Absolutely soaked. That was the only way to describe our status in the parking garage at WVU’s medical center. My sweatshirt was damp, my sweatpants were damp, and I was cold to boot. Winston started the car and I stripped down to shorts and a t-shirt (mercifully somewhat dry so that I could also wipe my glasses) and took my spot in the back of the car with hot air blasting. It was near-instant relief if you ignored the oppressive humidity. I was far enough over the OU season to be willing to get past their loss if I could just change out of my soaking-wet socks.

The Morgantown Marriott is a mile or two away from Milan Puskar Stadium along the banks of the Monongahela River. On a normal day, it’s probably a 5-minute drive and a beautiful one to boot. Today, Waze was winding Winston through back streets lined with sorority housing. I always love getting to see the residential parts of college towns.

The Marriott is actually something of a high-rise hotel in a more residential part of town, and a town that doesn’t have much in the way of high-rises at that. We swung around and got our bags inside and waited for Gianna and Jordan. And waited. And waited. My socks squelched with every step shuffling around the lobby. The good news: there was a Starbucks in the lobby so that we could all get drinks, including my white chocolate hot chocolate. Cocoa hits different after you’ve been cold for hours. I was even starting to feel like a human again when Gianna and Jordan made it inside, still looking cold and miserable themselves. The bad news: someone’s room wouldn’t be ready for a while. That was fine in the sense that Pam had gotten 3 rooms, so whoever was odd man out could at least sit in someone else’s rather than a lobby crowded with football-game-goers. *And* that meant I could do what I really wanted – take a warm shower.

This whole birthday celebration weekend was an opportunity for me to show Elizabeth how much I loved her and appreciated her. I don’t think there is a better example from the whole weekend (ok, maybe not true) than letting her shower first. I wasn’t allowed in the bed in our room because I was still a soaking mess, so I sat on the edge of the couch with Pam and Winston and turned on the Michigan game to catch a little bit of it in the lull. There was still plenty of time before dinnertime rolled around, so we discussed what the next move was. Take a nap? Tempting. Hot tub? Also sounded amazing. Watch the end of the Michigan/Nebraska battle? Okay, that suggestion was just mine. I left the debate unresolved to take my own turn in the shower when Elizabeth was done.

Let me just say that that shower was heavenly. I don’t know if it cracked the top 10 showers of my life, but it was a top 3 shower of 2022. It had good spray, warmth to the bones, and an overall feel of gross soggy socks disappearing from me. I could actually think about what to do with the rest of the night now.

It honestly could have been any time of day outside. It was that peculiar grey-blue that happens in late fall up north where the sky stays in twilight all day until all of a sudden it’s dark. Maybe that led to part of the holdup over whether to go get dinner or not. It didn’t necessarily feel like it was nearing 6:00, and we’d all eaten at halftime. Why not get dinner in a little bit? Besides, Pam was exhausted and needed a nap. All of that led to a logical conclusion – warm up a little more in the hot tub. Some of us (me) had forgotten to pack swimsuits when going to a nice hotel like true amateurs, but at least some of us (me) had the slightly damp shorts they wore to the game anyway.

There are no surviving pictures of the hot tub. Sorry, taking pictures of hot tubbing people is weird. I do remember wishing that it was about 3 degrees hotter so it was a true hot tub as opposed to “slightly warmer than a bathtub”. But the jets were active and had high pressure, although Elizabeth could plug the intake valves and take my jet away. It took Gianna and Jordan a few minutes to find Elizabeth, Winston and myself down in the basement so they could join the soak. They eventually did, and the five of us briefly enjoyed a nice soak.

“Briefly” because I placed a call to the brewery I’d planned on us stopping at for dinner to get on the waitlist, and was informed that they only took in-person waitlist entries. Mountain State Brewing is also along the same road on the Monongahela, a couple of blocks back toward the stadium. It’s only a five-minute walk. I looked around at the relaxed faces of everyone else and decided to martyr myself in the name of Elizabeth’s birthday weekend. After another brief get-the-chlorine-off-myself shower, I changed into more appropriate attire to go out, and then I plunged into the dark, misty night. It was as Apple Maps said – just down the road. But it was a dark and busy road, on an unpleasant night, on a narrow sidewalk. I shuffled along quickly until Maps told me to cut back down toward the riverside. Street lights and the sound of carousing alerted me to the presence of Mountain State Brewery before I figured out which of the buildings was it. It was *busy*. No wonder they weren’t taking advance reservations.

Inside, the brewery gave a vibe of “mountain mama”. There was a lot of rustic decor, including a pizza oven sitting dead center on the floor. I worked my way to the front of the queue, put my name on the waiting list (under an hour, I could live with that) and sat down at the tiki-style bar over the in the front left corner of the restaurant to nurse a beer and watch the end of the Michigan game. It looked like Michigan was feeling much of the same grey fall glum that OU felt in Morgantown. The difference is that they were an actually good team, so even in a boring game no one would remember, they still flattened Nebraska. So that was something to console myself with over a pumpkin ale, if I wanted.

