Today’s teens don’t know what they missed

driveinBy John Harvey

I sure miss my teenager. He left 12 years ago when he got a government job by joining the Navy.
I rediscovered all of the services he performed while he lived here. The lawn, the snow, the garbage cans, hauling the water-softener salt to the basement – he was another set of hands for various projects around the house.
I never had any problems getting him to do anything. Maybe it was because I had the ultimate weapon. I could make him the worst thing a teen can be – a pedestrian.
If it ever occurred to him that if I took the car keys away, I’d have to get up in time to have him at football practice at 6 a.m. and then go back to school and pick him up after games, he was smart enough to keep his mouth shut.
I had to send him to a parochial school 15 miles away that didn’t provide bus service. I have found a substitute – other people’s teenagers. I have heard their parents complain about how hard it is to get them to do things. I don’t seem to have any trouble. Maybe it’s because I added a component they haven’t tried – money.
Lucky for me, I didn’t have a daughter. Sons are your parents’ revenge for letting you grow up. Daughters, on the other hand, are God’s revenge for all the fun the father had before he was married – now he has to worry about other men’s sons, doing what he would have done, had he only known. Maybe I wasn’t all that bad, after all. I have a pal who has twin daughters. He said that when they turned 7 years old, they turned into wives in training. When they hit their teens, he fully understood why some species eat their young.
What brought this line of thought on was that I am putting the last touches on my finished-basement project. I have a couple teens working with me to do the heavy lifting. We were talking about how things have changed in the more than 50 years since I was their age.
Not only have cars changed – how they look at them and how they use them has changed significantly. To be real honest, I’m glad I grew up in the 1950s.
I was raised in the city of Detroit, where the population was nearly 2 million. It is currently less than 700,000 and the police union has placed signs on the city limits telling you to enter at your own risk  because they can’t protect you. At one time, being out after midnight was not all that dangerous. I worked band jobs and routinely went to mass at 2 a.m. at a church in the downtown area. I’m leary of going into Southfield now, let alone actually crossing 8 Mile Road.
Pretty much every few weeks, there was a dance or sock hop at school. Seems to me that a sock hop cost like 25 cents a head and a nice dressy dance cost $1.25 a couple. Back then meant that the girl wore a nice dress, and the guy wore a coat and tie. Now it means that the T-shirt you wear doesn’t have obscene graphics. You’d go out somewhere afterwards for food, then, well, you get the idea. The schools coordinated their dates, so that they didn’t compete with each other. We used to go “slumming” at neighboring schools’ sock hops, looking for some “strange.”
 Yes, there were places you could get beat up and robbed. But they didn’t drag you out of your car at stoplights or shoot at you as you drove down the street. There were lots of dark places you could go park with your date and engage in a little kissy face and clutch bod, without worry about someone beating on you, unless her brother or the guy who thought he owned her caught you.
We could go to the drive-in movie and engage in pretty much the same thing. You occasionally wanted to look at the screen, or if you were really smart, find a review, just in case someone asked you about the movie. Sit-down movie theaters had balconies where you would feel out of place if you weren’t engaged in exploration. There was always the drive-in restaurant with car hops. Street racing was super rare – few of us had cars that were quick when new, and most were real long in tooth.
1957 Commuter-WebWe did a lot of our dating in the car, because the car was a great place to spend time. I took my teens out into the barn and showed them my toys from the 1950s. One of the kid’s parents have a Cadillac. The 1951 Pontiac four-door sedan I have has more floor in the back seat than the Caddy has in front. My ’ 50 Ford Club Coupe has more backseat floor than the Caddy.
They can see how those nice wide bench seats and relatively flat floors would be conducive to a little friendly wrestling, watching movies and eating. Every car or truck they can think of has a center console, or what could be referred to as a Great Wall.
One of the teens drives a Sunbird two door. The back seat in it is little more than a padded package shelf. He says that you can’t get the car seats his little sisters are required to have to fit back there. The other one uses his mom’s Monte Carlo SS. You’d think that would be kind of a cool car for a teen to drive. Well, he is 6’6”. He has to scrunch up to drive it and there is absolutely no way he is getting into the back seat. None of his friends will go there, either. He says he actually prefers driving his dad’s Astro van, but it is trashed.
I told them about all the fun we used to engage in – the submarine races, the drive-ins, impromptu contests of speed, making out, etc. I had a number of cars that are now considered really super cool. I know why I no longer have them – they were junk.
For instance, I had an MG-TC. It was tiny and tight, even back then. To be kind, it leaked. The heater was a joke. I went to pick up a girl. Her dad took one look at it  and told me that his daughter was not riding in a death trap like that. I went home and got my mom’s 1957 Mercury station wagon. He let her go in that. I never asked myself if he was actually my pal or just didn’t know his daughter very well.  There are things you can do inside a ’57 Mercury station wagon that are totally impossible in an MG-TC.
I asked the teens how they date. To start with, they look at their car  as transportation modules. It is a way to get someplace, then you get out and leave it. There is a drive-in movie in Litchfield, about 80 miles from here. There are not any drive- in restaurants where they bring your food and you eat in the car, just drive throughs, where you get your garbage and go home. There is no such thing as a school dance. They might go to a movie, but more often, they just go rent a couple movies,  go to one of their homes and watch it there.
The multiplex has pretty well killed doing anything in the movie theater, except watch the movie. The home entertainment center hasn’t done the movie theater business any good either.
Back in my day, I can just see having a date in her basement or mine. I mean in the car, she might be all over you, but in the basement, with parents upstairs, and a few brothers and sisters bouncing around – yeah, sure!
I’m glad I’m old!