Let’s clear this up now: I’m not Irish. For the many years I lived in London, St Patrick’s Day would pass by totally unnoticed. No one, except the Irish, would do anything about it. Here, in the United States, the opposite is true. It doesn’t matter what your nationality or religion is, because nearly everyone gets into the spirit of St Patrick’s Day, including the greeting card companies that churn out variations on rainbows, gold, shamrocks and leprechauns.
Five minutes away from the house I share with my mother is an Irish-themed bar that puts on an annual celebration called Hoolyfest every March 17. There are bands, food and A LOT of drinking. The luck of the Irish is not with Hooleyfest this year because the day dawns cold and cloudy. Torrential rain is forecast later, which is probably typical Irish weather for March; the Irish would feel right at home. Not to be put off by a bit of precipitation, I head to the bar with a friend. We’ve been promised free VIP entry.
Like most of suburban San Diego, the bar is in a strip mall with a huge parking lot. It’s the parking lot that has been taken over for the venue’s main festivities – there are huge white canvas tents, erected to withstand the miserable weather. I can see a woman in some sort of costume jumping up and down, in what could be a frenzied Irish jig. She is accompanied by a band in kilts and pirate hats. I’m confused by the pirate hats, but maybe the Irish Sea still has bandits.
Inside the bar it’s crowded. Our worst fear materializes – there is nowhere to sit and we feel far too sober and surrounded by a sea of green clothes and accessories. I see people wearing shamrock ties, green beads, fuzzy green head bands, and a shamrock necklace with a green light that flashes (this is very popular). As I stand in line for the bathroom, I spot a woman with a revealing green tank top that reads ‘One drunk bitch’. Another is wearing a top that says, ‘Take a look at these lucky shamrocks’. This is Spring Valley, after all. It’s an area that affluent, coastal San Diego would rather get removed like a malignant tumor. This is why it is known as the ‘unincorporated community of San Diego’. No one wants it.
After a couple of drinks and a jello shot, I feeling more prepared for the carnage that is sure to come later. It doesn’t take long. A guy recognizes my friend and starts shouting at him in between bouts of drinking beer. He is with his wife and is giddy with excitement that they’ve got a free babysitter for the whole night. ‘I’m Irish,’ he screams in a thick American accent. This apparently entitles him to get completely wasted. ‘My wife told me that I could be out all night so long as I end the night with her.’ I search his face for a trace of irony or humor but there isn’t any; he’s being totally serious.
John, our new wasted ‘Irish’ friend, is wearing a tattered Guinness hat that he is hoping to flog to someone for $40 so that he could buy more beer. He is claiming to have bought it in Ireland. ‘When were you in Ireland?’ my friend gamely asks. ‘Dude, I’ve never been to Ireland. I bought this at Target for $15.’ We really should have known he’d never been to Ireland, but we were trying to be nice.
The rest of the night passes in a bit of a blur. John keeps thumping our booth, which is just behind his, and peeking his head around the corner, laughing maniacally. I wave weakly and flash him a brave smile. I decide to take a break from the shouting and go outside to listen to All Liquored Up, the main act. They are old rockers who sing covers like Jessie’s Girl and 867-5309 by Tommy Tutone. I take some bad pictures and try to blend into the insanely excited crowd, who scream the words to the songs as if they were still top 10 hits.
As the night winds up, John tries selling his booth, located conveniently near the kitchen. He hopes he’ll have better luck selling his booth than selling the hat. He doesn’t. ‘I think I’m getting real drunk,’ he drawls. ‘I’m starting to steal stuff.’ He opens his jacket and reveals a huge cardboard shamrock that he’s torn off the wall. He proceeds to laugh like a psychopath.
I don’t know how we make it to midnight, but we do. We are kicked out by the security guard, who looks like he’s spent the night in the trenches of World War I. Earlier that night he’d been punched and bitten by a woman who he kicked out of the bar for screaming obscenities and trying to use the men’s bathroom. It’s not so much Hoolyfest at this point, but more like one Holy Mess.
The next morning my brother tells me that a drunk woman tried to steal a bus that was waiting outside to take local people home. She was allegedly annoyed that she didn’t live close enough to hitch a free ride. As she drove off, she took one lone person hostage, who’d been taking shelter in the quiet bus. My brother says the automatic doors closed when the ignition started and the guy was seen banging on them frantically, begging to be let out. The crazed woman made it as far as the Peter Piper Pizza (a terrible children’s chain) across the street, before being taken into custody by the sheriff.
It’s just another St Patrick’s Day in Spring Valley. May the luck of the Irish be with you.