It’s spring break. The high school kids hang around, slack-limbed and loungy. Last night, four of them ended up in our basement eating the proverbial pizza and playing video games. I went down to check on them, their shadowy figures in the dark, each face gazing at either the TV or the floating blue light of a cell phone. “Hey” they said, first one, then another. “Hey,” I said.
In the morning, two of them were gone before I woke – one to a 5:15 a.m. swim practice, one to pick-axe a large hole for his dad. I sit down at my desk ready to read through a week of saved articles. The first one up is a link a friend sent me (www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/opinion/sunday/the-go-nowhere-generation.html). It’s a New York Times article called “The Go-Nowhere Generation” by Todd G. Buchholz, a well-known economist and his daughter, Victoria Buchholz, a Cambridge University student.
Loud thumps and thwacks against the wall between my office and the front hallway interrupt my reading – long board wheels leaned against the chest near the front of the door. I come out of my office and watch my son and his friend dig through backpacks planted since Friday – a calculus book slides out, flash cards flutter kite-like to the floor, a yellow half-sheet of scrunched English test is pushed aside along with the Power Bar wrappers, soccer shin guards and a Mike and Ike box. At the bottom of the pile they find the helmets.
“We’re going to Skimmerhorn and then the park.”
I open the door. In the yard are three more boys, two on bikes and another longboarder.
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And then they are gone, swishing and curving down the street in their thin jackets like low flying hawks.
For the uninitiated, a longboard looks something like a very long skateboard. Riders take the boards to the top of curving, paved roads and then ride them down – it’s a little like slalom skiing with no snow and no skis.
The sport is risky. The boarder can fall – indeed my son has. Road burn is bloody. Thumbs and tibias break. “Skimmerhorn” is the curvy street near our house, the most recent ride of choice for the boarders.
I go back to my desk and back to the article. I read “But sometime in the past 30 years, someone has hit the brakes and Americans – particularly young Americans – have become risk adverse and sedentary.” The authors say that young adults won’t move from their home states to states with better economic outlooks; they say that more college educated and non-degreed kids are living at home. They say that “even bicycle sales are lower now than they were in 2000. Today’s generation is literally going nowhere.”
They go on to explain how teens aren’t even “bothering” to get their driver’s license at the same rates they once did, and that “perhaps young people are too happy at home checking Facebook.”
The phone rings and I’m drawn away. Hours later, I sit back down to work. Thump. Thwack. The boys are back now shedding helmets, shoes and boards and talking about a giant Frisbee game at the park. “How many people?” I ask. They tell me at least twenty. “How’d you get so many people to show up so fast?” My son looks at me like I’m missing something obvious, “Facebook.” Ah, yes.
Later I find them picking through two boxes of old cables from various electronic devices. They want to fashion a kind of HDMI cable to hook up a laptop to a TV. As they examine first one end of each cord, and then the other, I read the section of the Go-Nowhere Generation article to them. I get to the part that says “Notice how popular the word ‘random’ has become among young people … the word has morphed from a precise statistical term to an all-purpose phrase that stresses the illogic and coincidence of life. Unfortunately, societies that emphasize luck over logic are not likely to thrive.” I ask them what they think. One boy looks like he ate a lemon, and says the article is wrong. Another just rolls his eyes and shakes his head. I ask my son what he thinks. He looks at me, raises his eyebrow “that’s just random,” he says.
They go back to cable deciphering, later they move on to Nutella and tortillas, then full of carbs and the joyful anticipation of a week off, they bang out the front door laughing into the dark and definitely on their way to somewhere.