Thomas Holmes is a Pittsburgh-based writer. In addition to writing embarrassing family stories, he covers hockey, movies, and music and once saw Mr. Rogers naked. Here’s his recollection of the worst St. Patrick’s Day parade ever from his time living in Boston.
I have a highly complex relationship with the city of Boston. It borders on physically abusive at times.
Their sports teams constantly break my heart by beating my teams. The bars charge way too much for drinks. The city is home to terrible donuts so bad the company dropped the word donuts from its name (I know Dunkin’ is technically from Rhode Island, but still).
Boston is the only place in the world that I’ve been challenged to multiple fights for doing nothing. Still, though, it’s absolutely one of the most incredible cities where I’ve spent time. To quote the filmmaker Thomas Wiseau “You drive me crazy, but I still love you.”
So I have this problem with changing the day of a holiday. I hate the idea of celebrating on a more convenient day like a weekend— It’s a holiday, it should be off, that’s the whole point of a holiday. You don’t get a make-up day. This steadfast trivial opinion perhaps led to a bit of an oversight on my part.
Let’s flashback to March 2015. I’m a junior at Dartmouth, sort of.
It’s a long story. In short, with the possible exception of Bengals’ owner Mike Brown, I’m the dumbest person to attend an Ivy League school whose parents didn’t buy a building.
I don’t bring this up to brag, but this will be important later.
I’m about to get on a bus to Boston to visit my friend.
As I get onto the bus, everyone is clad in green and seems slightly inebriated, I should have put two and two together, but Dartmouth is its own world. Every day that ends in Y involves drinking, and everyone wears green constantly. Hence, the difference between St. Patrick’s Day and any other day is negligible.
We get into South Station’s bus station around 3 pm or so, and I head over to actual South Station to jump on the commuter rail. Those who haven’t been to Boston, these are two different buildings not connected to each other for reasons that don’t really make sense. The bus station is always pretty dead.
That day, it seemed a little noisier than usual, but it’s a nice day, so I don’t think much of it.
I get out onto the streets, and there are a shit ton of people. I’m maybe starting to see a theme around a lot of green and a hint of bagpipes from far off.
Again, let’s go back to the dumbest person Ivy league school thing and note that the synapses in my brain are not quite firing as fast as they should be.
I get to South Station proper, and it hits me. All of it strikes me. First, the smell of cheap beer and sweat and then piss.
Sure, these are all everyday scents at South Station, but the ratio is all off. Like it’s “get drunk off the air” levels of beer smells. The usually subtly foul-yet-harmonious blend of awful has taken hints from Emeril Lagasse and kicked things up a notch.
Also, the whole place is packed with what I can only assume is the entire population of the neighboring counties: Norfolk, Plymouth, Barnstable, Bristol, and some from Worcester who went to the wrong station.
At last, I realize that I decided to come to Boston on the day of the fucking St. Patrick’s Day parade, and worse, I’m here after it’s over. Because the parade was still going, this would be fine. It’s like ducking out early during a sporting event, it’s easy to get anywhere, and the roads are clear.
Now I’m leaving during the equivalent of a season-ending loss. Everyone is trashed, angry, the bathrooms are not to be entered, and it’s a nightmare getting out. This is literally the worst time to be at the train station with a couple thousand of my very drunk, very bellicose new best friends.
As an added bonus, I’m strapped with a hockey bag full of beer in bottles. Because like any promising newly minted 21-year-old, I come bearing gifts for my age-challenged friends.
So not only am I squeezing through the ranks of green Bruins t-shirt clad rabble, but I’m also trying to do so without breaking any of the bottles in this bag or clocking someone with a 40-50 pound bag of glass.
I’m also slightly worried about carrying a shit ton of alcohol around a group of people who would like more alcohol and a bunch of cops who would like to stop more people from having booze with them.
But you’re probably asking, why do I care about this? Like it’s not a big deal to have booze with me, I’m 21, and what are the chances they’re going to search my bag? But understand, I’m one of those people who gets in trouble for literally everything they’ve ever done.
