I haven’t been at home in Anchorage for New Years for years now. Since Nationals begins during the first few days of January, the teams are usually already at our race venues at the dropping of the ball, and in between Houghton, Soldier Hollow, and Rumford, there is no shortage of struggles to find exciting ways to celebrate a day that by its nature requires one to stay up late. Usually all I can muster is a little drink with a few of the older teammates, or perhaps some sort of stealthy foray when NCAA is on the lookout for any spike in dopamine, but this year I found myself in the lobby of the Holiday Inn in Minneapolis, and I was determined to find a story to tell about New Years in 2015.
The situation was not promising. Outside was blowing bitter cold. After a 6 hour flight from Anchorage, it was all we could do to bundle up in our ski clothes and sneakers and push against the wind through the revolving door that led out on the street for a jog to stretch our legs. By the time we got back, my cheeks were frozen so that I couldn’t muster a smile even if I had wanted to. Myself and several of our teammates tested out the pool and hottub, and then retired to our rooms to change clothes without making any plans for later.
I found myself wandering the hallways of our hotel peeking in through any open doors. The most exciting thing I found was a tourist bus-worth of senior citizens enjoying pretzels and cheese curds in one of the conference rooms. I stopped and chatted with one of the men outside of the door and learned that they were on their way to Wisconsin to gamble at a casino. After a few more moments he left me in the hallway and closed the door behind him. I continued down the hall and discovered a cozy looking bar occupied by several people but I was too sheepish to make myself look curious or lonely and turned back to the lobby where I sat down to read yesterdays paper.
After a few minutes my phone buzzed. I had a message from Tyler to Eric and me:
Tyler: Are you guys doing anything for New Years?
I tapped back:
Lex: Want to get drinks at the bar?
Eric: There’s a bar? I’ll be down in ten!
Of course, it was much more than ten minutes that I waited, but eventually the Eric made it down and the two of us shyly entered the bar and sat down at the bar directly in front of the bartender. We looked around. To our left was a forty-ish balding man who looked unhappy to be in a Holiday Inn on New Years. To our right were two seventy-ish women and an similarly-aged man who wore large black Woody Allen glasses. The three to our right obviously all had dyed their hair. Even before we could get a look at them, the woman in the center, whose name we learned was Patty, said loudly:
“Well looky here, looks like we’ve got some young folks joining us tonight!”
Eric and I blushed. Ann, the blond woman next to her chimed in with wicked glee:
“Aren’t you two just beautiful! I bet you’ve got real nice girlfriends, but you’re ours tonight”
“Actually we’re just on our way to Michigan for ski races,” Eric piped.
“Oh ski races!” said Patty, “Neil here [she pointed at the man] has run 15 marathons. He never once stopped to take a drink. You know it’s so amazing, it’s all genetic. I can’t run a mile without stoping for water, and Neil runs 20 miles in the heat of the summer without stopping. It’s all just in your genes. He’s had 4 double ryes and doesn’t feel a thing.”
“Well, I think it’s your mind too,” I said, for the sake of conversation.
“No, it’s just genetic,” Patty said sharply. I quieted down.
Patty and Ann continued the conversation with (at) us for another several minutes as they sipped their drinks. The bartender asked us what we wanted. Eric said he was fine with water. I asked for a gin and tonic.
“A beginners drink!” Neil called. It was the first we had heard him speak.
“I love gin and tonics in summer,” said Patty, somewhat scornfully. Did I mention it was New Years day and cold outside?
Just then Tyler walked in. He hadn’t sat down before the women started abusing him.
“But aren’t you just beautiful,” they added.
Suddenly, Neil felt that the women had said enough and he wanted to head the conversation.
“Boy, you’re all so beautiful, if I were gay I’d kiss you all on the lips,” he said as he smoothed back his artificial ginger hair with his meaty hands. His gaze met ours for a moment as the three of us tried to shrug it off. “But I’m not gay,” he added just to be sure we knew.
Tyler: What is the deal with these guys?
Eric: Don’t order gin and tonics
Tyler ordered straight whiskey. We looked up at the football game, and Neil let the whole bar know what he thought of football:
“I used to be defensive back in high school. I quit after one year. The blacks smelled like zebras. Wish they’d a learned to take a shower, then they woudn’ta smelled so bad”
Me: This is uncomfortable
One of us said something about him being drunk and saying crazy things without self-restraint.
“Ha! You should see me when I take cocaine! I feel like robbin’ every bank I see and f***ing every Mexican”
The three of us looked at one another in bewilderment and laughed awkwardly.
Eric: Someone should be filming this
Me: I’m afraid of these people
Tyler: Well we can handle it for 10 more minutes until New Years right?
We started asking the single man to our left where he was from and were he was going while the three people to our right chatted quietly amongst themselves. Eventually we heard the countdown starting and eight of us in the room called out the last few numbers together and raised our glasses.
“Well, it was nice meeting you all,” said Eric as he rose from his stool, “but we’ve gotta leave early. We should be going.” Tyler and I handed over some cash to the bartender so she could ring us up. As we waited for change Neil grabbed the salt shaker next to him and held it up in the light.
“Why do salt shakers always look like Asian penises?” he asked out loud.
The three of us absconded without our change. “Happy New Year!” we called.