Friday, September 21, 2012

Closing time

2 am: Streets come alive with laughter, voices and movement. It's closing time in downtown Gainesville. A ritual you see every night. As I was coming home tonight I passed a girl on her knees on the cobble stone. Her boyfriend was on his cell phone, trying to give his ride directions, while attempting to lift her. As they agreed as to the location he was trying to assist her and walk with her, but she was losing balance and falling every couple steps. It's a very common sight. Drunk people trying to find a ride, find a taxi, find  friend. Screaming and shouting, calling each other, running in traffic, walking in front of cars, trying to get home. At 2 o'clock all bars shut down. It's a hard closing- you must be out no matter what and nobody really cares how you're doing, so you better think of some plan. Luckily, we have the Later Gators- nighttime bus routes that connect Downtown with the most popular apartment complexes in the city. But you can't miss your last run. And you want to make sure that you don't leave your friends behind. And that you'll take care of the one that the one that's half passed out or vomiting on the lawn. You see people traveling in groups as they decide to get home. And it's sometimes fun to bump into those kids, exchange a few words, share a few laughs. You see sorority girls who worked so hard on their dresses, hair and make up.

By now, their mascara is running, the outfit is a mess and some are either missing a shoe or carrying them in their hands. You see international students. You hear Chinese and Arabic and the kids from India  walking together. On the buses, that some people decide to run after, there will  be laughter, singing and clapping. Somebody will attempt a back flip, someone else will  ask the driver to stop it because they felt ill. It's amazing how little has changed over the years. Bars have always been Gainesville's number one form of entertainment, our biggest industry if you will. And it is primarily a college town. This doesn't mean that everybody gets drunk every night, but if you're looking for something to do with friends at night you'll most likely end up and one of these venues. We have cinemas, museums and theaters, but they are not as wide spread, some are connected to the University, they are out of the way and they are not open late. Food and drinking (and one arthouse cinema place that closes by 10) are the typical activities in my area,which happens to be downtown. When I lived further, I used to love coming down here on a bus on the weekends. It felt like an expedition. I would grab a bite, get a drink, sing some karaoke and  go home with  students attempting to do a back flip on the bus.  I like watching the bars close. Quick, fast and efficient and sometimes you'll bump into an old friend heading home.

Now another thing fascinates me. How by 3 am it's all quiet. The streets are empty, Gainesville looks like a ghost town, historic Downtown seems like an abandoned movie set. People just go home. Tomorrow they'll do it again. There's no vandalism, no destruction, no all night drinking and noise. Is it the American culture that lets people simply have fun within limits and reason? Is it the police that watches over everyone? Why is it that this city is still mostly safe and calm and clean and fun? How come in Poland whenever a venue tries to stay open late in Warsaw you read about noise complaints, urination and spray painting?

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