I was out of town and didn’t get a chance to post my print column last week. It’s about something that’s an issue pretty much anywhere teens can gather anymore.
There are certain rites of passage that come with the art of growing up — that melting process from tothood to kidhood to teenhood to collegehood to workingstiffhood.
They don’t come all at once. Each arrives at its own leisurely pace. Something to savor, an event to remember — although some we might wish to forget.
And they’re not always big things like those kindergarten graduations I keep hearing about. I’m talking about those little benchmarks conquered: Going to the bathroom alone is a biggie. Driving with dad is another followed by the best and scariest of all, driving solo.
I can remember the first time I went to the movies with just my friends or that initial dive into the deep end of the swimming pool. The most terrifying, of course, was the leap from the old high dive perched upon a tower in the middle of the lake at Hanging Rock State Park.
Almost didn’t make that one. I was “chickened” into it by older kids who completely bypassed the triple-dog dare and questioned my not-yet manhood.
Then there’s mowing the lawn — something every boy wanted to do for the first time, and then never, ever again. My dad, of course, wouldn’t let me get away with that. Life wasn’t that easy on Ed Taylor’s watch.
Speaking of Ed Taylor’s watch, in my early teens I just took it upon myself to decide one night at Myrtle Beach that I was old enough to visit the Pavilion without my mom or dad in tow pondering the mysteries of pinball. Dad set me straight on that when I got back to the hotel room.
Boy did he set me straight.
And there were first dates and car dates and first jobs and lost jobs and first loves and lost loves.
Good stuff, bad stuff and sad stuff — all a part of growing-up stuff.
And growing-up stuff reaches its responsible height the day when it’s decided a kid is grown up enough to stand watch over the homeplace alone overnight without some wild soiree breaking out. Or at least making is look like some wild soiree didn’t break out.
Although, I think mom always suspected.
In there somewhere, of course, is being left at a mall or shopping center without parental supervision — free to roam to stores where things more interesting than piece goods are sold. Not being tethered to mom on shopping trips opened a whole new world of retail possibilities — music stores, book stores, and places where they sold gag gifts simulating flatulence or posters of scantily clad women.
I spent my teen years after age 16 as a feral youth foraging unsupervised through Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem. Teens owned it on Friday nights. It was the place to see, and be seen as kids walked the humongous oval upstairs, then headed down and did the same there before repeating the entire process.
I seriously doubt much in the way of merchandise was sold from 6 to 9 p.m.
But we didn’t vandalize anything and I never saw a fight there. On the debit side, we were probably a bit loud and suspect some older shoppers found us completely obnoxious. I’m sure the guy at Mr. Dunderbaks got tired of turning down underage boys trying to look old enough to buy their first beer.
As a rite of passage, though, going to the mall alone was pretty cool, which is why it made me sad to see that Alamance Crossing had to institute a policy where teens under the age of 18 must be escorted by a parent or guardian on Friday and Saturday nights. Alamance Crossing isn’t alone. Shopping facilities in a lot of places are putting in the same rules. Apparently, some kids say and do the darndest things these days, which was becoming a problem for store managers and shoppers.
What kinds of things? Well, damage merchandise for one. Store owners just hate that. Profanity is another. While I’m certainly no prude — in fact I’m somewhat profane myself — I hear some curious and exceptionally loud vulgarities out in public more often these days.
Some things just shouldn’t be shouted at 100 decibels in public.
Fights, vandalism, cruising — all are problems that evolved over time. Alamance Crossing officials say that in 2011, 50 percent of those banned from the site were unsupervised teens on Friday or Saturday nights. The number stands at 80 percent so far this year.
Give it up to Alamance Crossing owners, they know a trend when they see it. Sadly, though, it means that good kids who obey the rules get lumped in with the troublemakers. It’s always the way, isn’t it?
So a rite of passage is lost for a new generation.
And while I understand it, I still hate to see it.