During the Easter Break of 1971, my senior year in high school, I accompanied my compadre Tim Miskel on a 400-mile excursion to Cocoa Beach in his red TR4 convertible. The deal was that I would provide gas with my mother’s Citco credit card, which she had generously lent me for the trip – though I had told her our destination was Myrtle, not Cocoa, Beach. Her receiving credit card bills later from exotic locations like Sebastian’s Inlet, Florida, was troubling, but that would be a month away, and back then a month was an eternity. Cocoa was a surfing mecca. It would be Kerouac, On the Road, Easy Rider, and all that be-bop.
Except for fueling in Summerville on the way out and in Walterboro on the way back, I was able to use cash for gas in Georgia and Florida and thus managed to escape detection, a feat impossible for contemporary miscreants, at least for miscreants with vigilant parents equipped with the latest technology. In 2020, moms and dads can trace in real time on computer screens blinking blips that pinpoint their offspring’s progress as they make their way to those unsupervised parties.
Perhaps because of my parents’ childrearing liberality, I, too, provided our two sons with lots of space, with such long leashes that when Ned was in high school, he accompanied his college-aged brother Harrison on a spring break trip to Munich.
Did underage Ned drink beer at the Hofbrauhaus? Did we speak only once via cellphones that weekend? Has Kellyanne Conway undergone plastic surgery?
I also remember when Ned served as a host for one of the new 9th graders of Porter-Gaud School’s class of 2008, a well-meaning woman approached me at a welcoming get-together to ask if my wife and I would like to join a group they had formed to meet regularly to discuss their children’s activities.
“Absolutely not,” I said, with perhaps too much emphasis.
She seemed truly surprised. “Why not?”
“I don’t really want to know what they’re up to.”
She seemed incredulous.
“Didn’t you sneak out of the house and drink beer and make-out in the backseats of cars in high school?” I asked.
“Things were different then,” she said. “Safer.”
Actually, I disagree about the safety factor, about the South Carolina lowcountry of the 2000s being more dangerous than it was in 1970, but I didn’t feel like describing the chain fight I witnessed outside of the stadium after a Summerville football game or my hitchhiking encounter with mass murderer Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins or the murders committed by Richard Valenti on Folly Beach in 1973.
Unfortunately, this parental surveillance now includes 24/7 access to their children’s grades. Today, if little Mason or Madison blows off a reading assignment and gets a 0 on a pop quiz, parents Karen and Bob can log onto Net Classroom and check their weekly progress. Some of our more
neurotic ambitious parents check Net Classroom as often as day-traders do stock quotes. Seasoned political junkie that I am, when I taught, I waited until Friday afternoons to post grades the way political campaigns release damaging information after the evening news on Friday nights, in their case to bypass the news cycle, in my case to make Bob and Karen less likely to contact me on the weekend.
If this system had been in place when I was in high school and my parents employed it, I would have spent those turbulent four years caged in my room. Chances are, though, they wouldn’t have. I think my father went three years without ever seeing any of our report cards, thanks to my mother’s wise discretion.
Obviously, in this age of celebrity, people don’t value their privacy as they once did, a reclusive Garbo being the exception to the full-exposure Kardashian rule. Not only are our backyards available for anyone to peek into from above via Google Maps or low flying drones, but on sidewalks and in hallways, parking lots, and supermarkets, our movements are being constantly monitored. Indeed, a restroom may – and I stress the subjunctive – may be the only place in public where we’re not being spied on with surveillance cameras.
I wonder if nowadays Tim and I would have dared to make the trip. If we had, a complicated web of lies would have been necessary, as parent and child would be linked via a cell phone, and I’ve never been good at lying and have always tried to avoid mendacity unless absolutely necessary – this trip to Cocoa an exception. As my unrelenting bad luck would have it, there happened to be a podunk rock festival in Myrtle Beach that weekend.
“How was the rock festival?” my mother asked sarcastically when I got home.
“Rock festival? What are you talking about? There wasn’t any rock festival.”
And there hadn’t been – in Cocoa Beach. She got out the paper and slapped it down on the kitchen table. On the front page screamed an above-the-fold photograph of mass cavorting.
Damn, maybe we should have gone to Myrtle Beach instead. I don’t in fact recall much about the trip to Cocoa. I remember the wind whipping our long locks as we drove with the top down through Georgia and Florida on Highway 17S. I remember our hooking up with Adam Jacobs, Robbie Summerset, and the surfing Kowalski brothers from West Ashley. We saw Gimme Shelter at a Cocoa Beach theater. I remember choppy waves breaking at low tide at Sebastian Inlet and envying the surfer asleep with a girl in a van the first night when I froze my ass off trying to lose consciousness in the uncomfortable confines of Tim’s car.
In fact, we decided to split the second night, and heroically, Tim drove through the wee hours for a predawn arrival home.
Nevertheless, I’m glad we were free enough to make the trip because it was, if not an adventure, out of the ordinary, something I can write about as opposed to the blurred repetition of the days before and after the trip, those days having tumbled through the hourglass of my life into oblivion.