I saw them.
It was the end of the night and I was driving out of Chicago. I had been out with an old friend to our old haunts and the night had ended in a restaurant. I was driving through an old neighborhood where I used to have an apartment. In Chicago Lincoln park is akin to a college town and this is where I spent my twenties and part of my thirties reliving college and putting off the inevitable.
I was driving past my old street then at about two AM and I saw the couple staggering down a snowy street. He had on a long dark coat much like the one I used to wear with the collar turned up. Maybe tennis shoes. She was slightly behind him throwing snow in a ski jacket. I hit the brakes and couldn't stop watching them go down my old street and knew then, what I had avoided all night.
"I don't see anyone our age here."
That was how it started. My friend had made this observation in the bar.
"I've never heard you say that before.""Things have changed," he said shrugging. "I feel old here."
Now...there are lots of ways to come down on this issue. You're as young as you feel. Hope I die before I get old. Don't trust anyone over thirty. The Stones should hang it up, who wants to see a bunch of old men acting like their twenty. Myself, I'm a writer. Ageless. Creative. Peter Pan. All ID. Age. Who cares. You're as old as you feel and for my entire life this has been my mantra. And this is how it should be. But we live in a youth culture. The ride is short before one is considered old. How short...well, lets just take prime time television as a guide....twenties. Yep, twenties and maybe early thirties. There was a show called Thirty Something but that was about people who spent most of their time fantasizing about being twenty something or younger. So really, twenty something.. Which leaves us now with current mortality tables being what they are..about fifty to sixty years of feeling...well...old!
So there we are in the bar of our choice. With a couple of martinis. But I never give it a thought. I always looked six years younger than I am. That's what not working for a living will do for you but my friend....my compatriot of many years just threw us out of the bar and into the street. Sorry, boys, you're too old now! You've had your time now move on to another place, suburb, lounge, health club...but this establishment is for twenty something people and all their friends.
Did you ever notice the difference between someone in their twenties and someone in their late thirties or forties...it's friends. Where the hell do they get all those people? But of course we had the same gang and the gang rules the bar. The few forty something or older thirty somethings or fifty something slink in the corners and have their drinks and leave.
But this is not what I think. This is not how it's been. I never gave age a thought. Yes there were younger people but who cared? I was having a good time. But my friend and I weren't. Something had changed.
Off to a restaurant at eleven thirty. Hardly a night out. Not like our many pool playing hard drinking nights. But we had changed. He had changed. I saw it as simply he had lost the ability to lose himself in the wild tide of night that is what one tries to do in a big city. No. It was simply over for him. And that was depressing. Beyond the age thing I saw that he and I were now different. I didn't believe I was old. I didn't believe you couldn't break boundaries and enjoy the magic over and over. And so we parted that night agreeing to disagree. I dropped him off and headed home.
Cutting through my old neighborhood I glance down my street and there is that couple. It is now after the bars have closed and people are making their trek home. But they aren't' driving out to the suburbs like I am. They are going down my old street to a brownstone apartment. A woody old apartment with a fireplace where my wife and I would stagger into after an all night party and fall into bed.
I pulled the car over and sit. They are staggering down the snowy street and and he has on my long coat and she is throwing snow at him. They laugh and stagger and I can see the yellow lights of the apartments further down. I watch in fascination stone sober and think my wife and I should rent an apartment for a weekend. They are disappearing into the night now and I know then the immutable truth that the youth culture never bothered to tell me. I could no longer stagger down that old snowy street no matter how much I wanted to. That belonged to them. If a sentimentalist is someone who hopes that things will last and a romantic is someone who has the desperate conviction things won't...then I was. finally, the romantic, justly served.