There's anything but water in those cups I assure you...

This Sunday the fine Irish residents of our city (and those who call anything south of I-55 home) will gather on Western Avenue to cheer on their family members and neighbors as they parade down the middle of the normally busy street.  While admirable in spirit, I cannot get behind the event out of principle.  You see I have seen the view from Everest and you will have to pardon my lack of awe as we look out from atop Villa Olivia today.  The Southside Irish Parade is a bastardized version of its former self, and in honor of what it was, I cannot embrace its current iteration.

For a kid who grew up in the western suburbs, the Southside Irish Parade was something that happened annually in a faraway place and was covered on the nightly news once a year.  Frankly I couldn’t have told you the difference between it and the Bud Billiken Parade for the first half of my life (oh how ignorant I was…).  It wasn’t until after returning from college and moving to the city did the siren song of day drinking in the streets find its way to my virgin ears.  I think it was a friend from work who lives on the Southside who finally pushed me over the edge in offering a parking spot and a place to crash.  To him I am forever grateful.

A group of my friends and I loaded into my car with backpacks full of beer, a hacky sack, eighteen bottle rockets, and expectations that we had to open the sun roof to accommodate.  The look on our faces upon arrival mirrored that of a child finding a Golden Ticket in his Wonka chocolate bar.  Plain and simple we had found Mecca and the revelry commenced.  Within walking half a block from our parking spot we decided to shotgun our first round of beers to honor the occasion, and upon completion we were approached by a group of girls asking if they could join us in celebration.  Striking us as a bit young to be imbibing in such practices we asked their age and they promptly responded, “16.”  Shotgun we did and merriment ensued (no further merriment was had with the 16 year olds for the record).

The rest of the day was a haze in openly intoxicating ourselves up and down Western Ave., stopping in bars and drinking straight from the tap, making new friends everywhere we went.  The stories are both rich and vivid while also blurred from both blood alcohol levels and sworn vows of silence.

I’m not a religious man but I’d have to guess that St. Patrick himself could not have envisioned a better medium for humans to come together and revel in the glory of all that is good in life than the Southside Irish Parade allowed.

Years passed and our crew returned for our annual pilgrimage on the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day.  Aside from my fantasy football draft it really is the only time I ever venture below McCormick Place, but a worthy trip it became each spring.  Our cast of characters evolved over time, eventually including The Wife as she was unknowingly put through the parade experience as a test to verify that she possessed the intestinal fortitude to survive as a lifelong companion (a test she passed with flying colors for the record).  Our mode of transport changed as well as we adopted the shuttle bus options that various bars in the city ran so as to remove a driver from the equation on our end.  Each year topped the one before as the debauchery and laughter only grew.  These were fantastic times in my life.  That is until the dark days arrived.

Someone somewhere in a position of power eventually caught on to the city’s most poorly kept secret, that many of the laws of our society were put on temporary moratorium for that single Sunday each year.  The whip came down in 2009 and the parade was no more.  Apparently the crowd control and the clean up afterwards became too big a chore for the powers-that-be and thus a complete zero tolerance issue was decreed (apparently people were sharing alcohol with underage children as well – imagine the heathens that would do such a thing).

March 14, 2011 and March 13, 2012 were eerily silent days on the Southside of town.  Much like Fight Club, you could smell the aroma of a party that had just ended but there was nothing to be found.  Festivity goers could still visit the bars up and down the parade route much the same as they could any of the other fifty-one Sundays a year but the magic was gone.  In 2012 it was decided that the parade would return but it would do so under a strict authoritarian rule.  Anyone found with so much as a Silo cup on the street was immediately set on by officers and tickets were distributed by the handful.

A parade will take place this Sunday – bands will play, children will march, and politicians will wave – but what once was beautiful is no more…

On Sunday I will sip a glass of beer

From my eye will swell a tear

It will defuse within the colored dye

in remembrance of a day gone by