Ahh. Spring break. The copious wonders. The copious beer. The copious halter tops just dying for some fresh Florida air.

That was the scene in Key West, anyway, and it probably was repeated throughout the panhandle. For two weeks of fun, hoards of college students descend upon the coastlines as though they were created for that purpose. I have a personal tradition of spending one week with this beer-fueled college crowd. The other week I spend with an older set of sun-soaked, non-working pleasure-seekers: the retired population. As kindly as Yale is with its vacation policies, I’ve learned that if I can amass large sums of money during my working years (you know, 27-35), I can spend a full six months in the sun for the remaining 80 years of my life. I can dig it!

The crowd is a bit different, I grant you. Far more one-piece suits, and far less beer. No, in this crowd, the drugs of choice seem to be fine food, fifths of Jack Daniel’s and H.B.T. The latter (which I will translate for the squares among you as “Horizontal by 10 p.m.”), is particularly popular among the older ranks of the retired population.

Despite the company I keep, I am 19 years old and a sophomore in college, and the state government of Florida denies me legal access to alcohol. Did the bureaucrats really believe that college students wouldn’t drink, or did they intend to make criminals out of us for the purpose of selective enforcement? I can’t think of a time culturally better suited to drinking than the ages of 18 to 22, nor a better age for learning good drinking practices. My grandmother asked me about this recent “binge drinking” phenomenon and I easily responded.

“Gram-gram, I’m sure you’d understand. Most college students can’t legally socialize in bars and responsibly buy a few beers. We can’t buy alcohol from any law-abiding institution. So, this alcohol stuff we hear about attains quite an allure. The economics are obvious. Because we can’t be assured of supply, when our curious fingers find this elusive substance, we drink as much as our naive gullets can stand. In Europe, I’m told, sons may follow fathers. But my father never imparted his art of responsible inebriation, forcing me to learn it from my badass friends. Binge drinking is the unfortunate result of the absurd drinking age. If adults want children to be wary of drunkenness, adults must teach children to drink!”

For all this, the hardest drink my Gramma gave me was cranberry juice. It was good juice, but still.

After we got home I prepared my backpack and put some Aphex Twin in my CD player for a walk. I decided not to change, preferring my black classy suit and postmodern tie for my high-culture jaunt to the beach. Once I arrived at the beach club I sat down and admired the majestic scene before me. I started to pack a pretty pipe I had brought along. Just then I saw the glow of a cigar cherry to my left, and realized I wasn’t alone. A classy old fellow in a blue striped oxford sat smoking with a glass of scotch nearby. I considered lighting up anyway, but didn’t like the paranoia. So I decided to say hello to one of the island’s millionaires.

I sat down next to him on a salty beach chair, and we exchanged some pleasantries. Then he said, “Did you see all the helicopters off shore? Something’s been up. Five to 10 of ’em, all flew out over the horizon just there.” He pointed off to some part of the darkened ocean. He figured it was possibly a National Guard immigration interdiction, but probably a DEA drug bust. He told me that about 10 years back this lady was walking down the beach with her dog when they came across a big, rectangular block. She thought it might have been an enormous block of wrapped Brie cheese. Fairly confused, she brought it in to the tennis pro. He turned it in to the police, according to one version of the story, but according to another, he just promised to “take care of it.” He asked me what I would do if I found a large brick of marijuana on the beach. I thought it was odd this conversation had come up, as I happened to be covertly holding my packed pipe in hand as he spoke to me.

About just then we felt a light on our backs and we turned around to see a policeman walking up behind us. His face was obscured by the giant maglite he was shining in mine, and he said he was looking for someone dressed in black with a knapsack. Someone had apparently reported this character walking down the street. I was still all dressed up in a suit and tie from dinner, and I did have a backpack, so I turned myself in. I told him who my grandparents were, and that they were members on the island, and that seemed to relieve all troubles. I apologized for wearing all black, but wondered if they had mentioned my tie in the police report. Apparently not.

After this strange interlude my new friend told me that he was a graduate of Middlebury, a Ph.D., and had taught natural resources at the University of Vermont. He used to really enjoy the Grateful Dead. He was 62 years old, and he wanted to know if I had a conception of God. Excuse me? He explained that he majored in religion at Middlebury and had been very interested in world religions. He finally seemed to find the answer, he said, when he realized that Jesus said, “God’s Love is God’s Love of Man.” This all seemed archaically interesting to me. I mean, I assume there are religious folk at Yale, but they seem to poster more than they speak. So here was a 60-year-old guy, talking to 19-year-old me, and truly wondering if I had a conception of God. I said “yes” (I believe that God is a prettier-sounding synonym for “environment”), and our conversation continued into the depths. Honestly, I was truly grateful that this man cared enough to ask my opinion.

Still surprised by our incredible conversation, I thought I’d push the envelope. I finally revealed to him that I had a pipe on me, and was looking for a place to smoke.

“Cigarettes?” he inquired.

“Well, actually I’ve got a little pipe of marijuana,” I replied.

“You can smoke that right here if you want,” he said, and then added, “Hey, I wouldn’t mind a toke off of that.”

This was the moment I had secretly wished to occur. Do you know the thrill of smoking a bit of good pot with an intelligent, rich, well-dressed man of experience? I felt as though our generation gap was bridged, if only for a short time.

We spent another hour in further discussion, but tempered our ideological differences into a natural sort of cool appreciation for our surroundings. We were in a pretty fine place, during those moments. I just had to assume that of all the people that have ever been, I must have been one of the happiest.

He said he was glad to have met and talked with a 19-year-old. He didn’t think of himself as “an old person,” but as a younger guy who keeps getting more experienced. I thought that was a good way to think about it. Maybe I’ll say that to a 19-year-old when I am 60.

I mean, I have no idea what it will be like to be old, and I might get really old. I’ve heard estimates that our generation could live to 120.

That would be double this guy’s age. What am I going to do in all that time? When will I stop talking to teenagers, or people in their 20s, 30s or 40s? Will I get too old to use computers? Will I stop smoking marijuana? Do I have to stop smoking marijuana? This guy said he hadn’t smoked in 20 years. I think it would be a shame to just drink alcohol. I am sure that if more old people smoked marijuana, the world would be a slightly better place. If those old folks who rant about the moral decadence of cell phones would just cool down with a joint, they might get a better perception of things. This man, whose name I never learned, said to me, “You know what? I really miss this drug.”

I guess his sentiment is the moral of my story. We shouldn’t stop smoking marijuana because of our “political careers,” because after all, we’ve had presidents who have
used far harder drugs. Those who aren’t ashamed of using drugs responsibly should legitimize their use. People too ashamed to talk about drug use with a parent or an adult might be better off abstaining. Marijuana won’t be illegal forever, so hopefully we can incorporate this fine drug into a more respectable culture by the time I retire.