Monday, January 28, 2013

If You Can't Find Something To Do, I'll Find Something For You

Christmas morning of 1990, Lensey and I awoke to find a Nintendo Entertainment System, complete with Super Mario Brothers, Duck Hunt, and Tetris, among our gifts.  While the system itself had been released in the U.S. for five years already, we thought it was brand new and the coolest thing that had ever been created.  I remember spending hours shooting computer-generated ducks, and getting frustrated when that stupid dog laughed at me for missing a couple of shots in a row.  And according to them, even Mom and Dad got in on the fun...They've said they would stay up hours after Lensey and I went to bed playing Super Mario Brothers, and we all sat in awe watching my cousin Brian beat the entire game in about five minutes.  For better or for worse, it truly was a revolutionary product.

That being said, my parents made certain Lensey and I didn't abuse the privilege.  We weren't allowed to play video games during the day, with the only exception being bad weather or a few minutes before we left for school.  And it wasn't until a couple of years later that we got our own TV, which was relegated to Lensey's bedroom (she was the oldest).  When we got our first Gameboy, the same rules applied.  In all reality, Mom played the Gameboy way more than we ever did...She played Tetris on it up until just a few years ago, when the device finally quit working altogether after 15 years of road trips and power outages.

While I consider myself to be fairly technologically savvy, I'm no tech-nerd.  I don't have to have the newest and best technological devices...I usually get ones that have essentially become obsolete, due to the swift-moving nature of technology today.  But they're always cheaper, and, for all intents and purposes, perform any task I could conceivably ask them to.  And even as much as I'd like to think otherwise, I, just like most other people, have grown to rely on technology far too much.

Perhaps it's the fact that I am surrounded by young kids everyday, but I truly feel bad for the generation that is growing up in today's society.  While there's no question they will have unfathomable access to technologies and devices that, until just a few years ago, only existed in science-fiction novels, these kids are truly missing out on having a childhood like my generation had.

Sure, I played video games, and we had a computer at home (our first one was aged when we got it, and still had a floppy B Drive)...But, we also played outside.  We rode bikes.  We got dirty.  DJ and I used to spend hours playing with a motley mix of G.I. Joes and X-Men in the creek behind my house.  We'd go "exploring" in the woods we knew like the back of our hand.  Lensey, our neighbor Katie, DJ, and I would create fake treasure maps, bury fake treasures, and race to see who could find the other treasure and make it back to the house first.  We built clubhouses, went fishing, we found anything to kill time.  Now, when I ask kids what they did over the weekend, I never hear anything like that, and it makes me sad for them.

The only thing I ever hear is this: "I played X-Box all day."  Recently, in one of my resource classes, I had four boys write an essay about their favorite possession.  All but one wrote about a video game system, and the one that didn't wrote about his favorite video game.

It doesn't take a genius to realize the impact that has on young kids. The epidemic of obesity in this country is a direct result of that (and poor eating and exercise habits).  Sure, a lot of blame can be put on parents, who themselves have become accustomed to relying on technology to keep their kids occupied.  But, what I can't seem to comprehend is how people don't get bored.  How parents can't look at their children and think, "I am helping my child to an early grave."

My parents worked very hard to ensure that Lensey and I grew up as comfortably as possible, with opportunities and luxuries they would have never dreamed of as children.  But, at the same time, they instilled the attitude that those luxuries are just that...Luxuries.  Not to be taken for granted, and not to be relied upon as necessity.  That's why they applied rules, and why, whenever we attempted to push the boundaries of those rules, were told forcefully, "Get outside and play."  One of Mom and Dad's favorite lines was, "If you can't find something to do, I'll find something for you."  Trust me...Whatever it was, would not be fun.

I guess parents just don't do that anymore.  I guess it's easier for them to drop a couple hundred bucks on an X-Box, set their kids in front of the TV, and let them pass their life away.  All the while, inadvertent as it may be, setting them up for a lifetime of lazy and slothful behavior that spills over into every aspect of their lives.  Call me cynical, but judging by increasingly poor performance and just an overall lack of motivation in school (and even on the sports field), the children that will soon be adults will not possess the necessary qualities to lead full, productive lives.  I guess the most alarming thing is how quickly that change has occurred...I'm barely 10 years removed from high school, and the difference between then and now is astounding.

