I don’t know about the bar culture in YOUR town, but in Madison it’s thriving. Most of the important things in this down are done at bars. Most of the shows, most of the dates, most pre- and post-sporting meetups, birthday gatherings, etc. It’s like our collective identity’s home is “the bar”. Just ask someone who doesn’t drink (if you can find one) and lives in Madison and they’ll tell you that they are forced to keep frequenting the bars in order to maintain any contact with their friends and family.
There are two or three days per year in Madison where the bars are allowed to not close. Not only do the regular lushes get an extra 4-5 hours of hard boozing in, but the casual drinkers who only go out once a week or so also feel obligated to take advantage of city-wide magical no-bartime holiday. Honestly, it’s probably good that there’s no set time of mass closure because every single cab in the city is trying to get all these drunks home and there would be NO WAY we could all do it if everyone in the city wanted a cab at the same time. Then those drunk people milling around getting angry they are waiting outside in freezing temperatures (last night it was 3 degrees Fahrenheit) for a cab would start breaking liquor store windows for more booze. This actually happened on Halloween 7-8 years ago on State St, one of the main drags full of bars. Overall, though, New Years is way better than Halloween in Madison. Halloween has this weird hype so people from neighboring states come and wreck havoc on our city, not caring about their path of destruction because they can just go back to THEIR city. New Years is generally our locals who care a little bit more.
So back to my point: instead of having a deadline to be drunk by, everyone drinks the whole night and goes home when they can’t feel their legs anymore… which is a different point of the night for each individual. Since there are a lot of individuals in Madison, it felt like a regular Friday or Saturday bartime for the entire 11 hours of my shift. We didn’t stop being busy until approximately 6am, at which point the bars with kitchens started serving breakfast and bloody marys. That was my deadline. I was scheduled until 4am, but I couldn’t just leave all that money on the street. I would stay out until I had the ability to pay someone else to make me a hot breakfast.
The whole evening was fairly uneventful. All my tips were good and fair with a sprinkling of really good tips and pretty shitty tips, but nothing too far out on the spectrum. Nothing to write a blog post about. Madison got about half an inch or a little more of snow, though, which affected everyone’s income. A wealthy couple got into my cab at an upscale establishment early in the evening and started the conversation with, “wow, this snow must be really good for you!” I pointed out that it might be on a slow night, like a Tuesday or Wednesday, but on a night that we normally struggle to keep up with demand it only slows us down because it’s so hard to drive in.
They each took turns making an effort to point out how having them in my cab was almost like them doing me a favor. It seemed a little weird to me, I wondered where that habit came from. They kept an ear on my radio and when the dispatcher mentioned how most cabs were emptying downtown and she was shipping empty cabs west to cover calls, the lady pointed out how fortunate I was that I had them in my cab (they were headed west, away from downtown). All I could think was “whatever, if it isn’t you in my cab, it’s someone else within 5 minutes.” I made appropriate agreeing noises, though. The most I remember about this ride was how weird it was for someone to try and get me to feel grateful that I had them in the cab rather than the other way around since supply and demand was so far in my favor. It’s not like I think they should have been thanking me or anything, but certainly not baiting me to thank THEM for coincidentally living on the west side for the one hour period that our market has a lot of business there.
I had one close call with sickness during the night, right after midnight. I was driving a minivan, and a party of 6 piled in. The man in the front wasn’t feeling well, but they all wanted to go from Sun Prairie (an outlying town) to downtown Madison for the remainder of the evening. This was approximately a 25 minute ride, and the whole time the dude in the front was half-asleep and moaning. He would wake up when I periodically asked “how ya doin’?” He kept himself together until we got to the destination and when he got out he immediately got sick all over the snowbank in front of the bar, drawing disgusted groans and pointing fingers from bystanders. I was REALLY thankful that didn’t happen inside my vehicle. It would have cost me over an hour of my time to clean the car and get back on the road, and business on the road would have net me more than the $50 cleaning fee I would have been able to charge. Not to mention how gross it is to clean someone else’s puke. Also: why on Earth would you want to go out when you’re already puking? How fun could that be?
After I checked in, it turns out that most of the night for everyone was uneventful. Nothing big happened, no emergencies, no accidents. There were A LOT of drunk people, some good tips, some bad tips, some snow… Most of the drivers who finish after bartime on a normal Friday or Saturday night, usually checking in at 3am, finished about 5 or 6am after ringing in the new year. A good chunk of us went to The Locker Room for a couple drinks, breakfast, and decompression. I was so beat that I only stuck around for an hour, but historically I would stay until noon. Once in a while there’s a meat raffle. I won some sweet pork chops my first time at The Locker Room. I’m pretty sure meat raffles are unique to Wisconsin. It’s pretty self-explanatory. You pay $1 and they raffle off some meat at the bar while you eat your breakfast on a Sunday or holiday morning.