I’m Back in the Saloon (Again)

That's a mix of Blue Steel and the no-look pour.

I’m doing everything I can to hang on to the job title “bartender.”

I’m something less than part-time right now — most accurately, an on-call bartender — but even after a particularly taxing week at work, I can’t wait to shoot down to Mankato tonight to spend a couple nights slinging drinks to college kids.

I’ve written about my affinity for working at South Street before. I’ve since put in a few shifts only to find I’m getting older and college kids are staying the same age. More depressingly, the only people I know in Mankato anymore are those I get to work with at South Street. It’s good to see them, but it’d be nice to serve an old friend now and then. Apparently, they’ve all graduated and moved away.

My most recent shift at South Street was about a month ago on a Sunday night. Business was slow and I didn’t see a single familiar face, save for my girlfriend’s. I had to work at 9 a.m. the next morning and didn’t make it back to Minneapolis until about 5 a.m. All told, I drove 160 miles to work a five-hour shift for just $43 in tips. On the way home, I started thinking maybe I should hang it up. Maybe the thrill is gone. Maybe it’s time to put the bartender shtick behind me.

But I can’t quit it.

It’s graduation weekend in Mankato, and hundreds of mid-year grads will pretend this is their last night in town before they set off for an adult life with full-time expectations. Sure, they’ll visit for homecoming, but they’re putting college in the rearview, thinking about bigger and better things. Who can blame them?

I did that. I did that twice. I graduated, then stuck around Mankato to dabble in graduate school, then moved to Portland and came back again. Now, I get to Mankato whenever I can, usually to work the same job that carried me through college. Maybe I’m the loser. Maybe I’m the one who should grow up. Maybe I should put bartending in the rearview.

But why?

I love the sense of community I feel at South Street or any bar, for that matter. My parents owned a sports bar during my formative years, and though the crowd was drastically different than South Street’s, I admired the way my mom and dad would float throughout the bar, saying hello to regulars and always meeting new people, organizing events like the Bogey’s Golf Tournament or the Bogey’s Super Bowl Party. I started working at a bar when I was 12 years old, filing dried-up cheese and ketchup off dinner plates for $3.25 an hour. Forget college — maybe working at a bar reminds me of my childhood.

Maybe I have nothing to apologize for, because I’m now closer to 30 than 20 and I don’t want to end up a bitter middle-aged man who too hastily let go of the things that made him happy. If anything, I’m lucky. It’s not like I’m trying to sneak my way into the Minnesota State University intramural basketball league or the Gage dormitory, for that matter.

I’m trying to play some loud music while pouring a few drinks with my friends, maybe while having a few of my own. There are worse ways one can make a buck.

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St. Cloud Students Vote to Pay Up, Save Football

Had St. Cloud State students not voted to increase student fees, Husky Stadium would've been much lonelier on Saturdays in the fall.

This week, students at St. Cloud State University voted to increase student fees by $1.74 per credit hour to save the football program.

How did such a major decision come to a student vote?

The SCSU athletic department faced  deficits of $550,000 in fiscal year 2012 and $600,000 in fiscal year 2013. Student fees, the budgetary equivalent of duct tape at state universities, were seen as one of the few lifelines that could rescue Husky football. So, the SCSU student government coordinated a vote and 20 percent of the student body showed up over three days to approve the measure.

President Earl H. Potter III confirmed the vote yesterday and  promised students and faculty he has no intention of cutting any sports. In the meantime, administration and the athletic department will work with boosters and corporate partner to strengthen revenue streams.

As a St. Cloud State student, it might’ve been easier to vote no. The increase is capped at 12 credits, so no full-time student will pay more than $41.76 for a school year. Still, that’s $167.04 over four years alongside increasing tuition and book prices and shrinking faculties and course offerings. As part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, SCSU’s academic budget will be cut four percent in 2011 alone.

For those of you keeping score at home, college students, in general, are paying more to receive less than ever before. But don’t feel sorry for St. Cloud State students, because at least they still have Husky football.

I wish President Potter would’ve taken the heavy handed approach and said something like,

“No more. While we honor the 88-year history of our football program, we cannot expect to burden students with more fees unless their investment is fruitful. Just 100 men among our 20,000 students play football, and I can’t fathom more than a dozen will continue on to playing or coaching careers. This is a new era for St. Cloud State University, but we will go on without football. We are a proud state institution, and what does or doesn’t happen for a few hours each Saturday afternoon in the fall won’t harm our reputation. This is in the best interests of the students and the school.”

