Erin and I drove to Champaign on a Saturday morning, prepping for our evening in Urbana’s Canopy Club by listening to as many Ben Folds songs as possible. We arrived in the early afternoon, leaving enough time for Erin to take me on a crash course/speed tour of the University of Illinois. The quad and surrounding buildings stood alone, with the occasional student or bearded man on a bike cascading by through the biting cold. The student union resonated with extraordinarily offkey music in a language I didn’t understand, and a number of pupils slouched in the oversized armchairs, ears stuffed with headphones, seemingly undeterred by the noise coming from the main hall.
My tour guide showed me the must-see locales: the bell tower, the Morrow Plots, the underground library, and so much more. To see a bit of Erin’s history helped me better understand who she is now, and it was a marvelous few hours.
After one cup of coffee and a few hundred dollars spent on U of I merchandise at the bookstore, we rallied for a two person mini-bar crawl. I didn’t know at the beginning of the crawl, but it would end in a vivid reimagining of hell.
Murphy’s served as the first stop. Part college bar, part townie hangout, Murphy’s boasted tasty greasy food and a special on Tito’s–that’s a win in my book. From there, we enjoyed a drink at Legends, just a few blocks from Murphy’s. Our penultimate bar, Joe’s, was crowded with awkward dudes in dress shirts and not-quite-matching ties, unsure of how to behave around girls I assumed were their dates for the evening. Joe’s had a back room that, had it been later, would have been packed to the walls with teetotallers and shaking with electronic music. Joe’s at primetime would be college at it’s finest, and Erin assured me this assumption was correct.
Three bars down, one to go. But Kam’s was not just a bar. Erin insisted that we go just to see it. She told me stories of her friends begging to go to Kam’s for “blue guys,” their signature drinks. She regaled me with recollections of plastered nights spent within its walls. Kam’s was the place to be when you were already long gone. Kam’s was the bucket into which the U of I vomited its excess–when you’re stuck between “not drunk enough to go home” and “too drunk to go anywhere else,” Kam’s welcomes you with open arms.
Kam’s oozed repugnant odor, filling the entire block with a stench so dank it could trigger the gag reflex of someone much more sober than I was. The wall of unpleasant aroma slowed us in our tracks as we pushed through the threshold to the bouncer. He was a scruffy, six-foot-something kid awkwardly half-perched on a rusty stool next to an ID scanner and a bin full of wristbands. A semi-coherent brunette hung onto him like a sloth to a branch, mumbling to him that she didn’t have any cash and that she’d Venmo him later. Once she saw us (about three minutes after we walked in), she quickly returned to the bar.
IDs checked and bouncer surpassed, we were ushered into hell. Kam’s is, bar none, the single most disgusting place I have ever been. I say this confidently, because I have seen roach-filled gas station bathrooms and trash-laden city alleys. But Kam’s feels like it was pulled from the depths of a nightmare just to make decent people question every pleasant thing they’ve ever seen. Things moved slowly, as if to haunt anyone who entered this watering hole turned hellhole. Drinks careened out of their cups, guided by the careless hands of wasted dudes in backwards flatbills and hockey jerseys. Ice glided across the floor, kicked by the feet of girls in oversized sweatshirts, crooked headbands, and damp fuzzy socks. The bar fountain spewed a blue liquid into cups already quarter-filled with Pinnacle vodka to make the bar’s iconic “blue guy,” which admittedly didn’t taste terrible.
Kam’s surrounds its inhabitants not just with the aforementioned smell or the cluelessly drunk bar goers, but with an impending sense of watery doom. The entire floor is coated in a thick, fresh layer of liquid grime that nobody but me seemed to notice. Even the empty sections of the bar, populated by only a few underused high-top tables, glistened with the abhorrent slime. Perhaps eager to escape the grime, or perhaps because it made me think too much of liquid, I rushed to the bathroom to empty my bladder. The middle urinal gave temporary residence to a jersey-donning, teetering pisser, and the flanking units hid under thick black garbage bags. This left me with two options: 1) wait for the lone functioning urinal, or 2) use the stall. For whatever idiotic reason, I chose the second option. The stall refused the typical commodities like, you know, a door, and instead offered a remarkable assemblage of standing water, hair, toilet paper that missed its target, and a speck of yellowish-brownish goo I tried to pretend didn’t exist. Somehow, I stood far enough away to avoid the muck but close enough for my stream to reach its mark. I did my duty, rushed back out to Erin, and urgently asked if we could leave. Erin understood my pain and obliged my request, reassuring me as we put as many steps as possible between ourselves and the single worst place on Earth.
We finished our evening at The Canopy Club. Ben Folds performed alone, just a piano and a microphone on stage, and absolutely rocked the entire venue. The 900 person crowd joined him in song, supported him with harmonies, and loyally clapped along at just the right moments in “Zak and Sara.” He commanded the stage through his slowest, most sentimental songs and drew hearty belly laughs with anecdotes between tunes. He tickled the keys through his new songs, his biggest hits, and his deepest cuts. He capped off the set with a rousing rendition of “Not the Same.” Erin and I scarfed down oversized pizza slices and cut through the frigid air back to our hotel. A fitting end to a downright fantastic evening with the most wonderful woman in the world.