100 Tacos

This column was published Sunday, March 10, 2019, in The Manhattan Mercury.


My wife and I failed to eat dinner before the K-State men’s basketball win over Baylor a week ago, so postgame, we slid into Taco Bell. I stayed in the car, she went in. Twenty minutes and a new definition of “fast” food later, she emerged.

It took a while because the place was jammed with a few dozen green-T-shirted college kids, feeling no pain, apart from the pangs of hunger that tend to occur, as a matter of course, after a day of drinking. I’d been reminded it was Fake Patty’s Day earlier, when police barriers in front of the dry cleaners in Aggieville delayed a reunion with my lightly-starched Oxford button-downs.

After a dozen years, Fake Patty’s Day has long since become a thing. A reason for college-aged people to gather together in one centralized geographic area, break bread or cheesy gordita crunch and enjoy a cereal malt beverage or ten. When I was 19, I think we called it, “Thursday.”

It’s easy to chalk up partying to excess as a rite of passage for the college-aged. Most people learn from such experiences and make purposeful life decisions and choices reflective of that growth. Then there are a handful of us who struggle. A handful of us, who, because of genetics or just bad luck, become addicted and migrate, as a matter of course, into a downward spiral, often punctuated by heartbreaking loss. My own recovery experience began more than 25 years ago.

This is not a column about recovery, though to assume there are no problem drinkers among the universe of Fake Patty’s revelers, is naïve. The same equation doubtless applies to any collection of college-age young men and women, anywhere in this country. The experts say seven percent of the American population may be problem drinkers.

Because the excess is magnified during Fake Patty’s Day, the opportunity arises for some young people to engage in courageous introspection. If they surface at all, those thoughts tend to come the next morning and are often in direct proportion to the level of excess. If they’re anything like I was at that age, there may already be a nagging inkling that maybe they tally up among the seven percent.

With the benefit of hindsight, when I reflect on 20-year old me, I rationalized my excesses by telling myself I was normal, tacking to the middle of the mainstream. By developing a personal narrative that I was simply living up to societal expectations of young Americans, I drove myself deeper into denial.

The dichotomy of Fake Patty’s Day is it offers the opportunity for everything we want our children to experience when they go away to college: Camaraderie, learning the ways of the world, developing lifelong friendships, navigating complex systems. Trial and error. Having some fun.

Deep into my youthful college-age experiences, I didn’t stay up nights thinking, “Gee whiz, maybe I should modulate my intake because it may affect my behavior and one day, I may grow up to be a member in good standing of the Greater Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce Business Advocacy Committee and my actions today may reflect poorly on my decisions then.”

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After the early moralizing, hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth, I get the sense our community has evolved over the dozen years of Fake Paddy’s Day. Green T-shirts fly off the shelves and we bring in extra cops from other communities. Taco Bell stocks up on the sour cream and Aggieville is contained with barricades.

Social media has given law enforcement a chance to manage expectations. Infusing humor, btw, is a stroke of p.r. genius. RCPD: “There is no best way to finesse your way out of a ‘urinating in public’ citation. Just utilize one of the many port-a-Johns throughout Aggieville.”

During our postgame Taco Bell experience, my wife estimated she saw a hundred tacos being prepared while waiting in line. In 20 minutes in one fast food restaurant. That’s a lot of tacos. And a lot of sales tax.

Let’s embrace Fake Patty’s Day. Let’s own it. Let’s monetize it for the good of the community and let’s continue to allow young people to learn by making choices and decisions. We’ll live with the few who lose their chalupas supreme on our front lawns. The tradeoff is the greater good. Young people finding their way. The creation of wealth, in the Keynesian sense. A college town living up to its bona fides.

Fake Patty’s Day appears to be here to stay. Our community’s regulatory systems have adapted. If this day, or any day of excess leads any individual, college-age or otherwise, to new personal insight, it seems like that’s always a good thing.

As a matter of course.

Matson is the author of Spifflicated, a creative non-fiction memoir chronicling generations of his family’s struggles with addiction. His column appears every other Sunday in The Mercury. Follow his blog at mikematson.com