I know you're probably thinking I need to come down off my soapbox and relax, and maybe you're right.  Every generation that comes along appears, to the generation that came before it, to be the downfall of civilization as we know it.  I'm not jumping off that ledge, just yet.  But, I do find myself feeling increasingly sorry for a generation of kids that will never get to have the same kind of childhood I had.  They can't turn their faces away from a video game, or remove their ear buds from their iPod, long enough to experience all the world around them has to offer.  Even things right outside their back door.  Maybe it's just me beginning to show my age, but I do find myself longing for a time before all that.  And I've also grown increasingly thankful that I came along when I did.  I just wish more parents nowadays had the attitude that mine did.  Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Despite my disdain for basically every miserable part of winter, there is something inherently soothing about walking outside into the brisk, biting air of a January morning.  There's a certain calmness to it that doesn't exist at any other time of year.  Winter mornings possess a stillness that no other season can really claim.  During the first warm months of spring, you'll hear birds chirping as they welcome the new day.  And as the months grow hotter, you'll hear cicadas humming in the distance, or leaves rustling in a warm breeze.  But, in the dead of winter, there is just silence and cold.  A certain nothingness.

Then, on those cold mornings when you start your truck to allow it to warm up, that silence is broken by the uneven rumble of an engine, and the blowing of the defroster in the cab.  And, when you are about to start your day and head off to work, you realize that you've somehow locked your only set of keys inside the cab, as they set firmly placed in the ignition.

That's how my day began yesterday morning.  And as I stood outside in the sub-20 degree weather, with my truck running and wasting gas in my driveway, that soothing calmness I briefly felt was instantly blown away by the cold January wind.  Not only did I have to endure the humiliation of calling my principal to explain why I would be late to work, but I also had to sit outside in the freezing cold, because I had locked myself out of the house, too.  And locksmiths, like the government, are never in a big rush.

That inconvenient occurrence got me thinking about some of the past experiences I've had with the various vehicles I've driven over the years.  I've made a lot of good memories driving around with friends, cranking some of our favorite tunes, somehow avoiding any serious trouble, despite our apparent desperate efforts to find it.  I've also had some unfortunate and scary moments in those vehicles, but I've always come out clean on the other side.  And no matter how many cars you drive in your lifetime, there's always a special place in your heart for that first one.

My first car was a charcoal grey 1998 Ford Escort sedan...As stock as they come.  It had manual windows and locks, cloth seats, a steering wheel that could not be adjusted, a radio without a cassette deck, and 2.0L 4-cylinder engine.  Let me tell you, I was the envy of all of my friends.  Nonetheless, that car was reliable and got outstanding gas mileage, so I can't really complain too much.  On countless Friday nights, Mom or Dad would give me a $20 bill, and I could fill my tank, go grab a bite to eat, and spend all night out with my buddies and still have some left over for Saturday.  We put a lot of miles on that car driving to Paducah, cruising around looking for something to do.  No matter how many times we planned on doing something epic, we usually ended up eating at Wendy's, going to the mall and walking two full laps, going to a movie or bowling, then capping the night at Steak 'n Shake.  Despite the newfound freedom we had when I got my license, our weekends were usually fairly predictable.

Things didn't start out so well for me as a licensed driver.  About a month after I got my license, my friend Blake and I were going to a concert at the Paducah riverfront, and as we were pulling out of a parking spot, I backed into a black Ford Mustang.  I was horrified and speechless, because I knew my Dad would end my life.  But, the driver of the other vehicle didn't have their headlights on, so it didn't end up being a big thing.  Blake immortalized the ordeal in a song he wrote to the tune of "3 AM," by Matchbox Twenty and sang it in our Arts and Humanities class in front of 30 of my classmates.  It was hilarious and incredibly embarrassing at the same time.

Another time I was driving down Scale Road on my way to Paducah.  My rear passenger side tire went off the side of the road and hit a bump where a driveway met the road and sent the rear of my car spinning back towards the opposite side.  I managed to get the car under control and stopped...On the edge of a ditch that sloped down about 12 feet from the road.  Despite my efforts to prevent it, the car slowly (really, it felt like slow motion) creeped over the side and down into the ditch.  Not two minutes after the car came to a stop, I heard the familiar sound of Papaw's diesel Ford pickup come rumbling over the hill.  I flagged him down, and he and Memaw got out and soothed my nerves.  At the same time, a man that lived just up the hill had heard my tires squealing, and came down in his tractor to pull me out.  Me, and luckily the car, were both totally unscathed, and I continued on my way.

There were plenty of good times, too.  It's funny how, when you reminisce, seemingly miniscule details become permanently engrained in your memory.  So many stories my friends and I retell over and over about our high school days occurred in that car.  Or at least are tied to it.  We'd pack the trunk full of firewood and drive out to the lake to go camping.  We'd sit in parking lots with the doors open, music blaring from the cheap, factory speakers in the doors.  We'd drive around and talk about life, the future, or sit in total silence and talk about nothing at all.  As I sit here now, I can almost feel the vibration of the steering wheel, or smell the old air freshener I kept in the glove compartment.

