On vacation I got the chance to sit down for a few beers with an old friend from college. While our children slept with dreams of Walt Disney World swirling through their heads and our beers dropped enormous rings of sweat from the thick central Florida air we came to pose a question to ourselves, “Why can’t we live like we did in college?”
Now, two mid-thirties fathers of two children apiece asking that question while sitting on the balcony of a hotel room at Walt Disney World may seem a little out of place but bear with me for a moment. Granted, it all feels a little bit like the Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime.”
I have always thought of my friend as someone who is relatively far down the road of “green” enlightenment. He has never fallen for the trap of more expensive status cars as his income has grown, his house is definitely not in line with his peers at work, he commutes to work a few days per week by bicycle even in the dead of Minnesota’s winters, and he generally seems to live a life free of constant consumer drive to buy things to fill a deep pit within one’s soul.
As we pulled back the layers on his thought process it became apparent that he wondered if he had gone wrong somewhere along the way in a fundamental way. His thesis was simple, “Why can’t we enjoy life like we did in college? Why can’t we enjoy just getting to go out to eat once a week instead of being upset that we did not get to eat at the fancy, new place in town? Why can’t we be happy spending a night with friends drinking some beers and not worrying about doing something?”
We spent some time thinking about this and remembering our college days. Some of it good and some of it bad. Trust me, neither of us was suggesting that we trade in our hoppy IPAs for quarter draws of Natural Light. There is something to the idea, though, of looking back at a time when you did not have very much discretionary income and seeing what made you happy.
No one cared about cars or houses when we were in college. Sure, we all knew people who drove new cars and lived in the nice apartments but those were seen as auspicious outliers. Most of us drove cars that were running on borrowed time and living in houses that hopefully could pass an inspection if the city every decided to crack down on your landlord.
No one really cared where you went out to eat because getting to eat out anywhere was a welcome relief from pasta or ramen noodles. There are few dinners more satisfying than being able to sit down to a plate of chile rellenos and happy hour margaritas on a Thursday night. You felt like a king for an hour.
Maybe our college experience at a mid-sized Midwestern state university was different from someone who went to a prestigious Ivy League school or a mega-sized football powerhouse. Maybe the intervening years have fogged our memories and we remember things through the haze of nostalgia rather than through the lens of reality.
Regardless, there is something about trying to recapture some of that economic innocence at a time in our lives when we are supposed to be avid consumers of an upper middle class existence. Wouldn’t we all be living a “greener” life if we worried less about buying a bigger house and filling it with more stuff or a new car to park in that oversized three car garage? Wouldn’t we all be a little happier if we spent our Friday nights on the decks with a few friends enjoying a cool night over a few beers rather than chasing entertainment somewhere trendier?
I think the answer is that we would all be in a better place if we just tried to live a little simpler. Now, I am not going to trade decent coffee for that gas station swill I used to drink in college. There are some things that are just a bridge too far.