Aimless Splendor, or a Night With Fondue and a Journey to A-Town

When I look back on the many December’s I’ve lived through, I must admit that the December of 2010 holds a particularly special significance in my memory. I was 23 then, and the maelstrom of my quarter-life crisis was stealthily gaining strength in the periphery.

But it would be another seven months or so before I’d experience the ravages of that storm. For the moment, I was relatively young, and had no obligations to speak of, save for my dead-end job as a counter jockey at a local convenience store. Beyond that, life consisted of open mics, where I’d strum half-competent songs of my own composition on a weathered acoustic guitar, binging “Dawson’s Creek” with my then-girlfriend at my parents’ home, and excessive alcohol consumption whenever the opportunity arose.

I think it was the first Saturday of the month when my ex had decided to host a fondue party at the apartment of one of our friends. It was a small place, the bottom floor of a two story house near downtown. Three rooms. You entered through the back of the house, where you’d find yourself in the living room. The kitchen was in the middle, and just after that was the bedroom. Like I said, it was a small place. But that didn’t stop my ex from inviting, quite literally, everyone we hung out with on the reg to attend this event. There must have been at least 25 people packed into this cramped apartment at the party’s peak. All of us drunk, boisterous, bellies full of carbs and melted cheese. Don’t ask how we managed that. The neighbors surely hated us. Especially because people would regularly venture out into the cold to smoke cigarettes in raucous groups of 5 to 10.

Anyway, in the midst of the revelry, maybe around 11 o’clock, we ran out of booze. Plenty of fondue to go ’round, but not a drop of alcohol. Our favorite bar was about a two block walk away, but they only offered 12-packs of beer for carryout, and at $10 a pop, nobody considered this a viable option. And we live in the great state of Pennsylvania, where all the liquor stores are run by the state government, and close at 9. We had a bit of a problem on our hands.

So it was decided that the most sober of us would drive to A-Town. A-Town was a bar/restaurant located about a half hour away in Hampstead, MD, that also sold liquor and wine in a little annex next to the main restaurant area until 1:00 in the morning. The place had achieved an almost legendary status among our group of friends over the years, in that, before any of us had reached the legal drinking age, we did not know exactly where it was. You’d be at a party, in a situation much like the one we found ourselves in now, and somebody who was old enough to buy booze would collect everyone’s money, leave, and return roughly an hour later with a full stock of liquor.

Our friend Kris had arrived to the party at around 10:30 and had consumed one beer, so he offered to drive. Only, he had never been to A-Town. In fact, the only one who knew how to get there was yours truly, and I’d only discovered its location a week prior when, after an awkward open mic night in Westminster, MD, I’d decided I wanted to buy a case of Pabst to forget the entire affair. I’d only had a vague idea of where it was, and following a long, unsettling drive through the Maryland boondocks, managed to find this proverbial Shangri La.

Of course, I was a slurring, stumbling mess by now, and since this was before everyone and their grandmother had a smart phone with easy access to Google Maps, I’d have to ride along with Kris and try my damnedest to remember how exactly I got there. So, at 11:15, after collecting money from anyone who wasn’t already broke, we set out on our mission.

Now, the rural parts of northern Maryland are frightening, especially at night. I recall driving home one night after spending an evening with a female companion who lived in the area, and subsequently turning onto the wrong road, getting lost for about twenty minutes on a winding, unpaved road that took me through a dense forest, complete with houses that looked like they belonged in a Wes Craven film. Not exactly the kind of place you’d want to be lost in. God help you if something were to go wrong with your car. But my friends were counting on me. I wasn’t about to let them down.

I tell you, I don’t know how I managed it in my inebriated condition, but I successfully navigated Kris to A-Town without one wrong turn. We even got in an epic Taking Back Sunday sing-along to make the drive enjoyable, rather than a chore. It seems almost miraculous, looking back. Even today, I couldn’t tell you from memory alone how exactly to get to A-Town.

We returned to the party at around half past midnight like conquering heroes, with a box of Franzia, and a bottle each of Captain Morgan, Vladimir vodka, and Tanqueray as the spoils of our victory. The festivities continued until well past dawn, when the majority of people in attendance went home or passed out in various spots around the apartment. Those of us who remained awake capped the evening off with breakfast at a local diner.

I guess the point of all this is that there doesn’t have to be a point to an experience for it to be meaningful. In the months following this party, I’d drift apart from my friends as work and my aforementioned quarter life crisis slowly consumed the better part of my waking moments. But still, I remember this night fondly, in all of its aimless splendor. That’s part of what makes being young so great, isn’t it?

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