Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Penn Brewery Beer Festival

My wife and I love to go to beer festivals whenever possible. There’s a great one that happens at the Penn Brewery on Pittsburgh’s Northside just about every year. It’s a wonderful event, though it’s an incredible pain in the ass to arrange transportation. It’s a more-or-less local event, so you feel absurd making hotel arrangements. Driving is, however, absolutely out of the question, for obvious reasons. The good news is that they do have ample parking available, and many people use that option, irresponsible as it might be. This year we went alone, just the two of us. We parked on the Southside, and took a cab over to the festival, planning to simply take a cab back to the Southside after it was over. At which point we would spend as much time as necessary in the Beehive, drinking coffee until I was sufficiently sober to drive. Good plan. The first half worked out great. The cab that took us from the Southside to the Northside was a fucked-up minivan. Most likely it used to take kids to soccer games, and now it carts around alcoholics. Responsible alcoholics, though. Right? The festival was a blast. It’s always housed in the Penn Brewery’s parking garage. They just block it off and convert the parking spaces into booths for the various brewers. It’s always very crowded, and compounded with the low ceiling, that gives the space a very claustrophobic feel. We drank ourselves stupid and went up to the buffet. The food area was on the very top level of the garage, and we got a table at the very edge of it, so we could eat our sandwiches in comfort, with buzzing, clouded heads in the cool evening air and a wonderful view of the city. It was heaven. In the haze, we sent absurd drunken text messages to our friends. We returned back downstairs to the booths to drink more. As I was between beers, looking for my next, a really good-looking girl ran over to my wife, squealed and hugged her. Then she squealed and hugged me. I didn’t resist. Within a few moments I figured out who she is. My wife went to high school with her, and we had just met her and her husband recently at their ten-year high school reunion. We met them drunk at the reunion, and we met them again drunk at the beer festival. Those sorts of friends are interesting. If you ever ran into them sober, you might not have anything to say. You might not even be able to stand their company. They’re cool, though. We hung out for a while. We drank more. We met up with another couple of friends that were with them. Nothing insane happened. Everybody was great fun. We all hugged again a couple times and vowed to stay in touch. We walked out to the sidewalk and called our cab. The cab driver said that she’d be there in half an hour. We groaned. We sat. We waited. We weren’t really all that lit anymore. If my car had been there, I probably would have been fine to drive. Then our drunk friends came careening out of the festival. Singing and carrying on and staggering. They had arrived in their Land Rover, and were presumably driving back. They live in the Southside. It immediately occurred to us that we should get a ride with them. It wasn’t a bright idea. I knew that as soon as we considered it, but we didn’t feel like waiting for the cab. So we caught up with them as they walked down the sidewalk, and they hugged us again like we hadn’t already seen them earlier that evening. They were excited to give us a ride back. We all piled into the Land Rover. The good-looking girl’s husband, the drunkest one among us, was driving. The other guy rode shotgun. The other guy’s girlfriend rode in the back. She looked pretty good too. My wife sat in the middle of the back seat, and I sat in the back also, on the passenger side. The good-looking girl from my wife’s high school rode in the very back, where there isn’t really a seat. It was too crowded put a seatbelt on without making a whole lot of fuss. So we didn’t. I felt dumber and more painfully sober by the second. The good-looking girl’s husband drove like he was insane and high on PCP. The music playing in the car was decent. Not bad stuff, but they had it up as loud as it could go. The gas light was on. We stopped to fill up at the nearest station on the Northside. I remained seated in the back with all the girls. I thought to myself that if I was about to die, at least it would happen while I was surrounded by pretty, drunk, sweet-smelling women in an expensive vehicle. There was a cop inside the convenience store attached to the gas station. He shot a few angry glances at our vehicle through the window. I don’t think anybody noticed but me. A black man pulled up to the pump beside us and started filling up his car. It was a nice car, and he was well-dressed. He looked to be in his 40s. He looked in our vehicle and laughed. I smiled back at him. It must be shitty to see a car full of obviously drunk white people acting out, being ignored by a cop, when I’m sure he’s been harassed by cops before when he’s been doing absolutely nothing wrong. That sort of thing would certainly piss me off. It must have been a frustrated laugh. At least, I think that’s what he must have felt. I can’t know for sure. After the tank took $60 in gas, we drove off like the gas station was on fire and about to explode. We shot and swerved, and leapt and braked across town, laughing and carrying on. Music all the way up. Both front and rear sun roofs open. The other guy’s girlfriend occasionally stuck her head up through it to yell. At one light, the good-looking girl that went to high school with my wife decided that she was done sitting in the back of the SUV, and wanted to come sit in the back seat with us. So she crawled up over us. Her full breasts threatened to fall out of her top. They came dangerously close, and I watched attentively, hoping that one might spill forth. It didn’t happen, and she wedged her way in between my wife and the other guy’s girlfriend. After a couple more blocks, and across one more bridge, we were where we needed to be, and we left the car, grateful to be alive and not facing any criminal charges. We wandered over to the Beehive for some coffee, used their bathroom, and eventually headed for our car, as sober as we’ve ever been in our lives.