I’m very good at getting caught, but I also have the skill to get in trouble for things that don’t even make sense. I once got in trouble for being choked by another kid in elementary school.
I’m acutely aware that this is just how my life works. So whenever I’m doing something even remotely dumb, I try to be as careful as possible. You are only paranoid if you’re wrong.
I probably should’ve been more worried about what I was wearing than the beer. I was wearing pretty much Dartmouth everything.
Looking back, it was a little over the top. Maybe it’s because my previous school’s bookstore consisted of shirts that were actually meant to go to its similarly named, very religious counterpart in the Midwest. Still, we just kept them and sold them because of free shirts, I guess?
But what I’m wearing is St. Paddy’s day apropos—all green, no pinching for me. Standing in front of the jumbotron departure board, I contemplate my fate as I send off a few texts on my battery-depleted phone.
As I am doing this, the first of many come up to me, “UMass Dartmouth sucks!” I don’t even look up because I just figured some dude yelling at another dude from UMass Dartmouth.
“Hey fucker, I said Umass Dartmouth sucks.”
This guy is talking to me. He looks eagerly for an answer and is poised to start a fight as soon as I give him some excuse by ripping into UMass Lowell or something.
“Yeah, they probably do. I don’t go there,” I say.
“Well, then why are you wearing UMass Dartmouth clothes?”
“These are from Dartmouth in New Hampshire.”
“Yeah, right there’s not a Dartmouth there.”
“Okay, dude.” I shrug.
He looks ready to push me when his friends come pick him up. Walking away, he shouts, “You fucking fake fucker!” flashing me the bird in a defeated way.
This is not the last of these occurrences, but they all kinda follow the same form:
Masshole: UMass Dartmouth sucks!
Tom: Other Dartmouth.
Masshole: What other Dartmouth?
Tom: The one in New Hampshire.
Masshole: Is that like a high school?
Tom: Nope, it’s a college.
Masshole: Well fuck them anyways!
The other variation on this:
Masshole: My best friend goes to UMass Dartmouth. Do you know [Insert name here]?
Tom: I don’t go there, so no.
Masshole: Why are you wearing that shirt then?
Tom: It’s for the other Dartmouth up in New Hampshire.
Masshole: There’s another Dartmouth?
Masshole: you’re not just saying that to get me away?
Tom: Nope, you can look it up. I promise you it’s true.
Masshole: I wonder if my friend knows there’s another Dartmouth? She’s never mentioned that.
Both situations happened maybe three times each.
For those at home, here’s a look at Dartmouth College and UMass Dartmouth’s logos. Pay close attention to the fact that they look nothing alike and have different colors.
I guess if UMass Dartmouth has St. Patrick’s Day-themed clothes, good on them for cornering that part of the market.
So after an hour of giving Dartmouth publicity that I didn’t realize it needed, we pack onto the thing of speed and beauty that is the commuter rail.
It feels as if the whole station is coming with us. I stumble around with my oversized bag, which increasingly feels like a terrible choice.
Walking through each packed car, each one more chaotic than the last, until I reach the final car on the train.
It’s smoke-filled. A hint of weed, but primarily harsh cheap cigs, the kind that high schoolers smoke. A bunch of high schoolers are jumping and shouting and drunk Facetiming people.
I stumble through the narrow car before a couple hastily beckons me in terse whispers into the seat they’re hiding out in because this is a fucking zombie movie, I guess. More high school kids arrive.
I know that they’re high schoolers because they are wearing shirts like “Canton High football 2014-15,” which, as a side note, seems like a bad idea like you’re going to go get wasted. You’re wearing a shirt that screams, “Hi, I’m underage!”
But again, this is the opinion of the dude who’s always in trouble for everything.
So this one guy enters the car, and he’s amped up as fuck. Like in a state of Hulkamania, ripping at his shirt, bouncing around the cabin.
We start to move. The conductor makes his way to our car. He gives a weary speech about he doesn’t want any trouble, just calm down, and that everyone needs to stop smoking. Nobody really listens to this.
