Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Kiwi Chronicles - The Legendary Stories: St. Patrick's Day

This is part of an ongoing series of the semester I spent abroad in New Zealand entitled "The Kiwi Chronicles". You can start the series here. Enjoy!

Everyone seems to have a really good St. Patrick's Day story. I don't know if it's our infatuation with the Irish or the fact that it gives every person ages 18-30 an excuse to drink that makes St. Patrick's Day such a ridiculous holiday. We could probably blame the Catholics, as they already have Fat Tuesday on their repertoire of holidays. That's too easy...and don't worry, I'm Catholic. I can say these things with a degree of certainty.

As I was 19 years old when St. Patrick's Day came around, and that I was in another country where the legal age to drink is 18, I naturally fell into the category of people who celebrate this holiday in a traditional fashion. And, much like those people that fall into that category, I came out of it all with a memorable night and a misplaced McDonald's cheeseburger in my pocket.

It was about a month into my semester at Waikato, and I was finally getting settled into life in New Zealand. I had a group of friends, my classes were going well, and I only had to hate Dey Street Hostel 3 or 4 nights a week. Life was good.

Leading up to St. Patrick's Day, I started noticing signs popping up in my favorite bars around town. Everyone was advertising their festivities for this holiday and decking out their interiors with green banners and Irish flags. I have a huge Irish family on my step-dad's side, so I'm use to celebrating this holiday with banners and flags and tons of green around.

The one thing I noticed that was off was the date on all the brochures and signs. Each pub and bar was advertising March 15th as the beginning of St. Patrick's Day festivities, not the 17th. Now I may not know the day of the week most of the time, but I sure knew when us Catholics celebrated St. Patrick's Day. I had to educate myself, and so on our normal Saturday night out I had a chat with the bartenders. Apparently, St. Patrick's day isn't a one day holiday. It's more like a 3-day festival of drinking and delicious food, culminating in the most holy of days itself. Best country ever, right?

In 2008, St. Patrick's Day fell on a Monday night. I definitely didn't have the luck of the Irish this year, but I was determined to celebrate this holiday proper. For some oddball reason, 19-year-old Ryan rationalized the concept that this would be his first and last night at a bar on a holiday. Oh how naive you were my friend...

I'm not a heavy drinker, or even a heavy partier for that matter. I like going out and having a good time, with alcohol often being either optional or very minimal. I can have just as much fun with a meat pie and a beer as a guy who has the urge to brag about how many Washington Apples he was able to cram down his throat. So, naturally, I had to pace myself through this crazy holiday in an effort of self-preservation.

Most of my peers, however, had the opposite mentality. As I was eating corned beef and sipping on a Guinness on Saturday and Sunday, most of my age group were ordering lines of Irish car bombs and performing such stunts as streaking down bar road or putting underwear on Riff Raff's head (we'll get to him soon). I'm not sure I can top Riff Raff, but I came pretty close to that on Monday night.

That day was pretty laid back like most of my Mondays were. I only had one class in the morning, and would often drink coffee and write on campus just to pass the time. Monday nights I would usually check up on Cottage 27 and see what they were up to, and St. Patrick's Day wasn't any different.

Orchard Park had a different vibe whenever a holiday rolled around. The place was such a tight community that every chance they had they would have some kind of dinner or banquet in the common area. They had a lovely banquet all planned out, with Irish Cream ice cream to boot. What a perfect way to start the night!

With all of us decked in green, the OP crew made our way to the bars for a light evening on the town. I told you I wasn't a heavy drinker, and I was perfectly content with some potato soup and a glass of Guinness. That would be a boring story though, and I wouldn't be sitting here writing a blog entry about that, now would I?
This is the only picture I have from that night.
Most of my friends were burned out from the crazy weekend, and slowly but surely they all found a way to get home. By 11pm or so, I was alone at the bar, eating my soup and drinking a beer as I watched an Irish band play at the pub.

It didn't take long for the local Irish folk to notice my solitude...

After 10 minutes or so enjoying myself at the bar, a older Irish couple came and sat down next to me. They were chatting about their sheep (yes, actual Irish sheep farmers) and all the work they had to do tomorrow, but that they were determined to stay till closing because most of their family was in town. The older gentleman turns to me and notices that I'm by myself. In the thickest of Irish accents, he asks "What's a young lad like you eating alone at a bar like this?". Honestly, I didn't have an answer for the guy. I was sober and just hanging out because I really didn't have anything else to do. Apparently, this wasn't a valid excuse for him, as he told me that was "horse-shit" and that I should come drink with him and his family in the corner booth.

