It’s Friday night around 10:00 p.m. and I’m just getting off work. Before I lived on my own, 10:00 p.m. was too late to even think of going out. Now I know nothing good ever happens before midnight. I’m 20 years old and 10:00 o’clock leaves only a few options: Kearny Mesa Bowl, a late movie at Fashion Valley, or crossing my fingers and hoping all my friends who are older than me will choose not to go to a bar tonight and feel like hanging out at home. That rarely happens.
Rewind to earlier in the day. The week is gone and Friday afternoon comes quick. No one has to be up for class in the morning. I’m scrambling to make plans so I won’t have to spend another night with my DVR, at home, the scene of so many weekends, where I drink from the tap and enjoy premade meals from Trader Joe’s.
You’d think I was a 90-year-old woman.
This is not a pity party. But as much as I love hanging out with Carrie Bradshaw and reruns of Sex and the City, it would be nice to get all dressed up and have somewhere to go.
The struggle to figure out how to spice up my social life goes back to high school, when countless nights were spent alone in my room with nothing to do because most of my friends were over 18. They went to clubs and hookah bars, where the bouncers and the servers most definitely did check your ID. Every time.
My alternative was tagging along to some stupid house party. I never understood the idea of house parties in high school. Someone always knew someone else who could score a couple of cases of Smirnoff Ice, and that constituted a good Friday night. You weren’t anybody if you weren’t at Jake’s house getting crunk off white cloudy liquid with five percent alcohol.
For a while, I lusted after those nights. I’d look at pictures on Myspace and see girls with drunk eyes and big smiles hanging all over cute college boys and wish I could do it, too. Looking back, I laugh at myself. I’m doing my best to not remember a lot of that time, when I was stupid and naive, a silly high-school girl. Underage drinking was not something that really appealed to me, but, boy, did those girls make it look glamorous.
∗ ∗ ∗
It’s Super Bowl Sunday, last year. I’m at my friend Arty’s apartment in Hillcrest, hanging out with my closest friends, eating delicious finger food and laughing hysterically at bad jokes and other silliness. I take in my surroundings and, of course, I’m the youngest one here by at least three years. I’m 19, but because we’re at Arty’s apartment, there is no real concern.
Until Chuck pipes up, “Let’s go to a bar! This game is boring and the commercials suck.”
Everyone agrees, murmurs. They start tossing ideas back and forth.
“Let’s just go to Pecs. It’s right here. We can walk.”
I quietly sit, reclined in my chair, hoping everyone will let the idea fizzle away, because it’s only 5:00 o’clock and if they’re bar-hopping, I’m homebound.
I’ve never wanted a fake ID to go out and get drunk. The only time I wished for one was to get into 21+ music venues. My favorite San Diego band, Dynamite Walls, plays so many 21+ venues — like the Belly Up in Solana Beach and the Ruby Room in Hillcrest — that I have to miss, just because I’m underage. I’ve never understood why some music venues are 21+. If it’s about money in drink revenue, I will buy 46 Diet Cokes if it means I can come to the show. I will help increase your profit margin; just let me enjoy my music.
Back at Arty’s apartment, most of the group is gearing up to walk to the bar. And then my favorite thing ever happens.
“Oh, wait…” Arty says, in a completely forlorn tone of voice. “Hayley’s under 21…”
A collective aww fills the room, and I want to sink into my hoodie and die. I hate the constant reminder, like I don’t know I’m underage and can’t join the fun. Like I don’t think of it every single time I hear about anything fun happening in the greater San Diego area, and I have to go online and make sure the venue will accept my underageness.
I feel bad. I can’t do anything to change how old I am, but I don’t want to ruin anyone else’s fun or bring them down, so, like I’ve said approximately one million times before, I tell them, “Oh, guys! Go ahead. I don’t have to come. You’ll have fun without me!”
I am a renowned Shakespearean actor: I have recited these lines so often, there’s no way anyone in that room would know that, secretly, I will go home and slip into a mild and very temporary bout of depression, because, once again, my social life is dwindling away.
Just as I’m about to gather my belongings and exit stage left, my friend Aliah (not her real name) jumps up. “Wait! Here. You can use my old ID!”
I laugh. I’ve seen this too many times. Back in high school, there were always those “you can totally pass for that girl that looks nothing like you” situations with using old IDs. People would run up, all excited, claiming they could totally get alcohol over the weekend with an old ID. I would just laugh. Unless liquor store owners are really drunk while they’re checking that ID, there’s no way your 15-year-old face can pass for your 34-year-old-cousin from Michigan. No. Way.