We started driving home. The drive was uneventful. We talked excitedly about everything. All was well. About a block away from our house, I began to say, “Well, I’m glad that all ended without incident.” I only made it to “ended” before I saw what appeared to be a crumpled brown paper bag in the middle of my lane. I thought nothing of it, and didn’t even slow down for it. It wasn’t a brown paper bag. It was a rock. The undercarriage of my car didn’t clear it. There was a very loud bang, and my car jumped upward like I had hit a speed bump. No lights came on. The engine didn’t die. The CD skipped, but that was it. I cursed angrily, turned the corner, and drove down our street and into our driveway. Turned on the driveway light, and saw the fluid pouring out from underneath my car. Not gas. Looked like oil. Fucking awesome! Nothing to do about it now. I didn’t want to turn the car over without oil, so I put it in neutral, coasted backwards down the driveway, and parked it on the street. At least the rest of the oil would stain the street instead of our driveway. We walked back to the site of the rock to move it off the road so nobody else would hit it. On our way we saw and heard a BMW hit it, turn down another street, and keep going. When we got to the site of the rock, two kids were standing there. They looked to be about 18-ish. Man and woman. They were a picture of my wife and me at that age. She had a fresh tattoo healing on her back. The bandages were still on it, and I could smell the vitamin D ointment. He was smoking. They had hit the rock too, in their truck, and felt badly that they couldn’t get out to move it in time before I hit it. We all smiled at each other, and wished each other well. We walked back to our house, and went to bed angry. Ten minutes ago I had had aspirations of getting laid. Nothing crazy. I just wanted to fuck the wife and go to bed. Now I was angrily going to sleep thinking about what the damage to my car would cost.

In the morning, I awoke to a call from my mother-in-law. Apparently, the previous evening, my wife’s aunt had had a brain aneurism. She had needed to be life-flighted to the hospital for emergency surgery. She had almost died. Now she was fine, but recovering, and we’d need to go see her that day, probably in the afternoon. I called for a tow truck. It showed up pretty quickly, a young guy driving it. Twenty, trying to look like 50. He was a fat guy, with a thin, scraggly beard, Lynyrd Skynyrd hat, shirt with an American flag on it. He was filthy and sweating. At 10am, it was already about 85 degrees outside. I stood by while he got my car on the wrecker. While he was fidgeting underneath my car, trying to hook up the chains, he saw something that he didn’t like, and exclaimed something that I didn’t understand. I said, “I’m sorry, what?” He repeated, “That’s the gayest shit ever!” and mumbled something about the frame. Apparently, there was something weird about my car’s construction that he didn’t like or didn’t make sense. I smiled and said, “Ah…” not even knowing how else to respond. My car went up, and he drove off with it. I took my wife’s car down to the gym, and lifted like crap. When I returned from the gym, I showered, and we left for the hospital.

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