Basics go brick hunting

Upon entering their senior year, most Bobcats create an Athens bucket list. It’s almost guaranteed that liberating an “Athens Block” brick from Court Street or College Green will be on that list.

Athens Block by Erin Nekervis
Athens Block” by Erin Nekervis is licensed under CC by 2.0.

This has been a tradition for years, and many alumni proudly display bricks in their offices or homes. Brick liberation generally occurs in the dark of night and as quickly as possible.

But what happens when two #basic best friends decide to get their own bricks? Erica Frank and I — the most basic of basics — were determined to find out.

But first, we need to discuss the basics of #basic. Most college students are both familiar with and annoyed with the term due to its recent spike in popularity.

When you think basic, picture a 20-something white girl wearing leggings, Uggs, a puffer vest and a Kate Spade cross-body while clutching a venti Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte with her perfectly manicured hand. But this “basic” image is used for stereotyping and demeaning insults. So I have to ask: What is so wrong with any of that? What is wrong with liking Starbucks or being comfortable in what are basically a giant hug for your feet (yes I’m talking about Uggs).

Quite frankly, I think the basic life is the best life to lead. Joining me in that belief is Erica, a Ohio University senior and my basic best friend.

When we began our journey to get Erica her senior year brick, we really didn’t think things through. From parking mishaps (which thankfully were not caught on video) to not being able to find a true Athens Block brick to forgetting any sort of tool that might have helped us extract the brick, we failed on every level. As a result, no bricks were liberated and we gave up to both escape the foul stench that plagued us all evening (Court Street will never smell like roses) and to meet our friends to play pool — poorly.

Despite the stereotype, basics take their homework and professional work very seriously so it was a few days before Erica and I could regroup to plan our next clandestine outing to search for bricks. But during that time, I had received some intriguing information from James Robinson, CEO of Athens Bricks LLC.

I had begun the interview thinking he would say it’s wrong to steal bricks and that you shouldn’t do it out of principle. Instead, he shared some hard facts that would make anyone (basic or otherwise) rethink carrying out this tradition.

“The only problem with this tradition is when they tear out one brick, it creates damage to the whole area,” Robinson said. “The bricks will shift even after just four days. You can’t just replace one brick with another. Each street is hand fitted together. You pull out one and pull out a string in a ball of yarn. The city has to tear up the entire area to replace even just one stolen brick. The whole area can begin to sag and it’s like a domino affect. The bricks will move to fill in the gap. The city has to spend a lot of money and man hours to fix all the areas it affects.”

His story opened our eyes to the damage even a small action could inflict. We were beginning to realize that maybe stealing a brick wasn’t a very basic thing to do …

Because in the end, basics don’t steal … they go shopping!

Guide To Brick Shopping
Athens Block Official Website
Featured product: Authentic Athens Block Brick – $30.00

Mountain Laurel Gifts
25 S. Court St., Athens
Featured product: Athens Block Brick Vase – $40.00

Ohio University Alumni Online Store
Featured product: Athens Block Key Chain – $15.00

 ***

Sarah Rachul is a junior majoring in strategic communications and minoring in sports management and visual communications at Ohio University. She is a self-described basic who would die without always having a Starbucks within a 2-mile radius. Her other interests include Disney World, playing golf in all black (because it’s slimming) and trying new recipes she finds from hours of surfing through Pinterest. You can check out some of her other work on her website and professionally stalk her on LinkedIn

In search of the Court Street Stench

Picture it: You’re strolling through Uptown Athens, taking in all the sights and sounds: the glowing marquee at the movie theater, the raucous laughter of buzzed college students, the feeling of weekend excitement in the air. You round the corner off Union Street and step onto Court Street when suddenly it hits you like a 10-ton bulldozer that’s been camped out at Baker all semester: A smell. A smell so foul it stings your nose. An assault so lightning quick that it’s gone as soon as you realize it’s there.

It is the Court Street Stench, and its source is unknown.

How can a town like Athens have such a stench clinging to its charming brick streets? A college town that students sometimes refer to (without a trace of irony) as “the promised land,” smells more like Chuck Palahniuk’s version of hell. How can this be?
I was determined to find out.

In order to determine the source of The Stench, I needed to first classify it. I needed to fully describe The Stench and then theorize about its source. In other words, I needed to really get a feel for the smell.

So I circled trash cans sniffing like a curious dog. I wandered down alleyways, documenting debris with photographs. I researched information on the grossest bars with the most pungent aromas.

