It was the perfect way to start our interview, given the turn that Mike Winerip's career is taking. He answered the phone warmly and then immediately asked if I could hold on while he signed a check for his 18-year-old daughter. In the background, said daughter sealed the check-signing deal with, "Hey Dad, is it OK if I take your car?"
Winerip, a 25-year New York Times veteran, is about to become the face of a new NYT blog that focuses on baby boomers and chronicles the sandwich squeeze they live in with adult children still sharing their roof and aging parents whose care falls to them.
At 60, he lives the life he will be writing about: Kids at home, an eye on his own financial future, plugged in to the pains and joys of his generation aging, was the caregiver for his mother. It's the perfect landing for this Pulitizer Prize-winner. In his career, he's written columns for The Times about education and parenting. And he also wrote Generation B, a column about boomers. The new blog -- which is nameless for the moment -- is expected to launch in the fall and will feature original content as well as aggregated stories from across The Times' newsroom. Winerip's role is to give the blog a voice. Who better to do that than a boomer with a gift for both gab and pen?
What topics do you envision covering?
I think the topics will be a mix of things -- a variety show almost -- and pretty much the topics of my life and my generation's life. I think a blog's success is a factor of the personality you bring to it and who contributes to it. I'm hoping to get Anna Quindlen and Spike Lee and others involved. There are serious issues that also need to be addressed. We live in a time when people are scared to death of other people knowing their age. I think we have to write about what that means. In 2008-2009, I was writing about job fair lines that stretched around the corner in New York City. When I went down there, I saw they were filled with people my age. Boomers who are out of work feel like they've become invisible.
Are there other issues connected to the economy you see yourself tackling?
Absolutely. I think things have been spiraling down both for my generation and for my kids' generation. We all have less than we thought we were going to have. Everyone is resizing what their lives and futures look like. More people are collecting Social Security at a younger age; I want to look at the implications of that.
You have all your kids at home now, right? And despite always working full-time, you've pretty much been the stay-at-home parent. Adult kids moving back home -- another topic? What about your parents?
Yes -- all four kids are at home. They range in age from 18 to 24. I've been fortunate inasmuch as pretty much for my entire work life, I've only gone into an office for maybe two years. My wife works outside the home, and I've been the parent who does the kid-pickup and driving around. I've loved it. But still you hope that your children will find work and begin their own independent lives. That check I just signed? She's just 18, but you get the point I'm trying to make here.
And then of course there is the issue of caring for aging parents. My father died in 1980. My mother, who lived in our hometown -- Quincy, Massachusetts in the same house for 55 years, died about five years ago at the age of 92. It was a classic boomer "sandwich." I had to make the decision when to take the car keys away, when to sell her house, bring her to New York and get her into an assisted living facility.
What sort of generational differences do you see and how do they impact boomers?
I've learned a lot of what I know from my children. My kids won't even check their voicemails. They tell me to text them if I want an answer. Boomers aren't techo-illiterates but we communicate differently. I was in The Times newsroom recently and it's just so quiet. When I was working as the deputy metro editor, you had to train yourself to focus and tune out the noise -- the conversations around you, the guy with the loud voice doing interviews on the phone. Now, newsroom are silent.
What else can we look forward to in your blog?
I like to call them 'boomer moments." For example, in my family, we have six people, six bikes and six bike locks. We put the same combination on all of them so that we could just grab any lock; the combination is 3625. Nobody has ever said anything about that particular combination until my 58-year-old brother Steve came over and immediately recognized it for what it was: In Playboy Magazine, every model was 36-25-36. It took a boomer to know that.
Fans will want to know what will happen to your On Education column?
I wrote my last education column today. I've been doing On Education for The Times under contract. I also wrote a series of middle-school novels, which I loved doing -- but it's not a serious-enough living. I have four kids, remember?
Photo courtesy of The New York Times Co.