Driving home today, I learned we have passed the grim threshold of 150,000 people dead from this virus. For my local folks, that’s the population of Murfreesboro. Imagine that. No, seriously, take a moment to imagine the entire population of the city just gone. What kind of a hole that leaves in the lives of those who have lost loved ones. Think about it hard and then post some insensitive crap about hoaxes and masks, show us all how much you care about your fellow humans, since this hasn’t touched your life directly. But I didn’t come here today to talk about avoidable deaths or skyrocketing case numbers, I came to talk about leadership. It’s a pretty simple thing, on the surface. To get things done, someone needs to take charge. There are all kinds of ways to do this, but at its core, it is all about getting the job done, or at least it should be. We get confused sometimes and mistake titles for leadership. It happens all the time, there are a lot of people in charge who have never been leaders and who don’t even want to be. B.B. King got it wrong when he sang about “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss”, it takes more than bringing home the bacon for folks to fall in line behind you. Leading is about responsibility. About taking care of people. Making sure that their best interests come first. They may not agree with you, or want to hear your message, but making tough calls to protect your people, especially when it is unpopular, that is the true cost of being the boss. It also means being adaptable and changing as you learn more. Way back in early June, I asked you to join me in a classic Grasshopper Cocktail. It was really lovely and gave me a great opportunity to talk about prejudices and how not recognizing them makes us miss out on the good things in life. I felt pretty good about that and enjoyed the drink. I did the best I could with the information I had at the time. Well, I know more now and since I try to practice what I preach, I’ll ask you to join me once again as we stand and make the Improved Grasshopper 2.0.

I know I said that “Judged on its own merits, for what it is and what it is supposed to be, this little drink is nearly perfect.” when talking about the previous recipe, and I was right. But, that was way back in June and things have changed. That was back when hospitals still reported their case data to the CDC, before it was rerouted through the Ministry of Truth, nearly 2,000,000 active US cases ago, allegedly. Over 30,000 families, in our country alone, have buried their loved ones due to this virus since then. And what have I done? I have worried about the things that divide us and I found a better version of the Grasshopper. Yeah, there is no question I am not using my time wisely. The thing is, now that I have better data, about this drink anyway, I feel it is my duty to share it with you. To admit that what I told you before was based on what I knew then and now that things have changed, I want you to be better informed. Maybe its a leadership thing, maybe its just being a decent human. This adaptation comes from bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler, by way of Portland. Things have changed there too. Way back in June, brown shirted federal officers rounding up “troublemakers” was just a cautionary tale in a history book, the sort of thing that we went and fought a war over. Of course, that’s even farther back in the times when being a good, patriotic American meant being anti-fascist. When Americans literally lined up to fight Nazis and their ilk. Good times.

Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, making a drink. Sorry, it is so easy to get distracted during the “unprecedented times.” I’ll try to keep things relevant from here on out. We aren’t making this one in our tins, it is time for a blender drink. I know, I usually balk at these, but I am trying to keep an open mind and adapt as things change, so grab your blender. Pop in 1 1/2 ounces each of creme de menthe and creme de cacao, I used those same cheap bottles of Dekuyper’s from last time; 1 ounce of half & half, same as last time. Here is where we depart. Add 1/4 ounce of Fernet Branca, a pinch of sea salt, 4 ounces of vanilla ice cream, we had Blue Bell so we used Blue Bell; and 8 ounces of crushed ice. Pulse it a couple of times to get things, going, I don’t know why I do it that way, just always have and then crank it up to blend till smooth. Pour into something fancy, garnish with a big bunch of freshly-slapped mint, some shaved artisanal chocolate, pop in a paper straw and serve.

The original was rock solid, for what it is. This improved version is all that only grown up. The ice cream adds wonderfully creamy texture and the addition of Fernet and salt cuts a bit of the edge off the sweetness and brings this one into a more refined flavor. Bitter balances the sweet, the salt accentuates the coolness of the mint. this version is just better. They are similar, so make them side by side and have your own Grasshopper Challenge. This is still not an everyday drink, but it deserves a place on your menu, a special treat for those hot summer nights and my radio.

