Generational one-upmanship: five miles to school

Nary once did I plod five miles to school through driving hail and blizzards, as so many of my parents' generation brag of doing. This character-building feat is undoubtedly enshrined on their early resumes under achievements: ''Trudged five miles to school (and back) through snow, floods, tornadoes, you name it.''

My school was less than a mile away. Weekday mornings I would set out on a journey of one block to the bus stop. Some kids came from as far away as three blocks, maybe even four. If any of us missed the bus, the first thing we did was to see if our moms could drive us. I remember having to walk it once. When I got to school I was utterly exhausted.

Adulthood arrived and there didn't seem to be anything to throw in the face of the up-and-coming generation. If only I had slogged 200 yards in subzero temperatures to an outhouse or grown up with a pet skunk (as my father did), rather than a toy poodle. No getting around it, my childhood - and that of my contemporaries - did not lend itself to vainglorious rhetoric or condescending flourishes. We had it easy, or so I thought until the other afternoon when I wound up stuck behind a school bus.

The lumbering yellow vehicle looked just the way they did in my day. It lurched down the narrow country road with an animated cargo of teen-agers. The bus stopped and I was poised to count the number of kids who got off. After a bit one youngster jumped down and sauntered across the street. We were off again. Some bus stop. A full 20 yards down the road the bus stopped a second time and two students disembarked. This interminable procedure was repeated at virtually every driveway for half an hour.

Suddenly there came a smirk, which became a snicker that was soon a guffaw. Why, you precious, namby-pamby whippersnappers, a whole block must be too far for you to hike. Or are mommy and daddy afraid their little darlings will get run over three times on the way home from the bus? I was in full ''when-I-was-a-boy'' throttle. I called a youngster over and began that age-old intergenerational oration about how I used to march five blocks to aremote bus stop, rain or shine.

''You know, sonny,'' I continued, ''sometimes we even went to school when there was a dusting of snow on the ground; I'll bet you folks stay home when it's cloudy.'' It was a little thick, but I couldn't stop myself. ''Say, how do you young 'uns get up to your rooms at night? On escalators? Hahaha. Whew, you kids sure have it cushy today.''

He was remarkably patient throughout his ordeal, although without appearing excessively impressed. After the harangue he just stood there and stared at me. Finally, his eyes lit up and, after determining that I was all of 34 years old, he asked, ''My friend says that Paul McCartney was in another band before Wings; is that true?''

It was my turn to stare.

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