Opinion | The Mad Mex closure shows that you olds have worms in your brains

By Paige Wasserman, Senior Staff Columnist

If you’ve walked past the newly defunct Mad Mex in Oakland, you’ve probably seen the candles, flowers and love letters that mourning students left on the outdoor bar. After 30 years of operation, the restaurant suddenly closed its doors on Jan. 31. Many Pitt folk, current students and alumni alike, are heartbroken that their sanctuary of Big Azz Margaritas is gone for good.

In my perusal of online articles via Facebook, I’ve seen a wide range of responses to the news. Depression. Denial. Celebration, even. And who am I to tell another person how to grieve?

In their post, Mad Mex cites “ongoing staffing and operational challenges” as the reason for the shutdown. And said short staffing really ignited some hostility among the Gen X and Boomer Mad Mex lovers.

One comment on WPXI-TV’s Facebook post regarding the closure said, “Keep voting Democrat morons and we have a year to go with this idiot in the WH.”

On WTAE-TV’s Facebook post a comment said, “All those college kids and no one wants to work … boy times in Oakland have changed.” Another read, “All those kids in Oakland and no one wants to work to have spending money for college lazy.” 

I’m really tired of the needless hostility that Boomer and Gen X reactionaries have for the culture of my generation, as it is not only misinformed, but it indicates that our populus is becoming further polarized and unwilling to exercise compassion.

Let’s look at the whole “no one wants to work liberal indoctrination lazy entitled kids Joe Kamala communism blah blah yada yada” bit. It’s just not true. It might’ve been true in 2020 when we had no vaccine and a massive spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths at the end of the year and into 2021. It might’ve been true at the peak of Omicron in late 2021 and early 2022, too. But the community level of COVID-19 cases in Allegheny County is currently low, and we’re easing into a world that is operating at full capacity despite COVID-19’s smaller yet continued presence.

The unemployment rate in the US is at 3.4% as of January 2023. That’s the lowest national unemployment rate since May 1969. 

And just for good measure, let’s zoom in on Pennsylvania. At the beginning of 2022, the unemployment rate was at 5.4%, and by November 2022, it was at 4%. As of late January, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate dropped even further to 3.9%. So, “no one wants to work these days” isn’t true anymore — we are very much back to work.

Why is the keyboard militia up in arms about the supposed laziness and entitlement of today’s college students? Is it pointed to Starbucks’s unionizing locations? Or maybe Coffee Tree Roasters’ unionizing locations? Newsflash — unions have been around for quite some time. People have been demanding better conditions on the job in the United States since the birth of the nation. It’s a cornerstone of our working class’s history, but this Facebook revisionist history posits that little-b*tch-itis suddenly contaminated Pitt’s water and turned our salt-of-the-earth Gen Z progeny into bratty princesses.

In 2015, the employment rate among college students was at 43%, and in 2020, it was at 40%. But, say it with me, class, what happened in 2020? Right! Everyone went home for a year because a pandemic happened! There is no reliable, confound-free evidence that points to a decrease in motivation and increase in entitlement among college students. 

None of these flippant blanket statements about the insufferable toxicity and full-of-sh*t-ness of my peers hold up if you actually get to know college students. My friends and peers are smart as hell and incredibly hardworking. Some of them are working full-time while they take classes to pay their own rent. Lots of them have University jobs, which, by the way, can pay as little as $7.75 per hour. They have double majors. They have full-time internships during the school year and beyond. Many are the first in their family to go to college. 

It’s harder than ever to be a college student. When I was going into seventh grade, my class sat in an auditorium and listened to our principal speak. He essentially said to us that we are going to age into a global economy where we’re competing with professionals all over the world, so we need to buck up and become marketable. We were 12. 

The pressure to over-over-achieve that my generation experiences has manifested in a do-everything-all-the-time mentality. To become marketable and to achieve upward mobility, students are piling on student groups, leadership positions, double majors, double minors, internships, volunteering and fast-tracked masters programs. So yeah, some students don’t have the time to work because they’re concerned about securing employment so they can, you know, buy a house and start a family and eventually retire, something that is much harder to achieve now. And many others do all of this plus a job.

It deeply troubles me that elder folk collect these out-of-context soundbites from the news about these awful, lazy kids and spew them onto the internet without knowing the truth. I doubt any of them have even spoken to a college-aged person within the past year — otherwise, they’d likely see things differently. Their vitriol points to not only the political polarization of a post-Trump populus, but of a culture whose eyes are glued to a TV screen, not to each other. If these embittered Gen Xers and Boomers got to actually know young people these days, they’d know that we have an exceptional work ethic, but we don’t put up with mistreatment or disrespect. Their chagrin towards our desire for human and corporate decency is really terrifying — it’s almost as if they want us to suffer the way they did.

To my Facebook comment section grumblers — you’ve lost the plot. Find your compassion and seek to understand rather than seeking to be understood. Willfully looking for the worst in an entire generation will do nothing but further poison our culture. And get off your ass, log off of Facebook and work. 

Paige Wasserman (she/her) writes about the arts, pop culture, campus culture and things that make her want to scream. You can reach her at [email protected].