3 a.m. Athens County
Courthouse steps, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2012
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
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!"
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:
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
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.
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,
10 a.m. Court Street
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
aren't you out drinking?" asks the male server to an exhausted looking group of
girls in Ohio University sweatshirts.
been out all day, that's why we're here. Oh. My. God. It's only 7 p.m."
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
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
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
10 p.m. Casa Nueva, 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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!"
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.
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 —
3 a.m. The Athens County
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
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.
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.
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."
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
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
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.
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
7 a.m. Court Street Bench
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
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
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
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.
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.