Sunday, July 7, 2024

But Did You Die?

I know I'm not supposed to, but I want to talk about Gen X Club. There was a muscle car forum discussing zero to sixty times (stay with me here), a common way to measure car performance. Seven seconds was pretty good back when we had muscle cars, but nowadays it's just a minimum reasonable speed to merge onto a highway. I no longer have a muscle car, but I have a sports sedan and a heavy duty truck that both do it in seven seconds. No big deal. The difference with a muscle car, as I explained to the younger group, is while doing your zero to sixty, you might die.

Muscle cars nowadays are expensive collectors items costing upwards of $270,000 for rare specimens, but back then it was what we could afford. As a teen, a 25-30 year old car was what I could buy for $900, what I paid for my first car, about $2,500 today. That age and price of car happened to be a bunch of tired muscle cars, which back then were pretty well shot at 100K miles. My friends had them too. As cars go, they are pretty awful.

These muscle cars were fast, that seven second time, but they had poor brakes, they didn't turn well and they had no safety features other than a seat belt. Most didn't even have head rests. It wasn't uncommon to find yourself facing the wrong direction in traffic after spinning out, even when you were taking it easy. This was just a Generation X feature. We spent our childhood nearly getting killed on our bikes, which we rode endlessly, and easily transitioned to dangerous cars. It was not uncommon to have school announcements that some kid had died; it was just life. That we had no money to keep these tired cars in good mechanical condition was a big part of the danger.

You might complain about nearly losing your life on the highway, but the common refrain from friends was "But Did You Die?" I now use it all the time when my players complain about the difficulty of my D&D adventures. It turns out they want to nearly die; that's their play style and you better not fudge it. All rolls out front. Generation X is the self raising, "come back when the streetlights are on" group of kids who had adventures all the time. We did it because we were bored. Later in life, with a kid of my own, I've been telling my shocked parents about some of those adventures.

We're the generation that keeps their head down, works hard, and strives towards internal authenticity, with the catch phrase "purchased experiences don't count," direct from Douglas Coupland and the book Generation X. We are Cold War kids who look for the mushroom cloud when we hear an explosion, accept we're a shadow of our Boomer parents, and worry our struggles aren't authentic, versus trying not to struggle. 

We keep our identities secret, having grown up in a time when we would be beaten senseless for our Dungeons & Dragons books. Teachers let kids handle their own disputes and bullies ruled the school. Whatever made us different was kept in the closet, for safety and later, to avoid marketers. We did pretty well, despite wars and recessions and living in the shadows. I think our shadow natures make us more receptive to the problems of younger generations.

As adult employers and managers, we are bemused by the various requirements and hand holding younger generations demand. However, we are absolutely on board. We are about it, as the kids say. As a generation that lived without guard rails, that played on concrete playgrounds without foam padding, with high expectations in a resource poor market, that risked death to drive to a minimum wage, part time job, we are absolutely on board with people chasing their authentic selves and holding others accountable. We would never ask them, "But Did You Die?" That's an attitude our parents might have had, or inflicted on our peers so they'll accept the next "adventure." 

We will absolutely encourage a younger generation to not struggle like we did, not risk life and limb for $3.35 an hour, to enjoy their Disneyland versus risking death exploring abandoned houses, or making home made explosives from the Anarchist's Cookbook because they're bored. We value our near death experiences, our adventures, but we are also a bit jealous of younger folks insistence on full authenticity and truth, and their expectation of a work-life balance. If we have a problem, it's not that they might not come back when the street lights are on, it's that they may never leave their bedrooms.

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