At this point I reached a crossroad in this story. I could have just as easily said no thanks, finished my meal, and went home. I would probably wake up the next morning satisfied with my awesome weekend, and that would be that. I, however, love to hang out with strangers (against my mother's warnings), and so I obliged. With hands shaking a bit, the older gentleman hands the bartender an extra $10 and orders an extra pitcher for me. My repayment to him was to help him carry the other two pitchers he ordered to the booth.

When we finally reached the other end of the bar, it was then I realized why his family sent an old man to get the next round of beers: they were all wasted. Beyond wasted. There was 10 or so people, all about 20 years older than me, swinging mugs around and singing with the band playing on stage. For the life of me, I can't remember their names or the name of the older gentleman. What I do remember is how they welcomed me to the table. 

One of the ladies, she must have been 50 or so, squealed in that high-pitch "Aww, you're so cute!" kind of voice. She was thoroughly convinced that I was 14 years old and that I snuck into the bar. After properly ID'ing me, she snatched the bottle of Bailey's that was passing around the table and started pouring shots. Like I said, I'm not a heavy drinker. I'm also not rude, and so 3 or 4 shots in I started to regret the fact that I was so polite. I know, I's a terrible quality to have.

Much of the time I spent at that table was talking with the old Irish men about Ireland and how much they love it there. They're a very touchy group of people, and the guys would often grab me by the shoulders and pull me in as they talked about the rolling green hills and beautiful women that awaited them back home. Of course I didn't this point, I was too drunk to have any boundaries. I was fascinated by their love for country and even envied them. Why wasn't I more American? How could I be more patriotic? That's dangerous thinking for a drunk man, as the rest of the night would kindly remind me.

At the end of the night, after many stories and good times shared with the Irish, I decided that walking home was in my best interest. Although I lived about 2 miles or so away from downtown, I found the walk relaxing and sobering, and as I had school in the morning I wanted to be responsible and get some good rest. I didn't account for food, however, and upon passing a McDonald's I had to stop in a get some cheeseburgers.

I don't know where my love affair with the Golden Arches comes from. I think it's because, no matter where on this Earth I go, chances are there is a McDonald's there waiting for me. Having a Big Mac or french fries on the menu is my safety blanket: if I get homesick, I can get some fast food. Yeah, I know. I'm a fat kid.

As it was 2:45AM when I rolled up to McDonald's, the actual dining room was closed, leaving the drive through as the only way to get my delicious cheeseburgers. Lucky for me, this was St. Patrick's Day. The entire country was drunk, and a good chunk of the bar crowd was walking through the drive through as well. Imagine, if you will, the 5 or so workers on the night shift sitting in McDonald's bored out of their minds because it's 2AM and nobody's around. Then suddenly, just as the bars close, a horde of drunk college kids line up in the drive through like it's recess time, each of them ordering a ridiculous amount of cheeseburgers. I couldn't imagine. I didn't have I was part of the drunken horde.

It was something like a party in line. People were sharing their drunk stories, where they're from, and why they're here (there's a ton of International kids in Hamilton). Upon receiving my 10 cheeseburgers, and yes I ordered 10 of them, I didn't feel like going home. So I sat with this group of Kiwi guys that were winding down from their St. Patrick's Day house party to enjoy my meal. They were good guys, all students at the university. They were drunk too, and that camaraderie that comes from fellow drunk people is something to be admired.

By 3:30, the place is empty again save for the 4 Kiwi guys and myself. I'm still pounding down the cheeseburgers as we chat. I save the last two for breakfast tomorrow, putting them in my back jean pockets.

Just then, from out of the darkness, rolls the most ghetto Cadillac I've ever seen. In the front are two girls, blaring some God-awful music and laughing hysterically. In the back are two guys, arguing with the two girls in front. The driver was clearly drunk, as they were swerving all over the road. They screech into the drive through and stop at the menu, turning down their wannabe rap just so me and my new Kiwi friends could hear their conversation.

They were slurring on and on about how much America sucked. That's nothing new, as there are many people around the world that aren't too fond of my country. Most of the time, I just try to be an example of a good American and a decent human being. That's the way you change opinions of people.

However, when you're drunk, all that rational thinking goes out the window...

Instead, I took it upon myself to defend America's honor. I started talking louder and louder to the Kiwi guys, just so the drunk girls could hear me. They could pinpoint my accent, and proceeded to continue their hatred for Americans: how we're all fat, stupid, ignorant, and how all our companies are evil. This is all taking place in a McDonald's drive through, so even drunk Ryan can identify the irony of this situation. I point out said irony to these ladies, which they respond with some explicits not appropriate for children and a slew of personal attacks on not just America, but me as a person as well.

I want to pause the story here in an effort to explain my future actions. I love people. I love other countries, and I love traveling. I firmly believe that, when we are abroad, we set an example for our home country. We represent not only ourselves, but where we're from as well.

