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2001-02-25 - 3:37 a.m.

D.C. Journey: 14 Beers

BETHESDA, MD.

Five hours of sleep and I was up at 6:30 to prepare for the drive to D.C. It’s a labor of love to hit the road and navigate the traffic, especially to D.C. to visit Matt, Brad, Jamie, Elise and the others.

After getting breakfast and then gas, I pulled up to Matt’s apartment at 11:15 – three hours, 21 minutes and 220 miles from home. It wasn’t long before we rode the Metro to the Park Bench Pub in Cleveland Park to have lunch and catch Notre Dame-Virginia Tech. We warmed up with Georgetown-Syracuse at the upstairs bar while eating our burgers and testing out the taps. Sometime the night before, or early Saturday morning, one of the lines to the Park Bench’s taps was punctured, so the air pressure in the hoses was inconsistent. We got two Sierra Nevadas before switching over to bottles of Bud. The night before had also been the Great Guinness Toast, but there was no word on how that went. Matt and I were the first two customers in the place this afternoon, but soon after our arrival some friends of the bartender showed up. As I eavesdropped on their conversation, I heard the bartender say he was going up to South River (N.J.) for a funeral tomorrow. The girl was from Bergen County. I told them father’s from South River, and we talked a little Jersey. I had been in Washington for an hour and interacted with three people, and two of them are from home.

Upstairs, the Park Bench is a railroad bar – tables along the street side, a walkway, and more tables a step up along the interior wall. Televisions hang every four feet from the ceiling, leading to the bar in the back corner. It looks like most bars. But downstairs, it’s basically a bar in some guy’s basement. It’s not really some guy’s place, but it’s a basement like any other – support poles scattered about, cold, grungy cement walls, a bar in the corner, TVs all around, a pinball machine and other games here and there.

The Syracuse-Georgetown game went from significant to historical when the Hoyas’ victory combined with Notre Dame’s gave the Irish the Big East West Division title. Not that I remember much of it, four hours and several beers later when the game had ended. After lunch, Jamie walked in and the three of us then moved downstairs – where four other customers had gathered – to settle in for the Notre Dame game and wait on the rest of the Domers we were expecting to meet. Brad and Tenille walked in just before tipoff, and Katie and Tom came shortly thereafter with a couple of other friends.

Some things never change: Brad sits down and starts talking about his busy weekend. “I was at the office until 11:30 last night, and I’ve still got to get my law school applications done.”

“Brad, you sound just like you did in college,” I said. “You sure you weren’t at The Observer office?”

The drinking carried on and coupled with the catching up conversations, I remember little of the game. Just scattered images, a highlight reel in my mind of a Troy Murphy reverse dunk, a few three-pointers by Martin Ingelsby, Matt Carroll, David Graves, then a Notre Dame lead so large I wasn’t even sure of all the players on the floor for the Irish. In the cold dungeon – the top half of the plexiglass on the door upstairs (a second entrance to the one we came in) was not attached to the door. When Elise called during the game – my pants vibrating – I stood there talking to her, to get away from the noise downstairs.

The game was over before I knew it – time would be deceiving all day – and we soon departed into the daylight. Jamie and I dropped Matt off at a graduation party he needed to make an appearance at – his former roommate of similar age who’s now an expectant father with a 44-year-old woman he no longer sees. Jamie and I returned to Matt’s for an hour, checking in with some people (I called Elise again, and it was basically what are you doing, what are your plans, yadda yadda – nothing determined as far as the two of us getting together) and sitting around for what seemed like 20 minutes. Then we were back in the car to pick up Matt and catch a showing of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” On the way to where Matt was, we pulled up to a red light. I was looking out my window at Georgetown Prep – Matt’s high school – when a blond woman pulled up alongside us. I decided I’d stare until she looked over. I never look over when I’m the second car to pull up to a light; I usually will if I’m there first. I don’t know why that is – it’s like I own the line at the light by being there first or something. As Jamie finished a story, I said, “I’m listening, I just want to stare at this woman until she looks over.” Without missing a beat, Jamie says, “Why? Because she looks like Colleen?”

That did it. I looked ahead, disturbed because I hadn’t notcied the striking resemblance in their profiles. When I wrote it down in my notebook, Jamie said, “Am I the only one you’re writing things down about again? In Puerta Vallarta it seemed all the quotes were by me or about me.”