It wasn’t enough. I smelled stenches (and lots of them), but wanted more definitive answers.

But maybe I’d been going about this the wrong way. Maybe instead of trying to track down a single stench, I should have been noting all of them.

Maybe the Court Street Stench isn’t just one smell after all. Perhaps it is a combination of smells: a putrid cocktail of bad food and bad behavior that coated our city streets.

To test this theory, I turned to the best noses for the jobs: the general public. If the public could come up with one definitive smell or source, then I’d have my answer. But if I received a mixed review, I’d know I’d been sniffing up the wrong tree.

And so, on Dad’s Weekend 2014, I took to the streets (and to the bars) to interview everybody and their father about their opinions of the vile Court Street Stench.

From hookah smoke and vomit to greasy pizza and coffee, the answers were as strange and varied as Court Street itself.

Ian Slifcak, a junior studying Spanish and Political Science, summed it up best when he said: “Court Street is a lot of smells.”

Athens city officials seem to agree with Slifcak’s statement. When asked for his diagnosis of the stench, Director of Code Enforcement John Paszke couldn’t put his finger on just one smell . . . or one cause.

“I imagine it is a combination of many things,” he replied. “The exhaust fans from the range hoods of the bars [and] restaurants, the large quantity of trash in the dumpsters, cigarette smoke from outdoor sidewalk smokers, vehicle exhaust, vomit, and depending on the weather conditions, odors from the storm [or] sanitary sewers.”

After turning to experts and laypersons, I was both entertained and repulsed by the variety of responses I had received. My sources had helped me take inventory of the smells of Court Street, and confirmed that there was, in fact, a group of Stenches, at large.

Peter Shoup, a junior studying engineering, commented that Court Street is “kind of like a progressive map … you can tell where you are based on what it smells like.”

Inspired by Shoup’s comparison, I decided to map my data, in the interest of public safety. Even the experts weren’t able to make a positive identification of the perpetrators. It was up to me to inform the public about the predators lurking around every corner uptown.

So, again, picture it: You’re strolling through Uptown Athens, taking in all the sights and sounds. You pass Jackie O’s and smell beer and a yeasty beer-making smell.

You pass the Union which used to smell like smoke due to the abundance of smokers who lined the sidewalk but now smells like smoke from the Union Street Fire.

You pass GoodFella’s and smell greasy pizza, or “cheese and floor cleaner,” as one contributor put it.

You round the corner off Union and step onto Court and smell coffee from Whit’s right before stepping into our first danger zone. The trash can on the corner smells like vomit at all hours of the day and night, and citizens are advised to avoid this area, at all costs.

You cross the street to get away and are accosted by another Stench, in the alley by Brenen’s: courtesy of a perpetually wet, dripping dumpster.

You hurry along, keeping your nose forward, trying not to attract any more unwanted Stenches when you pass the alley by Mike’s Dog Shack, which is a known Stench hideout. You hurry on, sniffing over your shoulder every few paces to make sure you aren’t being followed.

You smell cheap burritos and pungent sauce at Big Mamma’s. You smell the mustiness of Red Brick’s damp basement dance floor. You smell incense at Artifacts, gas and exhaust at BP, beer and smoke surrounding every bar, when suddenly it hits you.

You’re surrounded.

The Stenches are everywhere. You can’t hide from them. You can’t escape them. They have representatives everywhere. No one is safe.

Most of the time they won’t give you much trouble. They’re mostly just mildly irritating. They like to get in your face a little, but they don’t usually stay too long, eager to find a new victim.

But sometimes, they’re more forceful. Sometimes they gang up on you and assault you out of nowhere.

Although The Stenches can be terribly unpredicatable, many sources affectionately attribute them to the dynamic nature of Court Street.

“I kind of enjoy the different phases of smells,” commented Slifcak. “In a way, it contributes to that special feeling of Athens [because] Court Street is where it all happens. It will eat you up and spit you right back out.

“After four years, you might miss some of those strange smells.”

Investigation contributors: Ian Slifcak, John Paszke, Peter Shoup, Elisabeth Rosenfeld, Emily Mueting, Doug Mueting, Scott Scheiderer, Jessica Wuensch

***

Juliana Scheiderer is a junior at Ohio University majoring in Journalism and Spanish with a certificate in Law, Justice, and Culture. She loves writing about music, art, travel, and entertainment.