One of my favorite post-college memories isn’t even mine. I only heard the story after the fact from my friends, Stephanie and Anna. But the hilarity and wisdom has stuck with me for years.
Stephanie and Anna lived with another friend of ours in a dilapidated house on Texas Street, which we all lovingly referred to as The Alamo. This San Diego abode was sweltering in the summer and frigid (at least by San Diego standards) in the winter. There was a section of the front porch you couldn’t step on because it was rotting and likely to collapse. A family of raccoons lived in the foundation. It was a magical place.
The Alamo was a worry-free party house. After all, you can’t damage trash. So that was the place to be for Super Bowls, birthdays, and 4th of July parties. This is where our friend Ben unsuccessfully tried to climb onto the crumbling roof. This is where Anna broke her foot during a heated game of Slap Cup (a drinking game that involves slapping cups off the table). This is where I would have my two drinks and then take a nap on the couch as the party continued around me.
Stephanie and Anna were (and still are) best bros, as well as the party ringleaders. So these P.T. Barnums of post-college debauchery usually invited people to gather at the Alamo before local events or outings. We might, for example, meet at the Alamo before Beer Fest.
“Beer Fest makes fools of the best of us.”
In case you thought we only had fish tacos, surfing, and heartbroken Chargers fans, you should know San Diego also has a thriving craft beer industry. Throw a bottle cap in any direction and you will peg at least three people who brew, sell, or distribute beer for a living. They invariably wear a uniform of clever T-shirts from the city’s 14 million breweries, which may be located in the trendy neighborhood of North Park, the tragically gentrifying East Village, or the abandoned business parks of Mira Mesa. If you don’t feel like trekking to your favorite brewery on the other side of town, odds are there is a tasting room or 30-tap tavern in your neighborhood with a bartender ready to pontificate on the caramel or sandalwood undertones of his double IPAs.
Or you could just buy a ticket to Beer Fest, which takes place outside North Park’s Lafayette Hotel each spring. Dozens of local brewers sample their wares, give away stickers, and sell their merch. Your ticket comes with a commemorative 4-ounce tasting cup.
The cup is a lie.
When you look at such a cute little cup, you’re sure you can’t possibly get drunk. A quarter of a beer is nothing, right?
But with dozens of beers to sample, many of which have an alcohol percentage much higher than your typical domestic swill, Beer Fest makes fools of the best of us.
I have been to a couple of Beer Fests myself, but the year of this story, I couldn’t make it (or just wasn’t paying attention and didn’t buy a ticket). So it was only afterwards that I heard of the resulting shenanigans.
As legend goes, Stephanie and Anna had drunk their fill from their tiny plastic cups and so began the heavily inebriated walk back to the Alamo. The walk was not long, perhaps half a mile.
Since Beer Fest takes place in Spring and ends in the late afternoon, it was still light out. They set out, two lady-bros stumbling to the end of a wonderful day of friendship and beer.
Then the unthinkable happened.
I was not there to witness the exact unfolding of this tragedy, but in the midst of their walk (and probably some good-natured tom-foolery), Stephanie must have tripped or stumbled or leaned on the bush lining the sidewalk. Whatever the method, the result was the same: Stephanie fell into a small ditch behind the bushes.
I can only assume that Anna’s initial reaction was “Oh my God, are you okay?!” followed by hysterical laughter. Keep in mind that this is a moderately urban neighborhood, full of apartments, corner stores, and street traffic. If you happened to be driving or walking by, you might have seen Anna with her hand over her mouth, trying to contain her mixture of concern and amusement. You wouldn’t see Stephanie lying in the hidden little ditch, uncoordinatedly attempting to escape. To passersby, it was just Anna and the bush.
It didn’t take long for Stephanie to realize she couldn’t get out of the ditch of her own drunken volition. Anna reached an arm over the hedge, but the effort was in vain.
Stephanie’s fatigue, combined with the laissez-faire outlook that comes from a day of sunshine and tasty beers, convinced her that it was time to give up.
“Just leave me here,” she said. “I’m gonna take a little nap. Then I’ll meet you at home.”
Anna, being a good friend who knows better than to leave a trashed loved one passed out on private property, argued.
But Stephanie had reached that point of drunk comfort where you see no reason to take action, no matter how unsatisfactory the circumstances. She just wanted Anna to stop worrying and let her be.
The two of them went back and forth for a couple of minutes — Anna trying to convince Stephanie to make a final bid for freedom and walk the remaining quarter mile home, and Stephanie assuring Anna that she wanted to just stay in the ditch for a while.
“Really, I’m fine,” she said, still hidden behind the hedge. “This is just what I needed.”
At her wit’s end, with the sun sinking lower, Anna made her final argument, one last plea to her friend, who was stuck like a turtle on its shell.
“Stephanie,” said Anna. “Would you leave me in a ditch?”
There was a beat of silence.
Then came a voice, like a child finally giving in to authority, “…noooo.”
Even with a brain full of IPAs and pale ales, Stephanie could not disregard the fact that, were the tables turned, she would never leave Anna to sleep it off in a ditch behind a hedge. With this newfound perspective, Stephanie took Anna’s hand and — presumably after a few failed attempts — rose like Lazarus from her tomb of intoxication.
Stephanie and Anna made it back to the Alamo and lived to see another Beer Fest.
When they told me about their run-in with the ditch, I immediately thought of some advice my therapist has given me: “Talk to yourself the way you would to a friend.” This advice is usually intended to counteract the instinct to criticize and belittle yourself when something goes wrong.
“How many times have you been the one stuck in a ditch, insisting that ‘this is fine’?”
But Stephanie and Anna’s Beer Fest story gave me a slightly different perspective. Not only are we often more critical of ourselves than we are of our friends, we are often willing to put up with more (or settle for less) than we would allow our friends to.
How many times have you seen a loved one stay in a job they hate rather than try to find a new one? Or continue a relationship with someone who hurts them or doesn’t give them the support they need? From your position on the sidewalk, you see so clearly that they need to escape the ditch, but they are the first to tell you that this is working for them.
Problems are always easier to solve when you’re looking down on them from solid ground. It’s much harder to see the way forward when you’re stuck on your back, staring at the darkening sky and maybe a little dizzy. How many times have you been the one stuck in a ditch, insisting that “this is fine”?
The next time you find yourself thinking, “this isn’t so bad, I can live with this, this is the best I can do,” picture a friend of yours saying that. What would you tell them? If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll have a friend reaching their hand over the hedge. Don’t be too scared or too proud to take it.
But sometimes, you are walking alone. Sometimes no one sees you fall into the ditch. Those are the times when you have to be your own best bro. Friends don’t leave friends in ditches, so don’t leave yourself in one.
*Names changed to protect the innocent.