I just wanted a beer and some quiet conversation with friends I don’t get to see often enough. That’s one of the best parts of going to a convention after all. After Saturday night at the bar in the convention hotel I can say there are times when quiet conversation might be overrated.
A small group of us sat at our table off to the side of the bar area. We had dwindled to the last four, Brian, Christine, Kelly and myself. At least part of the reason the crowd dwindled was the noise level in the bar. The majority of the crowd was comprised of two wedding parties. The receptions for these groups were earlier in the day at the hotel and now some of the guests had decided to carry those revels on long into the night… with 90s pop songs played so loud it was impossible for me to hear what the people sitting next to me were saying without shouting. Brian’s voice carried well enough for me to hear.
“Please tell me this is happening.” Brian wanted to turn and stare, but we advised against it. Directly behind him two of the ‘leftover’ bridesmaids had decided they would dance with each other since nobody else would dance with them. They had progressed, fairly rapidly, from dancing to slow dancing with a dip involved. They were becoming quite familiar with each other.
“Yes, it’s happening. They’re practicing for their own wedding. They don’t realize it yet, but that’s what it is. I’m glad gay weddings are allowed in New Jersey now.” Christine seemed happy to let it go at that.
“But why is it happening behind me?” Brian was holding up his smart phone. “I’m going to pretend to be taking a selfie and see if I can get this on camera.”
“I’m going for more drinks.” Christine headed for the bar.
We didn’t know it at the time, but that refill actually had excellent timing. It was going to be the last round for the night. It didn’t take long before Christine was back and amused.
“You should have seen the horrified look on that poor guys face.” She handed out drinks all around. “He volunteered to get a round of shots. Six shots and sixty dollars later he didn’t look happy.”
In the background noise we heard a shrill voice cut through, “I’m hangry!”
I didn’t realize that was even a word. It is apparently the mashing together of hungry and angry. It was also one of those times I realized that stereotypes exist for a reason. I don’t think an actor could have made up the New Jersey accent that went along with the pronunciation. I was glad I wasn’t closer to the person making that statement. The sound cut through everything around it, including my head.
Since the kitchen was closed and the bar had no food someone in bridal party one decided it would be a great idea to have food delivered to the bar in the hotel. A call was made and a short time later a delivery driver wandered through the lobby with his warming bags filled with the wonderful cheesy goodness that is pizza. Bridal party one stacked the pies on a nearby table and went back to the serious business of drinking themselves to oblivion… and that choice started the cascade.
Somebody from bridal party two thought cheesy goodness was a great idea. That person wandered over and snatched pizza from the stack. The amount of pizza taken is in question here. The action happened behind me to my right. I thought it was a single slice, but Brian contends it was an entire box of pizza. I would be quicker to forgive somebody’s grubby mitts on the outside of the box than to forgive getting their fingers inside and potentially onto the crust of the slice I might eat next. Bridal party one was not in the giving, or forgiving mood after so many shots. They called out the pizza thief.
Begin the downward spiral.
Heated words, mostly profane or unintelligible were shouted in exchange. Members of each bridal party moved into position based on their desire to defend or hold back various other members of the bridal parties. Shouting slid to shoving. Shoving ratcheted up the shouting. Drunken warriors decided that shoving was the sort of insult not to be taken lightly.
A punch was thrown.
I couldn’t see who it was. I don’t know that it matters in the end. I’m certain there are people on both sides of this mess that will point fingers at others for years to come. That punch was like the starter pistol at a foot race. That’s when the brawl started. It’s been a lot of years since I’d witnessed a melee like that. There was shouting and shoving. There were punches and teams of people trying to hold back the most loudly drunken or dangerous (or both) in the crowd. In my experience holding someone back only opens them up to a head-shot from the opposition, and that held true in this case. Chairs tumbled. People tumbled. Bodies surged back and forth across the length and width of the bar area.
Imagine if you will the musicians on the deck of the sinking Titanic. This was our table. There we sat, sipping our last round and commentating while chaos swirled around us. Miraculously we avoided the surging mess. Brian picked up his phone. “I need to record this. It will be a YouTube hit.”
I responded, “Dude, IF you record it and somebody sees you recording it your phone will end up becoming ‘Exhibit A’ in the court case. Do you really want that?”
“Good point. I’m down to my last bar anyway, I don’t know if I’ve got enough battery to get the whole thing.”
The “clean up” lights all came on and the music screeched to a halt. The bar manager whistled loud enough to get some attention and then she screamed into the masses, “That’s it! This party is over and you all have to get out! The police have been called!” There was a lull as the various parties pulled back and regrouped. We thought it was over. That’s when the Greyhound appeared. It was the only way I could describe this woman. She had to be six feet tall. She was rail thin and her cheek bones had the elongated structure that always reminds me of an animal. She would have been sleek and fast looking except for the bulbous chest attachments. They couldn’t have been real breasts. They were so round an prominently displayed they should have had an advertisement for the manufacturer on them. She was still dressed for the wedding reception. She was wearing a skin tight green mini dress and high heels.
Quick side note here – observing something like this tends to lead to confusion. I called the dress green, Christine called the dress blue and Brian called it purple – all in the course of the same conversation. Three witnesses to the exact same event with multiple descriptions of the same mini dress. Some details will be lost to history, some will continue to be debated and some will be resolved. We resolved that Brian’s fashion assessment was dead wrong almost immediately and settled for teal.
