The other night I was in the Greek seaside town of Neapoli, down at the end of Cape Meleas in the Peloponese. I arrived late, and didn’t really want to be there at all; I’d been hoping to catch a bus to Sparta, but the buses had finished for the night. Reluctantly, I checked into a cheap hotel and set out to wander the main drag in search of a snack and a stiff drink.
As I passed by taverna after estiatorio after ouzeri, I examined the crowds: old men smoking cigarettes over tepid thimbles of Greek coffee, middle-aged guys escaping their wives for a few beers, and kids in their late teens and early twenties, clustered at tables right on the water. Looking at this last group, I came to a sudden realization: I hate kids.
Really, it’s not hate so much as lack of interest. Once upon a time, I would’ve tried to ingratiate myself with them, thinking these youths were the key to experiencing a new place properly—and that they’d be more accepting of a strange (okay, very strange) traveler. Now, though, they seemed young, so young, and boring.
The thing is, the other demographic groups didn’t really appeal to me, either. The old guys would be great—if they spoke English. The middle-aged dudes, too—if they could discuss something besides soccer.
Which brought me to my second realization: Those of us in places like New York are incredibly lucky. That is, we are grown up—with kids, wives, second wives, mortgages, second mortgages—and yet most of us still have an interest in going out. Not “going out” as in drinking or clubbing, per se, but in the sense of wanting, and being able, to have a regular presence in the public sphere, whether with or without our families. It may be tough to wangle such time, but we want it, and we’re open to the possibilities it may bring.
Not so (or less so) in small towns, or conservative societies, where getting married and having kids really does often turn people inward. Finding someone like myself—a mid-30s parent with a job—out in the evenings is a rarity. If they are out, they’re with their kids and spouse, and have little interest in meeting new people.
It’s too bad for me, I guess, because those people—those extremely normal people—are the ones I most want to meet. But instead they cede the cafes to the kids, who just make me feel old.
In Neapoli, though, things worked out. I wound up sitting next to a young couple, in their twenties, she (Chara) a schoolteacher on a little nearby island, he (Jim) a hairdresser down from Athens. They were definite hipsters—he was riding a penny-farthing he’d bought in Germany!—and we talked about the challenges of life in a really small place. Soon, a few more of their friends showed up, and together they formed an odd demographic island of their own. Then I left: I’d drunk a whole bottle of ouzo and needed to get up early, and I didn’t want to impose.
Two days later, I was on the Greek island of Ithaca, looking for a cafe to hang out at. At a travel agency, I asked the Queens-raised woman at the desk for a suggestion. There’s a nice place with a reflecting pool down the quay, she said.
I’d seen it, I told her, and didn’t want to go. Because it was full of middle-aged Spanish tourists.