Varsity Booze:
Clatter, Clatter, Clatter Off the Trolley

When one thinks of streetcars, they think of the plaza of a town closer to Downtown Disney’s vision of yesteryear than the reality of urban planning today. And while it is nice to briefly dream of living in a place where the buildings are all pastel colored and the people are all friendly and the streetcars are the only vehicles and nobody ever farts, the conception can’t exist given the reality of sprawling suburban planning and the intersection of nearly all social issues that created the housing market we have today.

The streetcar, or trolley– or however you would like to refer to the gabled vehicle straight out of a time period that bridged the gap between steam and electricity being primary power sources– has nearly been lost to the sands of “simpler times.” Nearly. They are still very much alive in the form of booze cruises in the city of Chicago.

Beyond the drinking aspect, I can’t say that I understand the appeal. There isn’t much scenery to enjoy from the speed-limit controlled pace through the Wrigleyville neighborhood of Chicago. This is the neighborhood that is ignored by the logic of people who argue the false dichotomy that the Northside of Chicago is nice and the Southside of Chicago should be avoided. This is the neighborhood that houses the baseball stadium the Chicago Cubs (of one of the worst MLB teams currently playing), with a rabid fanbase almost as dedicated to them as they are to their belligerent Sunday morning drunkenness. There are distinctive outfits along the lines of gender, as if the residents that stay for reasons other than the low rent are the army of a nation-state defending their territory. The women wear identical pairs of light wash jeans and black tube tops with white Nike Air Force Ones (if the shoes are on at all. Often at the end of the night, they are not). The men wear Cubs jerseys and shorts of all styles in all sorts of colors from blue to dark blue. I have seen many of these men sitting dejectedly near the edge of the subway platform after yet another team loss (they aren’t going to do anything drastic. Chicago just doesn’t have many benches at their subway stations and a drunk person in need of a seat can’t be stopped), and in these cases the woven polyester of the jersey offers something firm to drip onto and yank away from the oncoming train, while having enough stretch to prevent ripping the garment and further enraging him. This is the neighborhood that I clutch my bag in after dark.

This is the demographic of the trolley booze cruise. Sociologically, they are considered a homogenous in-group, as all members must be exactly the same to be a part of it. And in the realm of social sciences, the phrase “history repeats itself” is often thrown around. I would argue that this group is the natural heir to the legacy of colonizers bringing smallpox to the Americas, only on a micro-level.

The sight of a trolley going by is frightening. It is loud, it is flashy, and it is so agonizingly slow, so onlookers are forced to soak in all of the eardrum-bursting, seizure inducing lights that equal a good time (to some, perhaps those that seek a higher level of party that would be too dangerous for the common man to attempt to achieve). Its sound is a mixture of early 2000s pop hits out of small speakers (drowned out by the sound of the twenty five people crammed into the car singing along), plus the sputtering of the exhaust pipe and the creaking of axles underneath their feet, fading into the clatter, clatter, clattering of red plastic cups and beer cans off the back of the vehicle. Of course they are not supposed to litter, but their motor skills are not in the best state. There is often also a pregame to the streetcar booze cruise.

“We bring the party everywhere, literally everywhere, and you should be so lucky to soak up even a second of the good time that these people are having,” seems to be the mission behind the venture. But they seem to fundamentally misunderstand that some people enjoy using the streets and sidewalks for their intended purpose: getting from one place to another without stumbling into the gutter.

The last time I saw these trolleys was bid day for the sororities on my college campus. And it was terrifying, the sheer number of girls newly inducted into their sisterhood for the next four years. But more terrifying was the fact that if they wanted, they could have turned on me and torn me apart with their bare hands, leaving my blood in the wake of their party cruise among their red cups, a crimson wake of destruction as a consequence of their wonderful afternoon.

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