But when Aliah shows me her ID, my whole life turns upside down. There are a few absolutely ridiculous things going on with that 4 x 2 1/2-inch piece of plastic. First off, Aliah and I don’t look anything alike. She’s half-Mexican and eight years older than me. I think it’s ridiculous that she’s even proposing this. But Aliah is an Arizona native, and the great thing about an Arizona license isn’t the beautiful desert scene surrounding the all-capital-letters ARIZONA at the top left corner, it’s not the Helvetica font, and it’s not the size of the picture at the bottom left corner, which is pretty generous; it’s also not that Arizona licenses don’t expire until you’re 60 years old.
The greatest thing is that Arizona is hot, and that Aliah accidentally left her wallet in her car one excruciatingly hot Arizona afternoon. Her ID, pushed against the plastic sleeve, became completely distorted, and now there is no face on the picture, only the outline of a head, brown hair, and white skin. It could be anyone, but in this moment, the only thing that matters is that it could be me.
The ID is passed around the room, and everyone is supportive. Everyone is ready to walk to Pecs and watch me use it. I don’t know if it’s the Jewish grandmother in me, but immediately I start worrying.
I ask Aliah, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to me if I get in trouble?”
Because I am such a worrywart, I imagined walking to this dive bar, showing the ID, getting turned down, then getting thrown in jail for identity theft or something equally ridiculous.
She hands me her expired health insurance card for an extra form of ID, if I need it.
It’s been a year and that ID is still sitting in my wallet. I’m too afraid to use it, even if it has the potential to inflate my social life. Everyone reassures me that the worst that could happen is they’ll take it away, but I’ve convinced myself I’ll be the one exception to the rule, and not only will I get fined, thrown in jail and thus smudge my spotless record, but I’ll also get Aliah in trouble.
∗ ∗ ∗
I’d say the years between 19 and 21 are the most awkward ages to live through. Post-pubescence is awkward, too, but at least when you’re 13, having your mom drop you off at the mall for a couple of hours is an acceptable way to spend a Saturday night.
What do you do when you’re too old for the mall? You could do what I do and hope someone feels like going to see a late movie (the latest showing, of course, because if you go to the 7:30 showing of any movie that isn’t rated R on a Friday night, you’re asking to be surrounded by hordes of awkward preteens holding hands and picking popcorn out of their braces); or you can hope someone is having people over to their apartment to hang out and play beer pong. But no one really likes opening up their apartment to a bunch of drunkies spilling cheap beer everywhere, and movie tickets are stupidly expensive.
So, off to the bowling alley we go. Good, clean, all-ages entertainment lies in the middle of Kearny Mesa, otherwise known for its gun stores, strip clubs, and car lots. Kearny Mesa Bowl is a little grimy, in the fun-loving and charming way only a bowling alley can be. Just off Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, not too far from the 805 and 52 freeways, the parking lot is eerily quiet. The tint on the glass doors makes you wonder if the place is even operating. But as soon as your hand touches the dirty door handle and cracks open the door, doubt is pushed away by sensory overload: crashing pins, muffled cheers of excited bowlers, the mingled stench of french fries and industrial-strength antibacterial cleaner, and a man over the loudspeaker announcing that “numbers 81, 82, 83, 84 and 85 now have available lanes.” That’s right, there is often a wait at the bowling alley.
Beige walls are complemented with a dark-brown stripe and an even darker brown trim. There are large murals on the long walls surrounding the 40 lanes. An ocean-blue stripe serves as a background for a black-and-white checkered lane. At the end of the painted lane is a bowling ball smashing what looks like a perfect strike; this is the ultimate goal. Re-create this picture and your night will be a marvelous one. The carpet is brown-and-black checkers and stained. There’s usually only one man working the counter, maybe two on a busy weekend. This man calls lanes, he rents shoes, and he controls the lights on weekends after 9:00 p.m., when the room turns cosmic. He is the master and commander. Piss this guy off, and you get stuck in the corner lane with the wonky pin collector, next to the kid’s birthday party. Kearny Mesa Bowl also accommodates the older crowd, offering a bar filled with billiard tables and beer on tap. A sign prohibiting entrance to anyone under the age of 21 is plastered on its glass doors. Even at the one place in San Diego I thought I could escape age discrimination, these taunts creep in. Next to the bar is a more kid-friendly and much less glamorous snack bar serving the greasiest of the greasy — burgers, nachos, fried zucchini — and pitchers of soda.
