When I was your age, by God, we had a Democrat in the White House and cell phones came with rotary dials. Our idea of fun involved cruising through 15 consecutive hours of NBA Live on SuperNintendo, dreaming of the day when we would turn 21. Our upperclassmen friends told us stories about drinking beer in bars, where, they claimed, there were music and girls. Twenty-one meant the freedom to proudly look the doorman in the eye and answer without stammering when quizzed on birth dates and home addresses, the freedom to hastily organize parties, if only because we had the power to transform student loan checks into six beautiful silver kegs.
But all that transpired in the lower right hand corner of some place called Ohio. You, of course, live in Chicago. Soon enough, the state will foolishly regard your biological advancement as evidence of the ability to drink responsibly. In the meantime, relax and enjoy the legal side of Chicago. I know it often seems that the powers-that-be patronize you simply because you're young, but I got your back, kiddo.
Free museum days
When you do finally begin your cruising career, you'll need ammunition. There are people in this world who actually use "Do you come here often?" and "Don't I know you from somewhere?" Since you don't want to end up as another poor sod posting desperate missives on Craigslist.org after another failed evening out, work on your game at museums.
We all want the stranger at the end of the bar to look at us with refined desire, not debased lust. While it may seem a bit milquetoast, "You remind me of the lady in Toulouse-Lautrec's 'At the Moulin Rouge'" beats the hell out of "What's your sign?" Nevermind that that isn't even much of a compliment; the point is you'll come across as a connoisseur of beauty, which is exactly what you will be after taking advantage of free admission days at local museums. Free Tuesdays at the Art Institute of Chicago are the most prominent comped high-end entertainment, but every major cultural warehouse in Chicago opens its doors at least once a week. Feed that noggin and get good pick-up material in one go. For a complete listing of free museum days, check out this roster.
In-person rock and roll music performances
Everybody knows young people like to wear dark clothes and listen to loud music. Unfortunately, too many venue owners are cantankerous old fuddy-duds who insist on 21+ door policies. What do they expect you to do with your spare time, buy spray paint at Ace Hardware in Evanston and start tagging? Take heart: there are plenty of places that accommodate 18+ or even all ages.
From showcasing a then-obscure R.E.M. to catalyzing the careers of Trent Reznor, Smashing Pumpkins and others, the Metro consistently presents The Next Big Thing. Even better, nearly all the shows are all ages or 18+. Music is all about youthful exuberance, which is why the Abbey Pub, Schubas, Bottom Lounge and any other venue worth its salt admit underage ticket holders for select shows.
Learn dances, brand new dances
Because I'm tired of reading "Cease and Desist," you're on your own when it comes to finding proper "parties," which are nearly extinct anyway, thanks to that whole RAVE Act thing. Suffice it to say that a standard Google search will lead you to a few party message boards. But forget all that: several Chicago clubs admit 18+, and if you dance hard enough, you'll find that you can indeed be sober and have a bang-up time. Currently, only one such club exists within Chicago proper; youíll have to drive to the burbs to hit up other underage-friendly establishments, but that's OK, because you won't be drinking.
Work that body
Perhaps you're going to college to get (no way) an education, and think you'll go absolutely nuts if you have to spend one more night trying to sleep while your roommate watches "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" with the volume cranked. Nothing soothes the frazzled mind like good old fashioned exercise, and if you're sick of your campus' athletic facilities, here are some organizations in our hard drinkin' town that will help you keep your fleshly temple in tip-top shape. You don't even have to be a student to participate in the following activities:
Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA)
Scientists recently "proved" that homosapiens developed long legs, short forearms and robust buttocks because we were born to run. You can take an active role in natural selection without looking like one of those knobs huffing it alone down the sidewalk by joining the Chicago Area Runners Association. Offering both competitive and recreational running events, groups range from absolute beginners to the fiercest bipeds; CARA even has a "Clydesdale" groups for the "larger athlete." Several organizations throughout the city manage more specific running groups, from gay and lesbian to vegan and beyond. CARAís Web site lists dozens of such clubs.
Dodgeball/Player Sports Group
Those gym class behemoths frothed at the mouth when your skinny ass was the last one left on the other side of the court. They closed in like jackals and absolutely demolished you, continuing to slam ball after ball against your crumpled frame while you sucked your thumb. For just that reason, most schools ban dodgeball because, they say, it promotes aggression and instills within young people the idea that hurting others is acceptable. It's time to reclaim our pain, people.
At Player Sports Group you will find several recreational leagues, including d-ball. The winter league begins January 16, so you still have plenty of time to assemble your squad. Unlike some other organizations, Player Sports Group runs a tight ship, mandating co-ed participation and keeping on-line schedules and standings. A friend of mine participates and gives me nothing but rave reviews: not a single complaint about poor sportsmanship or alpha-male attitude. Again, if dodgeball isnít your thing, the Web site offers plenty of other sports, including ski trips and poker.