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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wild Child: Confession of a Reformed “Plaza Thug”

(Blogger’s note: the names in this post have been changed to protect the identities of my accomplices, particularly so their children don’t give them guff.)

Reading about the recent swift action to enact a curfew for tweens and teens on the Country Club Plaza made me have a flashback, to a time in my teens when I had a minor brush-up with Plaza Security. Due to “The Incident”, I missed my own parent-enacted curfew and felt compelled to explain my tardiness with a 1985 Oscar-worthy performance of “Why I Was Wronged by the Law.” The drama unfolded something like this:

(Ward and June were watching TV when I came in.)

“I know I’m late, but let me explain. We were hanging out at the Plaza just looking at music and I accidentally knocked over a display of cassettes and when I bent down to get them, I got knocked over, and the cop grabbed me by the shoulder and made me come with him to security to make sure I didn’t steal anything! Can you believe it?”

My father looked up from his news program. “Were you buying anything?”

“No, just looking.”

“Were you shopping?” my mother asked.

“No, just hanging out.”

“With whom?”

Moe, Larry, Curly and Shemp.”

“Did you steal anything?”

“NO! You don’t understand—we…”

He and my mother exchanged the dreaded ‘has our youngest child learned nothing from his 7 older siblings?’ look.

“I understand that you boys had no business loitering there.”

Loitering? What kind of thug did they think I was? Why were they not taking my side? But the parental academy had rendered their decision: case dismissed.

As a current daughter-protective dad and former bored teenager, I understand much better that tweens and teens are a frustratingly mixed-up bunch. Over dinner, I asked my high-school-freshman daughter what she thought of the curfew. “They’ll just do what they were doing on the Plaza someplace else, earlier.” She went on to say that if the pack of kids was all boys or mostly boys, maybe they felt like they had to be together to be safe. Thinking back to my own impetuous youth, I had to admit that we came to the Plaza to escape Raytown, even for a night. We didn’t have much money, but we had ample time, a Camaro with a half-tank of gas, and each other…to egg on each other. We weren’t thinking of causing trouble; we were not thinking, period.

So to the merchants of the Plaza who have endured years of knucklehead teen behavior, I am sorry. To the kids who feel like they can get away with anything if there are enough of them, you are wrong. And to the parents who assume their kids are doing what you assume they are doing, you may just be right… but probably not.

By Derek McCracken


Anonymous said...

So are you suggesting that this is just "normal, teenage shenanigans" and the mayor's response of a curfew is going overboard? I appreciate your point of view but I have real concern that these incidents of flash mob violence are something more than "kids being kids". And I think communities (not just the Mayor) in and around Kansas City need to take a hard look at what the underlying issues are for these incidents with tweens & teens. The London riots should serve notice in taking these behaviors lightly.

Derek said...

I don't think it's normal or typical teenage behavior, and I respect the mayor's intervention strategy. The historical context was to show that youths have and will continue to want to belong to something -- good, bad, mob or more. I hope that an aggressive, synchronized community effort will make a difference.