Truth be told, when I first saw them walking in, all nine of them, my initial reaction was that we should hurry up and order so that we did not become victim to an overwhelmed, backed-up kitchen. The tan, fit and, not for nothing, good-looking kids had, taking note of the enormous black cloud that hung above (reasonably) concluded that the beach would be empty, so instead of assuming the position on the lifeguard chair, they opted instead to go out for breakfast. It is important to note that within seconds of their arrival, the sky opened up and drenched everything to within an inch of its life. The wind was so ferocious that I half expected Dorothy and Toto to fly by the window of the diner. My point: they were not being derelict in their life guarding duties by seeking refuge from the elements. The fact that there happened to be hot coffee, corned beef hash and pancakes at their chosen shelter was just a bonus.
As they settled into their seats, each one of them, with no discussion, casually placed their phones in the middle of the table. I knew what they were doing – ensuring that their breakfast would not be commandeered by the rings, dings and dongs of nine cell phones. (Actually, when I counted them, I noted that there were only eight and tried to out the guard who was holding onto their phone with a death grip only to be told that his was in the car. Oops, my bad.) The deal is this: the first person to Pavlovian-ly reach for their phone during the meal is met with not only the disgrace of lacking self control, but the (perhaps more painful) requirement to pay for the entire meal. I knew of this practice, as Harrison and his buds do it as well, but what struck me was the utter lack of fuss or complaint or whining. It was as natural to them as it used to be for men to pull out a woman’s chair for her to sit. (What ever happened to that? I actually never liked it, but it seems to no longer be a thing…)
Once their phones were in the center of the table, they began to confer about how they were going to pay; would they put it on one person’s card and then reimburse their share or everyone throw cash in? I tried hard, and successfully, to keep my mouth shut and not suggest they use Venmo (which, up until about a week ago I had never heard of) but now, at Harrison’s suggestion, use on the regular. I suspected they knew about it, but, in a rare moment of self-control, I stayed out of it and did not impose my opinion. I am not even sure what the final decision was, but will note that they figured out fairly quickly.
It was right around that moment when Barry and I looked at one another and knew that we were going to pick up their tab. It was September 11, on the fifteenth anniversary of a day that they were all too young to really remember. Most of them were in kindergarten, first- or second-grade and, while they have no doubt heard about it, they would never know the abject horror of that day. However, the fact that they are lifeguards on one of the busiest beaches in Maine speaks volumes about their character and willingness to run in while others are running out – a hallmark of the heroes of 9/11.
We finished up our meal, took care of both of the bills and got up to leave. Stopping at their table, we told that their bill was taken care of and why:
- It was September 11 and anyone who was old enough to (try to) understand what was happening on that day in 2001 will, on each anniversary, find themselves reliving the powerlessness, fear and sadness as though it was just yesterday. These kids who put their lives at risk for others which, by my definition, anyway, puts them in the spectacular person category.
- They could be our kids and, their parents should be proud of these young adults that they have raised…the whole lot of them was charming and respectful.
- Not one of them, at any moment, went for their phones.
As we left, I told Man Bun Lifeguard who happened to be really cute (I say that in the least creepy way possible. Really.) that I write a blog and planned to share this story. He asked what the blog is about and, when I told him about Jess he said, without even a morsel of judgement or discomfort*, “Oh, cool” and asked me for the link. I handed him my phone so he could put in his number and I sent him a text with the URL. Then we both smiled as we heard one of the phones, still in the middle of the table, give out a little chirp. And no one reached for it.
P.S. Less than an hour after we left I received a text back from Man Bun Lifeguard…
(cut off from photo…“life’s surprises”...)
*I love this generation – they are way cooler than most of us.