Thursday, March 13, 2008

Happy Hour at Cafe Caracol

Posted on behalf of J in PA:

(If you'd like to follow along geographically, click on this link.)

As a junior in college, I spent the year studying abroad in Bologna, Italy. With there being 31 of us from the same small liberal arts college, we naturally shared with each other news about the best bars to frequent. Il Druido offered a simple rustic atmosphere, and it was only a stone’s throw from my apartment. A German-styled place a few miles away meant a long walk, but also meant a great selection of beers in a Hofbrauhaus setting. And sometime in the course of the year, someone discovered Café Caracol, a Mexican-themed bar.

Café Caracol, with an ambience a step above Chi Chi’s, offered a happy hour. Discounted alcohol, of course, is the siren song for many college students, and we were no exceptions. During happy hour, pints of Corona were 1000 lire (about 65 cents, according to the exchange rates in November, but closer to a dollar by May thanks to the economic policies of the first President Bush), and a pitcher of margaritas went for 10,000 lire. The lure of the cheap booze was hard to pass up. One day after class, several of us made arrangements to meet there.

As you all know, the object of a happy hour is to drink as much as you can in the time available. Then go out for something to eat (something cheap, preferably), and resume drinking as soon as possible. This was the plan for the evening. I generally stuck to the pints of Corona, not being a big fan of fruit-flavored mixed drinks. Unfortunately, I arrived a bit late – nearly half an hour had already passed. I tried to make up for lost time by putting away pints quickly since I knew that they were not flexible about extending their happy hour so much as a minute.

Shortly before time expired, I scored my sixth pint. My classmates also acquired fresh pitchers of margaritas. The challenge was to drink everything within the next half hour, by which time the bar area was cleared of all the riff raff to make room for full-paying customers – those who actually planned to buy dinner. After finishing my pint, I proceeded to assist those trying to empty their pitchers. Our numbers had dwindled, but there were enough of us determined not to waste a drop of alcohol. Though not keeping track, I estimate that I drank about half a pitcher before we were all helped out the door. (Oh, and for those that like to do math, try to figure my blood alcohol level at that moment, considering that I weighed about 125 pounds.)

My roommates and I started back for our apartment. I recall walking along the sidewalk just outside the bar. The next thing I recall was when we got to within a block of our apartment. I had zoned out during the nearly two miles of walking in between. (I was told later that I spent most of that walk jabbering incessantly – something I can do even when I’m sober – and in particular that I was nagging certain of my roommates for being slobs. This behavior would not shock anyone who knows me.) That walking “brown out” remains my only alcohol-induced memory lapse – as far as I know.

We stopped in our apartment just long enough to use the bathroom and grab our student IDs. One of the University cafeterias was just down another long block from the apartment. We managed to cross the many lanes of heavy traffic without incident – still a mystery how we did that – and proceeded to fill up our trays with mediocre Italian cafeteria food. Toward the end of my meal, which consisted of plenty of bread and pasta, I remember having a peach yogurt cup. (Clearly, the dessert selection must have been meager that evening.) I recall staring at one of my roommates sitting across from me and wondering why he seemed to be swaying. No matter how hard I tried to focus on him, I couldn’t make his image sit still. That was an interesting sensation. Oh, well. Dinner was over, and we returned to the apartment.

Once in my room, I decided to lie down until things in my line of vision stopped moving so much. After a little while, one of my roommates stopped in to see if I wanted to head out for some more drinking. I declined, and then slept peacefully for the next ten hours.

When I awoke the next morning, I found one of my classmates (but not a roommate) passed out on the sofa. I opened the door to the kitchen, and was met by the overwhelming stench of gas. At the same time, I thought I heard one of my roommates stirring, walking toward the bathroom.

I ran to the kitchen windows and opened them in a panic. I threw open the door that led out to the courtyard balcony in another instant, and then dashed to the stove. I found the remnants of two eggs in a saucepan – they had exploded. The gas was on, but the flame had clearly burned out long ago – sometime after the eggs launched themselves at the walls.

About then, I realized that none of my roommates was up, and what I thought I heard was merely someone in another apartment. My heart resumed beating, and I heaved a sigh of relief. The hot water heater for the apartment was located above the sink in the kitchen. If someone had gone into the bathroom and turned on the hot water in the sink or shower, the pilot light would have flared up to heat the water and our apartment would have been the scene of a spectacular explosion (since my classmate had passed out while his eggs – an odd snack for a drunken college student – were in the midst of being hard-boiled).

I count this among my “I could have been killed” moments. I’ve always been thankful that I wandered into the kitchen first that morning.

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