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June 4, 2013 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Town Through Sober Eyes

Two weekends back, on assignment from Salient to do some “raw journalism”, I went to town sober. Town town. It was fucking terrible.

My night begins as all Saturdays should, at a party somewhere in Aro Valley. I walk there at around 9.30, while Wellington warms up. Three girls in matching headbands occupy a space near Slow Boat: one standing, bored; one sitting, crying; one somewhere in between. Two loud guys and a puffer-jacketed girl jostle their way into a liquor store, apologise profusely for “how drunk she is”, then bound back out, purchasing nothing. Karaoke tunes blast out of Shalimar. It is very cold.

The party, when I make it there, is kinda small. Ten or so of my friends inhabit an end bedroom, with no strangers. This is good. I overexplain what I’m doing to everyone who listens, occasionally to the same person two or three times. I’m after a buddy, someone who will accompany me through the black chucks and sticky floors in exchange for some free drinks. Someone puts on ‘Best I Ever Had’, splitting the room between Drake-lovers and Drake-haters, but without any booze I’ll only rap along to ‘Over’ or ‘Headlines’. I try in vain to secure some Ritalin. A friend narrates her ‘212’ dance. Midnight, or ‘town-time’, approaches, and the gulf between ‘them’ and me widens. They all stand in a circle singing something, I sit and write about said circle on my phone. Conversations start to repeat, mini-cliques start to develop, and I start to really want a bourbon.

The party ends abruptly, around 11.40. I barely have time to fix my hair. Worse still, my friends are heading to Puppies. Salient isn’t after Puppies-town. Fortunately, there is a cover charge, and I peel off a few people with promises of free drinks at Good Luck. They finish the last of their wine as we approach Cuba St. A block down, two girls stand in heels on their phones; I ask them for a quick interview. They’re waiting for their friends to leave a fl at, heading to “anywhere but Hope Bros”, because “their bouncers are shit; they let 15-year-olds in.” At the end of the interview they realise the black object I’m holding in between us is, in fact, recording. I probably should have made that clear. This is going okay. I’ve interviewed people, I’ve got a few friends to come along, and I’ve already got pages of what I think are trenchant observations. It’s just on midnight.

I don’t hate town. I should make that clear here. Due to an unfortunate foray into Design School, I’ve had two first-years now, and my fair share of screaming Skrillex drops at my friends while 40 other people pulsate around us. Town can be a wordless adventure, a kaleidoscope of texture you share with one other inebriated person. So, I’m not just here to bitch about town. But don’t worry, I will.

Near Vivian St, an elderly taxi driver confronts a guy and a girl. I stand awkwardly near, for the sake of journalism. They won’t pay because “you hit her bro!”, a fact the driver denies, citing video evidence. A woman in her mid-30s, staring as she walks, narrowly avoids an electricity box. “We told you to go to Bristol anyway,” interjects the dude (I’m recording this), which seems like a pretty weird direction given Bristol isn’t on a driveable street. The lights change; I hurry after my friends.

Despite the cold, Cuba Mall is packed. A blonde girl in a blue dress excitedly yells at her group. A guy and a girl sit on an ATM, somehow. Two guys in faded jeans and untucked dress shirts add themselves to the Good Luck queue, which is already pretty long. My whole group needs to pee, so we hurry into Bristol, where a covers band are playing. While a female friend of mine is ID’d, a random guy grabs both her arms, screams a lyric into her face, then walks off. Bristol’s downstairs space is full of an awkward convergence. Teenagers throw themselves around to the band, while groups of uncomfortable-looking 20-somethings wish they hadn’t ordered a whole jug. A guy with black hair and a black shirt holds a girl’s finger. It’s 12.19, and the male toilets are already somewhat fecal. I manage to urinate without touching any surfaces. A chubby dude in his early 30s claps me on the back as I wash my hands, obviously proud of my journalistic efforts. It’s too loud to interview anyone, and the drinks here are pretty terrible, so we head back out.

Good Luck’s line is still huge; my friends decide on Ivy. I worry a little about whether Ivy is quite within the student experience Salient wanted me to write about, and whether I can even write about the ‘straight’ experience of gay bars without being an arsehole, but I love Ivy, so we head down. The bouncer, like every bouncer ever, smirks a little at the photo on my five-year-old learner licence. Eager to appear self-aware, I interrupt his smirk with “I knowww, right?”, as I have with every other bouncer in Wellington. Ivy itself is loud without being annoying, and crowded without being packed. I buy my friends shots of tequila (I did promise!), which has never looked so appealing. One of them offers to buy me a shot in return, but my resolve holds strong. ‘Beauty and a Beat’ comes on, causing the girls in my group to coo at each other while they dump their jackets. I find myself, oddly, confident enough to join them, as I love this song. One won’t always be young enough to growl “but-you-gotta-keep-an-eye-out-for- SELENAAA” at a friend in perfect time while three couples make out around you. Still, I touch my neck a whole lot, not knowing what else to do with my hands. Dancing for me is basically just moving my knees. All too fast, a new, unknown song is on, and my sober awkwardness kicks in fully. Back with our jackets and the bored-looking boyfriends, I type notes into my phone—very aware that I look like that guy who can’t stop texting. It’s around 12.45 when we finally leave.

Courtenay Place is a writhing beast. I’m constantly touching people by accident, brushing past them or being brushed past, and I’m acutely aware of it. Every second person is on their phone, swinging around to establish their exact location and relay it back. Every guy is wearing those all-over black chucks, or hideously shiny dress shoes. For every five drunk teenagers there’s a really uncomfortable looking adult, regretting being out so late. A girl runs right into me, apologises, then chases after someone, iPhone in hand. I ask a friend if she needs to be a little buzzed to enjoy town, and if so, why? She can’t quite get a good answer out. Like any good interviewer, I give her one to spit back at me, and elaborate on. “Sensory overload, yeah, just, uh, it’s a lot.” One of the boyfriends, eager to contribute, interjects. “It’s fucking depressing, just, I don’t know, I hate it.”

