The author making good on his promise of karaoke at 1 a.m. after starting drinking at 10 in the morning

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I spent 15 hours drinking local booze at bars around Philly for my birthday this year, following with the best prompt I could come up with: instructions in a 1990s pop smash hit.

In my defense, it’s a momentous song. It speaks of the ups and downs we all go through, and celebrates the resilience of the human spirit to pick ourselves up when life throws hardships our way. I am, of course, referring to Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping.”

The more you delve into the 25-year-old song — which became wildly popular for its unforgettable lyrics, infectious music, and how the combination of the two made it a perfect psych-up staple in sports stadiums, video games, and bars around the world — the more questions it raises. How did a British Anarcho-punk feel about their lasting legacy being a catchy, sometimes grating one-hit wonder? Why is the next-door neighbor crying? Why did the band include a trumpet melody from 1700, and why does it fit so perfectly?

But its guidelines for my birthday celebration remained simple. Per the lyrics, I would seek out:

  • a whiskey drink
  • a vodka drink
  • a lager drink
  • a cider drink
  • songs that remind of the good times, songs that remind of the better times

To add spice, I decided each part of the checklist would be in a different Philly bar, and the drink would have to include a locally-made alcohol.

I was not trying to copy the Philadelphia chickenman with my own random food stunt. This story idea was conceived and pitched long before Alexander Tominsky started his 40-day rotisserie chicken odyssey. But maybe we are kindred spirits. compelled to vent years of frustration through a public act of randomness. His performance was far more mysterious, avant garde, and masochistic, perhaps making him the David Blaine to my Weird Al.

My birthday happened to fall on a Wednesday this year, so my expectations for company on this quest were low.The weather forecast for the day didn’t help things either: rain with temperatures ranging between 33 and 57 degrees Fahrenheit. But I soldiered on.

He drinks the whiskey drink

I made it to my first stop, Center City Irish bar Tir Na Nog, at 10:16 a.m., well after the morning’s FIFA World Cup matches had kicked off (a cardinal sin for soccer watchers like me, but thankfully nothing eventful had happened yet). I couldn’t blame the rainy weather or the traffic, just my morning sluggishness. At least the Rumba music playing on my Lyft driver’s radio helped lift my spirits.

There were literally no other patrons when I arrived, so I could pick the ideal seat to simultaneously watch Australia vs. Denmark and Tunisia vs. France.

The day’s first beverage was an Irish Coffee, with Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye, graciously decorated with three fancy swirls by bartender Cristen.

Another person arrived shortly after I did, and after overhearing me describing my assignment for the day, struck up a conversation in a fashion I instantly recognized from my time in the Midwest. Adam Wesselink, visiting from Chicago, went on to discuss our shared support for both the United States and the Netherlands ahead of their round of 16 matchup, and the ethical balancing act of enjoying the tournament while also acknowledging the many controversies surrounding it.

Adam had to leave before the final whistles, but not before he and Cristen agreed to participate in what would become the running group involvement portion of my quest.

Mood: Warm and optimistic.

He drinks the vodka drink

Unwisely, I said my goodbyes and left with two hours to kill before the next match. I slowly ambled from Center City to my next venue, heading toward Old City. The gloomy weather made the walk feel longer, and I stepped inside my planned second spot just as the lights were switched on.

Alas, I had to leave when I discovered they didn’t have a local vodka behind the bar that day.

Some frantic Googling and an apologetic back-and-forth with my editor pivoted me to Khyber Pass Pub, which was marginally more lively. The second round of soccer matches was just getting underway, and both Saudi Arabia vs. Mexico and Poland vs. Argentina popped on the screens within the first few minutes of my arrival.

Bartender Claire served me a Bloody Mary with Stateside Vodka, along with a quick history lesson of the bar. I returned the favor by explaining various rules of the World Cup and soccer matches, though even I had trouble figuring out the qualification scenarios between Mexico and Poland, with Poland ahead at a point based on fair play.

At this stage, it was also time to balance the alcohol out with some food. The pub’s gumbo and a shrimp po boy did the trick.

Claire was also happy to continue the video chain before I left.

Mood: Front face a little flushed. Feeling like I should pick up the pace.

