Senior Night #1

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Club Illusions Palo Alto

260 S. California Avenue
Palo Alto, California 94306

“Illusions is a shithole.”

Senior-class veterans of the Palo Alto nightclub denounce it so often—and so vehemently—that this is less of a quote than a class-wide attitude. Keep asking questions, though, and students grin mischievously: yes, they had fun, and yes, they’re going back.

Determined to get to the bottom of the Illusions paradox, the Stanford Arts Review was on site at the Class of 2013’s first Pub Night.

#1 The Pregame

“I feel like I’m the kind of person who can have fun sober, but before Illusions, heavy pre-gaming is absolutely necessary.”
–anonymous Stanford senior

For the Baby Boomers out there, pre-gaming is the first stage of most college party nights. Affordability is the main concern, as a drink in downtown Palo Alto costs roughly the same as a fifth of Smirnoff at CVS. Drinking games are, somewhat ironically, pre-game staples—beer pong, Civil War, flip cup, slap cup, stack cup, King’s Cup, and so on—designed both to ramp up the old BAC and sate the Stanford competitor’s need for recognition.

The same loud, throbbing music that the club will play later is ubiquitous. This week, Psy’s “Gangnam Style” racked up roughly six plays per hour. We still haven’t figured that one out.

#2 The Bus

Alcohol blankets soothed strollers through a blustery (~60° F), five-minute walk to Tressider Union, where buses, security guards and gregarious class presidents awaited. Sobriety was at a premium. It was unclear whether men or ladies spent longer getting ready. During the thirty-minute wait for the ten-minute bus ride, former IHUM section-mates high-fived and desperately tried to remember each others’ names.

A few frat party-caliber elbow moves later, the bus was gained. A seasoned Stanford security guard with a cultivated paunch boarded last, gave a safety speech, and finished with,

“Yeah–so kids from the other years called me Yoda. You all can if you like.”

The security guard gave himself a nickname. The natural thing to do was to chant it.

Eventually, the bus pulled up in a dingy alley behind California Avenue.

#3 The Club

The line moved quickly. Males were frisked in what I’d naively assumed to be a weapons check, but it turns out that Stanford students are less of a physical threat than a financial one: the club can’t lose money to flask-bearing undergrads. Females aren’t frisked, they’re simply leered at and admitted by the tangibly sober doorman.

Inside, Club Illusions recalls the airplane hangars and high school gymnasiums of years past. Raised areas flank a massive, open dance floor. Everything not illuminated by two steel halos of track lighting is gray or black. A new level of elbow sharpness will earn one the pleasure of paying $10 for a shitty mixed drink in a plastic cup. Beers are $5.

“Three Long Islands” seemed a simple enough order. It came back as Two. My efforts at the bar, while appreciated by the homies, found me eight dollars down and without a drink. I went to the patio to sulk.

Here, a girl in a blue dress absolutely shined. She—and I’m abusing this verb—kissed three lucky men in the same number of minutes before plopping on a fourth’s lap. She reported that Mitt Romney was a respectable candidate, admitting that she hadn’t watched the debate, and fell asleep on #4’s shoulder.

All of this in an ivy-lined sandstone courtyard with a painted scene of some European town—at least Illusions tries. For the rest of the night, I watched life’s little dramas unfold. A purse escaped one senior’s clutches and roamed the dance floor. A group of forlorn men came to life when the DJ played “You Got What I Need”. Five guys mooched cigarettes from the same friend. When a girl on crutches did the best Bernie that Palo Alto has ever seen, one backwards-hatted reveler asked another,

“Did you see that?”

#4 The Reconciliation

I propose a embarrassingly simple solution to the Illusions paradox, which I guess means there never was a paradox. Sorry.

People to go to Club Illusions to trick themselves.

A wiser man than I said that pub night felt like a seventh-grade dance crossed with a freshman all-campus party. For most people in the room, it’s the place in the world where they know the most faces–even if they’re nameless faces–and a place to see who shows up with whom: 7th grade dance.

For just as many, Senior Nights are the last chance to act like a freshman again, which means drinking irresponsibly and dancing inappropriately: all-campus. Also, the place is called Illusions. It’s all a trick.

But hey, it’s actually a pretty good time. Ridiculous, yes. Ralph Castro would have a heart attack. Our mothers would faint.

But I’m definitely going back.

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