I hear a lot about the next generation — entitled whiners with inflated expectations and unrealistic goals. Last night I had dinner with three of them.
My husband, Peter, and I are in Oaxaca, Mexico. It feels like the end of the world, this place where the continent becomes so narrow that the mountains stand with their toes in the water. We are staying in a simple hotel with breathtaking views of the ocean and our fellow guests are all a generation younger than us.
Last night, the hotel owners served dinner in their restaurant by the sea. Our hosts, Alma and Paolo, open the restaurant only one night a week and people turn up from all around. They served amazing tuna and tiramisu (Paolo is Italian so he knows what he is doing). We were waited on by their daughter, Alexandra, who chatted at length with all the diners. Their fat yellow lab, Nate, circulated the restaurant, making sure everyone got an equal amount of attention and the floor was kept free of edible debris. We watched a startlingly beautiful sunset, then shared a table with the other guests in the hotel: Griffin, Riley and Tanya.
Griffin is a bearded Canadian marine biologist and he could explain why everyone was suddenly fishing tuna in Oaxaca (because it had been fished out in so many other places) and the mounting extinctions in the oceans worldwide.
He was traveling with his friend, Riley, a ginger-haired Canadian who played music and sold liquor to pay the bills. Riley loved swimming in the ocean.
“Don’t you have to be very careful with your pale skin?” I asked.
“I do!” he agreed.
“But he doesn’t!” Griffin corrected, and Riley admitted he’d likely be burned in a day or two.
Peter wanted to know how they felt about the future — rising populations and sea levels, diminishing wages and food supplies, and the inevitable natural disasters. I tried to hint from across the table that maybe this conversation was a bit dark for such a festive night but, surprisingly, our companions were not gloomy.
Griffin said he was earning what his father had made at his age — not adjusted for inflation — and his father had raised four children.
“But it’s about accepting things as they are, isn’t it?” Griffin said. “It’s about being happy with what you have.”
“I think, before we destroy ourselves, we’ll come up with something!” Riley added excitedly, “at the last moment — people always have!”
Tanya, a slim solo traveler from Brooklyn, was listening intently. She sublets her Brooklyn apartment for slightly more than she pays per month. Then she travels for less than a quarter of what she gets in rent. While traveling, she is developing her online business. She is 20-some years old and I think she is my new life mentor.
“None of us knows what will happen, do we?” Tanya finally said. “I am going to live my life fully today — because, as far as I know, this is the only life I will get.”
Then we toasted with tiny painted ceramic cups filled with mezcal provided by our hosts. I looked into the smiling and slightly sunburnt faces of these travelers to where the continent almost ends, travelers who would see a world I would not live to see.
I know they will face challenges I never have. And yet, if last night’s company was representative, I don’t think I need to worry too much. I think they will figure something out — even if (as Riley suggests) they do it at the last minute.
Till next time,
Carrie Classon’s memoir, “Blue Yarn,” will be released in April. Learn more at CarrieClasson.com.