Where there are no teens (or, the Generation Gap Explained)

The 7-11 was a five-minute walk from home and a good place to get eggnog at Christmas, candy the rest of the year.  In middle school I figured out I could buy cigarettes for friends at school after the Chi Chi’s on Dale Mabry took out the cigarette vending machine (it was a different time) and in high school I could buy beer if the right guy was working the counter.  Embarrassingly, this convenience store was also a good place to hang out.  They had a Tron video game but it was pricey, 50¢ a play, and I rarely had the money for that and candy.  The Rosewood Center, a strip mall built right next door had a sidewalk that abruptly ended with a four-foot drop to the concrete property of the 7-11, no stairs, no switchbacks, not even a safety rail.  It really was a different time.  The Rosewood Center sidewalk was an ideal place to drink a soda, eat a Zero bar (a white chocolate Snickers, if you’ve never seen one), and watch people come and go, such were the entertainment options on Greentree Drive in the late 1980s.

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The old 7-11, now a battery store. You can see on this Google screenshot the sidewalk ends in a safety rail now.  It did not in 1988.

The human mind is remarkable for what it holds onto.  For some reason I have a very clear recollection sitting on that hard concrete of a man getting out of his car and walking inside this store.  At the time some college kids were renting the house across the street from ours.  They were adults, strictly speaking, but not quite grown-ups.  They still retained some semblance of the teenager even as one of the men smoked a cigarette and drank coffee out front each morning. The fellow at the 7-11 was different.  His car was nice, a BMW or something, and his hair and clothing looked stylish.  This man was a grown-up, as my parents were, but still seemed so unfamiliar, younger than my parents, older than the college students.

Years later when I was the age of the man in the BMW I happened to be at a party hosted by a couple about 15 years older than me and they had a teenage son.  I spoke to him and found it incredibly difficult; I just couldn’t imagine what was interesting or relevant to him.  I asked about school; you can imagine how thrilled he was to regale me with tales of sixth period.  And then I thought: where are the teenagers?  I remembered the 7-11 and reached a conclusion:  these two age groups are Superman and Clark Kent: never in the same place at once.  Teenagers’ parents are usually in their late 30s at the youngest, more typically 40s and 50s.  In my experience high school teachers are too.  From the age of 25 to around 35 younger adults are finishing graduate school or are already into careers that are building from there.  They spend time with others their age and are busy with courtships, weddings, marriage, and starting families where, generally speaking, the newborns are quite young.

So here is what I think happens.  There is research showing people tend to stick with things that were familiar during the happier moments in their lives.  That’s why that lady in your office has sported the same haircut for twenty years.  It served her well in college, why change?  We like the music and movies from our adolescence and college years, hence all those email forwards about being an “80s kid.”  Like it if you love the 90s!

So you spend a decade or two immersed in the culture of your own age cohort (a big part of the reason I eat at Tijuana Flats is because they are always playing Incubus, Foo Fighters, Blink 182, and the like) and then you try to pass those same preferences on to your own children.  It won’t take.  Small children readily accept their parent’s tastes but once the little ones are teenagers they become influenced by their own cohort and the popularity of what is in at the moment.   Just as the teenager is becoming his own person with his own interests, you are now dealing with an age group that has been invisible for the last twenty years.  The chances are good the last time you dealt with other teenagers on a regular basis, you were one yourself.  For the last twenty years you have been immersed in the culture of your own youth and when the new culture arrives it slams.  The slang, the beats,  the rhythms, the clothes are all different, strange, none of it is as good as it was in my day.  And that, friends, is the generation gap.

If you enjoyed this essay please forward it to a friend and share on Facebook.  If you want to keep reading please try my novels:

Departure Day

The Wandering: Departure Day Book II

Ciphers: Departure Day Book III

Eisodus: Departure Day Book IV


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