Spring is in the air. Specifically, it’s in the smoke in the air. Yesterday, I smoked ribs, ostensibly for my daughter’s birthday dinner. In truth, however, I smoked ribs because it’s April, the sun is shining, and I haven’t grilled since last October. I woke early to rub the ribs before I set out on a ridiculously long marathon training run. When I returned home, five hours later, it was time to put the great slabs of St. Louis cut pork spareribs on the grill and let the smoldering cherry wood chips weave their magic through the meat. My run was done, but the pork had a five hour session of heat and smoke to endure, which gave me time to reflect on my recent encounters with the next generation of cool. Spring is the quintessential metaphor for new growth and the promise of what lies ahead. In the last couple weeks, I have observed several examples of being who you are, liking what you like, and doing cool stuff. Despite a nagging cynicism and doubt about the state of the world, I have reasons to be hopeful.
Last Saturday, I participated in the Democratic caucus process to select the party’s nominee for President. I didn’t want to be there, as I was battling a cold virus, and the cold was winning that morning. The temptation to stay home and wallow in my viral misery was great. In the end, though, I am a believer in representative democracy and the importance of participating in the process. I confess I’m losing a bit of faith in the system as the partisanship permeating the U.S. Congress is wending it’s way into my state’s legislature, but I still believe in the Constitution, so there I was, coughing and voting. The best part of that morning was hearing a young woman speak passionately on behalf of Bernie Sanders. I cast my vote for Hillary, but I have a lot of respect for Bernie’s point of view, and I appreciate that he’s drawn a lot of young people to the political process. If this democracy thing is going to work, it requires a lot of young people to get involved and speak up. And, selfishly, there’s something appealing about an old guy getting young people fired up.
I got a group of young people fired up on Easter Sunday. For the past many years, I have served as the M.C. for our neighborhood Easter Egg Dash. We used to call it an Easter Egg Hunt, but there is very little hunting involved, as our neighborhood park is littered with more than 1,000 plastic, candy-filled eggs laying in plain sight. At 3 p.m. on Easter Sunday, after having distributed the eggs with help from my kids and other volunteers, I welcome the assembled mass of young dashers, equipped with baskets and plastic bags, and their parents. It’s my once a year opportunity to flex my stand up comic muscle, doing three minutes of Easter Egg-related material. I always kill. After I’m done making jokes and explaining the rules, I count down from five and the kids race around the park collecting their booty. Not counting my set, the entire event lasts four minutes. Kids in pursuit of free candy tend to move fast. Despite the brevity, the youthful exuberance expressed during the Dash gives me a thrill. I laughed when I realized we’ve been doing this for 15 years, and, if you do the math, it adds up to about an hour of actual activity.
Speaking of math, this week, my family attended the Knowledge Bowl banquet at my son’s high school to recognize the efforts of the kids who competed in KB tournaments all year. I’ve previously blogged about my passion for Knowledge Bowl, and this was a special night to celebrate the kids. It was much like any other sports banquet, with certificates, speeches, and trophies, but the best part was the Parent Round, in which we formed three teams and competed, complete with buzzer bars and a timer. While the teams were formed at random, I loved my teammates, especially Richard, who was smart and hilarious. It was Richard who, recognizing our team didn’t have strong math skills, suggested we buzz in quickly on the next math question and answer, “42.” If you get that joke, we can be friends. 42 was incorrect, by the way. On the next math question, the reader said, “State this equation as a radical…” While I was pondering how little I knew about mathematical radicals, Richard whispered his answer to me: “Che Guavarra.” I laughed inappropriately loudly. Despite our dismal showing in the math category, we pulled out victory in the end. I am not highly competitive, but this was a sweet win, and I was delighted that our kids were watching and rooting for us. Well, some kids were rooting for us, while others were staring at their phones, and my son was busy talking to a friend. Thie inattentiveness to my championship performance was of no great concern. After all, the reason we were there was to celebrate a competition based on knowledge. How cool is that? In these times of Trump-level fact-starved discourse, a room full of kids who compete to know things is refreshing and hopeful.
Politics and knowledge aside, my true passion, you must know by now, is metal music, and earlier this month, I got a dose of fresh metal when I attended a gig by my young friends in the band Evil Awakening. Fellow metal geezer, Sean and I had seen Evil Awakening perform last year, and we were disappointed. Their music just wasn’t working. This time, however, they slayed. Their evil is not just awakening; it’s out of bed, deep into its third cup of coffee, going to work, and killing it. My young friends are getting better, and there are few things cooler and more hopeful than great metal music that unleashes the metal warrior inside me. Well done, Sean, Dylan, Stacy, Matt, and Jordan.
The sun is growing in the sky this morning, and while I’m still sore from my 23 mile run yesterday, I’m invigorated in knowing the future of cool is secure. The youngest kids are as devoted to free candy as kids have ever been, there are high schoolers who value knowledge as much as sports, the newest voters are concerned about the future of our democracy, and five young guys are bludgeoning audiences with fresh and fierce metal music. The ribs were delicious, and life is good.