I was riding the train back form work the other day and standing next to these two Naperville-looking Baby Boomer dads in jean shorts. They were on their way to the afternoon Cubs game, fighting their upcoming senility to remember the last time they rode the L. “Must have been ’94? ’95? Whenever Blues Traveler played the Metro.”
One of them got to talking the new intern at his firm. “Millennials. Eager, but not really committed,” he said, making sure there wasn’t anyone Periscoping nearby.
The other guy couldn’t agree more. “These kids, they come in, and when the clock hits 5, they’re gone. You know? They talk about all this stuff they want, but they’re not willing to put in the extra work you need to get it. You can’t ride a bike everywhere forever.”
They waddled off the train at Addison to charge their Blackberries before the game. As the train pulled away, I watched them shrink into the crowd. Not all Millennials are the same, I thought. Some are in prison.
As a cyclist I resented the dig at bikes. As ’80s Millennial (Another difference with Millennials are that some grew up after when you had to flip to Side B) I resented the age blindness. And as someone who has been working with my hands or at a desk as soon as I hit the legal age, I resented the accusation.
After I reversed time and threatened their dogs, I made a list of everything I’ve ever done for money (outside of my freelance work):
- Mowing lawns and walking dogs, Waukesha, WI
- Pushing carts, cleaning human shit, Pick N Save, Pewaukee, WI
- Painting houses, Milwaukee, WI
- Events, fundraising, cleaning human shit, Religious Nonprofit, Mt. Prospect, IL
- Stuffed animal warehouse, Six Flags Great America, Gurnee, IL
- Pushing carts, Jewel Osco, Gurnee, IL
- Stocking, cashiering, cleaning human shit, CVS, Waukegan, IL
- Stocking, shipping and receiving, Target, Mundelein, IL
- Writing tutor, College of Lake County, Grayslake, IL
- Writing tutor, North Park University, Chicago, IL
- Professor’s assistant, North Park University, Chicago, IL
- Library assistant, North Park University, Chicago, IL
- Student arts and entertainment director, North Park University, Chicago, IL
- After-school program director, Another Religious Nonprofit, Chicago, IL
- Bike delivery and closing shift manager, Jimmy John’s, Chicago, IL
- Bike shop clerk, Mike’s Bikes, Gurnee, IL
- Bike shop clerk, Johnny Sprockets, Chicago, IL
- Administrative hokum, Jewish United Fund, Chicago, IL
- Writing and reporting, Guerrero Howe Custom Media, Chicago, IL
- Marketing hokum, Cotter Consulting, Chicago, IL
- Copywriting and PR, Aileron Communications, Chicago, IL
- Other random gigs: christmas tree farm, polling place technician, catering, moving, transcribing, archival research, industrial cleaning, etc.
The list is still growing, too. And looking back, I’m proud of it. I know I haven’t been lazy, and most of my peers haven’t been, either. We’ve all worked hard, but like animals hunting, starving for days before getting only the weakest of the herd, we’re stuck eating its scanty meat as the metaphor fades away.
For example, student debt, our indentured servitude, has slowed us down, weakened our purchasing power and obliged our fealty to an irrevocable god for decades. Healthcare is expensive and the system broken, so if you have a choice, better to go with Sallie Mae because hospitals don’t sue, right? Nevermind a car and a mortgage, as great as Naperville sounds right now.
And a few years ago, the lower middle class ceiling just inches above my head, I realized that if I wanted out at all, I’d need a master’s degree, just to get the door open at least. I needed to keep working, lest the debtors send their sharks.
Grad school is expensive, and the prestigious ones, which seem to get you the best jobs, require a full-time commitment, which you can only afford if you have the best jobs. So I found a program that would work, but one I knew would take a lot of work, too. For two years I worked a full-time job and went to school full-time, and I wasn’t the only one putting in 80-hour weeks. Everyone was working hard, trying to improve their lot. Some were doing it on their bikes.
Since I graduated I got a better job, more stability and more to look forward to (and somewhere beyond that, the end of my student debt). Of course, I’m still riding my bike. But hopefully with some gumption and elbow grease, I’ll one day be able to afford a second, awesomer bike.