We enter Public around 1 am, and last all of four minutes. Small groups dance in circles throughout the fog, pointing at the ceiling with their mouths half-open. I am intensely aware of my jacket and where my wallet and phone sit within it. ‘Ni**as in Paris’ comes on, but my friends don’t want to be here. Outside, four guys walk past with a pizza box each. That’s a really great idea. There’s still a feeling of energy in the crowds, but it’s starting to flag, starting to get messier. Girls instagram photos of their shisha. A guy walks backward a metre or so in front of his friends, dancing at them before he bumps into our group and yelps “Watch out for these girls bro!” Three guys in near-matching polo shirts jump out of a cab. We sit on the corner of Blair and Courtenay and discuss whether Puppies is worth it at this stage. A few people almost sit on me. I have absolutely nothing interesting to say, no conversational wisdom or elegance. The music from two or three separate clubs is mixing into one, shiny, beatless mess. It’s 1.11 am.

An acquaintance, who wishes not to be named, used to be a bartender at a Courtenay Place bar. Consequently, she isn’t a huge fan of town. “This is what people look forward to every weekend; this is their way to lose control, and it’s just so… greasy and disgusting.” Which group was worse: students or young professionals? “Men. Men from both of those groups. Men will come around the side of the bar, they’ll call you names, they’ll demand a smile, they’ll refuse to be served by anyone else. Some of them tried to get my attention with laser lights. Female bartenders are expected to be overjoyed by the experience of serving.” So, if you do want to get the attention of a bartender, without being a douchebag, what should you do? “Just wait. Waving money or clicking at us is fucking rude. We see you. We’re sober, we know what’s going on.”

I’m outside Puppies, sober, and I don’t know what’s going on. It’s almost 2 am. My group has left. It’s much more crowded than I expected. My ankles really hurt. I snapchat a selfie of myself, alone, to the Salient editors, captioned “bleak”. I feel physically ill when I think about Courtenay Place, where I should probably be for this story. Eventually I find some new, town-bound people who I know from high school. I ask one of them what they want out of the night. “To be honest, I want to objectify women,” he chuckles. “Don’t put my name on this.” My new town-’friends’ are discussing their shoes at great length, and which one of them deserves to get with a girl they know. A woman brushes very close to me as she walks past, her hand touching my crotch for no discernable reason. I figure it’s an accident, until she turns back and stares. She’s kind of old and obviously wasted. Finally, a few friends come out of Puppies. They can understand each other’s slightly slower diction, but I’m having trouble. Still, they are comforting, and one of them is keen for Courtenay-town.

The friend—let’s call her Amy—has lost her wallet. She’s searching on the pavement of Tory St without even a phone backlight to aid her, when a passing piece-of-shit “shotguns” her. My notes here read: “I hate everything”. She finds her wallet, and we start the walk to Courtenay, planning on visiting Famous, the new Lotus. She’s trying to tell me funny stories about her night; I’m imitating laughter. She’s drunk enough not to notice. Around 2.20 am, we reach Courtenay.

Town fucking reeks. The sweat; the urine; the booze; the cologne. I’ve never been so in love with my phone, which I’m continually using to remove my mind from the situation. Famous’s line is too long, so we head to The Establishment. I haven’t been here in years. Amy buys a bourbon and coke, which I have a sip of. Carbonated liquid has never tasted so amazing. I almost buy one for myself, but decide against it. ‘212’ comes on; we go to dance. Every guy who isn’t already closing looks as bored as I am. Two of them come to dance near us—near Amy—and overplay their hands, literally. She calmly puts down her drink before telling them to fuck off. I feel horrible. I’ve put her in this situation, I’ve convinced her to come to town, and now she’s been groped by some guy in a fucking Cotton On shirt. Of course, this always happens in town; I’m just better at forgetting about it when I’m drunk. Just on three, we leave.

Amy’s in a cab, and I’ve found a flatmate to investigate Manners McDonald’s with. A guy just stumbled out of the bathroom with vomit down his front. A couple sit between two groups of friends, the guy with his hand up her lacy dress, their half-eaten burgers forgotten. My notes read “only approached guys to interview in the last few hours because the idea of approaching a girl rn is horrific”. Following this trend, I ask the only guy alone in McDonald’s if I can talk to him about town. He’s been to Hope Bros, which was “how Hope Bros always is”. Why did he pick Hope Bros? “It’s sleazy, uh, to be honest.”

I try to interview my taxi driver on the way home, but he isn’t that keen. McDonald’s is terrible sober. People slam the windows of our cab as we drive by, jump out in front of it, fall over. The driver finally tells me he prefers to work weekends because of the extra cash. This has been the worst night of my year, but it’s just that: a night. Not my life. Not my livelihood. I leave the driver a tip, the first time I have ever done this, and hurry into my warm flat.

Never again.


Observations from the field

9.34: white guys singing wu tang

10.37: “we just need a song to get everyone up ” but no one has trouble by taylor swift 12.30: i really love my phone

12.52: excited girls yelling about hope bros

1.34: girls who look like they went to all girls schools who study boring practical subjects really intimidate me. it’s not attraction but it isn’t repulsion either. Ii’s just they feel both older and younger than me at the same time. 1.50: sitting on phone by self. people are yelling about star signs

2.05 fake laughing along with best friend as we walk 2 famous

2.29 met new person talked about job wasn’t that hard but hard to end conversation without awkwardly just saying bye ended up doing that


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