Saturday started out like any other day. The alarm on my phone woke me at 8:30 a.m., alerting me that I had to get to work. Like any other day, I got up, brushed my teeth, fed my cat. I checked my phone and then hopped in the shower.
But it was not any other day. It was March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. And not just any St. Patrick’s Day:
This was my fourth St. Paddy’s as a Philly resident, but it my first as a 21 year old. This was my first chance to legally attend Philly’s infamous all-day St. Paddy’s drinkfest. Yup, you know the one: the Erin Express.
I had plenty of expectations: lots of beer, green T-shirts, Eagles chants, and generally the shitshow you expect when you give Philadelphians a reason to drink during the day.
After a quick scan of social media, I was convinced there are two types of people: the Erin Express lovers, and the Erin Express haters.
I didn’t yet know which one I would be.
Regardless, I was convinced of another fact: whether you want to participate in it or not, people love watching the hot mess that is this annual bar crawl. It’s like a train wreck — you just can’t look away.
I decided to attend for journalistic reasons. I’d do the whole day and write down all my thoughts. That way, Billy Penn readers could experience it through my eyes, like it’s your first time all over again — or so you’ll never have to try it yourself.
So, I bring you, from the naive eyes of a newly 21-year-old Philly resident: the Erin Express highlights. You’re welcome.
Apprehensively, I decide it’s time to get started. My fears include (but are not limited to): losing my wallet, being drowned in Guinness, boarding a school bus and never making it off.
I forgo public transportation at the risk of packing myself into a closed space with hundreds of already-drunk Philadelphians. (This would become inevitable later in the afternoon, but I don’t realize it yet.)
I settle on an Uber, and it costs me twenty six dollars to get from North Central Philly to Slāinte on Market Street near 30th. Instantly, I regret every life decision I have ever made that has led me to this point.
After being robbed blind by a ride-sharing service, I enter a line that stretches around the corner from the entrance of the bar. There are three port-a-potties in the line. I wonder, will I really be in line long enough to need a port-a-potty? Only time will tell.
I get into the bar, and I can barely move because it’s so packed. I throw my elbows into a handful of large men wearing green around me, and eventually find my way into the middle of the action. Just in time for exactly what I was expecting: E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles!
An indistinguishable Irish song comes on. Someone in the crowd yells, “Turn that shit off. There’s no actual Irish people here.”
It’s not even 1:30 yet, but I approach the bar because I feel like I have to. Next to me, a customer complains that it took her 30 minutes to be served the four Irish car bombs she ordered.
I look into the bartender’s eyes, and there is only pain. I walk away from the bar.
I realize I’ve entered a Philly bar not just on St. Paddy’s, but also during the Villanova-Alabama matchup for March Madness.
It isn’t hard to find the Nova fans. The team scores, and it’s like the Eagles won the Super Bowl all over again. Did I just have a flashback?
I hear two ‘Bama fan patrons chanting “roll tide” in the corner of the bar. I hope they make it out alive.
Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” comes on and at last I’ve reached my breaking point. I flee Slāinte for hopefully greener pastures: Wahoo’s on Chestnut near 32nd.
The fresh air is unexpectedly amazing. Walking through Drexel’s campus, I am finally alone. I decide I deserve a break. I sit down on a bench, and immediately see someone wearing a green boa. Nowhere is safe.
At last, I make it to Wahoo’s, and the line is so long I debate telling my editor that Erin Express was cancelled, and I can no longer write this article. There is a tent. I wonder if that makes the line more or less bearable.
In the distance, I hear someone remark that this year’s festivities are way more ridiculous than the last time she attended Erin Express two years ago.
To which her friend responds: “Times have changed. Two years ago, the Birds didn’t win the Super Bowl.”
To preserve my mental health, I avoid Wahoo’s. Perhaps the next destination will be less crowded, I think. In this moment, I still have my childlike hope and innocence. I haven’t yet been jaded by Erin Express. But that’s coming soon.
As I walk to my next destination, I see drunk adults run into oncoming traffic without regard. I wonder if I am in a parallel universe.
After following green-shirted crowds across the Chestnut Street bridge, I see a line forming outside a mysteriously fancy building. Reluctantly, I tell myself I have to go inside. For journalism.
I ask a stranger where we are. She tells me it’s called “the warehouse.” Then a friend of hers jumps in: “This looks like a black hole where people go to die.”
The atmosphere inside “the warehouse” is damp. It both smells and feels like walking through beer-soaked paper towels. It’s dark, almost smokey, and I can’t understand why.
Thankfully, Billy Penn Editor Danya Henninger comes through with a comforting reality check.
Every step I take seems to be on top of a crushed Bud Light can. Dilly dilly?
I hear someone announce to the crowd that it is her 21st birthday. On St. Patrick’s Day. At Erin Express. I say a heartfelt prayer for her — and realize my time here is up. I have learned everything I need to know.
I call an Uber back home, and it’s only $12 this time (thanks, ride-sharing god).
Long after I’ve arrived back home, wolfed down two slices of pizza and showered off the shame of my peers’ decisions, I receive a text from my mother. Back in North Jersey — two hours from Philly on a good day — she wonders if I’ve started drinking yet for St. Paddy’s.
Oh Mom, you sweet, beautiful, naive woman. All I can tell you is this:
If you can help it, never, ever attend Erin Express.