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Davis, California

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Cheeseburgers in paradise

It wasn’t until the tail end of 12th grade that we realized how little our actions mattered. I’d already been accepted to Davis, and nothing outside of my getting arrested for treason was going to dissuade the campus from assimilating me. Cal Poly and Santa Cruz had similar designs on my buddies, leaving us coasting through our last classes – an impressive feat of laziness considering how ably we’d underperformed even beforehand. Once we’d impressed our revelations on our less scholastically-inclined friends, we were home free. To get a mental image, picture the Almighty reaching down and handing us a celestial get-out-of-jail-free card; that’s about what it felt like.

Since Alhambra High’s generous block scheduling allowed those of us wise enough to dodge seventh-period classes to go home around noon on block days, it was on a glorious Thursday afternoon that we mustered the troops in the school’s upper parking lot. Justin’s pickup truck played host, flanked by my ghetto-fabulous ’92 Sable and Adam’s 1970’s Shaggin’ Wagon. Out came the cooler. Out came knives, followed quickly by forks, plates, cups and napkins. And out came Justin’s half-sized grill, filled to the brim with charcoal drunk with lighter fluid.

Like a man running with the Olympic torch, Potato ran through the gate and up the lot wielding a rolled-up newspaper engulfed in flames. He passed to me, I passed to Kyle, Kyle passed to Justin and the grill was lit. It was burger time.

You see, a close perusal of the Alhambra rulebook had revealed a few important truths. Matches were not allowed on campus. Nor were lighters, torches, gasoline, sparkers, fireworks, lighter fluid or anything else that could be used to start a fire. But a gigantic firebrand wielded by a man literally too dumb to spell his middle name running at a velocity he’d never demonstrated in PhysEd? Turns out that hadn’t been expressly prohibited yet.

We spent the afternoon as kings, avoiding the cafeteria food and rocking out to my car’s blown speakers. It was like a Mastercard commercial. Beef and drinks? $20. Condiments, utensils, plates and cups? $32. Enjoying a freshly grilled pineapple burger covered in barbecue sauce and lightly seasoned with the looks of utter bewilderment on your classmates’ faces? That, loyal reader, is priceless.

We were bound to get caught eventually. Perhaps attracted to the enormous mounting haze of smoke, the campus cop rolled by in his patrol car. “What are you kids up to?”

We paused, wondering if he’d somehow missed the grill. “Are you serious? What does it look like? Hey Officer Ryan, you want a burger?”

“Sorry guys, I’m gonna have to call this one in.” He grabbed his radio. “Mrs. Taylor? (our principal) Yeah, this is Ryan. We’ve got some kids here in the upper lot that seem to be, um, having a barbecue.” (Long pause) “A barbecue. They’ve grilled up some hamburgers.” (Another long pause) He looked at me. “She says I need to take you boys to the office.”

I quickly explained the campus rulebook’s expert advice on the subject, and after an incredulous look Officer Ryan got back on the walkie-talkie. “They say it’s ok. It’s in the rules.” He replaced his radio and let us go with the understanding that we’d be up and gone by the time he returned with a little backup. We learned later that although Mrs. Taylor was royally pissed, the officer thought we were the height of comedy.

Two things happened as a result of our afternoon. One, my buddy Curtis, the student body president, went to bat for us and reduced our sentence from suspensions down to nothing. That was excellent. Better still, though, was a little notation that popped into the school agenda the year after we graduated. Just past the dire warnings against setting fire to the school, it reads, “Students are also forbidden from barbecuing on campus.”


CADE GRUNST likes cheeseburgers better than genetics homework. Distract him at cade@ucdavis.edu.XXX


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