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On a Roll

By Paul Bendix

About this blog: A 32-year resident of Menlo Park, I regularly make my way around downtown in a wheelchair. This gives me an unusual perspective on a town in which I have spent almost half of my life. I was educated at UC Berkeley, and permanentl...  (More)

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Youth on the Edge

Uploaded: Feb 1, 2015
"You're very polite," a fellow patron of Draeger's coffee bar observed on her way out. She was referring to the loud and remarkably two-way conversation behind me. A young man sat at a table, cell phone blaring in speaker mode. Being blessed, or cursed, by a capacity for oblivion, I was ignoring him. I assured the passing woman there was no problem. I wasn't listening. But with her departure, I was.

"Look, Mom...." His side of the conversation dominated the coffee bar. His mother's side, in lower speakerphone fidelity, joined the rattle of shopping carts.

Should I say something to him, gesture to tone it down? Problem was, I was getting sucked into the conversational thread. He was having roommate problems. He was making a valiant effort to explain himself. It all felt a bit too familiar and too poignant, to complain about. In search of a napkin, I got a look at him. Desolated. He didn't need scolding from an old guy, not right now.

What did he need? More to the point, why worry about this at all?

Younger people face a very different world from mine. Baby boomers, by definition, grew up in boom times. If affluent suburban kids seem spoiled...well, they are also walking a tightrope. Those who fail to get forward momentum early in life run a bigger risk. Simply put, they face a life of roommates. Statistically flat incomes and soaring housing costs add up to just that.

Should I just say hi, how's it going? The young man had hung up now. He stared at his coffee looking lost. It's tough to feel powerless...to be independent, yet reporting in to mommy. And, that other thing, not understanding how to comport oneself in public. It must be a great skill, knowing how to offer young people a friendly nudge. Young man, here is how it's done...and I am with you.

It's easy to get annoyed with callow youth. It's much harder to be a parent. Or a teacher. Or anyone of the people who weave the young into the social fabric.

I left a tip on the table. I rolled my wheelchair toward the elevator. The young man was still sitting there. He stared sadly and silently down at the affluent, mostly older, suburbanites with their shopping carts and their lives.

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Comments

Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Feb 2, 2015 at 12:09 am

This blog is a very touching and compassionate piece. It is all too easy to condemn those young people for being brash and uncaring, but who but they know the sadness and stress in their lives. And many of these young people who talk loudly and incessantly on their cell phones are not rich, as you pointed out so well. They face the same bleak economic realities that most of us face.

You do have a real talent for a beautiful and succinct turn of phrase: "the people who weave the young into the social fabric".

Thank you for this blog. Thank you for teaching us not to condemn all young people who are loud and brash, for we do not know how bleak their future really is


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