Since I’m sick (again) and it’s snowing (again), and I’m reminded (again) of how much I hate this time of year with a burning passion, I thought a dose of good vibes would be a nice way to flip the script.
I generally divide the year into two halves, the good part of the year (which runs from Opening Day of baseball season to Halloween), and the less good part of the year (that dark ass cold part that comprises the rest of it). I wouldn’t dare call it the bad part of the year (even though that’s getting harder each year I get older and crustier) because there’s still plenty of good stuff that happens, and, more importantly, lots of people LOVE this time of year.
While I am not among you, I see your photos frolicking in the snow and skiing and sipping hot chocolate and looking forward to Christmas and whatever the hell else you people do, and it’s not in my interest to crap on anyone’s good time. Although, it probably bears mention that I hate wearing more clothes than I have to, I skied virtually every weekend for like 14 years and am now largely over it, I think hot chocolate is overrated, and for a variety of reasons Christmas just ain’t ever going to be a holiday I dig (long story that I’m unlikely to get into here, or anywhere, ever).
With those GIANT caveats out of the way, here are some things I enjoy from “the less good part of the year” that I try to focus on when the winter ennui creeps in. This is usually in February, by the way. So, here we go…
1. Sign Pointing Season
WWE’s WrestleMania happens in late March or early April of every year. Even if you don’t watch wrestling, you’ve heard of WrestleMania which has grown in stature to the point of not even needing to advertise any matches to sell out a giant football stadium every year. Naturally it follows that WWE supercharges its creative in the months leading up to the year’s biggest wrestling bacchanal. This begins in earnest with the Royal Rumble.
The Royal Rumble occurs at the end of January and is by far and away my favorite wrestling event of the year. The Rumble itself is a deceptively simple premise that, when structured well, lends itself to a multitude of storytelling devices executed to set up storylines that will last for the next two and a half months. In short, two men (or women – there’s a corresponding women’s match that completed its third iteration just this year) start, and every 90 seconds a new participant enters the match. Eliminations occur when someone is thrown over the top rope and both feet hit the floor. The winner is the last man (or woman) standing after all 30 participants have entered and earns a championship match at WrestleMania. They celebrate by pointing at the big WrestleMania sign hanging over the crowd, which is the rough equivalent of the Super Bowl MVP looking into the camera and saying “I’m going to Disneyworld!”
In subsequent weeks, more matches come together, and frequently it’s as simple as one wrestler standing in the ring mouthing off about whatever, getting interrupted by another wrestler while the crowd goes apeshit, and the interlocutor wrestler stepping in the ring and pointing at the WrestleMania sign to indicate a new clash between titans. It’s all very melodramatic and mildly Shakespearean. I lap it up every single year.
It doesn’t hurt that rival wrestling promotions have attempted to bask in this radiant time of year by running competing events around the same time, which means there’s just a lot of fucking great wrestling on in the 1st quarter of any given year. What a time to be a wrestling fan!
Whiskey just tastes better in cold weather. When the sun’s out, and it stays light real late, I want beer or gin and tonics while I sit on the patio listening to music, chatting with my favorite people and I don’t even need a sweatshirt and… you know what, this is about winter so maybe I should stop wistfully recounting all the reasons I love summer again between hacking up a bunch of lung butter.
So, whiskey! It warms the belly, tastes amazing, and is remarkably underexplored by me since I started fetishizing craft beer like a decade ago. But now I’m way into it! And not like in an obnoxious trophy hunting douche nozzle kind of way, but in like a, “Hey, these bottles are all like $30, let’s try this one!” That’s the most fun part of any new interest – when you’ve got miles and miles of tillable earth in front of you, and you’re just enjoying the ride. Plus, whiskey is a great companion for…
My wife used to drone on and on about how our next house needed to have a fireplace, and I never understood why. I didn’t give a shit. It’s a fire. Big freaking deal. I used to think, wrongly. Friends, I can tell you I was an idiot. This house has two fireplaces – one in the living room, one in the master bedroom – and nothing will make you feel more like master of all you survey quite like sitting inside your own personal castle with a glass of fine whiskey in front of a crackling (albeit fake, but still warm!) fire while the weather swirls and howls outside. Bonus hedonism points if you’ve ever done this naked!
4. My friend Jason’s birthday
Right smack in the middle of the shittiest, darkest, coldest, most miserable stretch of winter long after the glow of the holidays has passed and long before the promise of Spring renewal even glimmers on the horizon, sits an oasis of fun that lifts my spirits every single year. My best buddy celebrates his birth, and pretty much always does so with flair.
One year we all trekked down to Austin for Geek Bowl. Two years ago we spent the day in Fort Collins eating our favorite sandwiches and drinking beer all day. Last year we went to see Unwritten Law at the Marquis Theater after doing those goofy candy-infused vodka shots they have at Scruffy Murphy’s across the street. And this year, he asked me to host a “What’s My Age Again?” party where we ate tacos and played college-style drinking games.
Sidenote: If you’re reading this and over the age of 30, you have likely forgotten just how much drinking occurs in a game of Asshole. I know, hot take, bro. But seriously, it’s a lot of fucking drinking and a lot of action to keep track of. I’m now 38 and far enough removed from my drinking prime to wonder like every other boring putz on earth how I used to do this every weekend.
It’s always such a blessing when this day rolls around each year because it’s a nice break from feeling like Phil Connors trapped in Punxatawney with nothing but hicks, cold water in the shower, existential ennui, and fucking Ned Ryerson to shepherd you through each day of grinding sameness.
