A few weeks ago, I walked down the middle of Broad Street, at a time where few cars were battling what would be recorded as one of the heaviest snowfalls in Philadelphia’s history.
The day was Jan. 23, my 21st birthday.
I experienced the first hours of it in the Draught Horse—the only bar really accessible near campus. The editor-in-chief of this paper bought me multiple drinks, I caught up with an old classmate who shared the same birthday and eventually plodded home before vomiting into my bathroom toilet, collapsing in my bed and falling asleep.
I woke up at about 10:30 a.m. My memory of it isn’t photographic, but I recall shoveling my sidewalk, and then traveling to Paley Library. After a few hours there, I trudged back through the snow to my apartment, picked up my roommate’s boots and made the trek south to his girlfriend’s apartment that evening. Upon arrival, she handed me my backpack, and I walked back up Broad to my apartment north of campus.
During the rest of that Saturday, I debated whether or not to go out to a bar. The final choice was practical: I wasn’t going to a bar alone, especially given the weather.
Many people would feel sorry for my fortune, and that I couldn’t live up to what America deems to be one of the most important birthdays of a person’s life.
Throughout the rest of the day, I contemplated my life. While many of us subconsciously judge several people on a daily basis, I find that judging myself keeps me honest, happy and grounded.
Some could have argued I was being a snob and a deadbeat, telling me my 21st birthday should be about having fun, not getting lost in the deeper complexities of life.
I would refute, however, that without self-reflecting at “key” life moments, you never truly consider your faults. You never realize how much you’ve done, and how much you can still do. In essence, you’re never true to the person whom it matters most: yourself.
American culture dictates we have to remember—or not remember—our 21st birthday for the rest of our lives. It has to be a crazy affair where we drink to become fully intoxicated in order to fulfill a magical void that was missing before we could legally consume alcohol.
Now that I’m 21, I wonder why that void ever existed. I don’t think I’ll ever find a definitive answer.
The next day, I shoveled again and walked down the street until I saw a car that was stalling because our street wasn’t fully plowed. It took three people, but we eventually propelled the driver on his way.
About half-an-hour later, I was walking down Park Avenue near Morgan Hall when I noticed a girl trying to dig out snow near her friend’s car tires with an ice scraper.
“You wanna try pushing it?” I said as I stopped next to her and the stuck vehicle.
I’m not a strong guy—but sure enough, the two of us were easily able to nudge the car past the snow and onto drivable terrain.
“Thank you!” the girls said. “You have good things coming your way,” the ice scraper added.
Readers may find this account to be rather boring: what makes Steve Bohnel so special?
Well, you’re right. My life story isn’t exciting. It’s not debatable that being sober during most of a 21st, and that lending a helping hand afterward is pretty anticlimactic.
What I will tell you is that life moves quickly after “monumental” periods. In my case, there’s a lot of news to be covered in the coming months. Thankfully, I work with some of the most humble, hard-working people I’ve ever met.
A week after my birthday, when my mom and her boyfriend treated me to that birthday dinner, she reminded me that I’m always looking out for other people.
I love my mother, but she’s not 100 percent right. I just feel there are people born at starting lines miles behind from where I began in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
When you live with that mindset, your 21st birthday takes a back seat to ideas that matter more than the enjoyment of a couple of hours that most don’t fully remember.
Besides, I’m still 21. I don’t think the bars will be closing anytime soon.
Steve Bohnel can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Steve_Bohnel.