At 60, I decided to leave my longtime job and return to the world of freelancing. But I didn’t want to set up shop on my kitchen counter, amid all the toast crumbs. And I certainly didn’t want to fight for an outlet at my neighborhood coffee shop.
So I opted to rent a desk at one of those new co-working spaces — they seem to be multiplying in the Twin Cities as fast as Starbucks. And because I live near northeast Minneapolis, I signed up for a co-working office in that hipster neighborhood. It seemed like a logical choice.
Little did I know I was joining not just a new workplace but a new generation. For despite the reassuring presence of a few receding hairlines, it soon became obvious: I was a boomer lost in millennial land, stranded without a map or even a rudimentary knowledge of the natives.
Following are a few anthropological notes I compiled over my first few months. I hope it will give other aging entrepreneurs the bravery to join me.
• All the meeting rooms are named after local breweries. Alas, no taps are installed in the conference tables.
• Almost anyone in the building can help you with computer problems, but that assistance will probably come with a smirk.
• Most of your co-workers can talk and type simultaneously — and do so, avidly.
• The water glasses are Mason jars.
• The most popular spot to work is a swinging egg chair.
• The weekly “hoppy hour” features obscure ales and IPAs. Please don’t mention Miller Lite.
• No one but you remembers the Ronald Reagan presidency, much less the day John F. Kennedy was shot.
• No one but you has ever written on a manual typewriter or dialed a rotary telephone, although the ladies room does feature moody screen prints of each of these intriguing “Mad Men”-esque items.
• Your co-workers’ lunches usually involve quinoa or kale. Cold-press coffee is a sacrament. Mess with it at your peril.
• If you want a parking spot, simply arrive anytime before 9 a.m. But biking to work is way cooler.
• A dot-strewn world map posted in the kitchen allows travel braggers to show off the astonishing number of countries they’ve bagged by age 30 (international travel, preferably to places such as Thailand or Nicaragua, being a key millennial status symbol).
• A paper calendar is an embarrassing anachronism. You might as well hook a turquoise Trimline phone and an eight-track tape player to your desk.
• The weekly trivia contests usually concern Harry Potter, Paul Rudd or recent ad slogans, but when the topic is geography, you’ll probably win. (Yes, Budapest is the capital of Hungary.)
• Dogs are the new kids, honored and admired by co-workers with their own photo wall, welcome to wander and bark at will. Don’t expect the same courtesy to be extended to you.
• A group of website dudes assembles weekly. Their meeting, if it can be called that, consists of 14 guys sitting at a long table, silently tapping at keyboards. You will never be quite sure of the point of this.
• Prepare to be scolded should you actually choose to read something on paper. “Shame! Why you kill trees?” read the pink Post-it attached to the printouts of my magazine proofs.
• There’s a cartful of art supplies to engage “makers and dreamers,” which is what your co-working brand-masters call you, but no one ever uses them.
• What may be the same turntable you donated to Goodwill in 1989 now holds pride of place by the egg chair, but the albums you once earnestly listened to — Carole King, Stevie Nicks, the Mamas and the Papas — are consigned to ironic set dressing.
• Most of your office mates work at Web, branding or social media businesses that didn’t exist a year ago and are named things like Iconfactory, Astropad and Crush City.
What would my grandfather, who farmed in Iowa for 60 years, make of this place? Nothing tangible produced, everyone sitting on their duffs, staring at screens. He’d probably take one look and shout, “Analytic bitmap what? Facebook who? The hell you say! Get me a Miller.”
Lynette Lamb is a Minneapolis writer trying to keep a low profile at her co-working space.