When the students are away, the townies will play.
Now that almost the entire student population has withdrawn from Athens to join their families in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or Cleveland for holiday festivities, we full-time Athenians finally get our town back for four whole weeks.
For us, the holiday starts as soon as everyone leaves. In the days following their retreat, shattered bottles and GoodFella’s scraps are cleaned from the sidewalks. The smell of Natty Light fades from the air. You can actually find a parking spot on Court Street, and as a treat, the city offers parking in the Uptown garage for free. These are the little things we hold out for during the fall.
You can finally get a haircut at an Uptown salon and get a table at Casa Nueva without a 30-minute wait. Most nights we can run down the middle of the road and never have to move for traffic.
When winter break comes, Athens transforms from a crazy college town to a cozy, kid-friendly place. The horses of Athens take a break from policing fests to wheel children around in a charming, holiday-inspired sleigh. Little ones file in and out of Santa’s Workshop on the corner of Court and Washington streets and stop to watch the carolers singing from the courthouse steps.
Of course, it’s been raining for almost a week straight — because if it were to snow in Athens during Christmastime, that would mean the apocalypse actually is coming just as the Mayans predicted. The last time Athenians woke up to snow on the ground the morning of Dec. 25 was in 2010, and that was a wimpy two inches. Before that, 1995: three inches. Southeast Ohio weather is nothing but a wet blanket for holiday fun.
But the townies don’t let a black cloud get them down. No, they take full advantage of the absence of students — especially at the Uptown bars. The usual Jackie O’s clientele of collegiate beer connoisseurs (or so they wish) is replaced by one of high-school teachers and area business owners relaxing with brews after work. Instead of hosting sorority and fraternity socials, The J Bar will host reunions for Athens natives who have returned from other university towns and are wondering whatever happened to The Junction that they remember. And the Smiling Skull Saloon is… well, OK, it’s pretty much the same.
When the students are away for the holidays, Athens folk tip their hats to each other because everyone knows everyone, if only for a few short weeks until the “kids” come back again.
Keep up with Olivia as she chronicles her last winter break as a townie.