Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

“Cheers to no longer being the wet blanket of the family,” my older sister, Col, said while clinking her beer against mine on my 21st birthday last month. As the youngest member of my Irish and, for lack of a better word, thirsty family, my 21st birthday was a long-awaited celebration. Gone were days spent withering under my grandmother’s glare after reaching for an unattainable beer at family parties and the nights of being the automatic designated driver for my Happy Hour-bound parents.
Much like baseball players who win the World Series and proclaim, “I’m going to Disney World,” I, after successfully surviving everything the universe had thrown my way for 21 years, wanted to climb the nearest mountaintop and yell, “I’m going to the bars!” Ever since I was old enough to understand what bars were, I had a clear mental image of what they were like, almost entirely based on episodes of “Cheers” and Bruce Springsteen’s discography. To me, bars were the gateway to real adulthood. Lifelong friends and memories were made in bars, unlike in the overcrowded parties that I had grown accustomed to. Walking hand-in -hand with my own naivety, I was ready to abandon my old life of house parties and fraternities and embrace my soon-to-be “glory days” at the bars in West Chester.
For the two school years prior to my birthday, I had my share of experiences with the underground party life, typical to most universities. Flurries of text messages are forwarded on Friday and Saturday nights to every friend and friend’s friend in a 10-mile radius of the school, quickly outlining the details of the night. It is the same every weekend.
Two years of this familiar routine almost every weekend was enough for me. I was more than ready to graduate from West Chester’s underage scene to the new experiences waiting for me a few blocks away at the bars.
These so-called new experiences began at Ryan’s Pub on Gay Street, a casual place with a nice outdoor bar in the back with an entertaining soundtrack of beer-fueled socialization. Yet, the feeling of long-awaited adulthood that was starting to course through my veins did not last very long.
“Hey,” I heard someone shout in my general direction. After turning around, I had to stifle a groan. A behemoth of a football player from my high school was stumbling his way towards me. I had no time to flee. “You- you went to my high school,” he slurred at me, “there’s no way you can be 21!”
I did not see the point in explaining the concept of time moving at the same pace for everybody, regardless of his or her alma mater, so I smiled and tried to wiggle my way out of his clutches. Before I could make my great escape, however, he managed to string enough words together to ask about my long-gone high school boyfriend and offer to buy me a drink. People always say that you can’t stay 17 forever, but it’s nice to know that there’s a few brave souls out there still trying.
My next and last stop for the evening was the infamous Barnaby’s on High Street. According to the long lines wrapped around the entrance at almost all times, Barnaby’s is the place to be in West Chester. My friends and I arrived late enough to bypass any sort of wait, but we soon discovered the reason why: everyone who was anyone was already inside. It was filled to the rafters with people, mostly college kids or recent graduates in their mid-twenties. After working our way to the most popular area, the bar, I gazed upon the crowd before me and was suddenly hit with wartime flashbacks to all of the parties I had been to during my pre-21 days.
The life I had envisioned for myself at the bars flashed before my eyes. I did not see a single trace of a “Cheers” episode or a Springsteen song anywhere. Throughout the years, I had managed to create an alternate universe, in which everyone who turned 21 instantly morphed into a difference species of mature people who are also fun to hang out with.
My preconceived notions of the realities of bars had been tossed out of the window during my eventful first night out in the town of West Chester. After spending years of my life romanticizing the bar scene, I had finally arrived at an important crossroad: to either become a bitter, pretentious hater of all things nightlife-related, or to shrug off my disappointment and make the best out of the situation at hand.
When it comes down to it, it was foolish to believe that living through 21 birthdays would change my life from a typical college student to the protagonist in a catchy Bruce Springsteen song. I have to learn how to don my white t-shirt and blue jeans, complete with a bandana in the back pocket, and make my own memories.
Maryellen Kennedy is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. She can be reached at

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