The guy behind the counter looks about as happy as I do to be there. He’s not very excited to put me on lane 18, he’s not thrilled to hear that I wear a size 8 1/2 shoe, and he is definitely not even polite when I ask him to put up the bumpers on my lane.
“They’re not allowed for kids over six,” he says in a drab monotone.
I look at my friend Kim. “But we suck at bowling. It’s going to be a game of gutter balls.”
He doesn’t even smirk. “Sorry, those are the rules.”
I try to get playful. “Come on, friend! Just come to our lane and lift them up for us! It will enhance our playing experience immensely and you’ll maintain customer loyalty! I’ll even fill out a comment card!”
I work retail. I know how it goes.
“Sorry,” he says.
The thing about bowling is how gross it actually is. Thinking of how dirty people’s hands are and the fact that you’re sharing shoes with an entire city is something I try and put out of my head. It’s fun for the first couple games until…it’s not. One time I went six frames without hitting a single pin. And at Kearny Mesa Bowl, the hundreds of people who have scored 300s have plaques placed just above eye level as you’re about to hurl the ball, so that really doesn’t help your confidence.
What I’m trying to say is, if bowling is your only option for a bangin’ Friday night, it might be better to stay home.
∗ ∗ ∗
My friends Meredith and Desiree are a year younger than me. The three of us met in our French class at Mesa College. We all love hanging out, but are, time and time again, at a loss for what to do when we get together.
After numerous texts back and forth, I feel like I’m gonna give up.
“What do you wanna do?” I’ll say.
“I don’t know, what do you wanna do?” Meredith will respond.
“I don’t know, whatever sounds good,” Desiree will say.
And then we’re back to square one: bowling alley, hookah bar, movie theater. It’s exhausting, being perpetually frustrated.
Until one week, Desiree has an idea.
“Why don’t you guys come over to my house, we’ll cook dinner and play some board games.”
It sounds fun. A nice change. It fuels a brilliant idea.
Every Thursday, the three of us get together. We make dinner, we play board games, we drink wine. We call it Classy Thursday, and we have a blast, so I guess not all hope for under-21-year-olds is lost.
Meredith and Desiree have a French class at Mesa that goes late, so we don’t end up getting together until 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. The evening starts off with a trip to the grocery store for dinner fixings and a couple bottles of Two-Buck Chuck, the pièce de résistance of our night. It’s what makes our Thursdays so classy. This is where it’s useful to have an older brother around to enhance the evening. He’s over 21, but buying alcohol for us isn’t the only reason we keep him around. He’s a fun guy.
Our first Classy Thursday, we cook steak in the oven and go through two bottles of Sutter Home White Zinfandel (retail price: $3.49 a bottle…like I said, classy). The next logical step is board games.
Desiree has a game called Last Word, one I’ve never heard of before. The objective of Last Word, as with many board games, is to be the first to get to the finish line. There is a category given, a die with letters on it, and a timer. When a category card is displayed and a letter of the alphabet rolled, you have until the timer runs out to name as many words that begin with that letter as you can. The winner gets to advance a space.
It is the four of us, each against the other. Every wino for her/him self.
This game gets loud. The Two-Buck Chuck doesn’t help the volume control. It’s an exciting shouting match, with Meredith triumphantly emerging as the victor.
After Meredith wins the game, we turn to Wii sports. Bowling manages to creep its way in as well.
In between dinner, board games, and Wii, we migrate to the piano. We play songs, we sing, and we laugh.
Classy Thursdays also takes field trips. We go to a show at Soma. Another night, it’s Forever Fondue in La Jolla. But no matter what, somehow, we have more fun sitting around the house playing board games and being silly. Who needs nightlife?
At the same time, what am I supposed to do with the six other days?
∗ ∗ ∗
I Google things to do in San Diego when you’re underage. Hookah bars — been there, done that. Bowling. Laser tag. Why are the 18- to 20-year-olds pigeonholed into nothingness? Why hasn’t someone come up with something to entertain the masses? Sometimes people recommend you trot on down to Tijuana for a night. Ridiculous. Aren’t they cutting people’s heads off down there?
Underage dating proves to be a bit of a difficulty as well. I like my men like I like my friends, older and more mature. I don’t mean to sound bitchy, but I can’t see spending my evenings with a guy who laughs at fart jokes on South Park in between beer-bong hits.
