After six years, I gave up my booth at Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA). This has got to be a record for shortest tenure, seeing as how the woman from whom I inherited the booth had it for something over 30 years.
And actually, I’d been trying to quit for about three years, but kept getting talked out of it. But this year, as I slid into April with my hair on fire, I knew it was the magic year. The year where I finally learned to say: “No.”
Okay…maybe “learned to say no” is a bit of a stretch. But when I do finally scream “nooooo!!!!” in desperation, or cut someone off in traffic accidentally, or put my foot in my mouth I have learned to say: Eh…they’ll get over it.
So I quit NIOSA, a massive fundraiser for a cause that I affirm, the San Antonio Conservation Society. While I believe in their end goal, the event wasn’t something I could throw my whole self into anymore. For more on that, see my article in the Rivard Report.
I have stared out of that booth for 133 hours. Five and one half days. In all of that time, these were the highlights:
1) In the beginning, I was very…VERY into the whole thing. This photo was taken my first year in the booth, when I was 24 and kept company with primarily college students and single people. Back when stumbling home exhausted and sticky and smelling of beer was super cool. Back when I had a job that started at noon.
photo credit: Nell Glazener-Cooney
2) Nothing delighted me more than the men who would come by the booth in the drunking hour… not to see me. Dress a man up in a frilly blouse and a corona and you’ll have a line out the door.
3) I had many faithful helpers over the years. Becky Meyers, Justin Clement, the Behams, a whole host of Trinity Students who worked a shift every single year they were in school. But by far, the Volunteer of the Years(s) award goes to these two. I inherited them with the booth. They were the only thing that made it possible the last two years (when I had a job that didn’t observe “NIOSA week” as a holiday).
4) I have a whole philosophy on Big Red, thanks to NIOSA’s contract with the RC Company and their refusal to sell Coca Cola or Pepsi Products. Here were some of the greatest quotes to come out of Cold Drinks #2.
THE “You didn’t do so well on multiple choice tests, did you?” CONVERSATION
Customer: You don’t have Coke?
Me: No. We only have RC products.
Me: No. We only have RC Products.
Customer: Dr. Pepper?
Customer: Diet Coke?
Customer: Okay, I’ll take a Big Red.
THE “What the hell is your 7 year old doing here on a school night?” CONVERSATION
Customer at 9:30pm: Do you have anything without caffiene?
Customer’s Kid: I hate 7-UP!
Customer: Okay, he’ll take a Big Red.
THE “This is why America is obese” CONVERSATION
Customer: Do you have water?
Customer: Okay, I’ll take a Big Red.
Me: *blank stare*
I was beginning to believe that people only ordered Big Red as a last resort (which would mean that the four other drinks we served were beyond hope). But then there was this conversation, the year we decided to use the booth as a public health research venue.
Customer: I’ll take a Big Red.
Lewis: Here you go sir. And if you don’t mind my asking, how often would you say you drink Big Red?
Customer: Most of the time.
Lewis: *blank stare*
5) I am pretty sure that NIOSA is the single most significant thing I have ever done (six times) to/for my immune system.
6) Lewis coming along was a major change for my relationship with the booth. It was the beginning of a new time…a time when being irrationally tired had relational consequences.
I think the Conservation Society secretly knew this, and thus employed their prerogative as the arbiters of preservation. My maiden name (and the endless volunteer energy that went with it) is apparently one of the many monuments worth saving. 2013, when this picture was taken, was my 3rd NIOSA with the last name “McNeel.”
7) Whether it was the very earnest cloggers, or the wildly inappropriate “flasher” character that roved the dancefloor, the booth was never lacking in spectacle to observe. Of course, the perennial favorite of drunk festival-goers across the Anglo-German world is the Chicken Dance.
We kept a yearly tally of how many times the chicken dance was played.
8) The whole event has this sort of mom-n-pop feel to it. No one bothers with new-fangled conveniences like computers or health codes. So you can’t help but wonder how much money it could possibly make.
Millions, or more appropriately, tons. One trip to the ticket weighing station underneath the booth at Sauerkraut Bend, and you see that these moms and pops are nobody’s fools.
About 3% of the nightly spoils. Each of those tickets is worth 50 cents.
9) Odd as it is, perhaps the thing I’ll miss the most is walk out, after it’s all over. There is no moodier light than the fading of a heat lamp. No more melancholy sound than the last of the revelry 100 feet ahead of you. No more atmospheric icon than the trash and debris of the party covered in confetti. It would have been easy for my last walk out of NIOSA to be a nostalgic, bittersweet moment…but then someone spilled beer on my shoe and nearly poked me in the eye with their sausage skewer…