So the party barge had disgorged us in the midst of Oktoberfest, and we agreed that the best course of action was to hop on the nearby trolley-style shuttle and make our way to the New Glarus brewery. It’s a fantastic space, a gargantuan theme park dedicated to beer. We wandered the halls, gazed at the copper kettles and stainless steel tanks, browsed the gift shop, and sampled the wares. And then it was it was announced that we were to get back on the shuttle and return to the downtown festivities. We stood in the shadow of the brewery and waited.
Soon it was there, this odd little trolley thing from the land of make-believe. It parked, and as its riders disembarked, the driver announced that open containers were not allowed on the vehicle. Someone had paid good money for my beer, so I drained my nearly full pint. Others did the same. The last of the new arrivals cleared the trolley doors and the crowd surged. Quickly it became clear that not all of us would fit on this outlandish conveyance.
The trolley rolled away with most of our group inside, mocking us. There were perhaps ten or twelve of us left behind to consider the situation.
“We could just walk. It’s probably only 15 or 20 minutes.” This from a voice somewhere in back. The notion was too ridiculous to warrant any sort of response.
Our eyes turned to the natural leader of the diminished crew. “Well,” he said sagely, “that thing will probably be back in about ten minutes. Let’s go get more beer.” We nodded and followed him to the taps.
In truth, it took more like 30 minutes for the trolley to make its way back. The first compensatory beer had gone down smoothly and I had barely begun my second when we heard the dinging bell of the approaching trolley. We hurried down to the pick-up spot, gazing warily at the handful of middle-aged Midwesterners milling about nearby. “We’re getting on this one,” our Fearless Leader murmured. “It’s going to happen.”
“Damn,” someone said. “The beer.” Again, all of us found ourselves holding nearly full pints. You don’t leave a soldier, so I once more chugged my beverage. It was starting to hurt, I noticed.
The trolley pulled up. As the doors opened, the old folks nearby somehow multiplied, rushed the vehicle, and hurled themselves in. Some carried cases of beer and bags from the gift shop, and they shamelessly used these objects to shove us out of the way and block our path. It was like trying to get on the US embassy’s last helicopter out of Vietnam.
Not one member of our group had managed to squeeze on. The driver tried to depart, but one of our more resourceful members used his torso to block the folding door while we pleaded to ride on the exterior. Our Fearless Leader pointed out the many railings and knobs that were well-suited for any passenger with a decent grip. “It’s actually a quite common form of public transit in large swaths of Central Asia,” I noted. But the driver was a stubborn man, and unreceptive to logic. He kicked the door-blocker in the head and launched forward, laughing and cursing at us. The old people on the trolley made lewd gestures as they rolled away.
We stood in silence for several moments. I heard quiet weeping from somewhere nearby. “I knew we should have walked,” someone started to say, but our Fearless Leader lashed out and cracked the would-be pedestrian on the back of his skull. “We’re getting another beer,” he said coldly, “and then we’re going to come right back here and wait.” He marched forward with resolve, and we followed like scared baby ducks.
Minutes later we were back in position. For the next half hour we sipped our pints and gazed darkly at anyone who wandered nearby. From time to time a duo was allowed to return to the taps for additional supplies of beer, but they were told in no uncertain terms to move quickly. Our Fearless Leader designated five men as our strike team, and quietly instructed them on what needed to be done. “They’ll be coming in from the right, that group there,” he said, shielding his mouth from potential lip readers. “You’ll have to lock arms and create a barrier. We’ll pull you in once we’re aboard.”
From the distance, we heard the trolley’s bell. Caught off guard again with full glasses, we began slamming our beers. A young woman in our group wailed in dismay. “Help me!” she cried, holding out her full pint. Three chivalrous souls stepped forward to help drain her cup.
The trolley rolled into the parking lot, and the entire group tensed. A group of pudgy tourists began to approach from the gift shop. We stared them down. Some old people who had been gazing at the landscape began to casually move in our direction. We did not panic. We had been through this, after all. No surprises this time. If things got ugly, we would be ready.
The trolley stopped and the door opened. The driver gazed coldly down at us as his passengers slowly lurched down the steps. When the path was finally clear, the tourists and old folks pushed forward, trying to overwhelm us with sheer numbers. But we had trained for this moment. The strike team took up their positions precisely as planned. The rest of us rushed into the trolley’s orifice, slapping indiscriminately at those who were not of our kind. A woman who bore a striking resemblance to my beloved Aunt Beatrice pleaded for entry, but I turned my back to her and threw myself directly into the churning mass of humanity that somehow was filling the vehicle. There was a moment of panic as I cursed myself for not wearing a scuba tank or at least some kind of protective head gear… and then I was in.
I collapsed into a seat and found myself sitting next to Peter, who wore a dazed expression. “I didn’t think we’d make it,” he murmured. To my left, I could see that Aunt Beatrice’s doppelganger had somehow made it onboard. I assumed that behind her sunglasses was a mask of cold rage, but it didn’t matter. We’d missed a substantial chunk of Oktoberfest, and we had precious few hours to catch up.
“Man, that was a shit show,” Peter mused.
“No,” I said. “The shit show is just beginning.”
(Trolley image: Brookline Historical Society)