Downtime

Last Night Out

From a burlesque striptease to a firehouse dinner, memories from right before everything changed.

People dancing at a party
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

What was your last “normal” night out? Maybe you went out to dinner or crammed into a bar with friends. Maybe you did karaoke with colleagues, or just hung out in the actual indoors portion of someone else’s house. For many of us, that final memory of pre-lockdown life feels weirdly frozen in time now—at once nostalgic and a little ominous. So we asked a bunch of different people to share what they remember. This is part of Six Months In, a Slate series reflecting on half a year of coronavirus lockdown in America.

“I gave sweaty lap dances all night”

I flew to Minneapolis on March 6 to perform a burlesque act honoring striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, and then gave sweaty lap dances all night at a show put on by my business partner Sweetpea. We were at the notorious Gay ’90s club. One guy—a client—loved how much I stank toward the end of the night and I almost took him home. What? He was hot … and we didn’t know how dangerous putting one’s mouth on another’s mouth would turn out to be. After the show was a little after-party in a hotel room across the street. I ate a small bag of unicorn-shaped fruit snacks. Sweetpea and I stayed up for another few hours talking and then I went to the airport. I dropped my mouthguard on the floor of the brightly lit terminal. Sleep deprived, I popped it into my mouth before thinking “well, that was stupid.”
—Writer, performer, and pornographer Stoya

“I drank four Manhattans (!)”

I well remember my “last” night out, because nights out are rare, and not just because I have kids—I’m usually in bed reading by 9. On March 10, I texted my friend Sarah a much-belated response to a work message she’d sent me (I’d been horribly sick, and still have no idea whether it was with COVID-19) and she proposed we have a drink to discuss in person. She’s also got two kids, so it’s quite remarkable that we nailed down a date for two days later at one of the only decent restaurants in our Brooklyn neighborhood. Her final message in the thread: “Will this be our literal last night out?” Prophetic. The restaurant was crowded. We sat at the bar. We did not kiss hello, because we sensed we ought not to. I drank four Manhattans (!) and we shared a pizza. We were supposed to be talking about work, and we probably did, and I definitely remember some gossip, but I think mostly we were in a state of anticipatory shock, talking about stocking up on beans and that kind of thing. It was clear that something was happening, but no one knew what. It was a Thursday night, cool and quiet.
—Rumaan Alam, author of Rich and Pretty, That Kind of Mother, and the forthcoming Leave the World Behind

“I cluelessly agreed to attempt a ski race”

My big last night out happened in February. I cluelessly agreed to attempt the Birkebeiner ski race in Hayward, Wisconsin. I did not do this as part of my official duties as Wisconsin’s secretary of tourism. I did it because I like the idea of saying yes to everything—at least once. The Birkebeiner is the largest cross-country ski race in North America—55 kilometers of insane Nordic ski trails. Over dinner (and many drinks) old friends who have done the full race several times convinced my husband, Brian, and me it would be fun to try. We bought new skis and started training. The next evening, Brian came home from his soccer league with a ruptured Achilles. On my own and too proud to back out, I trained—exactly two times. Thankfully my friends gave me the generous out of downgrading to the QUARTER Birkie, which is 15K. It still took me nearly three hours to finish.

Brian watched from the sidelines, and was ready with the video camera at the final leg of my race, where you go up a big bridge onto Main Street for everyone to cheer you on to the finish line. Somehow I proceeded to completely wipe out, with all the cowbells ringing and cameras clicking. So I finished with a bang, 614th out of 665. The next night was a celebratory banquet hosting all the age group winners from that day’s full Birkebeiner. It’s a world-class race so these were, like, the fittest athletes in the world. Devastatingly handsome Ken dolls, tall skinny Norwegian guys, eating Ikea-style meatballs next to me. Meanwhile, I could barely walk. We’re gonna do it again next year! I mean, we bought the skis.
—Sara Meaney, secretary of tourism, state of Wisconsin

“I was wedding shopping and planning”

When this all started, my wedding was about three weeks away. So my last hours before lockdown were spent wedding shopping and planning. We were finalizing our menu, shopping for jewelry and picking up our outfits. We were also trying to figure out how our wedding was going to work with the pandemic happening. Did we need to reduce our guest count? What health and safety precautions needed to take place? Would our vendors still want to come to work? It was all very hectic and stressful. We didn’t have our wedding.
—Hemali Mistry, beauty influencer

