On any given weekend in the South Side of Pittsburgh, a weekend warrior could find about any type of trouble if they desired. Carson Street, in particular, is a hot bed of debauchery and indulgence, serving as the rite of passage for any young person newly perusing the area. Imagine, if you will, an endless hallway of several doors, and behind every door is a different party. To many, this is what Carson Street feels like, except with hundreds of stumbling drunks falling in and out of every door.
On this one particular weekend, my friends and I had been asked by one of Pittsburgh's largest breweries to judge a contest that would serve as the basis for recruiting future promotional girls. For nearly two hours, we were fed free beer as we sat at a table and asked simple questions to girls who were told a job was guaranteed to them, given their victory of course. For them, it was a chance to get into a nightclub that normally had a hefty cover charge. Among the important duties that I held included taking photographs of the event, specifically of the stiletto-wearing contestants. (NOTE: I urge any reader to leap at the opportunity to judge a contest like this, when a popular
local brewery asks you to do such things.)
We chose a worthy winner at the conclusion of the contest and, after quickly wrapping things up, we dashed outside as fast as we could. By this time, the South Side's inebriated madness was peaking, signaling the perfect time to not be tied down with any responsibility. We walked two blocks down to a bar called Town Tavern, a two-story mammoth of a bar complete with a dance floor and VIP sections. My friend Chris had chosen the bar because representatives from the brewery and some of the ladies from the contest were going to be handing out merchandise and, thankfully for us, more free beer. After scoping out the scene, I made my way upstairs and away from my group.
The place was packed and the music was blaring to the point where it was almost useless to try and talk to anyone. This is per the norm since many of the South Side establishments are not great for conversation. I had consumed the gentleman's half of a mushroom and cheese pizza and a ton of beer over the course of the evening, so I just needed to find a place to relax. After finding a free barstool next to the dance floor, I sat nursing a beer, with the camera still around my neck. In hindsight, I probably looked quite creepy to be sitting alone with a Rolling Rock and a thousand-yard stare, only to have a camera around my neck.
After a few stale minutes, I noticed that a huge wave of people had moved upstairs and it was starting to get more crowded. The group of people were all wearing the same t-shirt, for which, due to the lighting, I could not make out what the shirts read. I deduced correctly that it was a Bar Crawl making a scheduled stop, as more and more people were starting to move in.
It was after a few minutes that I noticed that these people were exceptionally large and clearing paths of dancing people as they marched their way over to the VIP section. One, in particular, made his way to the bar on the opposite side of the room. There was something about him, though, because people seemed to leap out of the way and stared at him with awe. A tall, burly bearded man with a fierce look in his eye and a purpose in his step. Then, it clicked."That's Brett Keisel," I said aloud to no one as I jumped off the lonesome bar stool to follow him. Without hesitation, as I reached the bar, I slapped him on the back and greeted him.
"Hey, man," I screamed above the thumping music. "It's great to see you again!" Keisel, at first, looked at me for what I truly was, a drunken fan just walking up to him in a bar. That statement of "It's great to see you again" quickly made him reevaluate our relationship. The look in his eye changed, from one of defensive confusion, to that
of pity. There was a chance we might have might somewhere in the past and he had forgotten who I was. What Brett Keisel didn't realize was that Brett Keisel and I never had a one on one conversation up until this point. I was not going to tell him this, especially at this point in the game. There was no turning back.
"You too brother! How've ya been?" he asked as we proceeded to make small talk over a beer.
After a few minutes, I saw that he was being waved over to the VIP section by some of the people in his bar crawl. It was this moment that I realized that the person waving him over was also a large and intimidating presence: Chris Kemoeatu, three sheets to the wind. Most of the dance floor had paused and watched as Kemoeatu roared over the music in an attempt to get Keisel's attention. At that point, my conversation with Keisel ceased as he followed Kemoeatu's clarion call. Mustering up some courage, I decided to follow him and test my luck with Kemoeatu. Maybe there was a chance that he also would think that we were old friends.
We got up to the entrance of the VIP section and, as expected, I was stopped by a security guard and questioned. Panicking and not thinking of anything to say, I quickly pointed at the camera around my neck and shouted "Photographer!" The security guard nodded and let me in. I'm not sure why he did this, though it was probably my body language that suggested I was actually the photographer hired for this particular night out. That story seemed believable to me, anyways. At any rate, I was in the VIP section and finally getting to see what I had gotten myself into. This was not a bar crawl that was being led by Bret Keisel and Chris Kemoeatu, but a bar crawl that included half of the Pittsburgh Steelers including, Hines Ward, Rashard Mendenhall, Willie Colon and Ben Roethisberger, among others.
While walking through your typical Pennsylvanian woodlands, one of the fears most people have is inadvertently stumbling upon a family of bears that would tear you to pieces if they suddenly felt threatened. A similar feeling falls upon you when walking into a VIP section with a pack of drunken NFL monsters. With that in mind, I sauntered over to an empty corner of the section and pulled out my phone in an attempt to look busy. I quickly tried to alert my friends of my current situation, but they were downstairs becoming friendly with a few of the female contestants from earlier in the evening.
Calming down a bit, I decided to drink my beer and soak in this unique atmosphere while I could.
It was getting late, and by the state of the Steelers' inebriation, I deduced that this was most likely the last stop on the crawl. A short blonde was slapping the hands of a nameless Steeler's flirtatious efforts. Ben Roethisberger was quietly texting in the corner. I felt calm and as I looked around the room, trying to ignore the absurdity of the situation. It was then that I noticed that the security guard, who had questioned me earlier, pointedly staring at me. He called a non-Steeler bar crawl participant over and said something to them, all the while staring in my direction. At this point I knew it was time to leave, so I chugged my beer and charged towards the exit. As I rapidly made my way out, I literally bumped into Brett Keisel who shouted, "Great seeing you again, brother!" "You too, pal," I answered, and ran out of the section.
When I got downstairs, I spotted my friends in the crowd at the corner of the bar still working on the ladies from the contest. Still shaken from the situation upstairs, I moved deep into a crowd and up against a bar in an attempt to blend in. I tried to calm down and not be seen by any security guards that may have been following me. Just then, The Jackson 5 came through the speakers and blasted through the bar. The large gentleman standing next to me began to jump up and down and groove excitedly to the music. Max Starks really likes the Jackson 5, and was not afraid to let everyone at the Town Tavern know this as he bounced to the beat.
"Yeah, this is my shit," he screamed as he nudged me to dance along with the song.
When Max Starks asks you to dance to the Jackson 5, you dance to the Jackson 5. I asked him his favorite song of theirs was, which led us through last call as we talked about how upset he was about the death of Michael Jackson.
I looked around the bar and saw my friends making their way to the door, "I got to go Max. Have a great night!" "No doubt!" he said as I left the bar with my friends who seemed to have absolutely no idea about my night's adventures.
"Where did you disappear to?" a friend asked. "Oh...I was just upstairs, making friends," I answered.