If I were 19 years old, which I'm not, I would be talking to my college classmates about going to Washington for Barack Obama's inauguration. That would be about the extent of my planning.

Somebody knows somebody whose favorite aunt lives in a suburb somewhere near the capital city. We could take your car because it's got new tires. And how far is it anyway, a couple of hundred miles?

Doesn't matter. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event. The touchstone for a generation. You have to be able to tell your grandchildren that you were there, in the crowd, when America welcomed its first African-American president.

This will be a political Woodstock — part rock concert, part pep rally; a rave when kids of all ages swarm to a place so they can feel a kinship to the moment, the man, the future that is theirs.

Road trip

If I were 19 years old, which I'm not, I would pack my iPod and cell phone and toothbrush and take off without a place to stay or a care in the world.

At that age, directions and details and reservations take a back seat to inspiration and imagination.

The best way to screw up a good road trip is to invite a chaperone who thinks of all the things that could go wrong.

Real adventures are built on dreams and ideology and a sense of danger that includes a devil-may-care attitude and a healthy disregard for the degree of difficulty.

The future for the young exists just beyond the horizon, around the next corner. The best days of your life come as surprise packages unwrapped in the moment, enjoyed to the fullest.

While the politically connected and well-to-do double check their reservations at the Marriott and make sure their tuxedos are back from the cleaners in time for the inaugural ball, Generation Next is busy texting and blogging and putting together Animotos on Facebook about what they want to be when they grow up.

Which is about to happen.

Cutting class

If I were 19 years old, which I'm not, I would look at my class schedule and see that Monday is a holiday, thanks to Martin Luther King Jr., and cut class on Tuesday.

What could you learn in school that could possibly compare with what you would see and feel and hear in the nation's capital on such a glorious occasion?

Your mother, of course, would tell you to take an extra coat and don't forget your gloves and a hat. It's going to be cold and you don't want to catch your death when you're just beginning to live.

Your father would say you're crazy to go to all that trouble when you could just watch it on a big-screen HDTV and feel like you're there, without all the traffic and bother.

They say a half-million kids showed up at Woodstock in the summer of 1969, in the middle of Nowhere, N.Y., for a rock concert that wasn't advertised. Forty years later, a billion baby boomers swear they were there, even if they weren't.

I was 19 years old that summer, but missed the event of my lifetime.

If I were 19 today, I wouldn't miss this one for the world.

Reach Ken Burger at kburger@postandcourier.com or 937-5598.