“It was so good to eat a meal with someone else”

It was Tuesday, March 10. I’d been on edge for days. I was supposed to leave for a writers’ retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains the next day, and I kept expecting it to be canceled. But my favorite local food critic had a rave review that day about a restaurant my friend and I both love, and we texted about it, sure that once people read the review, it would be even more impossible to get in the door. And plus, the pictures that accompanied the review on Instagram made me crave their pillowy, perfectly cooked pasta. So we decided to go that night. I got there first, and found us our favorite seats at the end of the bar. We sat hip to hip, we ordered an appetizer, three pastas, and a dessert, and—as the two of us usually do—we shared everything. I’d been alone in my apartment and anxious and glued to social media for days, and it was so good to eat a meal with someone else, put my phone away, relax, gossip, and vent about everything.
—Jasmine Guillory, author of Party of Two

“In the lobby of the old venue, people hugged”

Right before the pandemic locked us all down, my adopted hometown of Nashville endured a horrible tornado that destroyed many people’s homes and livelihoods. Many of us spent the days afterward getting out into the streets, clearing trash, rebuilding homes, and distributing supplies. At night we gathered to try to mutually process this destruction, often while listening to music. The last concert I went to was Ruston Kelly’s debut at Nashville’s musical Mother Church, the Ryman Auditorium, on March 6—a date equidistant from the tornado’s tear and the full descent of quarantine. To play the Ryman was a personal triumph for Kelly, especially after struggling with the addictions he chronicles in his gorgeously melancholic songs. In the lobby of the old venue, people hugged, relieved to see each other intact; we smiled, happy that an artist who’s a local treasure was touching this milestone despite the strange circumstances. “Art is like a weapon against the lesser self,” Kelly said from the stage; we didn’t know how much we’d need it in the months to come. For that night, we just sang along and knew that slowly, as Ruston had with his own life, we’d rebuild.
—NPR music critic Ann Powers 

“I went into work for an overnight at the firehouse

After seeing a documentary on how meat is packaged and sold, my 4-year-old goddaughter decided she would never eat meat again and asked me to join her. I told her that I couldn’t promise never to eat meat again, but I would go a month with her. I chose February because it’s the shortest month. One of my last memories before the pandemic hit was a dinner at the firehouse toward the end of February. Being a firefighter and keeping a meat-free diet as a promise to your goddaughter is extremely difficult. Especially when the guys at the firehouse know about the promise. Firefighters are childish. All of us. I went in to work for an overnight. Because the guys knew I was coming in, for dinner they made ribs and chicken, sweet potatoes with bacon bits, cabbage with prosciutto and cornbread. They weren’t trying to starve me; they were trying to tempt me. Everyone licked their fingers and rubbed their stomachs and moaned in pleasure as they ate the chicken or ribs. And I ate my cornbread and hated myself for having been stupid enough to tell them about the promise.
—Jason Powell, firefighter

“What if you threw the last great party before coronavirus Changed New York Forever?”

Almost always I’d rather stay home than go out, so for my friend Rachel’s 40th birthday party, on Feb. 29, I selfishly volunteered my apartment. It was a killer party: dozens of people, all wine-drunk and rosy and beautiful, piled on the couch like coats, whispering in clusters in the kitchen, doing the cocktail-party hover by the mini fried chicken biscuits, having dance parties-within-a-party in front of a huge jar of pre-batched Dark & Stormy that was leaking all over the counter. I had ordered a hundred multicolored helium balloons—I remember thinking it was a terrific moral extravagance, something I was looking forward to feeling guilty about later—and when we all sang “Happy Birthday” to Rachel, their ribbons fell around her shoulders like a rainbow of trailing vines. “What if you threw the last great party before coronavirus Changed New York Forever,” my friend Tom texted me a few days later. “That’s pretty heavy to think about.” One of the balloons, a massive red mylar heart, somehow stayed full and floating in my living room until mid-May, and maybe could have gone longer, except that one afternoon, for no real reason, I stabbed it with a pair of scissors and stuffed it in the trash.
—Helen Rosner, food correspondent for the New Yorker