Yeah, right.

Did I mention I’m a huge college sports fan? Basketball, especially. Don’t think I was one of those bitter jerks who didn’t support his college’s athletic program. I did. Faithfully. But had the athletic program just gone and disappeared, each and every sport, I would’ve been fine. I went to college to get a degree. I’m reminded of how expensive it was each month when I cut a check to payback my student loans. A percentage of that debt came from student fees, paid out over five years and dispersed to clubs, organizations and causes I couldn’t begin to name.

If SCSU students are content with paying up so young men can play a sport, so be it. I suppose that’s honorable and part of a liberal state of mind I generally respect.

My only question is what if the library had been in peril? What if the debate team was on the verge of extinction or the theatre department was drying up? What if the student newspaper could no longer afford printing costs?

Kudos to SCSU students for delving deeper into their student debt, so long as that charitable nature exists when other groups need it, too.

Banning Alcoholic Energy Drinks May Just Be a Shortcut

WOLF IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING: Alcoholic energy drinks are packaged to look no different than their non-alcoholic counterparts.

The last time I drank an alcoholic energy drink, I broke a sweat just a few sips in. My entire forehead beaded in sweat and I felt waves of heat rush through my body. By the time I drank half of the 16 oz. can, I’d had enough. I felt intense pain in my stomach, as if I’d eaten glass, and my speech was starting to slur. I’m a 220-pound male who has tended bar for nearly three years. I can drink. Half a can of Joose, the alcoholic energy drink I’m speaking of, nearly put me out cold.

Joose is completely legal and you can get a can for just about two dollars. You won’t have to look hard to find it, either. (I bought the can at a grocery store.) Joose and other brands like Four Loko, Sparks and Tilt are under heavy scrutiny after several instances involving young adults suffering alcohol poisoning. Turns out a high concentration of alcohol and caffeine can lead to undesirable outcomes.

Several states are now considering banning alcoholic energy drinks, and rightfully so. Although, there is one important question that’s sort of been grazed over: Why do young adults drink these beverages despite knowing the health risks?

Answer: Cost.

The average college student stocks their mini fridge with bottom-shelf beer and liquor and they buy it in bulk. (I don’t mean to single out college students here, but most of the reported incidents seem to involve them, so let’s be real.) College students are frugal drinkers, save for maybe the week or so after they receive their FAFSA distribution. They want to have fun and rarely allow finances to hold them back. If they want to party, they’ll find a way.

What’s cheap? What will get college students the most bang for their buck? Alcoholic energy drinks, which promise a night full of energy, because after a long week of studying and testing, even 21-year-olds get tired. They’re also loaded with alcohol, so rather than drilling through a six-pack of beer, they can catch a buzz in just a few sips. That’s efficient, economical partying.

The problem is few actually know what’s in a can of Four Loko, because you won’t find a serving recommendation, calorie count or caffeine total on its label. According to NPR’s Anna King,

“Phusion Projects will give only an estimate of how much caffeine is in [Four Loko]: One can has about as much caffeine as a six-pack of Diet Coke. One can also fills an empty wine bottle and in fact, contains about as much alcohol as a bottle of wine.”

You can rightly assume Four Loko’s competitors achieve the same alarming numbers.

Do I support a ban on alcoholic energy drinks? I’m hesitant to say yes if Everclear and Bacardi 151 are being left on the shelf. However, I would like to see these beverages sold at a higher price with a more detailed warning on the can. Ban alcoholic energy drinks and college students will resort to the more traditional mix of vodka and Red Bull.

Anecdotally, I know alcohol and caffeine are a lethal mix, but I can’t explain why. That wasn’t a part of the drug-and-alcohol curriculum I was taught growing up. Every story I’ve read regarding alcohol energy drinks and young people being hospitalized has shared the same theme: They didn’t know what they were drinking. Short of banning these beverages, we need to do a better of job explaining their ill effects to students as early as high school.

After all, if there’s one thing we’ve learned about harmful substances in this country, it’s that banning them or making them illegal won’t make them go away.

