Until I was eating my bagel and green tea at Whit’s Frozen Custard and Coffee House this morning, I did not know that the Athens Block Party (read: Halloween in Athens) ended with gunfire. By the time this happened, I had already left Court St. and was en route, on foot, to the friends’ house where I was staying. There were so many sirens during the night (from ambulances) that, by 2 a.m., that was pretty much white noise to me, and I didn’t give them a second thought.
As of right now (10:43 a.m. EDST), this is the most recent information I have: http://woub.org/2014/10/26/gunshots-fired-during-halloween-block-party
There were the usual array of costumes, ranging from homemade garden-variety vampires, zombies, Raggedy Anns and Andys, devils, pregnant nuns, etc. What amused me greatly were the totally vain efforts of people who dressed as a group–the Scooby-Doo characters, a six-pack, Thing 1 and Thing 2–to stay together and not be separated in the crowd. This was even worse when each person wore a single letter on their shirts, meant to spell out a word or phrase, and ended up driven apart by the crowd.
The abundance of people dressed in EMT and law enforcement uniforms caused some confusion. The Athens Police Department was out in force, as well as officers borrowed from other police departments, the Athens County Sheriff’s Department, and O.U. Security. It surprised me that they were not more strict in discouraging–if not forbidding–revelers from dressing this way. They did issue guidelines suggesting that costumes not include props that could be mistaken as weapons (although I saw many plastic Ninja swords, and the Ghostbusters’ apparatus looked like rifles).
I only saw one arrest, a very intoxicated and weepy young woman whom police were leading to the temporary booking station. This station was in a tent at the corner of N. Court and Washington Sts., very close to the Athens County Sheriff’s office. When I did hear sirens, and they were legion throughout the night, they were from emergency vehicles.
The weekend taught me that I am more fearful (maybe wary would be a better word) of crowds than I once was. I managed to escape trampling, or backing into a lit cigarette, or encountering drunks whose intoxication turned violent.
I remember kicking aside at least one Jack Daniel’s bottle, but that was the only glass that I saw on Court St. The police explicitly forbade glass on the street, which was a very good idea. (I had thought about buying a bottle of Gold Leaf tea to keep myself hydrated, but at first glance it does look like a bottle of booze. If I carried it in a brown paper bag, I would be asking for trouble.) Comfest is even more explicit about it: “Don’t be a glasshole.”
The only easy way to navigate from one block to another was to go through the alleys that run perpendicular to the main streets. Even this was an iffy business, because many other people had the same idea. I even saw people sitting on the ground in the alleys, with their backs against the buildings, because they were dizzy from all the adrenaline and the booze, or just to be able to stop walking for a minute. It was a fairly warm night for late October–I was perfectly comfortable in a long-sleeved T-shirt–but I even saw six or seven women walking barefoot, which is something I would never do on Court St. on a regular weekend night. I shuddered when I saw two barefoot women, carrying shoes that looked very uncomfortable, walking up one of the alleys. It did not rain last night, yet there were quite a few puddles in the alleyways and parking lots. I doubt they were able to dodge all of them successfully. (As to what these puddles were, use your imagination.)
I have done my part for Athens commerce. Whit’s has been my blogging headquarters during this journey, and I made my obligatory visit to Haffa’s Records, but all I bought was a CD of Kraftwerk’s Tour de France. I’ll listen to it once I get back to Columbus. When I was camped out at Brenen’s Coffee Café in the afternoon (before a dinner date), I wished that I had listened to this disk, because that God-awful song “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor was playing there.
Whit’s is in a location that has housed many businesses lo these many years. It was a jewelry store when I was coming here in high school and during my first year or so at O.U. It then became a Kinko’s Copies, a business that bled many students white by selling the spiral-bound packets of readings that professors required for their classes. I am sure it has been many things in the interim, but Whit’s has been here for at least the last three or four years.
Many buildings that were houses of worship have become businesses or apartment buildings since I left Athens. One houses ARTS/West, which I passed several times when going to and from the home on the west side of town where I was staying. The former Christian Science church is an apartment building, and there were many people, none of them close to sober, on its porch and in its parking lot, which does not jibe at all with the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy.
I was surprised that the police did not forbid backpacks or over-the-shoulder bags, as many races and street gatherings have done since the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. My black Eastpak is my portable office, but there was no way I would be carrying a laptop around on Court St. in a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. The laptop usually stays at home, but it goes in the knapsack when I am traveling. The pack also contains such essentials of life as my medication (for hypertension, cholesterol, and bipolar disorder), my journal, my Nook (I read about two chapters of The Sign of the Four on the trip down State Route 33), and my current paper-and-ink book (still plodding my way erratically through Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge). I had the foresight to leave it at my friends’ house before venturing out.
Halloween is the only time I have ever seen mounted police in Athens, although they are a fairly common sight on High St. on weekend nights, especially after the Buckeyes score a particularly lopsided victory. The OSU-Michigan game will be November 29th, and it will be in Columbus, so if there is a Wolverine defeat, I am sure that riot gear, paddywagons, and mounted police will be the order of the day (or night).
The people in the apartments and lofts above Court St. and elsewhere managed to keep their parties contained. I saw MUST BE 21 TO DRINK signs on many doors, although I don’t know how strictly the hosts enforced this. When I was at O.U., your party was a flop unless the guests left by paddywagon or ambulance. There were a few cries of “Show your tits!”, which is usually common at Mardi Gras or on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway infield. Most importantly, I did not see or hear of anyone throwing full cans of beer into the crowd, which has happened at parties (not necessarily at Halloween) in the past.
In less than an hour, I will be northbound on 33, headed back to Columbus. My ticket is in my wallet, and I will soon pack up this laptop and walk over to the new Baker Center to catch the bus on Oxbow Trail. (One of my unrealized dreams is to walk from Athens to Nelsonville, which is 13½ miles. It’s on my to-do list for next spring, when the warm weather returns.)
P.S.: I wanted to title this entry “Our Revels Now Are Ended,” but I have this nagging feeling that someone thought of that line before me.
The next blog entry will be from Columbus.