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The World’s Greatest College Weekend, In Memoriam 2011

Another Little 5 has passed, and once again we want it to never end. This is our Holiest Week’s eulogy for 2011. Like a mythical phoenix she will rise from her ashes in precisely 364 days and reign once more. This isn’t an end, but a beginning of the preparation for Little 5 2012.

There’s a bike race that happens on one Saturday every year, in a small Indiana town.

The Little 500.

Let’s not lie, though, the race’s most common nickname “The World’s Greatest College Weekend” is a tragic misnomer.

It’s a week-long event.

And it gets longer and starts earlier every year.

Alcohol flows freely from kegs, cheap vodka bottles, and jungle juice coolers from First Street to North Jordan. It probably wouldn’t be a gross overstatement to say that more alcohol is consumed during this week than a medium-to-large sized school (think Ball State) can imbibe in a semester. Random hook-ups and waking up on a stranger’s couch are the measuring sticks that we use to determine just how great our week turned out.

Fraternities invest heavily in both booze and security presence (both real and pledge-provided) and dividends are paid out nightly with some of the most raucous, racy, loud, dirty, and possibly damning parties this side of New Orleans in March, Chicago on St. Patrick’s, or Oktober in Munich.

Those who never pledged a house aren’t left to fend for themselves, either, and mini-fraternities and sororities are formed for the week in the form of a good group of friends sticking together and mass-purchasing volumes of liquor that would make an Irishman blush. Beers are bonged off of front porches, pong is played in the street, and shots are consumed with alarming speed. A three-keg party might last a few hours, and frantic trips to the liquor store to purchase reserve quantities are planned in advance.

As friends from other schools across the state travel to Bloomington to experience just a small part of the world’s finest week of 18-to-25 year old debauchery, free couches and open floorspace become commodities, vacancy signs flicker off, and Kirkwood Avenue transforms into a thoroughfare overnight.

Drinking establishments schedule their best live performers and DJs in succession in this week of weeks, where a cover charge can make you thousands, and drink specials are sought and repeated dozens of times by each patron. Bartenders sleep in the booths to prepare for the intoxicated rush that will come knocking on the doors at 7:30am the next day. Kilroy’s makes breadsticks in batches of hundreds, Nick’s famous spicy fries are deep-fried by the thousands, and the amount of grease used to cook the best kind of food in the world (bar food) can only be measured in the hundreds of gallons. When the 3 am last call finally arrives, it serves only alert the students that the party isn’t over, but instead to inform them that the party is changing venues.

Shots at 4:30 am are required participation, and the 6 am bedtime is followed promptly by 9 am alarms and breakfast options that include Kegs and Eggs, Beereal, and Captain Morgan Crunch. Lunch will inevitably be forgotten, and dinner often comes in flat boxes delivered by flying superheroes or anthropomorphized fungal lifeforms. Classes are either experienced in a drunken haze or skipped altogether, and evil professors who choose to schedule assignments and tests during our holiest week lower their expectations. The professors with a grip in reality cancel classes and reschedule exams, and rewards those who do attend with copious extra credit participation points, regardless of the relative sobriety level of their pupils.

Champions are crowned from street to street, house to house, party to party as Beer Olympics and drinking games are organized to pass through the sunlight hours. Seeing friends dressed in ridiculous costumes is commonplace. Theme parties spice up the night life, and white t-shirts accompanied by fluorescent writing utensils become standard attire. Kilroy’s t-shirts become elusive captures, and scalper’s prices that could rival a whole night’s bar tab are paid just to hang a piece of fabric in one’s closet.

Concerts fill the week with the performances by the best acts in the country, and every year the roster improves. Marijuana smoke fills parking lots, auditoriums, lawns, basements, and even the venerable Assembly Hall to the point of contact high, and nary a stray glance is shot from a security guard when the aroma presents itself. When the concert ends, the party never dies, but only dissipates into a thousand smaller parties.

The revelry isn’t assigned solely to the undergrads, either, as hordes of alumni venture down as the week reaches its climax, bringing with them stories of keggers and epic house parties, frat theme parties, beer runs, bar crawls (sometimes literal), and a spirit (and finally the pocketbook) to contribute to the current class’ degeneration and delinquency. There is no maximum age after which someone can no longer enjoy Little 5. @KentSterling will attest to that, and his blog posts documenting his “Top 10 Little 500 Moments” are canon for younger readers to memorize, worship, and try with all their might to emulate, modify, and experiment with.

Words will never completely encapsulate the experience, and the thousands of stories that will populate the collective mind of the undergrad population for years to come can only serve to conjure up half-memories of better days and add to the lore that is the Little 5. The specific stories, details, names and faces will be lost in the ether, but the World’s Greatest College Week* will never die. 

Here’s to the Little 5.

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