This post is dedicated to the happy couples Zack and Eva Coomer and Zach and Rachel Huffman. On this date, one year ago, I was at Zack and Eva’s marriage celebration, and so this is my weird way of saying “Happy Anniversary!” Also, don’t get divorced, because this took me a few hours to write and it would suck if it was devalued in any way. (Winky face.)
So once upon a time, back when I had something vaguely resembling a stable, full-time job (writing for the travel industry) I found out two of my best buds (both Yanks; both called Zachary) were getting married (not to each other) and so made the rash decision to jump on a plane, crash one couple’s wedding (actually I was invited, but “crash” sounds so much cooler) and wish the other the best with theirs.
After a couple of nights haunting the bars of Logan Square and Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago with Couchsurfers Sara, Kori and a couple of German kids, I took a Greyhound down to Cincinnati…
…except they kicked us off for an unscheduled stop in Indianapolis. The driver told us we may or may not have an hour before we set off again for Cincinnati. I was asleep for half of this speech, so it’s also possible I got it all completely wrong.
Fuck it, I thought, I’ll chance it, and took to the streets in search of a cold beer.
At first there was nothing but a couple of boarded-up fast-food outlets and I got the feeling the Greyhound station and I were way out of town, then I turned the corner onto Meridian and a big sign says “Wholesale District: Welcome to the Main Event!” and it turns out I’m smack-bang in the middle of Indianapolis’ nightlife district and things are beginning to hot up for the evening.
I know this because a guy cycled past me and said something like, “Saturday…Gon’ be busy tonight.”
He braked and waited for me to catch up alongside.
Cycling beside me, he told me he’d just come from work, which he obviously immediately forgot because in more or less the same breath he was telling me his wife thought he was at work today. I asked him where was a good place to drink and he said he’d take me if I’d be so kind as to buy him a beer. A bit cheeky, I thought, but hey, this is America.
After talking some more bullshit, we got to a place called “Killroy’s”. “Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “Being that my name’s Roy, I’m not all that happy about the name.” He didn’t get the joke and even got a bit arsey about it, insulted that I didn’t like his choice of bar. “Nevermind,” I said and went to go in.
“Oh no, I can’t go in there.”
“No, it’s too expensive. I can get a forty down the street for less…”
I went inside…where beer was $7, plus tax and tip, and, truth be told, I was a bit pissed off at the guy for assuming I wouldn’t prefer sitting on a backstreet somewhere sharing a couple of forties.
I ordered a large pizza, which also seemed ridiculously expensive, until it arrived – all 20 inches of it – and I had to run for the bus carrying a box the size of a pavement slab.
As I slipped into the greyhound station a guy was coming out and held the door open for me.
“What’d you just say?”
“I said ‘cheers…mate’.”
We stared each other down, me wondering what the hell he thought I’d said, then I remembered I had a bus to catch and didn’t have time for this shit. Fuck sake! Curse this quiet voice and British accent!
I made a lot of friends on that next bus, as you do when you start giving out copious amounts of free pizza, then slept all the way to Cincinnati.
Now almost midnight, walking from the Greyhound station through downtown Cincinnati, I got stopped by a group of homeless people. A short woman scoots over to me in an old-style wheelchair and asks if I can spare any change. That fucker and his forty got the last I was willing to give for one day so I offered her a slice of pizza instead.
“Oh, no, thank you.”
“I wouldn’t be able to chew it. Can’t eat solids. Hurts too much ’cause of my teeth. But God bless you for offering.” Poor, sad characters of the downtown American night – I’d forgotten all about you in my absence.
I arrived at John’s place (one of those old red-brick, city-centre tenements you see in the movies, with a fire-escape and everything) in OTR, ditched my stuff and we headed out to an old, live music pub called MOTR to catch the tail end of a gig. This place has been around for decades and the OTR (Over-the-Rhine) district – so named by the large German population in the 19th and early 20th centuries – is undergoing a huge renaissance. It’s the historical, cultural and artistic heart and soul of Cincinnati, with shit-loads of urban Italianate architecture and the most pre-prohibition breweries in the world. Walking around, I felt like I was in Bugsy Malone or Al Capone (even though I’m pretty sure neither of them had anything to do with Cincinnati).
We talked about hopping trains, Nepal (who knew I’d be there within the year) and a beautiful place in nearby Kentucky called “Red River Gorge”. Later I crashed on the fold-out sofa-bed amongst collages and cat-fur.
