It was the longest half hour of my life, waiting in line behind a gaggle of millennials at the local Barnes & Noble. I was there with my six-year-old for the Harry Potter birthday event, where they’d set up Hogwarts-related games and activities all over the store. My son was a Harry Potter fan, so you know, quality time and all that.
We were waiting our turn for ‘pin the beard on Hagrid’ or some such game, and from the length of the line I’d estimated a five-minute wait, tops. Turned out I was painfully wrong. You see, we had the bad luck to queue up behind a group outing of half a dozen twenty-somethings with three young kids between them.
As they watched their toddlers play the game and wander the store blindfolded, joking and taking pics they posted online, my son and I waited…and waited…and waited. This herd of millennials, like Hindu cows blocking a Mumbai roadway, seemed oblivious to the wider world around them. After fifteen minutes of torture (while I’m folding my arms, glaring, and wondering why anyone would bring and eighteen-month-old to a Harry Potter event), the three toddlers finally finished their turns. I exhaled in relief.
But my wait was far from over. Next the adults started taking turns (the adults!). I watched, my jaw hanging open, as each of them played this CHILDREN’S game for another fifteen minutes while an impatient, fidgety line of actual children grew longer and longer, snaking its way through the store. At one point I almost spoke up, but decided against making a scene that might traumatize my child (I would have been labeled a ‘hater’ anyway). Instead, like I fool I held onto the hope that surely not all of them would take a turn. Wrong again.
Whenever I reflect on the generation gap I have with millennials (I self-identify as a Gen Xer, if you haven’t already guessed), I always recall that Barnes & Noble moment. I remember those twenty-year-olds, not just the ones in line but all the others like them, whose bodies seemed far too soft and fat for their young age, who laughed too loudly at jokes that weren’t funny, who couldn’t comprehend satire, who’d been raised during an era of unprecedented US military intervention but had remarkably little interest in foreign wars (or foreign anything, except maybe Harry Potter and Japanese anime cartoons).
Who were these people, born just a decade or two after me? How was it possible, in just a handful of years, the skeptical glass-half-full pessimism of my generation evolved into a coddled, doe-eyed Disney-branded view of the world? Where did this unearned sense of entitlement come from? These questions I asked myself, finding no answers.
On the drive back home from Barnes & Noble that day, my frustration abating, I reflected on the news programs and articles I’d read about Americans born in the early to mid-nineties (good one here, if you’re interested).
How bad was it, really, that the workplace had to adapt to younger workers who expected (deservedly or not) more vacation and more flexible working hours? We’d worked ourselves to death in this country and the vast majority didn’t seem better off for it; the middle class dream had never been such a tenuous proposition.
And it certainly was no small thing that the scourge of racism, openly tolerated by baby boomers, shamefully acknowledged by Gen Xers, might become something millennials, with their genuine sense of fairness, help this country finally get past. No small thing, indeed.
So maybe they weren’t so bad after all. Maybe it was me. Maybe I was jealous of them, how free they were of the cynicism the eighties and Reagan and looming nuclear obliteration hardwired into much of my generation. Envious of how unworried they seemed about the crumbling world around them. What did they know that I didn’t?
Maybe I worried too much. Maybe I was simply getting old and cranky.
Road to hell or redemption? I wasn’t sure where they were taking us, but I knew one thing for sure: next time I’d arrive to Barnes & Noble earlier to avoid the lines.
Millennials can never get anywhere on time.