He drinks the lager drink

A short ride on the El took me to Punch Buggy Brewing., where it was just me and bartender Ed for most of my stop there. He seemed grateful for the distraction, which kept him from trying not to go insane over the random drips, creaks and hums a completely empty bar makes.

I had the nanobrewery’s Golden Lager, which Ed said was briefly named the “Don’t Dream it’s Over,” before an owner vetoed the more elaborate moniker.

After picking up my tab (??), Ed contributed to video theme of the day.

I left before a crowd hopefully showed up, braving the weather for the bar’s Quizzo night.

Mood: An alcohol blanket keeps me from feeling the chill of rain-soaked clothes. Starting to walk briskly.

He drinks the cider drink

I cross the street to the conveniently close Original 13 Ciderworks, mistaking the bar’s cook, Don, for a bouncer, to his amusement and my slight embarrassment.

The good news: I arrived with two minutes left of the bar’s happy hour and ordered the Ichabod Pumpkin Spice cider.

The bar had a few patrons when I arrived, the most noticeable being a couple who were clearly on a first or second date, and were intensely comparing their recently revealed Spotify Wrappeds, while playfully judging each other’s tastes.

It was at this point in the night that extra birthday drinks started to add to my running total. Don and manager Maggie provided me and other patrons with samples of the bar’s pepper gimlet, appropriately named “Dragon’s Breath,” some “War Goose” from Mispillion River Brewing Company in Delaware, and a cocktail I could only describe as “pink.”

With the extra sips and an order of Old Bay fries, my time at Original 13 bled well into my planned rest time before the next stop. I eventually left, as the crowd for open-mic night was starting to trickle in — but not without getting Maggie and Don to round the video challenge for the day.

Mood: Exhaustion starting to creep in. Very impressed I convinced six people to do a silly three-second dance for my Twitter feed.

He takes a (very) short breather

My apartment was fortunately a short amble from the ciderworks, but I left myself with barely enough time to shower, put on some dry clothes, make a coffee, and stare blankly at a still-off TV before hailing a Lyft to the final stop of the night.

Mood: Not very well rested.

He sings the songs that remind him of the good times

I arrived at McGillin’s Olde Ale House right at the scheduled 9 p.m. karaoke start time to find no karaoke in sight. What there was: an incredibly crowded and loud bar on both floors, with barely anywhere to stand without being jostled.

By that point, any buzz I had built up from the day had worn off. In its place: fatigu,e and all the food and drink I had consumed during the day battling it out in my stomach.

Karaoke was finally set up and ready to go just before 10 p.m., just when my enthusiasm was at its lowest. Yeah, I loathe and fear singing publicly, especially in front of strangers. I’ve also been made incredibly aware that my last name sounds very similar to “karaoke,” which adds to my disdain.

The dramatic shift from quiet bars during the day to an overpacked, rowdy venue left me leaning against a wall sipping water, watching people perform pop, rap, country, and even death metal, all while fighting the urge to get a ride home.

Luckily I was joined by my friend and colleague Sammy Caiola, who is a far more talented and confident singer than me. With Sammy’s help, I finally added my name to the list, and had some company, conversation, and encouragement while I waited to get called up.

Signing up that late put us at the back of a very long line, and Sammy’s incredibly busy day of reporting, producing a podcast, moderating a panel, and receiving an award caught up with her; she had to call it a night. I was tempted to do the same, but having come this far made me feel I would regret not finishing without singing at least one song.

Finally at 1:13 a.m., following an enthusiastic — but probably now regretful — performance of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” it was my time to shine.

How did it go? I usually go into an autopilot during my rare public-performances, where short term memory seems to crash, possibly in order to help me not collapse to the floor into the fetal position. I let you judge from the video a kind attendee in the front row kindly took on my phone.

[iframe src=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/777637435?h=7917d4db20″ width=”100%” /]

The plan at the start of the day was to sing again, to fulfill the “he sings the songs that remind him of the better times” line of the lyrics.

But I was content with the interactions I had, fulfilled that I had made it this far — and mentally and physically completely tapped out. I used the adrenaline and whatever little endorphins I had produced from my performance to call a Lyft home and fall into my bed.

On the way home, I did hum The Proclaimers “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” — which would have been the second and final song, if you want to give me that.

Otherwise, we’ll see about topping this escapade next year.