They Don’t Make Senior Citizens Like They Used To

Written by Chuck Gruenwald on January 18, 2014

From the generation that had produced college students who had taken over their schools during the Vietnam era comes a new line of old people: seniors who have made it a daily ritual to take over a Queens, New York McDonald’s.

Yes, there is a group of older people who arrive at this McDonald’s as soon as the doors are unlocked, and then they sit, and sit – some stay until closing time. This is definitely a problem for McDonald’s management, since the purpose of a business is to make a profit. When a group of people create a human obstacle which prevents customers from eating in a restaurant that they have paid to use, management has no choice but to discourage such parasitic activity.

The most disturbing part of this story is the immature sense of entitlement on the part of individuals who should engage in much more dignified behavior. These armchair squatters have been told by both management and the police to quit loitering, especially when there are several senior centers nearby, but taking over a senior center probably isn’t as exciting as taking over a McDonald’s.

“Back in my day…..”

There is some irony when this line is directed at those who seemingly begin every sentence with it. However, if the shoe fits…. Back in my day, senior citizens acted in a more dignified manner. It’s not that all people in this age group today are acting less-than-mature, but just like the bad police officers who create a negative image for all police officers, the actions of a few establish a sense of guilt by association that unfairly blankets others.

My first encounter with a militant senior happened in the late eighties on a ride-along with a police officer. The officer had pulled over a seventy-two year-old for driving seventeen miles per-hour over the thirty mile per-hour speed limit; this had happened on a street in front of a park – on a Saturday. At the beginning of the traffic stop, the driver said that “he had a right to speed, because he was a senior citizen.” As the officer was about to walk back to his car after issuing a speeding ticket, the offended motorist said “when you are my age, I hope that someone harasses you the way that you harassed me.”

A few years later, there was a news story that was enough to shake one’s faith in humanity. It was about another seventy-plus year-old who had killed his grandson during a fight over ice cream.

My most recent story happened back in May at the Franklin Park, Il. carnival called Railroad Daze. In addition to the usual carnival rides, games and food, there are self-guided tours through several locomotives. Well, walking in front of me were three older gentlemen – perhaps in their late fifties or early sixties. As they walked through each locomotive, at least one of them at some point engaged in behavior that was rude at best, and could have made them possible Darwin Award winners at worst. It started with one who decided to open an electrical panel, just to take a peek inside, while another would putz around with random buttons and switches. My favorite, however, was the guy who tried to release a locomotive hand brake.

Could any of these actions alone have caused a problem? Individuals who err on the side of caution would not place themselves in such positions to find out the hard way. These folks also had an unwritten obligation to act as elder statesmen – to not engage in behavior that a young, impressionable child may deem acceptable. To also lead by example, not mess with mechanical and electrical systems that could have caused me to laugh uncontrollably had one of these guys really screwed the pooch.

There is something a little more disturbing when the mug shot of an older person appears in a newspaper or on a newscast. Why do individuals who were supposed to have earned the respect of others decide to negate that respect? No life should ever be lived in a manner that makes a lifetime of knowledge and experience appear as a trivial afterthought.
Fortunately, for every high-profile example of geriatric hijinks, there are many more individuals who prove that they have earned a lifetime of respect the hard way.

While staying at a Milwaukee hotel several years ago, I had the honor of listening to a few World War II Veterans. There is a big difference between reading about history, and hearing first-hand accounts of naval warfare – stories of Japanese attacks; stories of Sailors who had fallen into the Atlantic Ocean, only to meet a horrific death as a result of shark attacks.

I had also met a Korean War Veteran who had several observations that linked what he had lived through and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And there was also a Vietnam Veteran who had survived multiple gunshot wounds in battle, only to once again face death in a Chicago tavern robbery in the early eighties, when the offender had shot him in the face.
Everyone has a story to tell. However, it is up to us as individuals to decide if our own story is about honor and experience, or trying to build up one’s self – by trying to tear others down.

When my oldest nephew was younger, I would tell him that some older people believe that they are entitled to act immature. I also told him to observe those people – and then use them as an example of what not to do.

Every generation will have an opportunity to play the role as the senior generation. As this role is passed down, the “new old” generation is obligated to learn from the past, whether it be from heroes who wanted to protect us from the nightmare that they have lived through, or elderly McRebels who occupy fast-food restaurants because, well, just because.

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Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for