Drugs, Alcohol, Baseball: Hanging With Youths Outside the DNC

Pacific News Service, Youth Commentary, Published: July 29, 2004

Editor’s Note: Whether politically astute, cynical or clueless, young people in Boston are looking for distraction.

BOSTON–The Democrats can’t pick a remotely engaging candidate for president, but they sure know how to drink. I learned this watching the Democratic National Convention on TV in a Boston bar full of young Democrats. Hilary Clinton would let something about health care squeak out of her tiny Botox-restricted mouth and people would bang on tables and cheer like it was a baseball game. And between speeches, they rushed the bar for more pitchers of beer.

At the Red Hat Pub, just down the street from the Fleet Center, the Young Democrats of America hosted their “watch party” for people who don’t have credentials to get into the convention. The narrow room was packed, and Jane sat at the bar, alone, sipping Sam Adams out of a plastic cup. She’s a 22-year-old Stanford graduate who works in Washington, D.C., and her career goal is to “rule the world, or something like that.”

Jane’s a dedicated Democrat, and says she’ll be voting for Kerry even though she’s not crazy about him. “He’s a bore and a question mark, but he’s all we’ve got.” She’s careful not to talk too loud because in this crowd, the music stops when you step outside party lines. “I was glad when he picked Edwards, though. He’s everything Kerry isn’t.” She paused and put her finger to her lips. “And cute, too.”

Earlier in the night, I rode the train with Michael from Roxbury, one of Boston’s rougher parts. A young basketball coach was killed there in front of his team the night I arrived. The paper quoted his mother as saying, “His only crime was being from Roxbury.”

Michael had on a Red Sox jersey and a Red Sox hat — pretty much all people wear here — so I asked him how he thought his team would finish this year. He laughed and said, “We’ll win the series, of course.”

We talked baseball for a while and then I asked him about the election. He said he knows he’ll be voting, but he doesn’t know for whom. “I’m not crazy about Bush, but I really don’t like Kerry. Nobody in Boston really likes Kerry. Not black people, anyway. A lot of my friends are voting for Bush because they think he’s better for minorities. I don’t know if I’ll vote for him, but I agree — Bush doesn’t care about color, he just cares about money. And Kerry never did anything for minorities.”

I came to Boston expecting to be at least a little hypnotized by the enthusiasm of the party, and so far I’ve got a young Democrat telling me she doesn’t really like her candidate and a young black man telling me Bush is good for minorities. I didn’t think it could get any weirder. And then I ran into Adam.

I met Adam my first night in town and talked to him at the bus stop. He’s in his last year at U.C. Berkeley and says he’s spending the summer in Boston for a change of scenery. The next night I ran into him as he was smoking outside of a bar with his co-worker, Susie. Susie, who is from Hawaii, just graduated from Boston University. She waits tables. When I walked up, they were getting high and talking about how much they love drugs. Susie was really excited. “I go to Colombia every year, so the coke I get up here isn’t even worth doing. It’s like going from really good wine to box wine.”

Adam laughed, poked his glasses back up his nose and started recommending pills for her to try. She rolled her eyes. “Please. My dad’s a dentist. I’m all about the pills.” They both squeal with laughter and slap hands.

After a few minutes, I awkwardly try to steer the conversation to the election. I get blank looks and mumbling, which makes it clear pretty quickly that they don’t care and they don’t plan on voting.

I love baseball. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having some beers and watching Hilary Clinton give a speech. I don’t even think drugs are all that bad. But it looks to me like any distraction will do for young people in America. If your candidate sucks, have a beer and chant along with the rhetoric. If you live in a messed up neighborhood, believe in baseball. And if the madness of our modern world is too much to deal with, take a mind-bending cocktail of pharmaceuticals and smoke a bowl.

Maybe I’m too cynical. In fairness, I should mention that there is a staggering number of young people here for the convention — college Democrats, volunteers, delegates — and it’s nice to see.

But the most memorable analogy I’ve heard so far wasn’t from a Clinton or a Kennedy, it was in the bathroom of the Red Hat Pub. The night was over and all the young Democrats were raving about Bill Clinton’s speech, which was, admittedly, inspiring. I walked into the bathroom at the same time as a guy in a Red Sox hat who yelled at no young Democrat in particular, “Who cares? You’re still gonna lose. You guys are like Red Sox fans, lying to yourselves — believing every time.”