The Five Stages of Going to Your Hometown Bar on Thanksgiving Eve
Abandon all faith, ye who sheepishly enter your hometown bar the eve before Thanksgiving. Informally known as the "No. 1 bar night of the year," it's formally known as the night when all your adolescent AND adult problems percolate into a perfect storm of awkward interactions and existential despair. Everyone you grew up with is there. The trope is real, and decidedly unspectacular.
Basically, it hurts -- but for some reason, you just go anyway. Kind of like paintball. I guess it's fun? Maybe?
But the further you drift away from your carefree college years, the harder it becomes to bulldoze through "Blackout Wednesday" or whatever dumb name dumb kids are calling it these days. As you get older, you're bound to find the vodka sodas and winter ales mixed with a big, greasy dollop of melancholy. Here are the five stages of being at your hometown bar the night before Thanksgiving. And may God have mercy on your Uber driver -- actually all Uber drivers -- on this night of national shame.
Stage 1: Denial
You aren't going to go out this year. Obviously.
You're going to stay home, watch Planes, Trains & Automobiles (on TV, so edited for time and content), figure out what rhubarb is, then figure out why for some reason it should go in a pie. You know, goddamn adult stuff. This is the year you turn the corner, give responsibility a comforting bear hug, and maybe even get an early start on your income taxes.
But then your friend intrudes on your night, not with a bang but a ringtone. The friend who doesn't have a lot going on in his life. The friend who still lives for nights like tonight. The one who doesn't have truck nuts on his car, personally, but laughs out loud whenever he sees them. Let's call him Kirk. He tells you it will be fun. It's going to be chill. There will be lots of people there you know.
It doesn't matter. At this point, you're way too old to be gallivanting like it's 2008. Now, you separate your socks by formality, commonly wear sensible loafers, and use a probiotic every other day.
Nice try, Kirk. But not this time.
Stage 2: Anger
So, you went to the bar.
Don't worry, that was inevitable. After all, Planes, Trains & Automobiles isn't the same without Steve Martin's expertly placed F-bombs, and you finally figured out that rhubarb is actually disgusting. Plus, you are only young(ish) for your 20s… and maybe 30s.
But also inevitable are the stinging waves of retrospective anger at your decision when you walk inside the bar. It looks like a high school reunion, but instead of getting fun name tags, you have to pay for drinks. And for every long-lost friend worth their weight in small talk is another bad memory wrapped in a (surprisingly accurate) cliche.
There's Tucker, the all-state high school quarterback who went on to a thrilling career at his dad's manure depot. He still wears his letterman jacket as "a joke." Right. There's the burnout that never left his parents' basement, who wouldn't miss tonight for a Dead and Co. YouTube live stream. He avoids any direct eye contact with you, but keeps offering his vape pen. There's the girl who seemingly only only came here to pitch her startup ("four words: lip gloss for dogs"). And of course, the only guy who has actually been talking to you, who does so exclusively in Vince Vaughn quotes from the Wedding Crashers era -- you don't remember his name, so rely on a stream of "man," "dude," "buddy," and even one desperate "governor."
You turn to your only respite, the bathroom -- but every urinal and all but one toilet is broken. The floor is wet with a slick sheen of mystery liquid. Your sensible loafers have been soiled. You forgot to take your probiotic. "Don't Look Back in Anger" plays on the jukebox. But you do anyway. You look hard. This is a hellscape. But hey, at least no one's played the "Boys Are Back in Town," right?
Oh wait, there it is. The darkest timeline has been breached.
Stage 3: Bargaining
You try to find Kirk -- his '01 CRV being your only ride, of course -- but find him fully tonsil-locked with Miss Hatchet, his freshman bio teacher (some dreams do come true!) ... and also Tucker. Nice. Anyway, you beg him to leave, to no avail. He's always wanted to make out with both of them, and you actually give thanks for that, because you're happy for him.
So you go outside to find a cab and come across the 21st century nightlife equivalent of the D-Day scene from Saving Private Ryan. There's a girl on the concrete, screaming, clutching a broken phone like a lost limb. A group of bros carrying a fellow bro on the precipice of spewing chunks as he keeps asking if God is real. And of course, a brutal scrum in front of the cab line. You have a better chance of making your millions off canine lip gloss than snagging a ride in the next hour. And you'll need that kind of cash if you want to call an Uber, as their surge-pricing is sitting at a reasonable 18,000%. 'Tis the season.
You spot a high school-aged pizza delivery boy near the bar and remember that time when you were 16 and made a ton of money driving idiots home after the bars closed. You run up to the car, offering the kid a fresh $50 bill to help you out. The kid sees you running at him with money, screams, tells Siri to call his mom, and promptly pepper sprays you while peeling away. Maybe this generation is a little softer? At any rate, you seem to be stuck. Your attempts at finagling an early escape were unsuccessful.
And now everything burns, too.
Stage 4: Depression
As you down a moderately priced domestic light beer, you sit gazing blankly into the void between the humblebrag showdown of the century: There's the young couple with the weaponized arsenal of baby pics talking to the newly successful kid flaunting his designer suit and disproportionately attractive spouse. Then there's actually someone holding a baby, trying to butt in. That can't be safe. They are spilling frozen marg on its head.
You think about what you are doing with your life. You wonder what has brought you here. You consider the way your grandparents lived. They put on suits to go on airplanes and listened to the radio at night with the eight children they had at age 23, after fighting in a war. Now, you are approaching 30 and watching your ex-classmates try to remember the steps to the "Cupid Shuffle" long after the "Cupid Shuffle" has been done playing. They have glow sticks in their mouths. Where do people keep getting glow sticks?
Just when you think things couldn't get any worse, someone throws up on your sensible loafers, further soiling them.
Also, the "Boys Are Back in Town," plays again, to mixed applause.
Stage 5: Acceptance
Suddenly, the bubble bursts. Through the echolalia of high-pitched conversations about 401ks and Baby Björns, the dulcet tones of bodily functions, and a baby crying (for real, why is there a baby in the bar?) you hear someone complaining. Someone sucking the fun out of the evening. Someone who is too cool for school, or even too cool to be with people who used to be from school. And then you realize that person is you. You've spent the evening in a swirl of indignant aggression. You've been, for lack of a better word, a big old grumpy dillhole.
And ultimately, what is worse? Going through the mortal coil of small talk with people you only kind of care about, or avoiding them altogether? You wouldn't be here if you didn't care. It just took a little bit of time (and also, some of that crunchy kid's vape pen) for you to realize it. It's one night out of 365. And when all these people are dead, you are going to feel a little bad you didn't check in on them once per year over cocktails at your hometown bar.
Just when you settle into this quiet comfort, Kirk comes back, Miss Hatchet on one arm, Tucker on the other. Naturally, Tucker is having an after-party at his parents' lake house. And even though it's been a long night -- full of ups and downs, highs and lows, the bleak realities of adulthood and the gooey nostalgia of youth -- you're down to go, obviously.
After all, it's only 8:30pm. You still have a full two hours before bedtime. And if you get home early enough, maybe you can still get a head start on your income taxes.