, or had to be physically removed from the premises. There are times he wishes an intoxicated guy would cross the counter so he has a reason to fight back.

7 a.m. Court Street Bench

The Sunday sun begins its ascension, cleansing the town of last night's sins. Crosswalk signals are telling ghosts when to cross as a flock of pigeons coos and picks at a frosty pizza crust.

8 a.m. College Street

Church bells dong, scolding the family that's late for church. Inside St. Paul's Catholic Church, a sea of bald and silver heads assemble into the pews as the morning light makes little stained-glass rainbows. Worshippers are greeting, kneeling and asking how the family is doing and if they have anything new to pray for. As the sermon begins, a girl with unseasonably tan skin has no shame in her "walk of shame" one street over. She painfully clomps her 3-inch heels home in a see-through blouse. Mascara smudged from a random couch pillow.

9 a.m. A Court Street Bench

Pigeons race around their courthouse castle, floating and fluttering in choreographed dance. Spiraling down, down for another day of people watching on the ancient cupola where in 1900 the sheriff hid an accused murderer from a lynch mob that howled in the streets below. The lucky prisoner was whisked out of town and to safety in a surrey pulled by swift horses. Of the 26 documented lynchings in Ohio, only one occurred in Athens in 1881. The only things hanging this morning are heads, hiding from the intense daylight on their way to the Court Street Diner or Casa Nueva for a hangover cure.

10 a.m. Casa Nueva

Breakfast. Back to the beginning. 24 hours of elapsed existence slaps everything back to a clean slate with big plate of veggie burrito. Over slow sips of coffee, one might wonder about the facets of time. Some moments slide by smooth as falling water while others stick like gum to the bottom of your shoe. Students ignore time like the quiet ticking of a hallway clock, but before they know it, the beer-hazed eternity they had ahead of them has been pasted into a yearbook, only dusted off at reunions.

Where does the time go? It goes on your walk to class and into the small talk on the street corner. Time disappears in daydreams, waiting for your bagel to toast, and in line at the bar bathroom. This 24 hours was only one of the approximately 108,576 Saturdays Athens has seen during its 210 years as a college town. Every generation that filters through Athens finds that the specifics of time don't matter, but rather the stories and memories time becomes. Soon these crazy nights will be Athens history, whether you can remember them or not.


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God Bless Athens, OHIO!!!! <3 My one true love



Subtract Court Street Diner at 7PM and Casa Nueva at 9PM while inserting the J Bar, the C.I., the Pub, and Courtside; then throw in Pita Pit/Goodfella at 2:30AM and After Hours from 3AM-6AM and it sounds more accurate. Class of '02!



the worst part about this article is "Subarus plastered with Obama-Biden stickers"


you're right ^^^^^^



I grew up in Athens and I just want to say that this is not an article about a day in Athens, Ohio. It's about a day at Ohio University. Two completely different things which happen to exist in the same area.