Waiting out a morning shower in a Virginia Beach coffee shop last week, I couldn’t help noticing how java huts everywhere look and feel the same: hip young baristas kibitzing with hip young caffeine hunters while a sprinkling of graybeards observe all that energy with a kind of wistfulness. One generation on the rise, another in decline.
I don’t mean to be maudlin here, but travel always makes me feel ancient and irrelevant. Beyond the borders of my neighborhood and outside my daily routine, I tend to struggle with the fact that everyone in charge of things seems to be about the age of my offspring. In transit, a geezer needs a little reassurance, but you get the sense that those who control your fate are hearing what you say, but not really listening.
My Lovely Wife and I were on the East Coast to witness our son’s graduation from Marine intelligence school. Three months ago, The Young Jarhead had downplayed the event (“It’s no big deal”) only to shift his thinking a few weeks later (“You’re coming, right?”), so we were poised to do our duty. The day before the ceremony, however, TYJ was incommunicado — ignoring texts and phone messages. “He’s probably on some maneuvers, or something,” I ventured.
We finally reached him in the early evening. “I’m at a social with my class,” he explained. Amid the background noise, we were able to secure the location and time of the ceremony — sort of. “It starts at 10, but you might want to be there an hour early,” he said.
“Why would we need to be there so early,” I asked.
“It’s a good idea to get there around 9,” he replied.
“Yeah, 9-ish. Or 9.”
MLW vigorously suggested we heed our son’s instructions, as we were late to his earlier graduation ceremony last summer at the Defense Language Institute, so we set out in plenty of time the next morning only to be delayed by security measures enforced by a team of scowling Jarheads. We were 55 minutes early for the 10 a.m. ceremony, which of course started at 9.
Still, we managed to make it to our seats in the sparsely populated auditorium in time to miss the (unamplified) opening remarks and watch TYJ receive some accolades for finishing with the second-highest GPA in his class — a pleasant surprise, as he had never mentioned his academic progress during our sporadic phone calls.
Later that day, over dinner, he regaled us with tales of Marine escapades on and off campus, offered his views on Elon Musk and the future of travel (“In 50 years, we’ll have colonies on Mars!”), and debated his travel options, since he hadn’t bothered to book a flight yet.
“I can take you to the airport if it’s not too early,” I offered.
The next morning, we all rose at 6 a.m. to wolf down some free hotel breakfast and get him to Norfolk International in time for his 9:17 flight — a good eight hours before MLW and I were scheduled to head home. Yawn.
“We elders have learned a thing or two, including invisibility,” Roger Angell writes in his 2015 book, This Old Man. “When I mention the phenomenon to anyone around my age, I get back nods and smiles. Yes, we’re invisible. Honored, respected, even loved, but not quite worth listening to anymore. You’ve had your turn, Pops; now it’s ours.”
I’m not sure I’ve reached Angell’s sense of despair (he’s 93, after all) or his level of invisibility, but airline travel can certainly nudge me in that direction. Heading home that evening, we landed in Charlotte with about a half hour to catch our connecting flight to Minneapolis. Hustling through the concourse with as much speed as two sleep-deprived, creaky-kneed geezers can muster, we arrived at our gate 10 minutes prior to departure — to find the door closed.
“Excuse me,” I called to a young airline employee standing nearby. “We’re here early. Why is the door shut?”
“You’ll have to go to customer service,” he said.
“But we’re here before the departure time,” I argued.
“Customer service is at Gate B6,” he intoned blankly.
Two hours and perhaps a slightly excessive intake of adult beverages later, we were headed home. I collapsed into bed around 1 a.m.
TYJ and our 6-month-old grandson, Finn, stopped by for a visit that afternoon. The little guy was in good spirits, so I brought him over to sit on the couch with me and have a talk. “Grampa’s had a tough couple of days,” I confessed. “I think I’m getting too old.”
He just laughed.