The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of sometimes fictionalized and sometimes real stories based on life in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
“If you can’t dance sober, you shouldn’t dance at all.”
That was the best advice I could muster as I watched my nephew and niece graduate from high school this week.
I’m not a very good dancer. It doesn’t matter. I dance anyway. People who’ve seen me at weddings and parties know this. I like to dance. I silly dance. I sexy dance. I jump up-and-down dance. That’s my thing. I’m first on the dance floor. Sometimes I’m the first to dance and the last to leave.
I’m shy and awkward in so many ways, but not when I hear music.
When I went to college, I didn’t try to reinvent myself. The first version of myself was still forming. I knew college would involve drinking. I knew college would involve dancing.
I had two simple rules.
- Dance sober.
- Say “yes” if anyone asked me to dance.
My graduation advice should be about the importance of finishing your calculus homework the day it’s assigned. You should read the entire book before writing a paper about it. Attend office hours with your professor before you start failing a class. These things will help you make the grade and establish good habits. These things are true, but so is the value of dancing.
I spent my college years dancing with the boys the other girls turned down. Boys from neighboring colleges. Boys who weren’t in college at all. I danced with short boys and strange boys and nice boys. I danced with boys who had the courage to ask me to dance. This mattered to me. What good was the cute or tall guy or my crush from calculus if he never noticed if I was alive?
I noticed lots of things on the dance floor. Because I was sober.
This doesn’t mean I didn’t drink. I did. This doesn’t mean I didn’t make drinking mistakes. I did. Both during and after college. But my mistakes were few.
I still have a reputation with my current colleagues as the sober driver.
I hear “Nicki doesn’t drink” all the time. Yes, I do drink. I’d rather drink with my real friends, no offense. The ones who will notice if I’ve had too much to drink. The ones who are willing to meet me on the dance floor.
You can’t dance all night, if you drink all night. It’s true. Alcohol and dancing dehydrate you. I’m sure my niece and nephew don’t want a lecture on hydration on the eve of leaving for college. But here it is.
Stay hydrated, young college friends. Dance with a red Solo cup of water in your hand.
If you feel like you need a little alcohol to loosen you up, maybe you aren’t a dancer. That’s okay. I love pulling people on to the dance floor, but only the willing. There isn’t anything wrong with people who don’t like to dance. I get it. You feel vulnerable and foolish and uncool and insecure. Dancing is like being naked. If you drink, drink because you want to not because you need courage.
Why not dance? You should. When you dance the world shifts into perspective. The calculus crush boy seems less cute. The main thesis of your Shakespeare paper will become clear to you on the dance floor. You will notice that the strange boy you are dancing with has a nice smile and good dance moves.
For my nephew and niece these are my parting words:
- If you can’t dance sober, you shouldn’t dance at all. This is a rule for the rest of your life.
- Discover the world outside the gates of your college. You will meet people from all over the world. Now you are part of that world. Experience it.
- Sometimes “fun” is taking a long nap. Like an all-day nap. You will need to recharge eventually.
- Maximize your academic opportunities by having a plan. That means going to office hours and study sessions from day one.
- Arrive at class and lectures early. Stay late.
- Arrive at parties late and plan to leave early. Don’t be that kid at the party that looks desperate. Always travel to and from with a buddy.
- Find your tribe. Make a reference to Dr. Who see who gets it. That person can be trusted. Never ask a potential friend to choose between Star Wars and Star Trek.
- Success is not a destination. It’s a journey. Part of that journey is perseverance. Anything worth having is worth working for.
- An aunt is a friend who looks like your mom, but who doesn’t pay your tuition. You can tell me anything. You can call me. Or use the snapchat thingy.
- Become the kind of person who can give your aunt advice when she needs. Become the kind of person I can call when I need to talk.
Thank you for letting me tease you about the Hottie McHighschool boys at your graduation and in your yearbooks. I am not at all sorry for this. Remember to laugh. You have already made me proud. I look forward to the day when you pull me on to the dance floor. Congratulations.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the back roads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories will appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.