I am also a rational debater. When you don't play fair, or your argument doesn't make any sense, or you personally attack me as a person, I will respectfully discuss it with you...even when drunk.

Against the advice of my new Kiwi friends, I stood up to engage these drunk girls. I was inspired by the Irish family I met in the bar and their love for self and country. I'd be damned to let some drunk bash my country and myself without some resistance. I was polite, and pointed out to these girls that McDonald's was an American institution. I also responded to their personal attacks on my image and self, letting them know that I didn't appreciate it and that they were, in fact, portraying the typical American that they were arguing about in the car.

Imagine this: a drunk scrawny kid with an emo haircut and two cheeseburgers in his pockets politely lecturing a car of even more drunks in the drive through of McDonald's at 3:45 in the morning.

They laughed at me and started to pull away, making sure to degrade me as much as possible on the way out.

At this point I had exhausted all diplomatic solutions. They insulted me and my country and were drinking and driving away with a bag of food that wouldn't exist if it weren't for my country in the first place. They were irrational, and I had to move on to aggressive negotiations.

So, as they pulled onto the street, I took one of the cheeseburgers from my pocket, unwrapped it, and threw it at their car while exclaiming "For America!"

Apparently I have Randy Johnson-caliber aim when throwing cheeseburgers, as the cheeseburger went straight through the driver's side window and hit the drunk girl driving square in the face. Ketchup and mustard went into her eyes as pieces of burger, pickles, and buns exploded like shrapnel and hit everyone else in the car. From the benches, I could hear the audible squish of the burger followed by the gasps and cheers from my Kiwi friends. Her brakes screeched into the night.

There was a moment where everything stood still. The deed was done. I had the wrapper in my hand, linking me as the cheeseburger thrower. The driver and I were staring at each other, waiting for the next move. The McDonald's employees, stunned by this recent turn of events, just watched.

From behind me, one of the Kiwi guys stands up, his burger in hand, and screams 'run' at the top of his lungs. The back doors were starting to open, and the guys in the back seat were noticeably bigger than me, so I happily obliged. Within half a second, me and the Kiwi guys were in full sprint to the back fence behind McDonald's. The chase was on.

I hurdled the 6' wooden fence like a track star, keeping all my momentum and speed as the big guys in the car started to run at us. The girls sped away down the street to catch us on the other side. It was pitch black on the other side, but I knew we were in someone's back yard. I followed one of the Kiwi guys who had a head start as he made his way to the street. As we sprinted under the street lights, I could see the other Kiwi guys coming up from the darkness. About 30 or 40 yards back came the guys from the car, running as fast as they could. I could hear them cursing at me. In the distance I could also hear the girl's car screeching and driving around, their headlights a good quarter mile away.

One of the Kiwi guys was hysterically laughing during the pursuit. Once he calmed down a bit, he runs along side of me and tells me that they're all going to his place, which is about 1km along these side streets. As long as I stuck with him, I'd be ok. I'd learn the following morning that I was running with a club Rugby team, which accounted for their speed and stamina.

We eventually lost them along the dark side streets, giving us a breather. For the rest of the 1k we would walk, hear the car screech in the distance, and continue running again. We made it to his place safe and sound and, after some celebratory 'we just got away with it' beers, I passed out on his couch.

The next morning I woke up with the last cheeseburger in my pocket and my cell phone alarm going off. The ringleader, Jeremy, was playing some Xbox when I woke up. We talked for a bit, swapping versions of the story to ensure that I actually did all of that. After trading information so we could party some other time, I grabbed my shoes, walked home, showered, and went to class.

My first St. Patrick's Day wasn't the craziest of days, but it was enough for me. How the night played out and the series of events that eventually led up to that cheeseburger pitch is still something that boggles me to this day. If I hadn't sat at the bar, I wouldn't have met the older Irish couple that got me drunk, and I wouldn't have ordered so many cheeseburgers at McDonald's. If those Kiwi guys weren't there, I would have kept running and probably have been caught. If that girl had her window up, she wouldn't have a cheeseburger in her face. Sometimes, I think about how mean that car of people was, and how the only thing I did was confirm the fact that all Americans are ignorant jerks. I also think about how even though it was relatively harmless, to this day that was the meanest thing I've ever done to someone.

Was it stupid? You betcha. Do I regret it? A little, yeah. Do I laugh when I think about it? Everytime. I don't do stuff like anymore, hence why it makes a good story. That's also why, every St. Patrick's Day, I always get a McDonald's cheeseburger. And that's also why, when I'm at the bar, I can easily deny drinks from people, no matter how nice or how thick their accents are.

The true lesson of the story though? Don't drive drunk on St. Patrick's day, otherwise a kid will throw a cheeseburger at your face.


  1. Never regret it. They deserved it.

  2. you also confirmed your awesome burger aim even while drunk