World Drinking Tour 2010: "The Gathering "

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Aug 6th, 2010
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As the 2010 gathering of the now infamous World Drinking Tour draws near, I felt it was high time to reflect on the past and to attempt – possibly with the utmost futility – to make sense of it all. As is my way, rather than compose an original hypothesis, I’ve decided to do what I do best and boil everything in life down to an obscure pop culture reference. I’m the Ellen Page of 40 year old drunk guys.
So yes, I referred to our upcoming European drunkfest as a “gathering” with a very intentional nod to “Highlander: The Gathering” from 1992. For the uninformed I’d usually spend a few lines here describing Highlander, getting you up to speed, and filling in the gaps where you’ve chosen to shun media references and stock up on “book learnin”. But, too bad for you It’s 2010 so Google it.
The real point is that there are many frightening parallels between the Highlander “Gathering” and ours.
In Highlander, wise immortal, Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (played by Sean Connery), describes the Gathering to Connor MacLeod in this way: “When only a few of us are left, we will feel an irresistible pull towards a far away land, to fight for the Prize.”
Indeed, there are only a few of us left and getting fewer each year. Thankfully none have been pulled away by “The Big Last Call”. No, we’re all still alive. But, some have chosen to abstain for personal reasons, family commitments, budget constraints or the debilitating time zone change between the UK and Belgium … all completely reasonable excuses and all perfectly unacceptable. When you get the call you HEED it. Regret, boredom and the possibility of a longer life to suffer these things are the only reward for not doing so.
You see, the WDTourists, like the Immortals, do not live as a united people, but are scattered around the world and across history. The singular bond between all of us is a set of unwritten guidelines called “the Rules” which are transmitted from teacher to student.

The Highlander Rules are:

• Never fight on Holy Ground.
• Once a battle has begun, another Immortal may not interfere.
• In the end, there can be only one.
Taken as a body of work one could easily transpose the Highlander rules to accommodate the WDT, with a few notable exceptions.
Rule 1: Hmmm, tough one. At our “Gathering” drinking on holy ground is not only acceptable but actively pursued. Some of the best beer on Earth is made by monks in close proximity to monasteries. We not only drink on holy ground, we sin on a biblical scale. There’s certainly Lust (you feel it on the long cab ride to St. Sixtus) and Gluttony is a given. Greed shows up as you relentlessly try to hoard 3 or 4 Westvleteren 12’s in front of you. Laziness is once again implied. Wrath – only rarely, but will often rear its ugly head at last call. And finally, Envy. Ah, who among us has not peered across the table at a proud WDT’er and his perfectly lined up goblets of liquid gold and not wanted a piece of that action?
Rule 2: When a group of us have entrenched ourselves firmly at the bar and have settled in for the long haul – something I like to call “parking the brain” – it is not only against the rules but ill advised for another member of the clan to interfere. If you have to leave – do it quietly. It is okay to leave the game (we all have a wall and we all find it at top speed from time to time) but never to cause its demise. If you want to go buy Dutch hip hop at 2am that is fine too. But when two or more participants are locked in cup combat they are to be left … even encouraged … to see it to the inevitable, horrifying, “I don’t remember eating that” conclusion.
Rule 3: In the end, there can be only one. Well, this isn’t technically a rule in the WDT world but more a statement of fact. Inevitably the group whittles down to a small core of frighteningly food and sleep deprived sociopaths who simply can’t be bothered to, well, stop it. It’s usually 6am or later and as 5 drinkers slips to 4, sloshes to 3 and stumbles to 2 someone eventually has to throw in that final towel. It can be as innocent as a “well, I’ve had enough.” followed by an unskilled slalom back to your room. Or, it can be as complicated as “How am I going to carry this big bastard six blocks across the Leidseplein and still get a funnel of frites?”
A further Highlander/WDT comparison is a phenomenon known as “the Quickening”.
In Highlander, when an Immortal is beheaded, there is a powerful energy release from their body called a Quickening. Actor Adrian Paul explains, “The Quickening is the receiving of all the power and knowledge another immortal has obtained throughout his/her life. It is like the receiving of a sacrament or a massive orgasm.” God help the one of us who “beheads’ Keith.
In our world this “quickening” comes as you put down that last glass of the evening (or early morning) and realize that you have made it to the end of a rigorous session. The WDT Quickening can certainly manifest itself as a feeling of elation, but more often than not it is a strong urge to pass out, throw up, or both … hopefully in an order that doesn’t kill you. Very rarely does it end as a “massive orgasm” and when it does, well … ewwwww.
I think I’ve made my point – as meaningless and oddly irrelevant as it may be – that there is a deeper meaning to what we do each year. Sure, we leave our jobs unfinished, our families angry and bewildered, and we sit for hours on flights to places most people couldn’t find on a map with Waldo in the center. We pack our gear light (it’s an iPod and a bottle of Extra Strength Excedrin for me) but leave a lot of room for the “what ifs” and “what will bes”.
True, we die a little each trip, both from the inevitability of time and also liver damage, but time is not on our side. There are only so many visits to the Café Belgique left. There are a limited number of long nights at Café Delerium Tremons remaining. And, each time we go, we have one less. Think about that.
So as we Highlander wannabes … or “Beerlanders” if you will, gear up for another “Gathering” I’m inclined to once again quote the immortal Ramirez:
“You have the manners of a goat. And you smell like a dung-heap! And you have no knowledge whatsoever of your potential!”
I can’t wait for the 2010 “Gathering” to begin.