I've come to the conclusion that 50 is the new 18.
As the wave of my high school classmates turning 50 crests, I've (re)discovered that we are, indeed old enough to know better, but young enough not to care. Not only are we old enough to know better, our kids are old enough that they don't need babysitters and can serve as our designated drivers. Heck, they're old enough to know better, too.
July has been particularly 50-candles intense (I'm not sure what happened 50-years and 9-months ago, but my money is on extended power outages, or a lame TV line up). With each get-together, we recognize the gravity of reaching this milestone (and the toll gravity has taken) even as we celebrate our good fortune in achieving it (remembering fondly our classmates who did not).
We also wax a bit nostalgic for our semi-wild, perhaps misspent youth. There is a good chance that we recall those days being wilder and more fun than they actually were. Still, the memories of that freedom, daring and excitement, and the sense of endless possibilities warm our hearts. More than one story has ended with a collective sigh, and a “If my kids do that, I'll kill them,” or “My parents would have killed me if they knew!”
Recently we gathered in the beer tent at the county fair to celebrate yet another addition to the Fabulous 50s club. I don't think the fair had a beer tent when we were 18 – and even if it did, we wouldn't have been old enough to enter it (as the drinking age was 19). Instead, we had to go to the barns or the campgrounds at the edge of the fairgrounds to sneak a drink.
More often than that, though, we headed out for a dirt road party (DRP). The memories of those illegal, ill-advised, quasi-impromptu events prompted one of my classmates to suggest we plan a DRP as part of our next class reunion. We all thought about it a moment, laughed, and then gave a collective sigh.
There would have to be some changes, we agreed, for example...
In the Good Old Days both sides of the narrow gravel road would be lined with cars and trucks. Usually, they were perched precariously on the edge of a deep, weed-filled ditch, making getting in or out of a vehicle challenging (and that was before we started partying).
These Days our minivans and Mom-U-Vs could present a tipping hazard if we parked too close to the edge of the road.
In the Good Old Days when nature called, our sprightly, bendy-legs allowed us to cop a squat in the corn field. The balance-challenged among us would use a car bumper for support.
These Days? Ain't gonna happen, no how, no way. I get skeeved out using a port-o-potty, let alone baring it all to the great outdoors.
In the Good Old Days parties didn't start until dusk, at the earliest. On an Iowa summer night, that meant most parties didn't start until 9:30 p.m. or so. In the winter, however....
These Days most of us are yawning by 9:30 p.m. or so, and we're sound asleep by 11. While we're at it, our night vision isn't what it used to be, either.
In the Good Old Days we drank beer – usually cheap and warm – and lots of it. Kegs were always a popular choice and occasionally lasted for more than one party (see “cheap” and “warm).
These Days the deposit on a keg and tap is steep. Besides, we may not have the same capacity for consumption we once did. Or maybe, just maybe, with age has come the wisdom not to drink as much.
In the Good Old Days, true DRPs alternated between three or four spots, one of the most popular being “Pete's Ditch.” Given the relative frequency of these events, the grid-like layout of country roads, and the party-radar inherent in teens (along with the trail of red tail lights and plume of gravel dust) we were able to navigate to these remote locations with ease.
These Days, a quick and random survey revealed that no one could remember the directions to Pete's Ditch. We may have to print out maps, or at the very least make sure everyone has GPS on their phones.
Looking over this list of new requirements for a dirt road party, it would seem the perfect party location These Days would be somewhere with plenty of well-lit, flat space for parking, somewhere easy to find, somewhere with flush toilets and cushy places to nap, and somewhere with plenty of cold beer on tap.
In other words, a hotel reception hall. But that doesn't sound like nearly as much fun.
Not that I ever went to a dirt road party, of course.
My parents would have killed me.
My parents would have killed me.