While that car was the exact opposite of a high-performance machine, it got me from point A to point B countless times.  It took me on my first date.  It drove me to college for the first time.  It took me on my first road-trip with my friends.  It got me into trouble a few times, and probably got me out of it a few more times than that.  And while I don't know where it is now (the last time I saw it, it was wrecked and sitting in an impound lot), I'll always be able to remember the good times I had in it.  And even some of the bad ones. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Here's Johnny!

Well, here we are.  The first week of January has come and gone, and we find ourselves neck-deep in the wasteland that is the post-holiday season.  Call me grumpy.  Call me melodramatic.  Call me whatever you want...But I absolutely HATE this time of year.  I mean, I just despise it.  If there is a more depressing time of year than the six or eight weeks after New Year's, I haven't encountered it yet.  Aside from college basketball, what does this stretch of time have to offer?

The weather is totally awful.  In these parts, it's cold, but not cold enough to snow very often.  It's just an annoying cold that forces you to wrap up when you go outside, but no snow.  Just cold and wind and the occasional "wintry mix."  At least most of the time.  Even when we get a lot of snow, like two years ago, that gets old after just a week or so.

Everyone is sick.  Some more than others, but pretty much everybody has at least a runny nose that seems to last for weeks with no discernible explanation.  You can get your flu shot, wash your hands frequently, hook up to an IV of orange juice...None of it matters.  Really, the only way to avoid it is to lock yourself away in a mountain hotel somewhere and wait till spring.  And even then you'll just go crazy and start seeing ghosts.  And it's cold.

You come off of the cheerful holiday season full of family, presents, great food, time off and then all of a sudden there's seemingly nothing to look forward to for months.  Spring seems like it's a million miles away.  For most folks, it's too early in the year to use vacation days.  And it's cold.

All the trees are bare.  They're ugly and lifeless.  Grass browns and doesn't grow.  If you want to buy flowers for your wife, the only ones available are small and overpriced.  The days are short and the nights are long.  And it is just so damn cold.

When I was in high school, this time of year was a bit more tolerable.  I'd spend most afternoons after school going to the batting cage and getting some swings in, preparing for the upcoming baseball season.  We'd go outside and throw on the few days it didn't rain or was warm enough for us to stand it.  I played basketball a few nights a week, too, so I kept busy most of the time.  That helped pass the time.  I had February 15th circled on my calendar, because that was the day spring practice officially started, and the day winter unofficially ended.  The weather might still suck for another month or so, but at least I knew spring was right around the corner.

Now, though, things are a bit different.  I don't have those things to occupy my time like I did then.  I've got more important things to worry about.  But, that doesn't mean I haven't developed new ways to get through the doldrums that are January and February.  I've taken some steps to help ensure I don't go totally crazy waiting on spring to finally arrive.

Kentucky basketball is the main thing that occupies my attention during this time of year.  If you know me well, you know how big of a fan I am and how much I follow the Cats all year round.  But, I really amp up that focus this time of year.  Conference play kicks into high gear, and that plays a major role, but since college football has come to a close, and baseball is still two months away, I can put all my sports-related attention toward the Cats.  And it helps (as long as they're winning).

I focus on small chunks of time, rather than thinking in terms of months.  Instead of torturing myself by counting down the days to spring break, I focus on small things that pop up from time to time.  Luckily, this year, I'm going on a trip Super Bowl weekend with DJ and going to another Avett Brothers concert in February with Adrienne, Liza, and Jackie.  Those two big-ticket items will highlight the next six weeks.  Other than that, MLK Day and the SEC Tournament are there.  I have even broken down the school calendar and know how many days there are in between three-day weekends.  It's the little things.  It's sad, really.

Of course there's New Year's resolutions that can help, too, for most people.  Although, I must admit, I don't really have any this year.  I wrote a post last year about my disdain for New Year's resolutions, and I would say most of those are still in tact.  I did better in 2012 than I have probably ever done in sticking with my resolutions, so I figure I shouldn't mess with a winning formula.  But, most of the time, they can help occupy your attention for a while.  Maybe that's why people come up with New Year's resolutions to begin with...There's nothing else to do this time of year.

I might pick up a new hobby or try to get back into working out, although neither of those usually last very long.  I guess the main idea is to just try to keep your mind occupied as much as possible. 

If you long for warm days, sunburns, grilled meat, cold beer, mosquito bites, thunderstorms, boats, shorts, and flip flops then you understand my disdain for this time of year.  In the meantime, I encourage you to find ways to pass the long days and cure your cabin fever.  Otherwise, you might just go crazy.