Wednesday, July 2, 2008

This is the center of my town.

Does it look like a parking lot to you? Yeah, to me too. But it’s what the local teenagers refer to as “The Center.” I tutor for a living, so I meet a lot of teenagers. For a while I thought that they were talking about the intersection on Main Street, which sports a whopping big flagpole. There’s a bucolic little general store just down the road from it where you can get sodas and ice cream. But now that I think of it, I’ve rarely seen kids hanging out there. Then I thought that they must be referring to the teen center run by the town. But I’m not that far into adulthood (okay, yes I am but) to believe that any self-respecting teen would set an Old Skool Vans-encased foot into a place created for kids by adults.

My boss finally explained it to me. The Center is the CVS parking lot. Riiiight, of course! I always have to watch my rear view mirror with extra vigilance when pulling out of the CVS lot to make sure that I don’t hit any of those…kids. What are they doing there? They can’t drink or do drugs or even make out—what with all those adults milling about, shopping. They can smoke, however, because apparently while one must be 18 in my state to purchase cigarettes, the law permits people to smoke at the age of long as someone else buys them. One of my students told me that. Okay, so they can smoke at the CVS. What else? There’s a Big Y next door (that’s a supermarket around these parts), with a much bigger parking lot. But they don’t congregate there. Is CVS cooler than the Big Y?

I grew up in Brooklyn and spent most of my free time wandering the streets of Manhattan. Yeah, I’m showing off, being superior. But when I mention this to my students, they look at me with awe. It’s like saying that I was the batboy for the Yankees, or went to high school with Jennifer Aniston (actually, I did—she was a year ahead of me. But telling people that would be plain obnoxious).

Call me an idealist, but I don’t think it’s good that the CVS parking lot will figure so heavily in these kids’ memories of childhood. Here’s the question: how does a semi-rural suburban town create something for the kids to do, a place for them to go, without adultifying it and thereby making it uncool and verboten? Even if the town council put together a team of teenagers to come up with something, the very fact that adults had initiated it would probably have the same chilling effect.



Bella said...

In my town they hang out in the Cumberland Farms parking lot...even though there is a bigger Rite Aid parking lot across the street!

I grew up in the suburbs, and we hung out at parks then. "Where you goin'" would be the question. "Bennett" we'd reply, feeling cool. Bennett park was the park of choice. There was also "the lake" a much cooler destination that was not a park at the time but has been made into one now.

We have a "teen" group in our town, much like the one you imagine a town council might put together. They have lots of different activities, and they are fairly well attended, but not by everyone. I don't know what the answer to your question is. THere are of course, parents who allow the basements of their suburban raised ranches and colonials to be the "cool" place where kids can do *all* that they want. I think such parents should be herded together and shot.

Not being kidless in suburbia, I can tell you that my son is 12 and I will let you know if he thinks of anything....

Liz Stone Abraham said...

Bella, that's very interesting--they choose the Cumberland Farms lot over the Rite Aid. Must be a trend. The park you describe from your teen years sounds so much nicer. I spent a fair amount of time in Central Park, mostly Strawberry Fields, playing Frisbee, lying on the grass and staring at the sky. Not very intellectually challenging, but pleasant nonetheless. Do ask your son what should be done. I'm going to start polling my students. I'm not very politically active here but maybe I should get involved rather than just shake my head. Oh, and even though I have no kids, I'm totally with you on the parents who let kids do whatever they want in their homes. I've heard them say something like, well at least I know where they are. Don't get that. Thanks so much for your post.

Rima said...

Hello Liz, thanks for visiting me, pleased to meet you :)
I see you are a fan of the tumbleweed houses.. aren't they great ...
You might appreciate this post of mine :)
Best wishes to you from Scotland
Oh, and thanks for linking :)

Colette said...

I've heard of kids hanging out in front of convenience stores, like the ones at gas stations, but I didn't know they were hanging out in front of CVS! There's a movie called Suburbia directed by Richard Linklater. It was about a bunch of kids who spent all their time in front of a convenience store, smoking, drinking, and dealing with life.

Liz Stone Abraham said...

Colette, thanks for the movie tip. I will definitely put into my Netfix queue.

And Rima, I spent some time wandering through your site today. It's gorgeous. And yes, I love Tumbleweed houses. I intend to have one eventually.

Anonymous said...

I was so amazingly uncool in school that I have no idea where the kids hung out. Maybe the mall or the Boulevard Triple movie theater (three screens! We were in awe.)? But I'm guessing.

Wow. Manhattan. I'm in awe of that too. At least my son gets to grow up in Austin, and if kids here are hanging out in the CVS parking lot, they are mental.

Rowena said...

What? You mean everyone else didn't troll up and down Broadway? Pass Jennifer Aniston in the halls? Collect Canal Jean buttons for their jean jackets?

To tell the truth, I don't think I was cool enough to hang out at the Sheep's Meadow. Don't know why I never did. Because it was too far from the 1 train?

Rowena said...

ps remember Cockroach? Not the bug, the kid on the Cosby Show? We passed him in the halls, too. Are people impressed with that?