How I survived Buffett sober

'Selfie' taken at a recent Jimmy Buffett concert, featuring this post's author and a free (delicious) shrimp kebab.

‘Selfie’ taken at a recent Jimmy Buffett concert, featuring this post’s author and a free (delicious) shrimp kebab.

Never in my life have I turned down more drinks than the weekend I went tailgating at a Jimmy Buffett show this summer (and yes, with parents who have been Parrotheads for the last 17 or so years, I fully saw it coming).

Buffett is like a religious experience—they have it down to a science. The tailgating, the celebrating, the party in the lawn, it’s all rather ceremonial. The Parrotheads—the official name of those who frequent Jimmy Buffett’s concerts—come in droves, hauling portable grills, cases of beer and pirate flags; dressed in Hawaiian print button-downs, coconut bras, leis, beads and bandanas; many arrive already highly intoxicated, and the rest will soon throw back copious amounts of colorful shots and moonshine-soaked fruit, the effects tempered only slightly by their fresh-off-the-fire burgers.

For my own Buffett attire, I selected a captain hat, and thus earned myself a new nickname. Strangers shouted “Captain” at me approximately every five minutes (I assure you this estimation is not an exaggeration). But the most interesting part of the entire experience was not my new nickname; it was the unusual encounter with seemingly endless offers of free alcohol.

I regularly field a lot of questions following my (mostly) polite refusals to drink offers. While I’ve been frustrated at times, being around people who are drinking does not usually bother me. Buffett was no exception. It was a tremendously enjoyable experience, even sober. In addition to drink offers, I was handed a free shrimp kebab—which was so delicious I almost went back to search for the guy and ask for his shrimp sauce recipe. Everyone I met was insanely friendly and welcoming, and they didn’t pressure me to accept their drinks after their initial offers were declined.

To be clear: I am 21. For me, not drinking alcohol is a choice unrelated to the law, religion or health, though I do appreciate the health benefits of not consuming alcohol. I have watched people close to me, including multiple family members, abuse alcohol, but their issues don’t serve as my primary motivation, either. But that explanation—that my choice to abstain from alcohol is not primarily motivated by legality, family, health or religion—is usually where the confusion starts.

It is also where a recent Cosmopolitan (yes, Cosmo, please calm down and give it a chance first) article becomes highly relevant. The piece is called “22 Things You Should Never Say to Someone Who Doesn’t Drink” and was sent to me by a friend who does drink, but respects my choice not to. Needless to say, as a college student who doesn’t (always) live under a rock, this article hit home.

The highlights (accompanied by my personal reactions):

4. “I’m going to get you to drink.”

Usually, this just pisses me off, because I find it highly disrespectful. And to the former friend who thought he could—and who more successfully pressured others—you’re an asshole. No one should ever feel pressured to consume alcohol if they don’t want to, and that includes at Church. (Please take your “But it’s not alcohol; it’s literally the blood of Christ” defenses elsewhere.)

10. “Do you think you’re better than us?”

This is the original number that most resonated with me. My personal reaction truly was the response that I’ll borrow from the article: “Alcohol’s a beverage, not a measure of moral superiority (or inferiority). So no, I just don’t want a drink.” Trust me, it really is that simple.

16. “Oh, we didn’t invite you because you don’t drink and we thought you’d be bored.”

If you think I don’t want to be around you or you don’t want me to be around when alcohol is involved, maybe we should have a conversation about that. As Buffett proved to me, I can enjoy being around people who are drinking. If you don’t enjoy my company because I don’t drink, I’m cool with ending things. Really. Bye. Same goes for #17.

22. “Don’t be lame!”

I’m going to borrow from the article again, because the reaction is perfect: “Oh no! The threat of being uncool! Grab me five shots pronto! (But really don’t.)”

To everyone who pressures others to drink alcohol: Stop. To everyone who has been or continues to be pressured: Stay strong and own your decisions, because they’re your choices to make. To all the people who respect others’ choices—whatever they may be—regarding safe and legal alcohol consumption: Thank you. The world needs more people like you. And finally, thank you Cosmo, for publishing a listicle that so perfectly captures so much of my college experience.

My conclusions: Parrotheads are the best—really, they’re great. Alcohol is good, just not something I’m interested in putting in my body. I appreciate friendly people who respect that. (And let me be clear, for the fifty-millionth time… People of the world who do consume alcohol: I am not judging you. Let’s all have a good time together. I won’t be drinking. I won’t be upset if you are. I will be upset if you endanger anyone, including yourself, but that goes for pretty much all situations in life.

None of these conclusions are new to me, but they were greatly reaffirmed by this one-of-a-kind experience with excessive alcohol consumption and the masses. I slapped on a smile—which was both genuine and constant—and just rolled with it, and that is how I soberly survived Buffett. The show and the party were one hell of a good time.


“The Captain”


Journey songs, Twitter, and other addictions

Glee star Cory Monteith died 13 July 2013 of drug and alcohol consumption.

Glee star Cory Monteith died 13 July 2013 of drug and alcohol consumption.

On 13 July I was headed out of the city on a late train. Ever so slightly worried that I might fall asleep on the ride home, I pulled out my iPhone and opened Twitter. Most of my feed was comprised of angry tweets about the Zimmerman verdict. As anyone in America who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last week knows, George Zimmerman—a Florida neighborhood watchman—was acquitted of all charges for killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. While I feel passionately about many issues the Zimmerman trial has highlighted, I had been following the trial, so the only new news was the verdict; thus, it was failing to combat my heavy eyelids. I kept scrolling through my feed, searching for some kind of excitement. The news I discovered next certainly captured my attention, but not in a positive way.

Earlier that afternoon, Glee star Cory Monteith was found dead in a Fairmont hotel room in Vancouver. Police were holding a press conference and announced the autopsy would occur in the next few days. No foul play was suspected, though the actor had a history of drug usage, and had entered rehab in April. After a long day of meetings and catching up with old friends, it was 1 a.m. and I was suddenly wide-awake. While the news of the 31-year-old’s accidental death is certainly tragic, I didn’t know him personally, so why was I suddenly on the verge of tears? (For those of you who know me personally, you know how rarely I cry.)

The last four years, I have not been an every week in front of the television no matter what else is happening Glee watcher. It’s woven in and out of my life depending on my schedule and location. However, it’s had a somewhat subtle, yet profound impact on me. I must admit, the choice to cover Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ immediately caught my attention. I’ve been a Journey fan my entire life, and while I was at first critical of the show’s cover, I’ve grown to love it. And for many reasons, including our mutual love of Journey songs, I’ve also grown to love Glee. (Looking back on the night Cory died, the lyrics to my favorite Journey song seem incredibly fitting: “Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world. She took the midnight train going anywhere.”)

As a semi-crazy music fan I appreciated the variety of classic rock, top 40 and Broadway hits that the show has covered. I have bonded with friends over the songs and plotline, and even developed a Glee-watching routine with a few close friends from college. We’d gather in one of our dorm rooms or apartments on Thursday nights to escape the hectic, stressful, academic world we were so caught up in, eager to spend an hour watching covers of everything from Journey, to A Chorus Line, to Lady Gaga. We related to the characters—their relationships, their struggles, and their journeys. As we watched the actors build relationships—on screen and off—we, too, grew closer. Even the cheesiest or most unbelievable moments of the show in some way related to or touched our realities. My friends and I have grown up to Glee.

Never have I ever reacted so strongly to a celeb death as I did to the tragic passing of Cory Monteith. Maybe it’s because tragedy had finally touched something my friends and I had turned to in hopes of escaping the woes of reality for brief 60-minute increments? Glee has been both an escape from reality, as well as a mirror to our realities. But this was just too real. As I watched my feed fill up with sad posts—and prayed that the news was somehow an unfunny prank—I got a call from one of my roommates, who asked if I had heard the news. Neither of us had much to say. We were shocked. After a few minutes we hung up, and I reached for my headphones. I spent the rest of the trip listening to my selection of Glee songs and contemplating my reaction—at least I’d found something to keep me from drifting off and missing my stop.

Cory Monteith’s untimely death—which has been ruled an accident, caused by heroin and alcohol intake—is a reminder that tragedy does strike. It’s a reminder that tragedy is part of every journey. As I sit here typing, waiting for Glee’s season 1, episode 22 (the episode is fittingly called Journey) to load, I am thinking about the tattoo on my right foot. It says, “Life’s a journey not a destination.” It’s a lyric from an Aerosmith song—yet another indication of my crazy love for music. Tragedies like this one remind me of the role others play in our journeys; I’m also reminded that I am not alone with every step I take. If Glee has taught me anything, it’s taught me the importance of valuing those we love, and holding onto them as we live out our own journeys. I am thankful for Glee, for its endless life lessons and the friendships that have resulted from it. I am thankful for my friends, for the roles they continue to play in my journey. I am thankful for the opportunity to continue living my journey.

Lost in the songs: idolization, communication, and rock ‘n’ roll

Mick Jagger with a customized Blackhawks jersey. (Photo Credit: Chicago Blackhawks Blog)

Mick Jagger with a customized Blackhawks jersey. (Photo Credit: Chicago Blackhawks Blog)

I’ll be the first to admit I’m kind of a concert junkie. Before the summer started, my family and I scoped out the Chicagoland area to compile our list of must-see shows. We’re nearly halfway through our mildly ambitious summer concert list.
On May 29, 2013, the Rolling Stones took Chicago. They did it again on May 31, and again on June 3. People of every age, shape, color and size packed into the United Center to scream for Mick Jagger’s songs and strut. We even mildly tolerated Keith Richards’ vocals for a short while (though, to be fair, it’s nearly impossible to be unhappy hearing “Happy”).

I attended the middle show with my mother and sister. I’m not going to try and count the number of times my mom has seen the Stones (or mention that one time she was front row, center). Anyway, the show was amazing. It will probably go down in history as one of my most amazing musical experiences ever. That’s not the point.

I stood there, trusty iPhone in hand, snapping photo after photo. I totaled 316 photos and 1 video. I repeated the process at Alpine Valley on June 8 (pit seats to see Zac Brown Band), and again at Ravinia on Independence Day (front row seats to see the Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox Twenty). Needless to say I’ve had my fair share of life-altering music-induced euphoric moments this summer…and my bank account has seen better days. But that’s not the point, either.

I watched the crowd go crazy as Mick strutted across the stage at the Madhouse on Madison—particularly when he held up a customized Jagger Blackhawks jersey, (which turned out to be the right hockey bandwagon to jump on, seeing as we won the Stanley Cup)—and it struck me how much every single person in the building was in some way idolizing the aged rocker.

As my Facebook profile continues to fill up with hundreds of snapshots from what are now just treasured memories, I can’t help but wonder what’s the big deal? Why does watching rock stars do their thing leave us in awe?

History is full of idolized figures, but the last few generations seem particularly enthralled with musicians. Is it because they simply take words to which we can relate and mix them with a beat we can feel? Or is it something more? I don’t have an answer, but I will continue to wonder and watch how our idolization of rock stars affects our lives outside of the stadiums and music halls.

These rock stars that we all seem to love so much use music as a method of communication. If you’re like me, you use their music as a tool to communicate, too. I share songs with friends, I post lyrics on social media sites, and I dance—which is probably the purest form of music-related expression I have ever experienced. But what happens when we get so lost in the songs that we stop communicating in other ways?

Recently, a friend introduced me to the band Air Traffic Controller. As I worked my way through their two albums, one lyric stood out to me from their song Different:

“The city is a lonely place for the curious. Everyone is in their phones. You hardly meet the eyes of a stranger, never mind hold a whole conversation.”

As I walked to my internship at a Chicago-based magazine the next morning, I couldn’t help but notice everyone listening to music on phones and iPods. I was lost in a sea of headphone-wearing commuters, and I was one of them.

While I am no musician by any stretch of the imagination, music is an incredibly significant part of my life. I am a journalist, so naturally words are also rather significant to me. I connect to more than just a beat or instrumental interlude in a song—what really gets to me is the lyrics. But as a communicator, I cannot help but wonder what role music has played in the way we communicate, and the way we don’t.

As the evolution of music continues to merge with the constantly developing tech industry, and music-lovers like myself walk through life—their ears stuffed with iPod earbuds as they lose themselves in their personal favorites playlists—what communication is lost? With our eyes so focused on the album covers and song titles, how will we ever meet the eyes of a stranger?

Note: As I finalize this post, I sit here in a Bon Jovi t-shirt, waiting for my family to return home so we can venture to the city for their show tonight. I guess it’s time for me to get lost in some rock ‘n’ roll—yet again. Life’s funny like that.