The table ended up not taking too long to get ready, once I’d put a little pressure on the host staff (who definitely forgot to write my name down). That meant that when Elizabeth, Winston, Gianna, and Jordan all came plodding up to me, the five of us could be seated. Pam was “taking a nap” (she wouldn’t wake up til morning). In a word, it was time for the inmates to run the asylum.

By now it was pretty late in the evening, so we were all hungry. And not only was this place a brewery, it was a West Virginia brewery. And West Virginia means Appalachia. And Appalachia means moonshine. And Pam had given Winston her credit card. I’ll let you fill in the rest. As it turns out, I really, really like apple pie moonshine. It was smooth as a kiss and blended well with Mountain State’s margarita flights. So far, I hadn’t been able to peel back many layers of the Jordan onion. He and Gianna had been notably more reserved than the Fairchild-Meister-Leslie rambunctiousness all day. He ordered a margarita flight with me though. Comparing different flavors of marg felt like the first move at breaking the ice with him.

After the moonshine and the margs and my beer and a sandwich and a couple of pee breaks, the night was starting to feel fun. It had been an early morning, but Elizabeth was adamant that we had to rally for her birthday and head out to see the legendary Morgantown nightlife. Surely it would be less raucous on the Saturday after the Mountaineers had beat OU for the first time since joining the Big 12, right?

We did have to make the journey back to the Marriott quickly so Elizabeth could make a “going out” shoe change, which gave me one more chance to cringe at the awful weather. It also gave me a chance to grab my puffy vest so that I could cover up the gear claiming I was an OU fan to avoid any bar fights. I’m not sure there would have been one – the majority of the people I interacted with at WVU that day were overwhelmingly nice – but why take chances?

A weird highlight of this weird night – Frank the Uber driver. I don’t know that an Uber driver has ever been a highlight of a trip blog before, so congratulations to Frank for being the first. When you have carpool karaoke and neon lights inside your Uber, you get to be a highlight. Winston cued up “Best Song Ever” by One Direction (worst band ever) for the birthday girl to sing. Unfortunately, High Street, the center of nightlife in Morgantown, is like 3 minutes from the Mariott. We only got to listen to Elizabeth belt her shit for exactly 1 verse before Frank was letting us out. Adieu, Frank. It was fun.

If Frank gets a shout-out for his sweet ride and advice on which bar to go to, then the bouncer at Joe Mama’s in Morgantown gets an anti-shout-out. First of all, all five of us were stunned to find out that bars there have a $5 cover. Who runs a cover at a college bar? We all scrounged in our pockets. Jordan came up with $20. Gianna had $4 more. I knew my wallet was empty. Elizabeth asked the bouncer “Can I get a birthday discount?” He looked at her ID, then asked dead-face “You want a discount for a birthday next month?” Dick. So we scrounged further through purses to find 4 more quarters. As I walked by, I told the bouncer “You have a good evening.” Then I flipped him off as soon as he couldn’t see me (he was a bouncer. I most certainly did not want that smoke).

With that kind of experience on the outside, the interior of Joe Mama’s better be pretty awesome to make up for it. It was. They had one of those very classy island bars with some very hard-working bartenders getting everyone their drinks. There were TVs set up everywhere so I could keep an eye on the TCU/Texas game if I so chose. And best of all, they had live music – a cover band was scheduled to go on in just a few minutes. The drinks were cheap when the band played too.

The band was *electric*. They had me rocking with the music. They had Elizabeth singing and drinking. They had Winston vibing to the beat. Not sure how much Gianna loved it, being 5 foot 0 inside a crowded bar. Not sure how much quiet Jordan loved it either. But he became a legend forever when he went to the bar for a refill at some point and discovered that there was a $10 card minimum. Not wanting to go back to the bar again, he decided to hit the $10 minimum all at once with three Jack and Cokes. When he came back, I thought to myself that it was nice that he bought the next round for Winston and me. Then I watched Jordan take a sip of each of them in turn, all while standing on the dance floor. I was in awe of this display.

The band ran through some of the classics – Give Me Everything, Levitating, a Five Seconds of Summer song for some reason. Then they were off. Just in time for Elizabeth’s late-night birthday shot, a round that I had already offered to buy, to be marked up from “when the band is playing” prices to regular. I hope everyone enjoyed their round of weak-ass lemon drop shots that I paid like $30 total for. All for the birthday girl, of course.

I think Elizabeth could have run it back to the next bar in Morgantown’s popping High Street, but exhaustion was ruling elsewhere in the group, so we decided to call it a night. Elizabeth ordered an Uber, and a few minutes later FRANK showed up again to bring us back to the Marriott. It had been a long day – some of it very, very cold in the stands, and some of it spent sweating with my puffy vest tied around my waist in a packed college bar. But one thing was for certain – it was a 25th birthday celebration that Elizabeth hopefully wouldn’t be forgetting soon.

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