Luckily, oh-so-luckily, we had today as a holiday from work.  I saw something amazing in Austin this weekend that made me feel really incredible.Well, being cooped up in my dark garage or in my home office with the shades drawn (glare is always a problem) for 72 hours is neither healthy nor a testiment to my sanity.  The weather was absolutely perfect for all three days this weekend, so I managed to get outdoors on all three days… I went on some geocache hunts and exploring on the greenbelt that is right near my home.  However, today, I decided to take an hour or so off this afternoon to just hop on my bike  and explore the streets and parks in my neighborhood.

At about 4:30, it seemed like everyone else in the area had the same idea.  Days worthy of being outdoors without the oppressive humidity and heat are downright  Paradise in Texas, so it was no surprise to see so many families out playing at the Park. (geek ed note: Perfect place to link in a geourl location… link lat. and lon. of this park to this blog entry. it would be nice to know if there were any other bloggers in my neighborhood that were at the park today)

However, I had to stop and gawk after seeing something which struck me as particularly refreshing.  In general, I was excited to see honest-to-God teenagers just hanging around OUTSIDE, rather than indoors surfing porn sites and playing Grand Theft Auto.  Playing frisbee… sitting around in the grass talking teenage philosophy… laughing and enjoying life.  What was this, the 1950’s?

Now what made me stop, and I am not making this up,  was when I saw a larger group of teenagers on a picnic, some were singing around a guitar and violin (A VIOLIN, for crying out loud), some would get up and act out scenes, and some… brace yourself… were playing CHESS and cheering loudly after particularly good moves.

Now, these weren’t geeky-looking kids, but instead were fashionable, attractive young men and women (and as far as I could tell, there was a proportionate distribution of gender and race).  They looked clean and respectable. Khakis, comfortable button-up shirts, even a long, spring dress or two.

You would imagine them running errands for Grandma and doing the Extra Credit to get over 4.0 GPA at school.  I’m sure some were atheletes and cheerleaders.

Their picnic spread was something out of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.  Overflowing containers of homemade chicken, corn-on-the-cob, and pies (PIES… as in MORE THAN ONE PIE, I’m telling ya).

I was far away (because if this unshaven, sweaty old man was close and staring, it would make the creep-meter needle jump into the red zone), but I was definitely trying to tune in my radar for the ultra-unnerving Church Youth Group vibe.  However, for the life of me, it actually appeared to be a legitimate gathering of teenagers without the ulterior motives and exclusion.  Praise be!

What I found encouraging is that these people were clearly happy and carefree.  They looked like they had the run of the social circles at school, so I cross my fingers that their carefree attitudes and their willingness to behave so… wholesomely… rubs off on some of their less-put-together peers.

In my job, I work with teenagers all the time; it’s usually the computer geeks, RTF wonks, and an artist or two… I’m constantly surprised by what they know, what they can do, and their ambitions and attitudes.  I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about what goes on in their social or home life.  I’ve not really considered whether or not they were happy. Frankly, I don’t think that’s my place.

My job is about longterm workforce development.  It’s ultimately about making Austin a better place to live and play.  I’m not trained as a counselor, but I’ve become hyperaware of what the area’s youth is feeling and doing in the aggregate.  Nevertheless, while I can show you why students are fleeing the IT industry by the alarming truckload, I have no explaination for why a group of teenagers, in a world that seems so screwed up and against them right now, choose to fully appreciate and enjoy a sunny day in ways that seemed so old-fashioned.  Old-fashioned, but somehow… innovative.

If what I saw today was any indication, there are more bright spots than we know about.

How do we fuel those fires?