I woke early (for once) but John was already out on some sunrise errand. I text Zack in a suitably creepy manner to say I was in town, poked through some John Muir and Aldous Huxley I found, ate some more pizza, and only then realised Zack would have no idea who that message was from.
Later, Zack picked me up and we cruised over to the venue to check out their sound system, which Zack suspected wouldn’t be up to his needs. On the way we relived old Japan stories, caught up, and I told him I was thinking of starting a website about drinking and travel. (A couple of weeks later the Drinking Traveller was born.)
After that we drove over to his mum’s (sorry, “mom’s”) place, where I met the Coomer clan and the Aussie contingent and the house was a hive of activity. My usual shy, sobre self, I tried to disappear into the background and busied myself helping to arrange flowers and listening to what I can only describe as ‘woman-talk’, while Zack got on it and made us frozen margaritas or strawberry daiquiris. (I forget which.)
Here was Eva, my old friend from Japan days and I almost didn’t recognise her, it seemed so long ago, and Rachel, Zack’s sister who’d come out and partied with us in Japan back when she was still a “minor” in the US.
Zack suggested we go and pick up Chinese for all the hard-workers so we jumped back in the car. There was some confusion from his nan, who (quite astutely) wondered why he wanted to go to a Chinese all the way across town when there was a perfectly good one just round the corner. This mystery was solved when we got in the car. The Chinese across town had a free ping pong table where Zack’s mates Lamar, Cameron and Brandon (I think) were already waiting. The whole thing was a cover. We spent the afternoon playing table tennis while the girls got everything ready.
“We’d only get in their way,” Zack justified (and, to be fair, he was probably right).
The funniest part was we then had to go back to the one just round the corner from the house to grab his nan’s egg rolls. I’m not sure if the girls ever knew about this. Oh well. Sorry, Zack.
I got dropped off at John’s and then later strolled the couple of blocks to the Millennium Hotel, where everyone else was staying. I headed straight for the bar and got a pint in. Soon our crowd started to assemble in the lobby and I was joined by Melanie, another familiar face from Japan days. Cameron and the guys were handing out cans of Yuengling by the crate-load and insisting we oblige, which we did.
With all the posse together, and several beers later, we marched through “Cincy” in the hot, June-afternoon sun en route to the Baseball stadium to watch the Cincinnati Reds kick Chicago a new arsehole. Apparently drinking alcohol on the streets is illegal here, but that didn’t seem to have much sway with us.
At the stadium I met Zack’s very cool dad, cousins and another batch of friends and family, too many to name or number.
The game was spectacular! Beers were $9.25, but there was a flask of Jack or two doing the rounds. I bought Zack’s dad a beer, which he promptly repaid…twice, locking us in a series of rounds – a reciprocal bond that would last the night through and see us both blitzed by the time all was said and done.
As the last of the blinding sunshine disappeared over the rim of the stadium, suddenly, through it, came the ball – right at us! It all happened so fast. Everyone leapt up. I gripped my beer firmly with both hands. Zack made a grab for the meteorite of a ball but it ricocheted off his thumb into the lap of Brandon, the best-man, in the row behind, leaving the groom with nothing but a busted hand…Although I’m sure his hand was the last thing he’d need on his wedding night.
Some bell-ends next to us were banging on about “Mustache May!” and a fight almost broke out between the mustache twats and some of our guys over something about a seat (although clearly actually about the fact they didn’t catch the ball) and so a friendly security guard was sent over to sit with and watch over us. I offered him some beer but sadly he couldn’t partake while “on duty”.
On top of all this, the Reds won, though I’m told this was kind of a foregone conclusion.
After the game, me and Mr Coomer Sr. lost the others in the crowd and ended up in a huge American sports bar/club amidst deafening music, people dancing on tables (actually, I think that might’ve been me) and coloured lights flying about in the madness.
We ran into Pat and another guy from the game (Ryan?), got some more drinks in and went outside to the smoking area, from where, later, we saw Zack, Eva, Melanie, Rachel and the rest appear in the queue. I climbed some kind of pole and screamed some kind of welcome sufficient to embarrass all involved, not to mention anyone in the immediate vicinity.
The rest of the night’s a blur, but I know it involved lots of dancing, shots, a proper, Japan-worthy reunion with Eva, me picking up Melanie and dropping us both on the glass-covered dance-floor, and that we were still in there at about 3am. As they say in the States, we “closed out the bar”!