Most dates are forced into the categories of midday coffee-shop dates, nighttime sitting-outside-of-coffee-shop dates, or any-hour-of-the-day (you guessed it) bowling or, worse, mini-golf at Boomers, just down the street from Kearny Mesa Bowl. Coffee-shop dates are nice, innocent, and very much neutral territory, which is good for a first date, but after awhile, there’s not much romance in sitting on a wicker chair outside of Coffee Bean in Mission Valley. Bowling is cute for a date or two, and mini-golf is all right, too. But let’s try and put a little thought into it. There’s nothing sexy about faux-Western-town facades and wooden cutouts of cowboys watching you suck at the ten-hole course. The whole thing makes me lose faith in dating, period.
I meet up with this guy, Billy (not his real name), at Boomer’s. I can’t find the parking lot and spend ten minutes driving around looking for it. I walk up, pretty embarrassed, 15 minutes late. It’s a Wednesday night. I just got off work and was ready to go home and go to bed, but, as usual, boys always come first.
I’m not sure how I felt about Billy. We met online and just to fulfill every cliché about internet dating, he is shorter than he said, he looks nothing like his picture, and trying to have a conversation with this kid is like pulling teeth.
He pays for golf (a wallet-busting eight bucks for the two of us), and I do the talking…all the talking.
“So, what’s your favorite band?” I ask, hoping this question will kick-start a conversation about his favorite song, favorite type of music, favorite radio station, favorite eight-track tape — anything.
“I don’t have a favorite band,” he says flatly. “I don’t really like music.”
How can you not like music?
“Okay…” I search my brain for another question. “Favorite movie?”
“Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.”
That’s when I know it’s going to be a long night.
We don’t talk much for the remaining eight holes of the mini–golf course. Billy tells me about his pet snake and how he loves feeding live mice to it and how he just dropped out of school because he didn’t really see his education “taking” him anywhere.
Still, after the golf, I’m not sure I want the night to end. I am, if nothing else, willing to give Billy the benefit of the doubt…maybe he’s just nervous.
We stand in the parking lot for a few minutes, trying to figure out where to go next.
And where do we end up? Kearny Mesa Bowl.
I swear, they should give me some sort of frequent-bowlers card.
Except, we don’t even go in the bowling alley. Billy decides, after we get there, that it’s too crowded, and it’s going to make him anxious. We stand in the parking lot and talk for another half hour. Each minute that ticks on reassures me that I never want to see this guy again.
The bowlers leaving the alley and walking by us, staring, don’t help this poor kid’s anxiety.
I’ve never wanted to be inside that seedy joint more.
But what can we do? You can’t rely on a guy to get creative with dates. The most creative date I’ve ever been on was with a guy who took me to Shelter Island at 9:00 o’clock at night. We had a pretty cool view of the downtown skyline. But that’s not a date. Sorry for being old-fashioned, but take me out on the town! What I wouldn’t give to just go to a dive bar and grab a beer and flirt with a cute guy. Let’s cause some trouble!
But not too much trouble, because that Jewish grandmother inside of me gets a little jumpy if she’s out past midnight.
∗ ∗ ∗
Going out to bars when you’re 21 provides a step in the direction of actual adulthood. Once I turn 21, what else will I have to look forward to? When I turn 25, I can rent a car. I can run for president when I’m 35. I’ll start getting information from the AARP when I’m 50, and I’ll get senior discounts when I’m 60. What does all that mean in the grand scheme of things?
Maybe I’ll miss the 18- to 20-year-old’s innocence when I’m strutting around the Gaslamp district in uncomfortable shoes.
Every now and then I’ll head down to Fifth Avenue at night and drive around streets that turn into a jungle after 10:00 p.m. I look at all the people spilling out of bar patios, zigzagging across the streets, standing in winding lines to get into places such as Whiskey Girl. I lust after such nights, though the girls look so uncomfortable in their stilettos and tiny dresses. It sounds terrible, but I can’t wait to be one of them.
And the pedicabs.
Those are even horrible to drive next to. Whoever thought them up is a crazy genius. The idea of getting into a tiny wagon attached to a bicycle, wheeled around by a scrawny foreigner, repulses me. I’m sure they make a lot of money, but I’ll opt for the blisters on my feet from my uncomfortable but cute shoes.
I can’t wait for those blisters. I can’t wait to go out, really go out.
Maybe I’ll end up at the East Village Tavern and Bowl on Market Street. With that white Russian in my hand, you can keep the bumpers.