Things were shutting down quickly because of the spreading global pandemic. School was closed, sports canceled, and non-essential businesses had been shuttered or pivoted to curbside pick up.
It was Friday the 13th and I had just returned from being out of town for the better part of the week and needed to get groceries for the household, especially since one of my college-aged sons was at home for the second half of his spring break.
I ran into one of the guys who worked at my gym at the supermarket. He’s just a couple of years older than my oldest and I chat with him regularly at the gym, which is in the same plaza as the supermarket.
He confirmed my guess that the gym was closed.
“What are you up to?” I asked. We were standing near an endcap and one of his friends was hovering.
“Oh, we’re going to go hole up at our friend’s place. It’s like an hour away.”
“You better get some more cereal.” I saw he only had two boxes in his handbasket, yet his friend was holding a gallon of milk. “One of my boys can eat a box at one sitting.”
“Wow! Okay!” His friend meandered back over to the cereal aisle.
“So, do you have WiFi where you’re going?” I was picturing them in a hunting cabin. I think it was the words “hole up” that triggered that impression.
“Oh, yeah, of course. It’s our friend’s apartment. He lives in <name of town>.”
“Ah! I had the idea it was a cabin in the woods somewhere.”
“I lived in a cabin in the woods for a summer once. We had no electricity or running water.”
“Yeah. That means no WiFi. And no wireless either, because we were in six miles into the middle of nowhere. Not that it matters, but those things weren’t even invented then.”
“NO! I can’t even imagine!”
This young man thinks that everyone older than him is a Boomer. He doesn’t realize that term is actually a demographic, a part of which I am not. I belong to the invisible generation, Gen X, also known as the MTV Generation. My brother and I were latchkey kids. We had a lot of time with “nothing” to do, yet I don’t ever really remember being bored, even though there was a dearth of technology in our house. Television viewing wasn’t condoned, and we certainly didn’t have cable so if I ever wanted to watch TV it was at someone else’s house, no doubt also a latchkey kid.
The year we moved to the town where I graduated from high school was the year the junior high had burned down. It was the middle of 7th grade and we were “on double sessions” with the high school kids. This meant, they went to school from 6:30 to 12 and we went to school from 12:30 to 5 – at the high school. That year, my latchkey time was in the morning when all the game shows were on. We’d watch “Let’s Make a Deal” and “The Price is Right” while doing our homework or studying for a test. I don’t imagine the quality of learning was too high (not that it was anyway: I remember my 8th grade science teacher who wrote “youse guys” on the blackboard and still cringe.) and I wonder how the quality of current “pass-fail” distance learning that my youngest will be starting this coming week will compare.
I thought about the summer I spent in the cabin in the woods in the middle of a town so small it didn’t have its own post office.
“Yeah, we used kerosene lamps and pumped water from a well.”
“Wow, geez! I just can’t even.”
I thought about how we rode our crappy old gearless bikes a mile down the dirt road and then six miles on the highway to go to town: to get library books, to mail our letters, to get 10-cent Cokes in glass bottles.
“Yeah, I don’t imagine you can. I hope to see you at the gym again soon!” I said. His friend had returned with some more Cap'N Crunch and continued to the freezer section to stock up on chicken nuggets.