Back at the Millennium, and walking-paralytic, me and Melanie were determined to make use of the roof-top pool. Sadly it was locked, despite my continued efforts to make it “not-locked” by falling against the glass doors.
Runing around the maze of corridors on unknown floors I somehow ran into a wall.
After wiping the blood from my nose I ended up passing out in Melanie’s room, where I dreamt I tried to make it with her (at least, I hope it was a dream) (she assures me it must have been).
I was still there when she woke up in the morning…
…and again at 1pm when she got back from her spa morning with the girls. (So, I missed the golf day…which, in hindsight, was obviously always going to happen.)
I dragged myself up and staggered out of the room, into an elevator and out into the sun-baked streets of Cincinnati. Back at John’s, I ate radishes and beet houmous with him and a friend then, when they went cycling, I tried to get some sleep…but couldn’t.
I decided to hit Findlay Market – the oldest continuously running market in the US – and was chowing down on a German sausage when I got a text from Josh, another friend from Cincy. He was having a pool party and wanted to know if I was coming over.
Half an hour later I was walking past a swanky block of flats in Clifton, prepared to walk another hour up the hill thanks to Google Maps, when I heard my name being shouted.
There was Josh, unloading a keg from his car.
Last time I saw Josh was from the roof in Nagoya, strutting drunkenly across the street, when me and Matthieu took a pop-shot at him with a firework. It whizzed past his head and exploded just down the street. Realising what’d happened, he came running into the building like a man possessed, vaulting onto the roof in one motion like only a very drunk person would have the balls to.
Luckily me and Matthieu had made it down just in time and were hiding in kitchen cupboards.
“Ah…so that was you!”
We carried the keg up to his apartment, where I met a great bunch: Jamey, Tyler, his girlfriend, some guy who’s cemented himself in my memory as “Pedro”, an old hippy-esque couple and so on.
Nowadays, Josh had landed a job with an international beer distributor and so had procured plenty of cheap booze, including the affore-mentioned keg…
Only problem was when we tried to tap it, we couldn’t. We cracked open a few cans while we tried to figure it out. The guys tried everything, even improvising some kind of rubber-band situation, but nothing worked. It was decided that the tap was at fault, so some of us bundled into the car and headed for a store where you can rent taps. On the way I saw my host and his buddy heading out of town on their bikes. It’s a small world, Cincinnati.
Back at the party, the new tap wasn’t working either. Everybody had a go, but to no avail. In the fine print we read that one keg in 400 was faulty. Josh had bought that keg. Luckily there were other drinks. The hippies brought weed. At some point we ended up walking through “Taste of Cincinnati” – a giant annual food festival downtown, which luckily corresponded with my visit and where I ran into Lamar and Cameron, who said they’d be at a place called Neon’s later.
Driving back, Josh called a girl he’d met recently, when smashed, and we scoured the streets looking for her.
“I think that’s her!” Said Josh, and we pulled up. The girl was walking along in a giant shabby grey fur coat, stiletto heels, dyed blonde hair, big black shades and a little dog under her arm.
“Wow, is Josh bringing a hooker to the party?” Came from the backseat.
With our new friend squeezed in the back we drove back to the party, where we made the best of things in spite of the keg situation, I got drunk for another night on the trot and we all swam, dove and generally larked about.
Josh had recently spent time in Colorado (ski season?) and told me all about the micro-brewery trails and generally about the craft beer revolution happening in the States at this time.
Though I’m not sure when he arrived, there was now a guy called Cliff. “Let’s hit the town!” Somebody said, so me, Cliff and (I wish I knew her name) the hooker walked down while the others took cabs. Down in town, things started to blur again. The hooker disappeared, me and Cliff went to Neon’s I think, I had a look around for Lamar, Cameron and anyone else from the wedding party, Cliff split, I met up with Jamey and Tyler in another bar, brought three bottles of something called “Hudy” for $2 a piece plus the obligatory $2 tip, or so says a receipt I found the next morning. I remember talking Hunter S. Thompson and Will S. Burroughs and making plans to go with the guys to Red River Gorge.
Then I’m with Josh and a new girl called Lauren and we go back and laugh and use the pool again and and watch the sunrise over Cincinnati and I’m pretty sure at one point we were all laying in a hammock together, poor Lauren sandwiched in the middle.