My wife is much more of a seasonal eater than I am, and maybe she’s been right all along (likely!) or that I’ve just given up arguing with her about pointless shit because she’s much better at arguing than I am (equally likely!), but winter is the season for chili! I’m talking exclusively about red chili here because in Colorado green chile is eaten all year round, and in my case, at every brunch I ever go to.
There’s nothing like trudging into your house, shaking off the snow from your crusty pants, hanging up all the goddamn accessories you have to wear to shield yourself from the elements, and taking in that initial, glorious whiff…….. “Whoa! Is that chili in the crockpot?”
God, what a feeling. Load it up with cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips, SRIRACHA, gorge yourself stupid, and pair it with…
6. Dark beer
In the endless civil war between malt vs hop, I usually land firmly on the hop side. I love having that bitter mouth full of dandelions, and embrace the palate wrecking joy of astringent citrus and pine in my beers. But not so much in the winter! Gimme the dark beers! Stouts, porters, ambers, reds… the richer and maltier the better! There’s a reason Vine Street does Stout Month in February because outside of one weirdo friend I have who likes to drink Graham Cracker Porter after going for a run in the dog days of summer, dark weather = dark beer for normal people.
As long as we’re here, let’s do some recommendations:
- Snow Stout on Nitro by Old 121 Brewhouse: I love white stouts because the juxtaposition between what you see and what you taste is just so jarring. This one is unlike most white stouts in that you’re not getting the typical white chocolate, but more of a fruity finish with the robust body and rich mouthfeel of a great stout.
- Malpais Stout by La Cumbre: My standby at the liquor store. Toffee, coffee, chocolate, equal parts bitter and sweet. Amazing all the way around.
- Moose Drool Brown Ale by Big Sky Brewing: One of the very first craft beers I ever drank regularly, I recently came across this again and didn’t realize I had a Moose Drool shaped hole in my life. I did! Now I don’t!
- Sad Panda Coffee Stout by Horse & Dragon: One of the very first stouts I ever gave the Full Monty rating to on Untappd. The thing that’s so surprising in it is the vanilla, which counterbalances the coffee in a gorgeous and very playful way.
- Pierce Brosnan by McClellan’s Brewing: Here’s what I wrote on my check-in on Untappd: “Dude [no idea who I am actually talking to when I do this on check-ins], this is probably the most velvety smooth red I’ve had in quite some time.” Velvety! Pierce Brosnan! Why are you reading this? Hie thee up to Fort Collins and get one of these and a sandwich!
7. Hot tubs
Do I need an explanation here? If you have access to a hot tub and it’s cold outside, get in the damn thing every night. Preferably with your main squeeze.
8. The optimism of a new year
I despise New Year’s as a holiday, but I’m not such a curmudgeon that I can’t appreciate how the flipping of the calendar represents renewal, hope, and ultimately optimism. Sure, it may be arbitrary, but since we as a society agree that a year ends here and a new one begins there, you might as well jump onboard and at least bask in feeling of a fresh start. I have never been more ready to fire a year into the sun more than I was with 2019.
2019 can cram it straight up its cramhole, and while I ended the year in a much better place than I ultimately started it, if I never have to think about it ever again, it’ll be too soon. December of 2019 was insanely busy, but portended a brighter future ahead, which reminds me of something else I love about “the less good part of the year…”
9. Spring Training
Have you ever wandered down to Arizona (or Florida) for Spring baseball? Even if you’re not a baseball fan, do it at least once. Why? It’s like getting a sneak peek of the next season of your favorite TV show. If you live in a cold weather state, escaping its dreary clutches in the middle of March to find sunshine, blue skies, temperatures in the 70s, grown ass men playing a kids game, cold beer, peanut shells at your feet, and lots of friends and laughter.
The games don’t count, which somehow makes it even more fun. It’s like getting a glimpse into both the past and the future when you see some 19 year-old kid wearing number 76 in the 8th inning of a game hitting against some 38 year-old knuckleballer fighting for a spot in the bullpen and one last year in The Show. There’s guys like poor Paul Lo Duca, a 4x All-Star, getting introduced by the public address announcer as “Joe,” which happened in 2010, and is something I’ll never forget.
Spring Training is a snippet of what’s to come, and a glorious reminder that no matter what, nothing unpleasant lasts forever and good things are just around the bend. Which brings me to #10.
10. When it gloriously fucking ends
You know when you’re sick with a cold that lingers and lingers and lingers? You’re getting better little by little, but maybe you cough at night. Your energy is increasing, but your sinuses flip a defiant middle finger to all logic by producing endless mucus far longer than seems necessary. You don’t notice it, but little by little, these symptoms go away until one day you think to yourself, “Wow, I haven’t been sick in like two weeks! How did I not notice that?”
That’s what winter’s like for me. It’s like a sickness that hangs around way longer than I’d like until one day I look up and every last remnant is gone and it’s like, May. January lasts approximately 75 days. February is a fucking dreary slog. March is Colorado’s snowiest month, but it’s not nearly as cold as it was in January and February. April brings a bunch of slush, but the evenings stay brighter for longer and days in the high 70s start to pop up here and there. May will have one last cold snap, and then all of a sudden, it’s like winter never even happened.
It’s an amazing feeling, and I know like this latest round of head splitting sinus pressure, endless boxes of tissues, and terminally dulled taste buds, so too shall this winter pass.
If you love winter, I envy you. If you’re like me and loathe it, take some time to make your own list of good things about it. It won’t cure you, but it’ll make the darkness just a little bit lighter.