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With a little planning the county bus system can not only be a safe way to get you home when you are drunk, but also a very effective conduit to that drunkenness.
Allow me to explain.
Bus lines like the 10, 15 and 30 will take you past dozens of bars from the East Side to Marquette, Shorewood to Bay View and beyond. If you time it right you can squeeze in a half-dozen bars or more on a single bus fare, using your transfer to hop back on the bus in between bar districts. It's basically a tax subsidized drunk shuttle. Best of all it gets you home safe and sound without putting anyone else in harm's way.
While the Milwaukee County Transit System almost certainly wouldn't approve of this idea, let's face it, there is almost always one drunk person on the bus. Why shouldn't it be you?
I met up with my friend Andy Menchal who you might recognize from Comet Cafe or his many music projects, most recently Decibully. Menchal is a new dad, so hang time has been sparse lately. The first annual Public Transit Bar Crawl gave us ample time to catch up while we attempted to see how many bars we could hit using a single bus fare. We chose the 15 since we both work and live just off the route. Here is what transpired.
5 p.m. -- Met Andy at Replay, the newish sports bar on the corner of North and Farwell Avenues, and ordered a beer. It was our first time at the bar and the drinks were cheap and there were a dozen televisions blasting classic NBA All-Star dunk contests. Andy's eyes were fixed on Nate Robinson dunking over Spud Webb on the giant flat screen, while mine locked in on our bartender's own pair of All-Stars. We both hesitated to leave as we finished our beer, but we were on a mission and our bartender's tremendous rack wasn't going to stop us.
5:15 -- We hoof it down to the bust stop at North and Oakland Avenues just in time to get on the bus. If we had more time or younger livers we could have easily hit a few more bars on North Avenue but we wanted to try and sample as many different stretches of bars as we could, and Andy had to be home by 8 p.m. Everyone else on the crowded bus showed signs of work fatigue, apparently unaware that they were on the biggest year-round party shuttle in town.
5:25 -- We hop out at the Roman Coin, 1004 E. Brady St., which sat conveniently at the corner bus stop. We ordered a Schlitz tallboy and a mystery shot and Andy told me about the time one of his co-workers at Kopp's in Brookfield melted his hand off in the deep frier because he thought if he iced it down first it wouldn't hurt. I kept nervously peeking out the window to make sure we weren't missing the next bus, but the regulars had a seemingly supernatural awareness of the bus schedule and assured us we had enough time for exactly one more beer. We sucked down the beer, listened to the bartender tell a story about the time his friend drank a bottle of vegetable oil on a dare and puked for the next three days, and hit the street just in time to catch our ride.
5:40 -- Not sure if it's the four drinks in less than an hour, or the euphoric effect of the bus' bright fluorescent lights washing over me but I am feeling giggly. A scraggly street person in filthy clothes slumped over and mumbling to himself looks up at me. I wink at him, knowing that he too understands the overwhelming joy of a drunken bus ride. I quickly realize that Andy's 8 p.m. deadline to get home is the only thing standing between me and the permanent bar bus crawl this guy was on.
5:45 -- We hop out on Water Street and head to Duke's on Water which is still in the midst of its $1 happy hour. We grab a beer and watch some of the Badgers basketball game. Again, if you wanted to max out the bus' potential we could have easily slammed a shot at every bar on Water Street in time to catch the next one, but with the silhouette of that gentleman on the bus still etched in my mind we opted to keep the rage meter at a seven.
5:55 -- After another beer we head out the door and continue down Water Street. We pop into Rosie's on Water and after alternating trips to the men's room post up at the bar and try to order a shot. The suspense built as our bartender took down a lengthy food order for a group at the end of the bar. We grew panicked as we worried she would not get to us in time. Not since "Speed" has there been two people so worried about a bus. After finally getting our drinks, we quickly drank them and bolted out the door.
6:38 -- We stood at the bus stop for what seemed like forever thinking we must have missed our bus. We probably could have sneaked in another bar, but were worried we'd miss it again. Finally, not one, not two, but three number 15 buses pulled up. We hopped in the emptier one at the back of the line and the driver complained the guy in the front had been running behind all night. With our bus transfer getting dangerously close to expiring we quickly abandoned the rigid rules of the experiment and just decided to buy another bus pass.
6:47 -- We hop out at National and Kinnickinnic Avenues and can't decide if we want to risk going into Solid Gold gentleman's club or not. Andy, who loves his fiancee very much (Hi Cortney!) opted to eat a pizza at Steny's instead and frankly in the state we were in a hot cheese pizza was more gratifying than watching the colorfully perfumed ladies up the street and probably less greasy. We got about half-way through a pitcher, and all the way through the pizza and decided to cruise. Andy and I agreed this was turning out to be one of the best ideas we've ever had. Certainly the best one since we blew up a television in my backyard with a pipe bomb a few summers ago.
7:22 -- We use another fare and get on the half-filled bus. The driver doesn't know her intercom microphone is on and we laugh as she tells off-color jokes to another bus driver standing next to her at the front of the bus. No one else seems to find it nearly as funny. I'd love to share some with you, but none of them are fit to publish, even on the Internet. Andy took a call from his fiancee asking him to pick up some groceries for dinner, and probably because she had psychically sensed me trying to get him to go to the strip club, so we decided to hit one last stop near our houses in Bay View before he had to split.
7:46 -- We hop out across the street from Frank's Power Plant. More shots. More beers. I'm in "I Love You Man" zone. The last time I had this much fun on the bus I was 12 and had just seen one of my friends hit a lady in the eye with a peanut out of the school bus window. With me running out of ex-girlfriends to defame, and finally agreeing that Muggsy Bogues was in fact taller than Spud Webb we decided to call it a night. All in all, I highly recommend utilizing the public bus system for your next booze cruise. It's safe. It's fun. It's cheap. And if you are lucky enough to get a driver who doesn't know her voice is being amplified you might just find out how many lesbians it takes to screw in a light bulb (her joke, not mine).