This past St. Patrick’s Day, The Who’s “Teenage Wasteland” blared down the infamous Ezra Avenue as students drank themselves to the polar opposite side of sobriety. Bored by the detached surface reporting of the local news, I wanted to see what the event was like for myself.Students spilled onto the roadway coated with a sticky concoction of spilt alcohol and mud, discarded beer cans and broken bottles. They pressed shoulder to shoulder in a chaotic stream of green hats and accessories, migrating up and down the road as they laughed, stumbled, fell, gave overzealous hugs, cried, fought, smoked, snapped selfies and drank with a spirit I haven’t witnessed since I was 17. One cop remarked to his partner that he could never drink the way “these kids” were able to, and that he was impressed. His partner laughed in agreement. I also have to hand it to these same kids: their funnelling skills were admirable. I think that’s the word for it.The annual closure of Ezra Avenue in Waterloo, to control the inevitable partying in the name of the Saint, who himself was not Irish, nor even partook in the green-tainted beer, has been happening for many years.
And to the observant eye, it would seem that the story is nothing more than university aged kids having a good time and finding ways to drink out of every container possible. But as I took in the day’s events another picture started to reveal itself. Watching what are essentially kids—possibly your kids, or siblings, or friends—drunkenly stumble about with an evident lack of self-control, I saw an aggressive rejection of the day-to-day drab of socially acceptable behaviour.
I’m not trying to be a buzz-kill. At very brief times during the day, I smiled watching students embrace their free youth, no doubt having fun in the best way they knew how. It made me want to rewind the clock several years, grab a bottle of cheap piss beer and thrust it towards the sky, floating away to a time surrounded by friends without a care in the world.
There is a difference between being drunk and having a good time, and being out of control where you are no longer able to make good decisions for yourself. I saw bottles being thrown into the crowd, people not being able to stand on their own, forceful arrests, vomiting in the street, a girl being carried out on a stretcher, uninvited sexual advances from guys in broad daylight, girls standing around crying, couples fighting, and a pile of cocaine.
Wanting to move off of the road, I tried to find my way into one of the many party houses that were protected by private security guards, or de facto bouncers who had a keen interest in keeping me from discovering what extracurricular activities were happening inside. I was often told there was nothing happening inside, and if my name wasn’t on a list, I couldn’t get in.
Seeing cops and emergency workers snap selfies with students is encouraging and gives the impression that all is being looked after, but there’s only so much that the police can see and do, even with their heavy presence. I saw officers approached a house with drunken students on the roof, at which point the students vacated the roof, and as police approached the front door of the house it was slammed shut and locked. A sign was taped to the door that read “stay classy.”Does the whole Ezra-free-for-all idea endorse and encourage mass intoxication, or does it really keep things under control? Is this really an unpreventable day of student partying. We need more conversation in the public sphere, between students and the administration and the community about the social acceptance of binge drinking in general and this weird day specifically.
Are the students any worse for wear? Perhaps not. I (sort of) remember my first drink, although it gets a little hazy after that. I learned what was an acceptable limit from experience, often many, and I’m still doing alright. The vast majority of students I talked to were simply having a good time out on the road, but there might still be a larger problem here. Were the things I saw an inevitable product of student life and drinking? I’m not sure.
As the lyrics from “Teenage Wasteland” say, “The exodus is here, the happy ones are near, let’s get together, before we get much older.” The party does go on.
Ed. note: this article was updated on March 23. Two photos were added to the slideshow and a few stylistic changes were made.