I am writing this in the lobby bar of the Warwick Hotel in Denver, where I am waiting for my colleague, wine editor Emily Pennington, to join me shortly so that we may catch a cab down to watch the first presidential debate between Obama and Romney. Emily is 25 years old, and as I’ve been observing her for the past 24 hours in our travels, she seems as alien to me as some new undocumented species from the Ugandan forest.
She is what demographers call a millennial. She’s never known the world before cellphones or the Internet. In fact, she’s unaware of a lot of inconveniences we 40-somethings had to live with. When I reflect on this, it kind of ticks me off.
Off the top of my head, here are the top 15 things that Emily has never had to deal with:
1. Sitting by a radio for hours to try to tape your favorite songs.
2. Looking up everything in our versions of Google: The Encyclopedia Britannica and The Yellow Pages.
3. Saving a song to two floppy disks.
4. Getting film developed.
5. Having a Sony Walkman with only a fast-forward button and rewinding by having to flip the tape and fast-forward, then re-flip it back to check if it’s in the right place.
6. Buying an entire album to get one good song.
7. Calling a girl’s house and having to speak to her father.
8. Waiting for your sister to get off the phone so you could dial up on the Internet (I didn’t have Internet or a computer until I graduated from college.)
9. Pay phones.
10. Three TV channels (4 if you count PBS).
11. Cartoons only on Saturday mornings.
12. Tinfoil on bunny-ear antennas to get TV reception.
13. Rotary phones (look it up).
14. Liquid paper (look it up).
15. Making plans to meet before you go out.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. I could go on for another eight pages with this tedious compendium. Oh, and here’s the best: having only three beers to choose from, and all of them being light lagers.
Emily is blissfully unaware of any of these inconveniences, and I have to say, I kind of resent her for it. Such a pampered youth was hers. Mine was the last generation to call coffee “coffee,” and we wouldn’t dream of paying more than a dollar for it. At the airport Starbucks, Emily orders a 13-shot venti soy hazelnut vanilla cinnamon white mocha with extra white mocha and caramel. I order a coffee, black.
Later at the hotel bar, Emily orders a Boulder Flashback India-Style Brown Ale. I order a Coors Banquet. At least we’re both going local. Later she orders a Leopold’s Gin with St. Germain and a sprig of African bojolo leaf. I order a whiskey and tap water.
At dinner she orders a fig and prosciutto flatbread with chile-spiced fig jam, ricotta, balsamic caramel, watercress, cherry peppers. I order a T-bone steak, rare, and green beans. Of course when her meal arrives, all piled up in a tower as if the white space on her plate were precious real estate, she pulls out her iPhone and takes a picture of it and posts it on Instagram, after running it through a retro-filter, naturally.
The next morning she comments that the coffee in the hotel lobby is bland. It tastes like every other normal cup of coffee I’ve ever had. Later I take her to the famous El Chapultepec, a jazz dive in Denver. As we slide into the vinyl-covered booth and admire the red-checkered floor, she exclaims, “This place is sooo cool!” I look around at the smoke-stained paneled walls and linoleum tables. And then it hits me why I didn’t see the irony in Napoleon Dynamite. I grew up with vinyl, fake paneled walls, flat steaks, tap water, milk and weak coffee. She grew up with juice boxes, real leather, strong coffee, renewable bamboo flooring, sushi and yes, full-flavored craft beer. She wouldn’t dream of drinking a Bud Light or really anything other than a super-hoppy 9 percent ABV IPA. This generation likes flavor, they like things that are crafted with care, they like things local, and they like things sustainable. Their weddings aren’t weddings anymore, but spectacles, with edible bridesmaid’s dresses and carbon credits as party favors. Their vacations are exotic. Their food isn’t food; it’s a circus. It’s infuriating.
But then, later, I notice that everybody seems to be embracing this new way of life—even the oldies. In the media tent (sponsored by AB Inbev), the pundits, young and old, stand in the Stella Artois line or the line for Shock Top or a Brewmaster 12 series while I’m able to walk straight up the Budweiser line and get a beer immediately. The hot dog stand is in an open field, but the sushi bar is packed. This is the new normal. I figure, well, rather than be irritated about it, might as well join them.
I join a group of journalists from Reason Online discussing how they want to be disposed of when they die. “I want to be cremated and my ashes sprinkled into my organic compost pile,” says one with not a small amount of righteous indignation. Another wants to be dumped into the ocean off Australia to provide nutrients to the dwindling population of reef fish.
Not wanting to be left out, I pipe up: “I want to have a normal funeral.” They turn and look at me as if I just announced I’m an advocate for genetically modified corn. So I quickly amend my story. “I mean, I want to have my friends and family huddled around my casket, and then suddenly they’ll swing the casket open to reveal … not my cold blue corpse, but iced-down local organic craft beers.” They all nod in approval like bobblehead dolls, which encourages me. “And then, then they’ll roll out a confetti cannon and blast my ashes all over the mourners. And, and the pretty girls, with ash on their long eyelashes, will scream in delight, “It’s snowing Harry!” as they dance in a circle around the casket or should I say beer cooler, eh?” I realize too late I’ve taken it too far, and the group quickly disperses, muttering and giving me weird looks. I’m avoided the rest of the night.
I realize that trying to act like a true millennial is going to take more practice. But I’m up for the challenge. Excuse me while I take a selfy holding my Pliny the Elder and post it to Instagram with a witty repartee.