It’s all she loves
It’s all she hates
It’s all too much for her to take
She can’t be sure just where it ends
Or where the good life begins…
— From Beth Hart and Man, I Gotta Get Out Of This Town
Sometimes, I catch up with Steve Lackmeyer at Beatnix and I’m always amazed by the ease of our conversations. A fellow Gen Xer, fierce reporter and prolific author – I don’t know how I got so lucky as to be his friend. I could tell this guy anything and I pretty much have. It took me about four years to tell him how much his work and friendship mean to me, and in true Steve fashion he found this highly amusing and almost couldn’t believe it was true. If he was the forgetting type, he would forget I even told him this. He’s that on task with the important stuff. But, Steve is not the forgetting type. He has major institutional memory and could seriously be part of any Oklahoma brain trust. We’re so lucky he hasn’t been plucked away from journalism.
Bypassing Generation X
Today, Steve’s column in The Oklahoman is about Generation Y — the Millennial Generation — and how they aren’t waiting for their turn to transform downtown Oklahoma City. Here is an excerpt:
Jennifer and I are representative of a generation that saw its ranks in Oklahoma City depleted back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. If one does the math, those years represent the time when many folks our age were graduating college and looking to start their lives and careers.
In Oklahoma City, back during the waning days of the oil bust, that choice came with an urgent plea by professors — leave the city, and find real opportunity elsewhere.
Whether it was out of love for our hometown, fear or stupidity, a minority of folks like Jennifer and I stayed in Oklahoma City.
Gen Y Not Waiting
Steve goes on to write about something I’ve observed, but have not had the guts to say. Gen Y is not waiting for the baton of civic leadership to be passed to them by Baby Boomers or Generation X. They have taken the bull by the horns and are doing amazing things. More importantly, the Boomers have allowed it. As happy as this makes me for Oklahoma City (and Tulsa), it also make me sad for Generation X. I didn’t want to believe the world would just pass us by. Remember all the jokes about Gen Xers waiting in the wings like Prince Charles? Are we ever going to be king? I wrote about my wishful thinking in this 2010 post, The Boomer-Gen Y Love Affair and A Tough Prayer For Gen X To Pray.
I wanted to believe the rumor about Generation X not wanting to lead was a convenient lie. I still want to believe this has happened because we were not mentored by Baby Boomers. We were not taken under their wings like Gen Y. We have not had our careers “sponsored.” That’s what older generations called it during the years I worked for the Air Force.
1980s Job Market
As Steve mentioned, we both stayed in Oklahoma City after college. The job market was a virtual wasteland. After I graduated from college, I interviewed for a full-time job with Blazer Finance. It paid $750 a month. My student loans were $360 a month. I briefly considered faking my own death, and then I didn’t even get the job. Armed with a degree in speech communications and political science, I worked as a substitute school bus driver for a while. Then one day I ran into a mini-van while trying to park the yellow mammoth and they never called me back. Not that I enjoyed having junior high students yell at me as I ground the gear shift. And, the fact that someone let me drive a school bus is why my children will never ride a school bus. But, anyhoo…
What do you do when you can’t find a job? Go to graduate school.
Eventually, I did what most unemployed college graduates do. I went to graduate school (at the University of Oklahoma), which meant taking out more student loans. Joy. I studied more stuff that probably wouldn’t help me get a high-paying job. Geography. World literature. History. I worked part-time as a substitute teacher to feed myself! And, here’s my confession about all that. I was a rock-star sub! If I landed a gig for a week or so, I’d let kids bring their pets to school for show-n-tell. I was bored and it was crazy! But, the kids loved me. Except for the calculus class at Western Heights. They didn’t love me. And, the principals never came to check on me. I’d always find the worst kid in class and set out to transform him. I succeeded one time with Sonny, a 2nd grader at Rolling Wood.
I said, Sonny, I bet you could take home one of these yellow slips of paper that say you’re good instead of one these pink slips that say you’re bad. The teacher had left a note about how rotten Sonny was, which I found deplorable. Funny how all Sonny needed was the possibility of being good to actually be good.
I made something like $21 a day subbing for Putnam City Public School District. Oklahoma City Public Schools paid more, but I figured that was because I might get stabbed.
Have I told you about the brief gig I had selling mace and teaching women how to poke the eyes out of would-be abductors?
I didn’t think so.
Yes, the 80s were interesting times for Gen X college grads in Oklahoma City. Now, you understand why I have this bond with Steve and all the other Gen X professionals that stuck it out in Oklahoma.
Eventually, in 1991, I found meaningful work in military public affairs at Tinker Air Force Base. Because I’d been hanging my head in shame thinking I was the only 21-year-old college grad who couldn’t find a decent job, I didn’t realize everyone had left. One day, I looked around and realized that only a handful of my college classmates stayed in Oklahoma. Like, three. And, I was among the youngest civilian employees at Tinker the entire five years I worked there.
Do you think the world, your community is bypassing Generation X?