19: Just another excuse to bake a cake

By Henry Soong

Before we get into the details of my weekend, I want you to know that today is my birthday. I recently deactivated my Facebook profile, so you’ll have to send your best wishes and warmest regards in person or over the phone.


The four women who live a few flights above my floor like excuses to bake cakes. Two of my roommates were also celebrating their 19th birthdays over the weekend, so the ladies had ample excuse to be baking.

Their “surprise” birthday cakes are never much of a surprise – mostly because they have to come over to my place to bake. The ladies’ oven has been broken since August, so it’s always entertaining to see how they’ll try to sneak into the kitchenette and make a cake without the birthday boy knowing.

Why just yesterday afternoon, they asked me to preheat the oven. “We’re making a cake for … David’s birthday,” they said conspiratorially. Now, I know David. He’s a real guy who went to my high school. And though he and I do share birthdays, I know who this cake is really for: Al Gore. That’s who. Happy 60th, buddy.

I guess until I win the Nobel Peace Prize or turn a nifty PowerPoint into an Oscar-winning, global-conscience changing documentary, I’m stuck losing birthday cakes to Mr. Gore.

Birthday cakes and Al Gore aside, I am mildly excited to be turning 19. You and I both know the magical significance of turning 19 in the great town of Champaign. As of today, I am bar legal.

I’ve taken part in a rite of passage that all students at our University undertake. From arriving last fall a wide-eyed, freshman boy, I am now a man. The honors and privileges of turning 19 in Champaign are mostly symbolic, but that should not diminish this sacred holiday.

Tonight, if I want, I can legally go to Kam’s, stand idly in the underfurnished bar, and watch alcoholic seniors drink on a Monday night. As a 19-year-old, the bar-hopping scene is mine to conquer, just not to drink at.

The law dictating bar legal age, as more informed upperclassmen have explained to me, exists primarily to prevent graduating seniors at nearby Urbana High School and University High School from dabbling in the local establishments that help the University of Illinois rank consistently in the “Princeton Review’s Top Party Schools” list.

For 18-year-old freshmen, this causes a lot of disorder and havoc in line at the bars. Failed pass-backs result in confiscated IDs and result in angry friends without their real IDs. For freshmen who can’t find passable fakes, the night of their 19th birthday is usually spent unleashing their inhibitions, playing euchre merrily at a booth inside Murphy’s. (My editor says the sarcasm is implicit, but I just like emoticons too much.)


The message is really quite cloudy. I’m 19 and bar legal. But I’m not beer legal. So hey, let’s go out to the pub and not drink. It’ll be great.

Chances are, my evening will be about as off-the-hook as my weekend was. We had dinner with my roommate’s mom one night, and we vegetated on the couch watching “There Will Be Blood” the other night. The leftovers of two birthday cakes were scraped off the bottom of the tray last night, and not a minute too soon, because Al Gore is going to want a nice hefty slice tonight.

Watch out, Champaign-Urbana, Henry and Company is ’bouts to get crizazy.

Henry is a freshman in Business without self-control. That’s why he reactivated his Facebook profile last night.