Rejects Revel in Minnesota’s Misery

My good friend Jake (left) is a Minnesota graduation and current grad school student. I am a Minnesota reject.

Let me preface this post by saying I was rejected by the University of Minnesota. I was the over-involved high school student who thought a litany of extracurriculars would compensate for a slacktastic GPA. I ended up attending Minnesota State University Mankato and I’ve been holding a grudge against the maroon and gold for eight years strong.

That said, I still wish they would’ve let me in. That’s why I wore a Gophers t-shirt and temporary tattoos (for like 14 minutes) while tailgating at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday. My girlfriend and I had intended to see the game — Minnesota vs. South Dakota — but chose to watch the game from a bar neighboring the stadium.

Famously, the Gophers lost to the Coyotes, a I-AA team that just might be the second-best in South Dakota. I played high school football with guys who turned their nose up to USD, yet it was Vermillion’s own who won 41-38. Before halftime, the temporary tattoos were long gone and my shirt was inside out. I was the obnoxious guy at the bar who cheered a little too loud for the opposing team. Luckily, Gophers fans have a firm grip on reality and I managed to avoid any haymakers.

Minnesota is a fine institution, but sort of like that friend you love to see fail. The team, especially coach Tim Brewster, has been lynched by the local media and fan base for what’s got to be the most embarrassing loss in team history. Darren “Doogie” Wolfson, in his blog for the Star Tribune, wrote:

When your players skip out on “Hail Minnesota” at the end of the game; when the TCF Bank Stadium crowd for three straight appearances — remember the vitriol from the Illinois & South Dakota State games — turns extremely ugly on the coach and the program; when some of Brewster’s biggest supporters on the local rivals.com site and gopherhole.com turn on him; when it’s hard to figure out if the team is any better today compared to when Brewster took over; when Brewster said the program was “light-years” ahead of when he took it over; and when Brewster called this his most athletic team to date, it’s time for a change.

Off-the-field incidents? They can be sort-of excused. Recruiting violations? The same. But a loss to South Dakota is inexcusable.

Here’s the thing. Many argue sports media are too hard on college athletes. They are, after all, young men who are bound to make mistakes. When they win, however, college athletes are steeped in praise, showered in rewards, honored like humanitarians or noblemen. When they win, we treat them less like college athletes and more like heroes and saints.

What keeps the scale from tipping? Criticism. Bold, harsh, relentless criticism. That’s why I don’t feel bad for Minnesota, Brewster, athletic director Joel Maturi or the team. Sooner or later, the program will be back in the Top 25. For now, they hardly seem worthy of their new $500 million stadium, let alone a healthy chunk of the West Bank that might better serve as parking lot. For now, Minnesota is like a drunken Goliath, and the USDavids have no problem taking them down a notch.

So, even though I put on my Gophers shirt Saturday morning and pretended I had some attachment/connection the school, the reality is I couldn’t have been happier to see them lose. I’m sure there’s hundreds of Minnesota rejects who feel the same way.

Obsolete Curriculum Harming Students

Higher education is in peril.

Public universities (such as the one I went to) are cutting courses, degrees, faculty and even athletic programs to make up for shrinking state budgets. Even still, tuition continues to rise. Bottom line is there’s a lot to complain about on the college scene.

In these unsavory times, students tend to forget the important questions: Is my school preparing me for a career? Is curriculum evolving at the speed of the real world? How confident can I be that my degree will result in a job?

Jacob Bohrod is the arts and entertainment editor at the The Reporter, the student newspaper of Minnesota State University, Mankato. I’ve never met Jacob, but he absolutely skewered the same mass communications program from which I earned a minor in news and editorial writing. I keep in touch with certain faculty members, but a few have since retired or moved on from the school. Bohrod writes about something I observed as far back as 2005, namely a complacency among faculty that’s alarming considering the expectation of higher education. (To prepare students to work in a field.)

Please read Jacob’s brilliant piece, “An Open Letter to the Department of Mass Communications“:

With all due thanks and appreciation, allow me to speak freely and frankly. My name is Jake. I’m a senior at Minnesota State, intending on graduating in a few short months. I started here in 2006, and since then I have watched the world turn while the mass communications department dug in its heels, apparently watching too.