Greyhound took exception to something that was said from the crowd. She lashed out. Lashed out makes it sound more vicious than it really was. She was the next example of stereotypes existing for a reason, she totally hit like a girl. It’s not a fair stereotype, but there you have it. Her swing was so ineffectual that she attempted to move on to another form of attack. It may have been an abortive attempt at a kick that was restricted by the tight green mini dress. It may have been her secret Muay Thai training and she was attempting a knee strike. It amounted to a total fail in every way except one. The brawl was off and running again.
People that were holding others back turned and joined the fray. Those that had been slowly heading toward the exit were suddenly in the path of destruction. People ended up tumbling over the railings placed in the false windows out into the main hotel lobby. The hollow coconut sound of a head striking something solid was heard over the rest of the sounds along with the meaty slap of flesh landing on tile. We were certain somebody wasn’t going to get up but the human body can endure a great deal of punishment when fueled by alcohol. I think I saw blood. Brian confirmed it, there was blood. Christine confirmed that one of the guys lost his shirt… it made me question for just a moment if some women see fighting in a far different light then men. I was distracted from that thought as some of the mass surged toward our table. The chairs beside us were knocked over, the table slid our direction.
Christine grabbed the edge of our table, “If they come this way I’m flipping this table.”
Brian looked at me. Unspoken rule flashed between us. Don’t make eye contact or you’re “in”. I shook my head. I had no desire to join this disaster in the making. I’ve seen the results of events like this in the past and nobody comes out a winner.
The crowd surged to the lobby. The police arrived. Things finally began to wind to a close. Thankfully Brian and Christine, being the amiable folks they are, had a good relationship with one of the bartenders. Said bartender wandered over to our table to reassure us, “Guys just sit tight. We know this mess had nothing to do with you. Once there’s a clear path you can head out. Really sorry, but we’re closing early.” So there we still sat, finishing the last of our drinks and chatting about all the action. Christine released her grip from the edge of our table and pulled the cloth up to look at the legs.
“It’s probably good that I didn’t flip this. The legs aren’t what I thought. All this would have totally landed on you.” Christine half smiled as she looked my way. I was not comforted by it.
Another minute or two and we stood and wandered to the bar to finish our conversation with the bartender. He started by telling us this wasn’t actually the worst brawl he’d seen. There was apparently another occasion when the hotel had booked five receptions on the same day including one for police officers. That days festivities kicked off when one group claimed their bride was by far the prettiest of all those in attendance that day. I thought that was far too subjective a concept to fight over. Defend the pizza was a much more clear cut battle cry. I looked around. Other than some smeared cheese and pepperoni and a half mashed pepper, the pizza (and the box) was gone. I think it was saved, but I won’t know for certain until the cell phone video we saw being recorded (by somebody else) makes it to the internet.
I wanted to listen in to the rest of the story the bartender was telling but I was distracted by the only other person still in the bar. There was also a girls soccer team staying in the hotel this weekend. We’d seen them in various encounters with parts of the convention on and off through the day. One soccer dad had taken the opportunity after the team curfew to hit the bar. His eyes were bloodshot and watery. He only swayed a little as he stood there.
“Is this some kind of convention?” he asked. It sounded a little slurred, but not a great deal. He was right on the edge of happy.
“Yeah, there’s a science fiction convention here this weekend but this brawl didn’t have anything to do with it. That was the bridal parties.” I answered him.
“Do you guys do this every year?” he forged ahead without really hearing my answer.
“Yes, the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society holds a convention every year.” I turned my head trying to catch more of the bartenders story.
“I wanted to know because tonight was awesome,” he continued with drunken emphasis. “I got kissed by a guy in a dress, I saw a geisha with a phoenix cape and a skunk in a wheel chair. I totally have to come back next year!”
“Well, those folks were part of the convention, but there’s so much more. There are authors, costumers, artists, editors, publishers, and anyone else that’s connected to science fiction and fandom in the area.” I wasn’t sure where this was going.
“Science fiction? Like zombies and stuff? My kids totally think the zombie apocalypse will be a real thing.” He quirked his brow and did his best drunken serious look.
“Well, zombies are part of the whole thing but some of that strays into horror as well.” I had turned hoping that subtle body language would work.
“We totally need to stay in touch man. This was awesome.”
I did the only thing I could think of at the time. I reached into my pocket and gave him my friend Jay’s business card. “That would be great man. Take this and look up these zombie stories. I’m sure the girls will like them.”
He thanked me and with a happy smile wandered off to find his room, or the next bit of excitement for the evening. I’ll never know.
We decided we’d had enough for one night and headed for our rooms. It was almost too much to take in, the level of stupid that fueled our entertainment for the evening. Heading back into the room I was splitting with three other folks was the first step on the road to an epic story. Kelly, who had been remarkably quiet through most of the proceedings spoke up as soon as we got through the door, “Ruth you decided to call it a night about fifteen minutes too early. You’re never going to believe what happened just after you left…”
By the time I was leaving the convention the next afternoon the story of the bridesmaid brawl of 2014 had already come back around and was being passed back to our group, “Did you hear what happened at the bar last night?”
I didn’t hear. I didn’t need to, I was there.