I was strolling down Telegraph Avenue recently, past Amoeba and Rasputin and the hipster shoe stores. The walk was so familiar (Dwight ... Haste ... Channing), but I felt offbeat.
A decade ago on this street, I pounded my way to class on a Drummer Larry soundtrack. Sunglasses on and hair bouncing, I'd trade smiles with the Rasta hat salesman and grab coffee at C'est Cafe and take a mercy "Dollar Off at Amoeba" slip from that lanky guy who looked like an Addams family cousin. I dined college-luxe at Mario's La Fiesta and the old Pasta Pomodoro, and bought lotion treats at the original Body Time. I loved all of it, even my quiet irritation with the old hippies hawking bumper stickers and tie-dye onesies.
There have been plenty of eulogies for Telegraph after Cody's, but they mourn a place I never knew, a memory that the gray-ponytailed street vendors render into nostalgic tourist wares. On that mythical street, students in berets and bell-bottoms debated Vietnam in cafes, threw Molotov cocktails at campus police, and changed everything. My Telegraph, with its thumping vibrancy and Tupac shirts, probably looked like disappointment to '60s Berkeleyans. A sad hangover.And now here I was, latte and sandals, an old lady. Scurrying everywhere was a new breed of Telegraph rat. Punky girls in black skinny jeans and glammier girls in leggings shimmied along with effortless sass. A tribe of gay black teenagers dodged in and out of the sneaker stores, one sporting a big gold handbag. A table of students in Peet's argued over a brain teaser in adorably pompous tones. There was a surprising abundance of interracial couples and plenty of those Bay Area kids whose ethnicity is so delightfully indistinguishable.I knew what I was looking at: millennials. The smoke shop and the Wet Seal and the slick new ATMs, all crawling with millennials.
That very morning, I had read a column about these intriguing young creatures. From it I learned that the millennial generation is the largest in American history, that about 40 percent of it is nonwhite, that one in five millennials has an immigrant parent. All those youths who actually showed up at the altar during primary season — those were them.
When revisiting an old haunt or alma mater, it's tempting to shun the new population and lament the ruin brought to a place so perfect in memory. The inner grump lens saw my funky Telegraph replaced by a teen-shopping Disneyland, scrubbed of seriousness and homeless people, just as the boomers before me might have seen their lefty mecca overrun with apathy and street punks. But I sure hate being hated on by baby boomers. So I couldn't do my successors like that. Once I cast off my fear of being a dork from a bygone era and opened my eyes a bit more, I liked what I saw.These millennials, they're very charming.
The idea appeals to me that each new generation will make progress, and that my eventual children will evolve beyond my limits. Millennials have something going for them in that respect: a personal swagger, an open-mindedness, fewer hang-ups about race and gender and sexual orientation. Maybe it was nothing more than a big gold purse confidently tossed over the shoulder of a black teenage boy that won me over. That's doing '60s Telegraph proud.
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