The culture of communication is rapidly restructuring. Clever people far away are deciding the current and future ways in which we communicate, and those ways are as different from what they were 20 years ago as those were from the Middle Ages. This we know; this is no longer surprising; this is no longer upsetting; this comes too from your mouth.

Where my disappointment (and many times it’s not even that — many times it’s anger) comes from is the department’s utter refusal to react to these changes in any significant way. Where it comes from is the increasingly undeniable fact that I will graduate from a four-year program without what is now the basic skillset demanded of professionals in my field.

I, as a senior on the cusp of graduation, should not be guessing how to do the necessary functions of my job.

The sentiment of which I speak is one that hangs on the air throughout the department. It’s  palpable. The mass comm. students’ building realization that they are only getting half of an education, that a massive gap in content marks their degree and that at the far end of that gap drops a cliff, is in every department classroom.

This gap, I acknowledge, is hardly unknown to you. And this is the most agitating fact of all. The media world is a two-sided one. On the one side we have the product: the news story, the interview, good writing structure, punctuation, grammar and the like. On the other we have the outlet, the means of dissemination: what used to be just the newspaper, the magazine, what have you, has become the blog, the micro-blog, the video, the podcast.

It is your job — and, yes, at this point I must literally spell out your job — to impart to students the two halves. What is one without the other? I have something to say but am in the dark as to how to say it! A comprehensive education means it need not necessarily be supplemented by information and skills out of its bounds. My education needs heavy supplementation.

To little avail you’re playing catch-up: a class here on multimedia applications, a class there on audio construction. A university should not be catching up, it should be looking forward. Students and faculty alike should be so bored with Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere that we are discovering and learning the next thing.

Fluency in the language of the digital age should not be considered extra any longer. Employers do not view that language as extra, and haven’t for years. It should not be up to the student to teach herself the language of her field; what is college for if she did? That language is an integral part of the profession and thus must be integrated into every aspect of its teaching.

The students suffer at the hands of your inactivity. It is them who dump thousands of dollars into a system that leaves them stammering, with little to show for it. It is them who spend years of their lives jumping through the same hoops they did upon entry into the major. It is them who feel dissatisfied, disillusioned and cheated, and who must begrudgingly and unjustly seek further education simply to see some semblance of a result.

I refuse to believe budgetary concerns — your primary sob story of an excuse — hold any pertinence to this fundamental problem. It costs no more money to teach crime beat reporting than it does Internet beat reporting.

This issue must be addressed. If your faculty refuses or is unable to teach what its students must know, it’s time for an evolution. If you are too grounded, too proud, too whatever to offer the best media education you can, then it will be hard for this alumnus to disagree when another round of departmental cuts come around.

With that, I would like to thank you for rendering in me the ability to write this letter, but I filled in the other half myself.

My experience was similar to Bohrod’s and I was a student before Twitter arrived or Facebook was considered a serious tool for journalists. Much of what I learned about mass communications came from working at the student newspaper, and that should not have been the case. At a time when student’s are paying more than ever to go to school, the quality of their education seems to be suffering. Blanket statement, perhaps, but a degree no longer holds the same promise of prosperity. In fact, a degree may be nothing more than a receipt for a staggering student debt.

But, I still believe in college. I believe Jacob will find a job after he graduates. I believe I would enroll in my alma mater again, tomorrow, if given the chance. I would bypass the English program and major in mass communications and hope my professors had or were in the process of learning new curriculum so I, as a student, could say my time and hard work was worth it.

Jacob criticizes because he cares. Students still care. There’s plenty of reasons not to. (Can I get a witness from the jobless Class of 2010?) Higher education is experience tumult like we’ve never seen before. But even while colleges continue cutting left and right just to get into the black, the reason I still have faith in college is students like Jacob, who challenge the system and demand better. Education still matters. To students.

As for tenured 60-something bumps happy to teach 1998’s curriculum? You’re robbing college students. Robbing them. Taking money from their pocket and sending them blindly on their way. You are a failure to higher education.

Pretend Like You’re Still in College Night

I think I’m turning into one of those guys who can’t let go of his college days.

I’m going back to Mankato, Minn. today, where I spent my college years (and then some) before moving to Portland last July. I was more than happy to leave, but the one difficult part was moving on from the best job I ever had — bartender at South Street Saloon.

