Thursday, June 10, 2010

72 days to Bar Mitzvah: day one summer reflections

Today was the last day of seventh grade, so the newly-retired Wine Guy and I took our boys to Malibu Grand Prix. For me, it was sort of a break from the relentlessly discombobulated Hillsborough Centennial special project I've been toiling on for the past month. Sort of a break because, had I been able to figure out how to work the "documents to go" feature of my BlackBerry, I would have edited this story contributed by a long-time Hillsborough Realtor, instead of just reading it over again on a very small screen, making mental edits that I would convert to concrete ones upon returning home.

When was the last time you were at Malibu Grand Prix? If it was less then a decade ago, you shouldn't be in any rush to go back. Malibu Grand Prix is the kind of place 13-year-olds should go with each other. You should drive up to the entrance, drop them off and return two hours later to pick them up.

Unfortunately, when you live in San Francisco, this is impossible for two reasons. First, Malibu Grand Prix is 29 miles away. With traffic, that's a 45 minute trip. What, we're going to drop them off, drive back to the city, sit around for a half-hour then get back in the car and battle traffic on the 101 to pick them up? No.

The other reason is that in San Francisco, most people don't just drop their 13-year-olds places, especially ones that are 45 minutes away.

When I was 13, Dave K. and I were always unattended. Whether we were skateboarding through the open-air shopping mall near his house or disappearing into Knott's Berry Farm at dusk for the annual "Knott's Scary Farm" party, it was just the two of us, plus the ghostly presence of all the girls we thought we'd be able to convince to hang out with us but never seemed to appear in the flesh. Dave K. and I had huge imaginations.

The Jawa will be 13 in two months. Josh K., his buddy and the Wine Guy's son, has been 13 since last October. We have not as-yet dropped them off somewhere as a duo then picked them up several hours later. Long past our best-if-used-by date, we are still chaperones. Today we were chaperones at Malibu Grand Prix.

Malibu Grand Prix is always running special deals. Today they had two. For $29, you could take four laps, play mini-golf, ride the bumper boats then go nuts in the arcade, thanks to the combustible mixture of 20 video game tokens and a free Coke. For $25, you got unlimited laps, golf and the bumper boats. No Coke, no tokens.

It's kind of amazing to me that Malibu Grand Prix even exists this close to San Francisco. Where are all those people who spend their Saturdays toting "U.S. Out of Iraq!" signs? I looked in the parking lot. For the first time in a long time, I was looking at a scene where pickup trucks outnumbered Priuses.

Back inside, little league jerseys ruled supreme. Dads wore baseball caps that advertise golf equipment. The only food available was hot dogs, hamburgers and personal-sized pizzas. For an extra 99 cents, you could add a large Coke. This was the Bay Area?

I was thankful. Everyone needs a break now and then. In fact, I once decided that every San Franciscan should be forced to take a cross-country road trip at least once every five years. While for most it may simply reinforce their existing prejudices, at least they will be forced to deal with the rest of the country, instead of issuing blanket dismissals of the other 49 states.

Do you remember the last day of school? Next year, the Jawa and his classmates will be the ones wearing miniature caps and gowns as they "graduate" from middle school. The day will take on a sepia tone as they suddenly realize that they will no longer see every day these 40 other kids they've known since they were in kindergarten. Grandparents will fly in. Tears will be shed. But that's still a year away. Today we are at Malibu Grand Prix.

Our first glitch comes after the boys complete their four laps on the Malibu grid. The Jawa improves his time on three of the four go-rounds. As he eases his go-kart toward the start line, he sees his time flashing on the big leaderboard they have and raises his arms over his head in triumph.

Afterwards, we dine on the worst food we've had in months. I actually say this at one point. "I'll bet this is the worst food I've had in at least a month." I am eating the Malibu Grand Prix version of nachos, which are remarkably similar to the County Fair version of nachos and the Baseball Stadium version of nachos, which is to say that they are a platic bowl of chips along with a cordoned-off well of melted Velveeta cheese. They are awesome.

But then the Jawa wants to play games in the arcade. Josh K. wants to go to the batting cages. I want to go to the batting cages. "Just go, Dad," the Jawa says. "That's what you want to do." I'd feel worse about abandoning my child in a sea of pre-teens wearing replica jerseys if I didn't suspect that he didn't really want me around. He likes to eliminate distractions during his arcade time.

So I went to the batting cages, bought a few tokens and struck up a left-handed stance in the "medium" cage while a bunch of young guys watched. Once I timed the thing -- it was really slow, about 30 mph slower than the "medium fast" cage, which, brimming with confidence after hitting the tar out of the ball in the "medium" cage, I cockily tried afterwards, only to barely make contact on about five out of 15 balls -- I got off a few good strokes, enough to transport me back to 1983, the last time I swung a bat with any regularity.

After a quick 18 holes of miniature golf, we packed it in. Several work assignments had begun casting an irritating shadow over me. I needed to get home and put out the fires.

And that's it: the last day of seventh grade.

I can't remember exactly how seventh grade ended for me in 1978. I probably went over to Fred's house and played basketball. There were no parents in sight, because both of my parents worked and that's how it was in 1978. It was sort of like living in a "Peanuts" comic strip. On the rare occasions that adults spoke, it came out, "Wa-wa-wa-WA-wa?"

When I finished up in the "medium" batting cage, my hands were stinging. I'd hit at least two balls really hard. "That's what it looks like at 45, boys," I said to the young guys waiting their turn, secretly thinking less of them because at 22 you should really be hitting in the "medium fast" cage. I slammed the bat back into the rack they had and shoved my helmet into its cubby hole.

This summer, not counting the week leading up to his Bar Mitzvah, the Jawa has something like 15 free days. All the rest are scheduled out with camps. Next week, as Sandra Bullock goes off the Zurich for work meetings, the Jawa will be at "Theme Park Camp," a JCC-sponsored day camp that couldn't be more in his wheelhouse if he'd designed the syllabus himself. No afternoons where you watch four "Twilight Zones" in a row. No walking to Ralphs to buy candy, even though it's two miles away, because who cares if it takes a couple or hours, you've got all day?

No playing an approximate version of baseball with very intricate rules, one-on-one at Dave Money's house, using his garage door as a backstop and pitching from a spot five feet closer than him, because he's the kind of athlete that will one day earn a college football scholarship, whereas I am the kind who will eventually apply bargefuls of effort and focus on becoming a mediocre high school pitcher while simultaneously ignoring my own personal gifts to the point where they atrophy and become unusable.

And on the ride down and back? Both boys hunched over in the back seat, mesmerized by their iPods, identical white ear buds blocking out all other sound. "They'd rather link up in games than actually talk to each other," said the Wine Guy.

Tomorrow is Sandra Bullock's birthday. She will be pleased to hear that the guy who owns to gift and card store thought she was turning 36. Awesome for me. Ten more years of this and I'll look like the old guy with the hot young wife.


Dave K said...

Heh. Times have certainly changed.

Jean said...

For a hilarious examination of the San Francisco vs. rest-of America theme, I highly recommend Dan Hoyle's The Real Americans, a one-man show playing at The Marsh. Lookie here: