The waitress at Stub and Herb’s seemed perplexed: “HOW many?” she shouted over the din of drunken Gophers.
“A dozen,” I repeated. “I need a dozen beers.”
“You mean 12?”
I sighed, “Yes, 12, please.”
She left in a huff, giving me a look like I was speaking Esperanto.
I turned to the kid next to me who was about to help me consume the beer. “Was I not being clear?” I asked. “Or am I just a freak for ordering 12? I mean, there are four of us at the table.”
The kid smiled. “Nah. You’re just in Minnesota.”
A Wisconsinite by birth, a Badger by choice and a Sconnie for life, there are few things that would make me cross the border to a place where they wear Maroon and Gold like it’s a pride point.
And, despite evidence to the contrary, it’s not 70-cent Grain Belt Premiums at this infamous local gin joint.
A friend of mine was putting on a college journalism convention and had asked me to speak. So, in the heat-wave days of 81 degrees (hey, we’re in the north), I trundled across the state, crossed into an unholy land and engaged the best and brightest from across the country in a fantastic weekend of fun.
If you want to know why I have faith in my field, why I never truly worry that we’re all going to end up as an episode of “Ow My Balls,” why I believe newspapers will survive in some form, these kids are it. They coughed up a hundred bucks or so, flew into the Twin Cities and tolerated me for a four-hour block of time.
Not one of them nodded off.
The bigger thing for me is this: They love this stuff. They wanted to be there. When I told them they could leave early if they wanted, they all stayed, and I’m sure it’s not because I was eye candy.
Remember what your summers were like at that age? If they involved getting rolling on that “summer reading list” that some officious prick at the university gave you, I feel sorry for you. I think I scraped myself out of more bars than libraries at that age and I was grateful they gave me a degree. The thought of “journalism camp” never dawned on me. I wasn’t even close to being aware of such things. I thought you learned journalism between trips to the jukebox at “The Plaza.”
These are not kids of privilege. Most were there on a university dime, which involved registration and plane fare, but nothing else. In fact, a couple kids were having the “should we eat today or tomorrow?” debate.
And yet they huddled in booths in this place where you might or might not leave a shoe stuck to the floor on your way out, talking to new best friends from across the country, who were also starting their run as a college editor.
Whether they were from a small, private college or a giant, public university, they had the same fears, the same excitement and the same issues. I had 32 kids show up from all over the place and the minute I said, “If you’ve got an editor who is sleeping with a reporter who works for them…” practically every head in the place was nodding and grinning.
Apparently, journalism is journalism…
We agreed that journalism is not dead, but that we need to do a better job of helping people understand that all information is not created equal. We agreed Twitter was fine when you don’t have someone put on the pretense of objectivity in a story for the paper and then Tweet that the source is an asshole. We agreed it is hypocritical and yet necessary to write a policy that says no sleeping with staff members while you’re the reason you have to write the policy and you aren’t breaking off that relationship.
We also found that we love this for reasons we can’t fully articulate but if we didn’t have it, we’d die a slow and miserable death.
One kid I particularly loved, in that he kept finding me wherever I was. He was in my session, followed me to a keynote, tracked me down at the reception and hung out with me at a pool table.
“I hope you don’t think I’m stalking you,” he said. “But I’m the only one here from my school and I don’t want to go sit in the dorm alone.”
So after dinner and a call home to the Missus, the Cardinal kids and I decided to adopt this kid who trekked up here from Kansas and we brought him to 70-cent beer night at Stub and Herb’s. We talked, we laughed and we drank away about a third of my per diem out of plastic cups. The enthusiasm at the bar was great, but I’ve got to tell you, it was no more or less genuine than what I saw hours earlier in the classroom.
Later today, I’ll don my newspaper’s staff shirt (price you pay for drinking with the kids and promising you’d do it if they are able to get up and make a morning session after 34 beers) and try to keep that spirit rolling.
It’s times like these that I wonder if I’m grateful enough for these opportunities.
I also wonder if I’m going to be hung over when I go. After all, while we share that unbridled joy for journalism, we no longer share an alcohol tolerance based off of a titanium liver.
Getting old is a bitch…
Still, I’ll be there because when you find people who love something as much as you do, you want to be around them as much as you can.
With or without a dozen 70-cent beers.