Calmest Before the Strorm

This is the first time I’ve blogged since I returned from Florida, and this entry is not in Columbus either!  Currently, I’m sitting in Whit’s Frozen Custard and Coffee House at the corner of Court and Union Sts. in Uptown Athens, Ohio.

For those of you familiar with Athens lore, that means one thing: I am here for Halloween.  This will be the first Halloween in Athens I have seen since 1988, and it is the first one where I will not be under the influence.  I have been a teetotaler since Susie was an infant, and I am not bowing to the “when in Rome…” attitude about drunkenness that will be prevalent tonight.

Early Saturday morning in Athens, Ohio.  It will look radically different 12 hours from now.

Early Saturday morning in Athens, Ohio. It will look radically different 12 hours from now.

The bacchanalia always takes place the Saturday before Halloween, when over 30 thousand costumed revelers, most of them in altered states of consciousness, will descend upon Court St.  I will not be in costume, unless you count a black long-sleeved Kraftwerk T-shirt as a costume, and I will be observing the people having fun and being arrested.  Most arrests come from open container violations, public urination, and vandalism.

This is my first time here since Susie and I took the tour in June.  It’s hard for me to see how quiet and shuttered Athens is early on a Saturday morning (the above picture shows the intersection of Court and Union).  Very few places were open, although I had some banana bread and green tea at the Starbucks at Baker Center II (the one formerly on Union St. will always be “Baker Center” to me).  I thought about blogging from there, but non-students need to jump through too many hoops to access their Wi-Fi.  I’ve made my leisurely way up Court St., reading the headlines from today’s New York Times and Columbus Dispatch in the window of Little Professor Book Store, and looking at the windows of the still-closed stores.

I cannot say my too-long love affair with alcohol began here in Athens.  I did hitchhike here a few times to drink underage, since I was too well known in Marietta, and bartenders here in Athens were not very conscientious about checking IDs.  The first time I was really drunk was at a cast party my sophomore year of high school.  It was on a Friday night, and the following morning, as I was delivering newspapers, I carried my first hangover like a badge of honor, and managed to work it into every conversation I had that day.

This is one school Susie is seriously considering, although she learned earlier this week that Stetson University has accepted her, and has offered her a $25 thousand scholarship.  She has never developed a liking for alcohol, although she has had glasses of wine with dinner with her mother.  When I was here, my focus was anywhere but academic.  I divided my time between the bars on Court St. and working on a meandering, too-word heavy novel that I had begun when I lived in Boston.  It had already filled one box of typing paper and was well into another, with no signs of completion.  Class was something I managed whenever I had the energy to get out of bed.

It is rare for me to see Saturday morning in Athens.  It is disquieting that I cannot venture more than a two- or three-block radius without seeing some place where I drank, or where I slept on someone’s floor after a night of excess.  The cars and the foot traffic had not begun in earnest when I got off the GoBus and began wandering up Court this morning.  It reminds me a little of Edward Hopper’s painting “Early Sunday Morning.”

Except that early Sunday morning here in the land of 45701 will look more like post-Katrina New Orleans.


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