I am trying to make things better, in my own small way. You didn’t elect me Monkey-at-Large for the 13th District of Cocktail Driven Shouts into the Darkness, but still I recognize my responsibility. I have chosen to be your alcohol-fueled Pied Piper, your guide on this journey to imbibification. This little corner of the universe is my circus and these are my monkeys, so I wear my Big Top Hat with pride. Since I am the closest thing we have to a leader here, it is my job, my honor and my sacred trust, to do my best to take care of you. Now I know that sounds like a bullshit set up, but that is truly how I feel about being put in a position of leadership and responsibility, even one as minimal as telling folks how to make drinks. You have to be willing to do and say things that may be hard, that’s the job, to do the right thing, especially when it is not popular or easy. 

Which is why I just don’t get it when people in positions of responsibility refuse to lead. I can see why, we actually have seen some real leaders step up and do hard things, only to have their every decision questioned, to be vilified and attacked by their political foes and the media. Hats off to those folks for doing the right thing and doing their best to take care of people. That sort of leader has been pretty rare in this crisis. One thing that Covid-19 has exposed in our society, perhaps more than any other, is a failure in a great deal of our leadership. Actually, failure is the wrong word, from the very top down to our local school boards, we have seen not just failure, but an abdication of leadership. An unwillingness to look at the facts and make the hard calls. We’ve heard lots of platitudes, everyone can be very convincing on how we need to stick together and work hard to get this economy going, but the tough stuff, they haven’t been so good at. The president has opinions, but he’s “not responsible” his words, not mine. He says that it is for the governors to decide, which is very states rights of him, so maybe it is appropriate. The governors say that the economy demands that you can sit down in a restaurant and have five dollar fajitas and that kids be back in schools, on time, and that masks are a “good idea” but “we don’t want to interfere in local matters” and we don’t need to mandate behavior, because we know that the good citizens want to take care of each other and will do the right thing. Contrary to all evidence. You may have heard that all politics is local and it is true, never more than now. As the decision buck continues to be passed downhill, to city mayors and county school systems who have been forced to make a decision. So kids will be back in the classroom on Monday. For our county that means the schools will have as much social distancing as practical (3 feet) and masks will not be required for students or teachers, but suggested. Our “Data-Driven” schools have been asked to ignore the fact that we are in the middle of an active outbreak in the county. A county with the 3rd highest per capita case rate in the state, but hey, at least they made a decision. Well, they sort of did. As it turns out, they actually passed the responsibility further down the line to the administrators. Leaving it to them to “figure it out” when it comes to what works for their schools. Understandably, these administrators are turning to teachers, to once again find a way to do an impossible job without funding or support. In our county, each school is on their own to figure out how to implement safety standards and how to best teach students in person and through distanced learning. No cohesive effort at the county level, no real practical guidance from the state level. If it is unclear, I am frustrated by what I see happening, by the lack of practical leadership.

So here is the craziest part. All of these “leaders”, the board members, our state commissioners, our governors, our representatives, our senators, even our president; they all spent years trying to get where they are. Millions and millions and millions of dollars, late nights campaigning, shaking hands, kissing babies, being friendly with people they did not like to be able to someday be in a position of power, a place where they get to make the decisions, where they can make a difference. An entire life’s work to bring them to this pinnacle, this moment when they can change things, affect the destiny of 350 million of their fellow citizens and their answer is, “we aren’t responsible”,” we wouldn’t want to interfere”, “that’s for the people on the ground to decide”. That is an abdication of leadership. That is a betrayal of oaths sworn. That is an unmasking of those who did not really want to lead, to make a change, they simply wanted the trappings of power, they wanted to look like leaders and wave to the crowds, to see their faces smiling back from the covers of the local papers. Yes, leadership is hard. By the very definition, no one knows what to do during “unprecedented times”. But, don’t forget, that at every level these people, these summer soldiers and sunshine patriots, they worked and fought and did everything in their power to be where they are today. They literally asked and pleaded with you to give them the opportunity to lead, to be in “the room where it happens”. They begged to be on that stage, only to say, “I am not going to make this decision. I will not lead. Someone else will have to decide what to do.” Back in 1775, as a number of true leaders stood up and fought for the ideals this country was founded on, Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls”. He was almost right and his words still ring true, but today it is a lack of Common Sense that challenges our souls. So, take care of yourselves and look out for your friends and family, support your schools, the teachers and administrators, the students. They need your help like never before, someone needs to look out for them and it’s not going to be the folks who begged for that opportunity. In spite of it all, please, stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.