SSS is the kind of bar where you’ll hear Toby Keith and Kanye West played back to back. The wood floors were laid more than 100 years ago, made indestructible by decades of beer, liquor and peanut spillage. Tap beer is 24 oz. or bust. The Jameson is kept in the freezer. Every weekend night, it’s a battle between the decibels and occupancy — one trying to outnumber the other.

It’s a high-volume bar in a college town, but that says absolutely nothing about the crowd. You’d catch plenty of Minnesota State students, true, but you’d get bikers, townies, alumni or even Minnesota Twins on an off day.

I made more money bartending part-time at SSS than I did working full-time at a big boy job in Portland. The only problem was at my last job, I had real benefits — health coverage, 401K, paid vacaction. At SSS, I had $2 drinks at any bar in Mankato and maybe a little notoriety. (It’s a small enough town.)

My buddy Joel (above, right) and I worked Wednesday nights for a few years. It used to be a busy night in downtown Mankato until a string of alcohol-related deaths forced the city to crack down on liquor specials. Mankato ain’t what it used to be — likely for the better — but on the right Wednesday night, with nothing else to do, SSS is still the place to be come midnight.

I could’ve tried to throw my own homecoming party in Mankato. When it came down to it, I wanted to work. That’s how much I loved working at South Street.

If you’re in Mankato tonight, come see me!

I’m Andrew Miller and I Support Tasers

As someone who has been Tasered, I'm perfectly content with staying in my seat for baseball games.

Much has been made in the past 36 hours about 17-year-old Steve Consalvi, who was Tasered after running onto the field of Citizen’s Bank Park Monday during a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game.

Consalvi hopped the fence and scurried about centerfield for a few minutes, eluding a few security officers before he was brought down by a Taser. He was fully clothed at the time, not on any substance of any sort and didn’t appear to be a threat to anyone, so many have come forward to claim security shouldn’t have used excessive force.

I’m coming at it with the unique experience of having been Tasered. Voluntarily, at that. In Fall 2004, the year after a riot broke out during homecoming festivities at my college, the local police force had prepared to thwart another riot with non-lethal weapons, including Tasers. Me, a middling editor for the A&E section, thought it might be a nice news story to have a writer experience what it’s like to hit with 50,000 volts. When no one else volunteered — unsurprisingly — I took the assignment.

The Mankato (Minn.) Police Department was more than happy to take part in the experiment. However, my college wouldn’t allow it to take place in campus because it was a “liability.” So, I went to down to police headquarters where local media had shown up with cameras to tape the idiot kid from MSU who volunteered to be electrocuted.

Consalvi was shot by a Taser, whereas I was wired to one. A giddy police officer clamped one wire to my belt loop and another to my right sock. I was told to kneel onto my knees and sit on my heels. I should point out my heart is racing as I type this…

After I gave the police officer a thumbs up, he pulled the triggered. My legs legs instantly shot out from underneath and every muscle in my body seemed to cramp. I could feel my veins exploding as I let slip a stream of expletives. I felt like an infant at the mercy of a rabid pitbull. It was the most painful experience of my life.

But then, it was over. For five seconds, there was excruciating pain. After five seconds, there was nothing. That’s maybe the beauty of the Taser — there’s no pain after the round has been expired. That five seconds is long enough to get someone’s attention, though.

Whenever I hear of policemen or security unnecessarily using a Taser, I suppose I’m not as angered as most. Then again, I’m a law-abiding citizen. I understand the way the weapon works. (Effectively!)

The night after Consalvi’s famous incident. an unnamed 34-year-old man leapt onto the field of Citizen’s Bank Park in copycat fashion. This time, no Taser was deployed. This time around, the unruly fan was arrested for defiant trespass, disorderly conduct and narcotics possession.

The Phillies have a problem on their hands and after all the headlines Consalvi’s incident received, it’d be surprising if this didn’t happen yet again in Philadelphia or elsewhere. Consalvi was a trending topic on Twitter Tuesday. Unfortunately, that’s noteworthy in this day and age.

Because I don’t want to see every baseball game or every televised event interrupted by some bozo starved for attention, I’d like to see the Taser used more commonly. Does it hurt? Hell yes. But it’s not as if these hooligans have to run onto a field. The easiest way to avoid being Tasered would be to sit in your seat and enjoy the game like a dignified person.

If you haven’t seen the Steve Consalvi incident: