Tuesday, March 18, 2008

30 is a number you can say with your teeth clenched

Part of living in a ski town is watching the annual October influx of eager young things parade into your ZIP code with shred-sticks in their hands, mountain-job season passes on lock, and a telling lack of sun damage. Though I’ve been in the mountains only a couple of years, I got here kinda late, so maybe I notice the under-25 set more readily than I would have if I’d been part of it when I moved here. Regardless, there’s a seasonal moment that never fails to smack of Matthew McConaughey’s oft-quoted line in Dazed and Confused: “I get older, they stay the same age.”

Of course, he was relishing his older-man status in relation to 15-year-old freshmen, but that phrase also has a bit of a dark side. To wit: Last Wednesday, I turned 30. There — I said it. I’ve officially entered Decade #3, also known as the Dirty Thirties, the 30Somethings, the Sex & The City Years, and a host of other sly monikers designed to distract you from the hard truth: You’re really, really an adult now.

Predictably, I kinda freaked out for a sec, knowing that a night out to mark the occasion would mean squeezing shoulder to shoulder between PYTs boasting bones of rubber, baby-doll complexions, and livers of steel. The last thing most ladies facing The Cutoff want to do is try to get the bartender’s attention in a sea of Just Graduateds. And don’t even get me started on how and when one earns the oh-so-distinguished title of Cougar.

So yeah, I could’ve spent the weeks leading up to my birthday feeling like a hag in comparison with the overwhelmingly youthful population on the hill. And at the coffee shop. And at the local watering holes. I could’ve taken a look at my surroundings and wondered what business I had trying to pull it in a ski town when I graduated high school — and college — in a year that started with “19″. I could’ve reconsidered my decision to leave the Land of Opportunity (i.e., Southern California) at age 27 (i.e., on the verge of my prime earning years) to become a ski bum “just for a winter.” Hell, I could’ve wondered how one winter turned into three, with no end in sight.

Instead, I went snowboarding.

Funny how something as easy and familiar as tightening your bindings can dissolve boundaries. Just pulling up to the parking lot did something to yank me away from the edge of the abyss. The rest of it was accomplished by slashing through spring slush with my dude on an empty weekday afternoon. By four o’clock, I’d had a necessary — and necessarily uncomplicated — epiphany: Worrying about the year on my birth certificate is bullshit.

It’s simple, really: With your goggles on and a smile underneath them, it’s hard to tell 30 from 23. Your season pass gets you past the velvet rope no matter how old you are. And a first-chair “Wooooo!” is understood by everyone, regardless of who’s yelling it.

Thirty by any other number would feel as young.

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