Do you know what the aftermath of the construction of 2,000 Jello shots looks like in an apartment kitchen? I haven’t been back for years, but I would confidently bet that I could still find green fingerprints in that apartment.
Our personal progression of St Patrick’s Days spent in O’Neill Nebraska has been an interesting arc. Step back, with me, to our early experiences. Fresh drivers licenses gave us newfound freedoms to bounce around a buzzing town, taking in any event we wanted – at our leisure. A rig or two was usually left within walking distance of downtown, and our group of buddies would carouse main street, watching O’Neill’s Irish dancers, the parade, and then pile into a restaurant, filling a couple tables for some grub, and the kinds of general shenanigans that typically accompany high school boys in large groups. Afternoons (weather dependent) were spent with a pick-up basketball game at a buddy’s house, or eating corned-beef and cabbage, and working through tournament brackets of one game or another on a Nintendo-64. The later evening hours might find a few of us scrunched into the front seat of a borrowed suburban, shuttling drunkards and out-of-towners back and forth from bar to bar, accepting free-will tips in an ice cream bucket, and soaking up all the colorful commentary we could.
A handful of years later, we’d find ourselves physically removed from the addresses of our hometown, and hauling back to O’Neill’s big green weekend from our respective college towns. Fresh I.D.’s gave us newfound freedom to see the insides of O’Neill’s half dozen bars…we were excited to discover what all the hype was, for ourselves and usually studied the subject for as long as the bar-staff would allow. Live bands, green beer, and an alumni-type atmosphere was enhanced by the influx of a few thousand people from out-of-town.
Through the college years, we developed a new sort of tradition. “Barely Legal” was the moniker that graced our crew’s themed t-shirts, a testament to the fact that we’d all surpassed the legal drinking age within the last few months. The general layout was to take orders for t shirts in the early months of spring. This method of pre-ordering served a couple of purposes; 1) it gave us a pretty fair head-count and 2) it set the budget for the party we’d plan. The profit margin we’d set on the shirts was rolled at a rate of 100% back into the party we spent a month planning. The first year, we sold 13 t-shirts. We bought two kegs of keystone light and handed the meager change to the collective group of our mothers, who lined the walls of the garage with tables of homemade food. Barbecue sandwiches, cheesy taters, baked beans, and other dishes would help our group of wildlings toe the line between upright and horizontal orientations for most of the afternoon. The leftovers usually disappeared quickly after a ride home at the end of the night.
For 7 years, we threw that party. Though the small details differed, the general layout remained the same: design cool shirts, pool our money, throw the party everyone wants to be at. Our budget grew over the years, as did the space requirements for our ever-growing crew of matched t-shirt wearers. The last year we threw the party, we ordered just over 225 Tees, and had more than $5,000 to throw a party with. Your purchase of a T shirt gained you all you could eat, drink, and play, until it was all gone. Our rowdy crowd imbibed 13 kegs, 30 cases of beer, 2000 Jello shots, and 2 cases of liquor – all while eating, competing in the festive events, and just being generally merry. It is interesting to note that scribbled tournament brackets still graced our afternoons, though the method of advancement involved beer pong, or tippy cup, as opposed to Mario party and Mario kart.
Nearly a decade later here we are: running a copper mug company from an old brick building on main street of our beloved O’Neill. 90 feet of glass spans the highway frontage of our building, and will look right over the annual St Patrick’s Day parade. As you stand and watch the parade, you’re within footsteps of 12 tap handles sporting Nebraska-made beers from some of the best breweries (and coolest humans) around. The spirit of the day remains; community. Our old antics of bringing folks together in the name of good times still run as strong as ever. The creativity in throwing a “heck of a party” still simmers year-round with the HB crew. A covid-robbed St Pats celebration in 2020 leaves us with a do-over for our first Handlebend Building St. Patty’s day. We’re excited for a day of green this year, and for what the next 10 might bring our way. Cheers to the Luck O’ the Irish.
- Michael Stepp