I woke up on the sofa. Lauren was gone. I found Josh, still on the hammock, and woke him to say goodbye.
Then I had a wedding to get to! I rushed back, showered, changed into my Primark suit and headed for the hotel, where of course I went once again to the bar and once again ordered in a pint.
This time I was spotted by and reunited with Vanessa, the last of the Japan crew to arrive, all the way from Australia, with her boyfriend Michael. We all bundled into a school bus hired for the occasion and the drinking songs commenced.
I’ll skip over most of the details of the wedding, because I blog about drinking and travel, not weddings, and because a picture says 1000 words, and also because I was so hungover I couldn’t feel my face, but I will say that it was the best wedding (or marriage celebration) I’ve ever been to.
The location (Pattison Lodge) was beautiful, surrounded by tranquil woodlands, a sentiment which I tried to express through my frequent threats to “go lay down in the woods and die”. The music was taken care of by the very talented Coomers – a family of musicians, and Zack managed to rig up a sound-system that did the job. We tossed beanbags in the sun. I met Damein – Rachel’s musician boyfriend, a girl called Crissy, a guy called Boutet (Booty?) and Annie, who I’d met before when Zack and I once crashed in her hotel room in Chicago and who wasn’t best pleased with me as I apparently licked her face several times. Then “food trucks” showed up, serving the best pizza I’ve ever had (Fireside Pizza Wagon!)
Highlights (at least, from where I was standing), included the open bar, Boutet dunking his head in a bucket of ice-water, several times, both of us pouring beer and wine simultaneously down our throats, dancing with Melanie, Vanessa, Mike and, well, everyone really, and the ride back, culminating in Boutet falling out of the back of the moving bus.
We went to a club across from the hotel to dance the night away. Lamar and his cousin Brandon (who by sheer coincidence was also in Japan with us) were up on the tables, dancing with several scantily clad ladies.
Sweating profusely, me and Melanie went up to Vanessa and Mike’s room to say goodbye, then I walked her to the Greyhound station (presumably because I knew the way, not because I was on such good terms with the local homeless population) and saw her onto a bus to Detroit for some epic music festival.
I had to fight the urge to go back to the club with all of my being, but it was now somehow gone 4am, so I crept into John’s, crashed for an hour, almost dreamt through my alarm (5.30am), left a note for my very open-minded and understanding host and hit the road on a bus of my own…
…arriving in Lexington, Kentucky, the dirtiest, worst-smelling bum in town, which is saying something considering the looks of some of the people hanging around the Greyhound station.
Actually, Lexington’s a pretty cool place. Zach and Rachel arrived shortly and we drove to Red River Gorge. (I’d got a text the morning of the wedding from “Rachel” – I assumed Zack’s sister – asking if I wanted to go with them to some Civil War sites in Kentucky. Jesus, I thought. Your brother’s about to celebrate his marriage and you’re fucking off to Kentucky! Turns out it was this Rachel, so I suggested the Gorge instead, as I’d heard so many good things.)
We hiked to a stream and felt the water pour over our faces from strange, immense rock-formations the likes of which I’d never seen. Ah, nature…the world’s greatest hangover cure!
Afterwards, afraid of bears and mountain lions, we got back in the car, Lexington bound. They took me to a great craft brewery called West Sixth, where you can sit out in the sun on – you guessed it – West 6th Street. Shame they only had their “Dead Heat Wheat” available, but that was fine since it turned out to be a good beer. Oh yeah, and we ate “beer cheese”, which is also very good.
We spent the rest of the day eating “square pizza” and wandering around (mostly in and out of bars). Zack was my drinking buddy of choice in Japan (together we earned quite a reputation) and his now-wife Rachel is a suitable match. They had a system in place so that they could drive that evening, but, whatever the system was, it didn’t make much sense to me; they both seemed to be drinking a lot, which was really nice of them (provided they didn’t die in a car crash on the way home…which, I should probably point out, they didn’t).
Eventually they had to head for home and I found myself in a Taco Bell (because I didn’t have enough dollars for the strip club opposite) writing shitty poetry after several days with barely any sleep and way too much booze.
Several buses, planes, trains and all the gaps in between saw me back home in Brighton.
I made a lot of good friends on that trip, and spent some quality time with old ones. I can’t wait to come back and visit, “y’all”!