Tired from five hours’ sleep and lots of drinking, I struggled with my eyes through the movie’s first 30-40 minutes. The workout they got reading the subtitles didn’t help either. After finishing my popcorn – well, deciding I didn’t want any more and Jamie’s “You’re not going to spoil your dinner are you?” line – I nursed my Coke, hoping for a jolt to stay awake. I finally found it in a stick of gum. Freedent, my savior.

The movie was spectacular. It certainly had a hint of the Mulan-meets-Matrix formula I’d joked about – right down to people thinking the girl was a boy. Lame one-line jokes in action movies are not lost in the Chinese-to-English translation, either, though I can’t remember any specific examples now. And while I found the thought of the flying and superhuman strength a stretch at first (and there’s no explanation I can remember of where this comes from or why), I remembered how we so easily believe a yellow sun allows one man to fly and lift trains, or a cape and pointed ears and a cave beneath a mansion mean an ordinary millionaire can thwart evil. Extraordinary martial arts skill isn’t much different. And the love story wasn’t as hokey either. That’s what movies are all about, after all.

Elise and I talked again after the movie. She was in Barnes and Noble or somewhere getting coffee. I was outside Pizzeria Uno while we waited for a table. Over the course of the day, from about 3 p.m. to 10:30, she and I spoke five times and never met up. She eventually remained at home.

With our name on the list for dinner, the three of us made an exodus to the rest rooms after an unsuccessful attempt at procuring seats at the bar (where else?). We walked through the restaurant like we owned the place – which I said to Matt a we entered the men’s room.

“We do own the place,” he said. To which a man in there just ahead of us replied, “So that’s why there are so many young people here. Thanks for letting us stay.”

OK. In the small rest room, both the stall and urinal are occupied, so Matt waits along the wall in view of both. I stand by the hand driers and a third man is between us (though I’m behind Matt in line). But the guy at the urinal continues to have a conversation with Matt – “What movie did you see ... what others have you seen ... what else is up for Best Picture?” Dude, just piss and get out. “Isn’t that weird?” Jamie asked when we told her the story. “I mean, I don’t know the etiquette of the men’s room, but ...”

Oh, she’s right. Stand at the wall, stare straight ahead. That’s the way it goes. No talking, unless perhaps maybe if you know the person. Maybe the guy was home-schooled or something.

Jamie dropped us off after dinner and Matt and I found our way to a Mardi Gras party in Silver Spring after getting just a little lost. It seems Glen Ross Rd. doesn’t exactly connect with 16th St. as MapQuest promised. But with his general knowledge of the area (“It’s over there,” he said with a wave of the hand to the north) and my sense for direction (“Try turning down Seminary. It might connect.”) we found it. Two more turns brought us to Lanier St., but not to 2030. Unable to see the unlit numbers of the houses at the dead end, we backtracked down the street only to find the numbers increasing from 2100. So we checked the dead end again – the road ended at a gravelly/grassy little lot with a metal roadside barrier bisecting it and another road parallel to the rail on the other side – and decided to investigate on foot. Immediately upon exiting the car, we heard voices and music and sure enough, Lanier continued on the other side of the dead end.

Matt introduced me to the co-workers throwing the party, Alyssa and Nikki. We drank Sam Adams from a keg, the food spread was impressive and the liquor selection extensive, though the female-to-male ratio was a little disappointing (not that I would’ve used a better ratio to my advantage). As it turned out, several of the guys were gay anyway. I spent some time talking with Becky, originally from Rochester and later met her boyfriend Kiev. My pants shook a couple of times, but that only turned out to be Brad. He called first from the car, returning from Baltimore where he and Tenille saw “Rent.” At first, partly because of the noise of the party, partly because of the beer from the day, I had no idea who he was. I couldn’t think what guy could be calling. Alyssa pointed me to the basement apartment, and I talked to him down there after establishing who he was. Alyssa later gave Brad directions and his arrival brought out some long-awaited baseball conversation.

The party was a mix of guys and gals decked out for Mardi Gras – black dresses and pants, masks and streamers – and those, like Matt and me, in jeans and shirts. The music was festive, though: lots of zydeco, New Orleans jazz, Louis Armstrong.

By the time we finished drinking at 2 a.m., the estimate – though possibly inaccurate on the short side – had me at 14 beers in 14 hours. A beer an hour isn’t much in itself, but considering from 4 p.m. (leaving the Park Bench) to 9 p.m. (leaving “Crouching Tiger”) I had none.

“So I guess ‘14 Beers in 14 Hours’ will be one of the chapter titles in your e-mail recap this week,” Brad said as we walked to our cars.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Those aren’t Notre Dame-type numbers. Maybe just ‘14 Beers.’”

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