Back to School

ReaganHIllsdaleEarlier this week I was in Hillsdale, Mich. Not because of the weather—subzero temperatures for the last few months plus the accumulation of snow and ice have transformed this part of the Wolverine State into the planet Hoth. It was so cold even the Michiganders were telling me they were sick of it and yearned for a day in the balmy 30s.

Rather, I was asked by my good friend John J. Miller, a professor at Hillsdale College, to come meet with a few students and talk about my upcoming book on vodka. (That would be Vodka: How a Colorless, Odorless, Flavorless Spirit Conquered America, due out July 1 from Lyons Press, preorders available at Amazon, ahem.)

I’ve been asked if it’s such a good idea to talk about booze to college kids. If I were telling them to drink a lot of vodka (it’s low calorie!), advising them on how to get a fake ID (I got mine from a Filipino-run video rental store), or simply regaling them with drinking stories involving death-defying stunts (one friend, now a lawyer, walked a ledge) and friends who lost control of bodily functions (you don’t want to know), the answer would be no. But I did talk to them about the phenomenon of the vodka boom, how in 80 years it became the most popular spirit in this country, how much we consume and spend and why. All that plus the writing process I’d like to think they found interesting.

The Hillsdale students I encountered were smart, inquisitive, funny, and genuinely sincere. They’re at Hillsdale not because of the party scene—unlike at some schools, when prospectives and their parents tour this campus, they ask, “Is there anything to do around here?”—but because of a love for learning and the liberal arts. And while the acceptance rate is in the 40s, the students are self-selecting, so the group that ends up enrolling is quite focused and conservative (with both religious and libertarian strains).

I remember going to school with classmates whose parents were wealthy and influential power players. Some of these kids just went through the motions, knowing after four years they’d find some job thanks to a parental connection. Did they learn anything? I get the sense they’re really learning here (certainly moreso than I did). Some of the students I met are off to work at newspapers and other media outlets. I’ll be interested to see how it all works out for them. Aside from John Miller, I owe special thanks to Prof. Gary Wolfram and students Casey Harper and Bailey Pritchett.

It was great to talk about the book—and I hope to be back some day. Preferably when the temperatures are less Hoth-like.

(I don’t know too many campuses with a life-size statue 0f our 40th president. I couldn’t resist taking a picture of Reagan, above, as a literal cold warrior … or a victim of severe dandruff.)

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