I put on a pair of headphones and stare at my dead phone, occasionally looking up at the show in front of me.
The conductor starts going through the car to punch tickets. He reaches the little Hulkster kid. And asks for his ticket and tells him to stop smoking.
The kid blows smoke in his face and gives him his ticket. The conductor tells him to put the cigarette out. The kid halfheartedly pushes the conductor. The conductor shakes his head and bails out of the car.
The Hulkster kid drops some assorted racial slurs as soon as the conductor leaves the car because, yep, we’re hitting all the Boston stereotypes on this one. He precedes to make his way down the vehicle.
On the way, he French kisses a girl and takes her gum with him. There was some kind of story here, I can’t remember, but it was like his girlfriend’s friend, and she got on the phone with his girlfriend. I didn’t catch it all, but it seemed like something interesting.
Then Hulkster kid and another kid from another school get in a fight over who has a better football team. Being from Western PA, this is hilarious because Massachusetts high school football is terrible.
They start scrapping, but halfway through, this turns into feats of strength competition. We begin with some bar tricks, you know, putting out cigarettes with your fingers, but quickly move on as one of them stares up at glass-enclosed lights on the train. Everyone on the train knows what’s happening next.
A few people with impulse control warn them not to, but this gives way to chant, “punch the light, punch the light.”
Hulkster starts first.
The light explodes in a cloud of shattered glass and mercury vapor. Hulkster kid’s hand is chewed up, dark red blood dripping everywhere, that point where you can’t even see the original gash because there’s so much blood.
The other dude pops the light above him. There’s way less blood this go-round, but it obviously wasn’t a pleasant experience as he grimaces.
Another conductor comes in and tells everyone to stop punching out lights, or they’ll stop the train and call the cops. Once he leaves, the unbloodied dude peaces out into a seat, but Hulkster isn’t done.
He pops a few more bulbs with his bloodied hand before starting to walk down the aisle, asking people if they want to fight.
To be clear, there’s other shit going on when this is happening. This is a symphony of drunkenness, but dudes shouting, hookups, and some puking happens at every party in the world. So the train-specific stuff is far more engaging to me.
Hulkster is corralled back by a few friends. I decided to look up to enjoy this at the wrong time. He makes eye contact with me and spits his borrowed gum at me from half the car away. It kinda banks off the seat and hits me weakly in the forehead, hitting some hair but not enough to stick or anything.
First of all, let’s give this kid some credit. His gum spitting trajectory is phenomenal, like I’m half a caraway, and he hit his target with minimal assistance. This isn’t great but honestly, at this point, whatever. But apparently, this is just the beginning. Hulkster breaks from his friends and makes his way towards my seat. “Did that make you angry? huh?!”
I have never wanted to punch someone more than this kid, but also – I GET IN TROUBLE FOR LITERALLY EVERYTHING – and this is not a good time to start a fight. This kid is wasted and feels no pain.
He’s a high schooler, and fighting a high schooler as a junior in college is the lamest thing in the world. If I get arrested, I won’t be able to drink these beers I’ve schlepped from a state away.
So I say nothing.
Nothing clever comes to me, which is probably for the better. I just keep my head down and fake being on my phone. His friends catch up to him and spit towards me with way less accuracy this time.
The majority of the car finally reaches its stop. The platform is surrounded by three cop cars. The kids rush out, trying to find ways to avoid the police. I think I see a cop go after Hulkster, but we’re already moving before I see it play out.
We reach my stop. I pull up my hockey bag and slowly exit, clinking all the way.
I nod towards the conductor, in some sort of “thank you for-dealing-with this, but I’m sure I’m also part of the problem” kind of way.
I reach my friend’s car with a thousand-yard stare. I jump in the passenger seat.
“What’s up?” He says
“Well, I didn’t realize it was the St. Patrick’s Day parade.”
“Oh yeah, I guess the parade was today.”
“Some kid spat gum at me, but I have some good beer.”
We proceed to drink almost all of it in the following hours. After all, I had to catch up. I was behind.