What'll you have?

Once a year on the mostly-unused grass at the old Durham ball park, a great crowd of drinkers descends and gathers for four hours at a time to enjoy the World Beer Festival. What an idea - brewers from all over the world (as indicated by the event's title) bring their wares and the city of Durham lets them set up camp all day and then looks the other way when hours later their streets are full of drunk people - drunk people peeing on their sidewalks, interuppting traffic, singing and wearing balloon animals. Of course, we got a group together and went.

The World Beer Festival is an anniversary of sorts for J and myself. See, it was at this very same festival in 2001 that we got enough samples of beer in us to start flirting voraciously and tell each other about the feelings we had. We did this at a safe distance from my boyfriend at the time (the one I was living with) and then quickly drank enough more to make it seem ok when that very ex-boyfriend drove me, J, and all J's friends home in our jointly-owned Volkswagen Jetta. I sat in the back on J's lap because there "was no place else to sit."

However, the result, after many, many hours of intense scrutiny and worrying, as we all know, was good. So this year the day was all about fun without romantic jitters or clandestine chats. Instead our little group, including Tom, who'd been at the 2001 as well, his wife, and J's sister, broke right into some jovial beer sampling.

Because you see - that is what this is supposed to be. Some of the snobbier beer-brewers give out true samples. Everyone is given a small cup and the point is to try as many kinds of beer as you'd like. At the beginning of the afternoon this was accompanied by washing out the glasses with water provided each table, or even pouring out the beer one doesn't like so much. This changes round about the second hour. As beer bottles are shifted from one recycling bin to another, the crowd lets out a great roar. "WOOOAAAHAAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO," as though we'd accomplished a challenging act of great bravery. People started taking their shirts off. We began making friends with strangers.

When the day ended we said goodbye to friends, some doing pretty well, some looking like they were going to need some help finding the exit. We got our last glasses of beer from the vendor who'd been the most generous in filling up the cups before they were forced to shut down the operation. The festival people wanted us out.

On the way back to the car a very considerate young man pointed out a puddle in the street. "Beware," he said. "Beware, urine."

And so the World Beer Festival has carried weight as a day-of-great-importance, as well as simply been a memorable, fun day. Unfortunately for the vendors, I don't really remember which beers I liked the best. To tell the truth, the table that struck me most was Pabst Blue Ribbon, where they'd lined up hundreds of bottles, indicating the great numbers of Pabst drinkers who had patronized them during that afternoon. Behind the table sat an older man, smoking a cigar and lazily sipping some of the cheap, refreshing brew, reminding everyone who passed by that life is every bit as relaxing as you make it for yourself.