A letter to the newly 21

Part of what makes this job worth it are e-mails like these:

"Dear Chris,

My name is Aislyn ... and I've enjoyed reading your column in the Tempo. Since I'm turning 21 this July, I haven't been able to enjoy the nightlife here except in those places that allow minors, which precludes a lot of good music. Just out of curiosity, what did you do when you turned 21, and what would you do differently? Also, what would you suggest for a fun birthday in Ashland (on a Wednesday)?

Anyway, thanks for the weekly dose of wit, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Aislyn"

For one to seek wisdom from an ill-begetter such as myself may not bode well for our youth, but I will take the ego strokes anywhere I can get them nowadays.

Ah, Aislyn, there are so many great things about finally turning 21 that it is hard to list them all in the inches provided to me by my generous Tempo editors.

Yes, you can now seek out late-night establishments that deal in wicked elixirs such as Hornitos and Jagermeister.

And even if you chose not to imbibe said tonics, these places usually host the best music on Friday and Saturday nights. But remember, being the sober island among the sea of sloshed droogs wears quickly on a soul.

Luckily for you, the Rogue Valley features plenty of opportunity for good times on a week night.

Take a careful assessment of personality before picking out a spot to spend your 21st. This is very important.

If you're an easygoing sort who doesn't like to rub sweaty shoulders with Cro-Mags wearing popped collars, T-shirts slashed with vintage tattoo prints and trucker hats turned ever-so-damned-annoyingly-sideways, then I'd stay away from dance clubs. Except on '80s night. Retro music nights, like garlic to vampires, usually keeps THEM away.

If I could jump in the time machine and spend my 21st in the Rogue Valley, I'd most likely choose the Gypsy Blues on Eighth Street in Medford. I dig the music, and the patrons behave themselves, and if they don't there's usually hell to pay from Clay or Robin. And there's always Ms. Pac-Man to be had.

As far as live music goes, you can't beat several of the Ashland mainstays such as Alex's, the Siskiyou Pub and the fairly new player Stillwater. In Medford, I'd also suggest Johnny B's and 4 Daughters Irish Pub.

What makes these joints work so well is their fluidity. None of these places pigeonhole themselves in one particular brand of music. In most of them, you can catch a bluegrass gig, followed the next night by a country show or even a metal band or two.

To answer one of your questions, my 21st was a low-key affair. I believe I met my girlfriend at the time for a nice dinner in Champaign, Ill., and went to bed early as I had to be up for a 7 a.m. shift unloading a truck at Wal-Mart the next morning.

However, based on the number of 21sts I've witnessed over the years, I personally don't feel like I missed much.

And that's ultimately the point I'd like to leave you with, young Aislyn.

It's OK to do it without overdoing it.

Don't live that tragedy of the smashed girl/dude wallowing hog-like in a puke slick outside of Howiee's. That maybe was funny six years ago before YouTube turned it into a big, fat cliche.

In my day, a night of now-legal debauchery passed among the friends who were immediate witnesses. The story traveled by word of mouth to those who could not make it that night. The story invariably grew beyond reasonable belief as it made the rounds. Your pride remained relatively intact, while you could relive the moment with those in your orbit.

Today there is very little that is not caught on some sort of camera and posted on a Web site for the world to see. Honestly, do you want to have the video of you peeing yourself on your friend's couch shown at your wedding 10 years from now?

No, you don't.

My advice, call a few — just a few — of your closest friends and head out for a few — just a few — drinks and call it a night.

No incriminating video. No trips to the hospital for stomach pumping. A successful night, indeed.

Remember: You're only 21. There are plenty more nights down the road to make an ass out of yourself.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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