The Trail of EXCESS

December 21, 2016
9 mins read

It began with a beer. It ended with my associate standing drunken and bare-assed in the damp salty night, swaying and howling on the edge of the ocean, babbling meaningless abuses at some unseen presence across the water. I was in the backseat of the car, trying to convince our driver that a police presence would only further aggravate the screaming lab-ape now wading through the water, that our best option was to wait — wait for the drink or the drugs or divine intervention to safely subdue the raving brute just long enough for some leg-irons, zip-ties and a ball gag to be safely administered.

For Boris, the booze and hallucinogens were like jet fuel on a structure fire. His mind had melted and, thus, proper precautions had to be observed.

The course of events leading to this fateful night started more than two months prior, with the discovery of a press release for something called the A1A Cocktail Trail. A smart, co-promotional marketing ploy drummed up by The Florida Department of Citrus, St. Augustine Distillery and the Visitors & Convention Bureau for St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches.

Described as a trail of bars and restaurants serving original cocktails featuring farm-fresh Florida citrus and spirits from the St. Augustine Distillery, it was a monument to free enterprise and grassroots entrepreneurship. Naturally, I was drawn to its more nefarious undertones of excess and debauchery.

After all, it’s essentially 30 miles — from St. Augustine to Neptune Beach — of bars and booze and oh-so-many startlements.

According to the press release, the trail consists of eight bars total, all of which offer a passport booklet and a stamp for each successful order and consumption of any cocktail consisting of fresh Florida juice and St. Augustine liquor. At the end, you can take your stamped passport to the distillery for a free T-shirt and a branded wooden coaster set.

Of course, along with the press release came a wave of critics and puritanical outrage, some denouncing the trail as an irresponsible marketing campaign promoting drunk driving and imminent death at the hands of some degenerate hood, fresh off a 10-hour liquor jag.

Kara Pound, director of communications for St. Augustine Distillery and co-developer of the trail, denied any notion that the distillery is promoting over-consumption and other morally reprehensible acts.

According to Pound, “We absolutely promote drinking responsibly … We do not suggest that people attempt to do the entire trail in one day, and that they take their time with it.”

Immediately I called up Boris, a young Russian expat and my close associate, eventually convincing him to head down to Jacksonville with the promise of hard liquor and lust-mad American women. Of course, the second part was pure invention, but I needed a loyal co-conspirator for the trip.

As you can guess, we didn’t take Pound’s advice. After all, this was to be a veritable grand tour of the local drinking culture, an epic experiment in medically inadvisable quantities of booze and vice.

Boris arrived at my place Saturday morning. Something of an intellectual vagrant, he’s highly educated but a pauper by choice. Built like a stevedore, he’s rotund, rough and resembles an unshaved sack of flour with his shirt off.

Around noon, we took our first Uber to St. Augustine. It’s advisable that one refrain, as much as possible, from driving in the historic district. After all, it’s hard enough negotiating the streets and crosswalks sober. Doing so with booze on the brain is just asking for police and problems, like closed-casket funerals.

We reached A1A Ale Works by early afternoon. Located at 1 King Street in a stucco Colonial-era market building, it’s a multilevel restaurant and pub with an exceptional view of Matanzas Bay.

We started with beer — many beers. Too many to count. The Porpoise Point IPA was an easy drinker, and the 6 percent ABV helped. My thirst for the hops is a formidable one. Next, we ordered a few Moscow mules made with the fabled St. Augustine vodka, the way God intended.

Given Boris’ ethnicity, he’s surprisingly not much of a vodka drinker, preferring American whiskey.

From there, we waddled a few blocks down to The Floridian, a popular haunt for locals and tourists alike. Again, the same ritual. One beer. Then another. Then another. Then an upgrade to the $10 cocktails. A brief retreat to the latrine and then back to the bar for a couple more; we operated with a cool, regimented efficiency.

By the time we stumbled out, we were proper pissed, by civilized standards.
Our last stop, before a hasty retreat to the north, was a little gastropub called Odd Birds at 33 Charlotte Street. It was late afternoon and the happy hour crowd was in fevered ebullition.

As we sloshed our way over, I saw Boris lean over and pull something out of his side pocket. It was a pill bottle. The label had been torn off and it contained a chemical potpourri of little wonders.

“What’s the meaning of that?” I asked, pointing to the bottle.

“Oh, just some hardcore drugs,” Boris slurred. “Mostly LSD with some ketamine, MDMA and maybe some Seconal capsules sprinkled here and there. I can’t really remember which is which, though. Want one?”

“Sweet Jesus!” I hissed. “The last thing I need right now is to drop some high-test acid and spend the next 12 hours shrieking and weeping under the gaze of some sadistic god.

“Perhaps next time. Besides, isn’t Seconal used for euthanasia?”

“Probably,” said my associate. “But I’m not too worried. I got these from a chemist. He really knows his shit.”

Quickly, he fished out four acid tabs, unfolded them, and placed them on his tongue with ludicrous circumspection.

“You never know when those scum-sucking narcs may be watching. Vultures! The whole lot of ’em,” Boris snarled.

He had maybe an hour before the initial effects kicked in, and another two before all rhyme and reason deserted him. We had to get moving, and fast, if we were going to pass as simple drunkards and nothing more.

We arrived at Odd Birds around 5 p.m. It’s a small, cozy place, a hipster stronghold by any account and a righteous den of sedition. It fills up quickly with the thirsty and sinful, so get there early if you value a seat. Behind the bar, mustachioed mixologists conjured magic. We drank heartily and with greed.

There but 30 minutes, I noticed Boris glaring balefully at a woman down the counter. There was nothing particularly interesting about her. Long chestnut-brown hair, dark eyes and a fine little shape.

“You OK?” I asked.

His eyes were swollen and red, his face a contorted mess.

“Melissa!” he bellowed.

Melissa was his ex. A good-looking girl, but a manipulative and jealous wench; she was a practicing sociopath.

“Jesus Christ,” I said. “Pull it together, man. You’re a borderline depressive with a headful of acid right now. If you don’t channel some positivity, you’re gonna have a nightmare on your hands.”

His outburst augured trouble for the night. We each ordered two more bourbons before pushing off.

By the time we reached The Reef, the day had long since been murdered and a soft, opalescent twilight drenched the landscape. We stood in the parking lot, staring east at the watery expanse of the ocean. In the offing, the sea and sky welded together in the encroaching gloom.

I don’t rightly recall much of anything that happened for the next couple hours. Any binge drinker knows this stage well. It’s an inescapable eventuality of heavy drinking that has come to be called “blacking out.”

A common occurrence for both college students and village drunkards alike, it’s a state somewhere between blotto and death, during which the mind, completely disgusted with itself, ceases all conscious thought.

Exorbitant drink receipts and a torn napkin with the words “SUCK” and “GOURDS” scrawled across it were the sole mementos I had of The Reef and Caps on the Water. It was utter nonsense. The next flash of coherent memory up in Jax Beach comes from the bottom of a toilet bowl. I was in the Hoptingers’ bathroom stall, retching into the can with a “bier” painting hanging overhead.

Stumbling out of the restroom, I saw Boris slouched at a hightop non compos mentis and drooling on himself. He was cut off, and for good reason. Feeling better myself, I ordered another beer — the double overhead IPA — with an order of das pretzel sticks to sop up what was left in my gut.

I have to say, munching on those beautiful, greasy, salt-studded pretzel sticks with the DayGlo orange cheese sauce was pure bliss. But it was short-lived. My accomplice was active again. His brain, likely operating on primitive drives and an incalculable acid high, was assessing its environment.

He’d been calm and relatively docile for most of the night, but now the acid was switching gears on him and the night’s rhythms were beginning to shift. Drug reactions were getting mixed up and there was no telling what would happen next.

We left Hoptingers late. With only two stops left, and with Boris in an active stage of his trip, we decided to take a brief stroll west toward the housing blocks. It was nearing the holidays and, naturally, some of the residents had their Christmas lawn ornaments on display.

One in particular had festooned the yard with a small, light-up Santa and some reindeer pulling a sleigh through lush grass. It bugged Boris, and after a few ponderous moments looking at it, he entered the property and got to work.

A few moments later, one of the inhabitants came out.

“Excuse me! What do you think you’re doing?” she said.

Looking up from his work, Boris responded to the best of his ability.

“Jus’ try’n ta teach these mothafuckas some lessons in love,” said Boris. “You got a problem wit dat?”

He had rearranged the display so that Santa was slumped, ass-out, over his sleigh, with Dasher in the mounted-and-ready position. The other reindeer were also in various erotic positions. It was a gruesome scene depicting sexual acts that are illegal in just about every sovereign state.

“Well, just so you know, I’m calling the police. You are trespassing and destroying private property,” said the woman.

“Yeah, Mother?” said Boris.

“That’s right,” said the woman.

“What? You prejudice or sumthin? This is art! This is high fuckin’ art! Banksy ain’t got shit on this,” replied Boris.

The woman pulled out her phone and started dialing.

Seeing this, Boris bolted back through the yard, down the street, rounding the corner and back across Third Street to the solicited side of town, with me in tow. We walked the side streets north for a while before ordering another Uber to take us the rest of the way.

By the time we got to North Beach Fish Camp, the doors were locked and those inside could be seen cleaning up. It was after 10 p.m. We lamented the unfortunate circumstances and absconded to our final stop, Ragtime Tavern.

We found ourselves a nice, dark booth in the recessed portion of the tavern. On my right was a wall-length fish tank, which fascinated my associate. We ordered a couple old-fashioneds with Booker’s bourbon and luxuriated in the afterglow of the night’s conquest.

Leaving, we decided a brief walk on the beach would settle the nerves and temper our thoughts. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an Uber close to us, so I ended up calling for a cab.

I remember lying in the sand; it was cold but the air was heavy and warm. The ocean pounded the beach behind me. A thousand stars glittered the sky and I could almost see myself lying there all night and all day. Never again moving. Just lying stone-like as the ages wasted away, forgotten by everyone and everything.

I looked at my phone, and saw the driver was calling to let us know he was waiting. As I started for the car, I yelled to Boris — who had been pacing about the whole time babbling to himself. As I reached the rear door, an explosion of screams and terrified gibberish issued forth and out of the waters behind me. It was Boris.

Of course, you already know this part. The crazy bastard had stripped naked and was plunging into the dark water as if he were wrestling a rabid porpoise and was hurling a torrent of obscenities and lurid remarks so vile and deplorable, even I was a bit disgusted.

The driver, reasonably worried for his well-being, wanted to call for help.

“Nah,” I said. “He’ll be fine, we just need to give him a few minutes. It’s been a long night for both of us.”

“Yeah. But he could be hurt,” said the driver. “There could be a shark or something attacking him.”

“Trust me,” I said. “He’s fine. Just give it time. He’ll eventually remember himself and waddle back to beach.”

Sure enough, after about 20 minutes of unconscionable ranting and a $50 tip to keep the driver quiet, the madness ceased. Out of the gloom, a naked aboriginal sauntered forth, his clothes slung over his neck like so much fresh kill after a successful hunt.

Lazily, he stumbled into his clothes and we started west down Atlantic Boulevard — back into the old lonely continent.

Folio Weekly does not condone excessive drinking or drug use. 

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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