What Happens When 16 Strangers Get Drunk On A Bike

photo by Steven Kratz

While the number may have gone unnoticed in your closest of circles, 4,000 new midwestern hopefuls have joined Indianapolis’ ranks in the past year. That’s 4,000 who navigate day-to-day lives paralleling to details of your own – frequenting the same watering holes, waiting in the same commute and experiencing the shared climate of Indianapolis’ culture. And as two parallel lines on the same plane never overlap, your all too similar paths might have yet to intersect as well.

But they did intersect one night when perfect strangers brought their own beer, pedaled the slight incline of Mass Ave and agreed to spend their evening with 16 of the 4,000, including myself.

My usual view of Mass Ave is from the PATTERN offices where I would see a HandleBar Indy bike or two pass by the window. “Bike” may not be the correct descriptor, “bar” being the more operative term. An enclave of 20-somethings sat around a table, tossing back drinks and whaling the tune of a familiar ’80s hit. A usual night out it seemed to me, besides the unexpected catch of while they drank, they pedaled.

Sixteen drinking buddies on a bike – I found the idea intriguing, so I signed up to soberly document two hours of strangers getting hammered on wheels.

It was a Saturday evening when I drove up to the parking lot of Tow Yard Brewery. A group of khaki-clad dads waited on the sidewalk, using their cooler as a bench perhaps in muscle memory from college tailgates. A couple walked to the street corner, one hand holding that of their partner and the other holding a Coors Light.

Two trolleys pulled into the lot, returning their slightly intoxicated parties who safely found their way onto the ground. One group of women sporting pink sashes and tiaras posed for a group picture with their driver.

“Thank you, Curtis,” the one in the veil called back to him. “I’ll never forget you.”

The trolleys pulled into the bar’s garage and a supplanting one pulled in front of our little group. We each took our spots atop a pair of pedals and the introductions commenced, marking the first time I got a good look at the evening’s cast of characters.

The aforementioned khaki dads turned out to be mostly singles, celebrating a bachelor party and also all conveniently named Chris or as they were soon dubbed, Chris 1, 2, 3 and 4. Sitting at the end of the bar, they made swift jabs at the groom and warned him of married life’s imminent trap.

At the front sat the youngest of the bunch: the woman a senior in college and the man a recent graduate. Memorializing their anniversary, they debated on playing the Pokémon theme song from our bike’s speakers after seeing a huddle of iPhone-wielding players shuffle by.

And sprinkled through the middle were the remaining faces: six Indianapolis couples from MeetUp, an app used to meet like-minded individuals in one’s city.

This part of the evening was the typical “getting to know you” portion where names, hometowns and occupations are traded like business cards. But after a few rounds, our bar was like any other.

One of the MeetUp boyfriends joined the bachelor party to recount times they sent sexual texts to the wrong recipient (usually a distant relative.)

Two of the women teamed up against their boyfriends on who could outdrink the other in their relationship.

Two of the other men sat around the corner, sharing an especially profound moment of bonding:

“I love you man,” one mooned.

“Did we just become best friends?” the other returned. “Do you want to go do karate with me?”

One rider explained this was actually his second trip, the first being with a friend’s bachelor party when they arrived to find out they would spend the evening with a group of middle-aged moms.

“At the beginning we were like, ‘This is kind of weird’ but then at every place we stopped at they were like, ‘You guys are so young and we have all this money since we’re middle-aged so let us buy you drinks.’ And then at the end of the night, we all ended up going out.”

At this point, the evening had quite turned and sufficiently transformed from a typical night out to an experience of its own. As our speakers blasted, the drivers and pedestrians around us sang along, one asking to pass them a beer (we did.) Fists pounded against the bar table to the even beat of classic rock until we pulled back into the garage around 10, the night still young.

“It’s interesting to see the progression over two hours,” one rider said. “Honestly it’s a bunch of strangers that become best friends in one night. At the beginning everyone’s just standing around in the parking lot and at the end everyone goes out together like this new group of friends. That’s why I like this experience.”

It’s great because we’re all on a team, you know?” our driver added. “Where else do you look at hill and you’re like, ‘I don’t know you but you better pedal or else we’re not going to make it?'”

“And we’re all drunk!” said another rider.

That helps.

A city of the new 4,000 – how do we go about meeting each other? Housewives of the 1960s might suggest knocking on the new neighbor’s door, casserole and welcome wagon in hand. You’ll trade your baked offering in the hopes that they’ll water your plants when you leave on vacation and refrain from making too much noise past 1 AM. But said neighborly tradition is typically reserved for a pre-Cold War suburbia, not a growing metropolis.

A city of 4,000 new faces – but how many of them do you know? In an attempt to evade the age-old stereotype of never meeting your neighbors in the city, you might jump on bike-shaped bar. You might introduce yourself to the stranger at the coffee cart. You could even just make friends with the barista behind the counter. To meet those new 4,000 – whichever way we choose – there sure are a lot of hellos in front of us.

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