Sometimes it’s a tiny, little bit of an idea that gives birth to a big one, and gives me something to write about. That happened this morning on the newly relocated In the Neighbourhood radio show on CFMU 93.3. There was some talk about what cities hold for their younger citizens, what’s out there, how are these kids connecting with their city. The guest told the story of a friend’s 14-year old daughter who went to her first all ages show at a club downtown – This Ain’t Hollywood, I believe – and how her mother was nervous having her head downtown and be there on her own, with friends. It all turned out well of course, she had a great time, nothing bad happened, happy ending, etc etc. All good stuff. And this got me thinking about The Musician and his friends, who are the same age. He’s in a band, so of course has had a lot more exposure to bars and clubs than most kids his age – even the ones who do head to shows – but the one thing that has always irked him (yes, I said irked because that is the word he used – seriously) is that a lot of his friends have never seen his band perform, because they aren’t allowed to go downtown, or they’re not allowed to go downtown after dark.
When he first told me this, my eyes rolled so hard they practically popped out of my head, which is probably not the most mature reaction, I’ll give you that. But whatever. Not allowed downtown, not allowed downtown after dark? What is that, even? Where do we live exactly, that this is such a problem? And more importantly, who are these parents that are stopping their kids from experiencing the core of their city, where did THEY come from? Then I think of the HWDSB and how it’s feeling the need to escape from the core, how THEY seem to be in a big fat hurry to get out of there and…oh…snap! (wait now, that’s a whole other blog post, folks)
When I was The Musician’s age (it almost always comes back to this, just so you know – it’s part of what having a teenager in the house does to you) I was all over downtown all the time. It’s all there was in Hamilton in the early 80s. Lime Ridge Mall existed, but from where I lived (north of Barton St.) that was a big ol’ bus ride – with a transfer and everything. Downtown was just much more accessible. And it offered better stuff, to be honest. Music, for example. Cheapies, Rave Records, Sam the Record Man – all in the core. Rock ‘n’ Tees, Klassy T-Shirt for band shirts and accessories. Movie theatres galore – Tivoli, Century, Odeon, Hyland; Kresge, Woolworth’s and Zellers (yes, there was a Zellers downtown people, I’m not making that up) for cheap makeup and jewellery, birthday presents for your friends. Right House, Robinson’s and Eaton’s for everything else (mostly when you had to go shopping with your parents).
I get that Hamilton’s core fell on some hard times, I get that for sure, I witnessed it firsthand. There was a time that maybe it didn’t have much to offer the teenagers out for a fun time. But to be afraid of it? To “not allow” your kids to explore what it might have to offer? That’s just bananas, come on now. Especially now with the revitalization of downtown neighbourhoods like James North and the area of King St. from Wellington west to John. There’s good stuff going on all over the place, good stuff that everyone can enjoy.
On Sunday The Musician had a friend come over to hang for the day. Her mom dropped her off around 11 and I asked them what they had planned. “I think we’re gonna head downtown and wander around for a bit, maybe check out Cheapies, you know, just kind of hang”. So they walked downtown and a few hours later took the bus back to our place with some candy and a copy of the Stray Cats “Built for Speed’ on vinyl, from Cheapies. That could have been a page from my diary circa 1983, but it actually happened in the present day.
I’m not saying that my kid is highly unusual, I’ll be there are kids all over the city doing the same kind of thing on a Sunday afternoon. But what I really liked was their ability to get to where they were going and get back again without relying on us – there was no can you drive us there and pick us up, it was all them. This isn’t always the case, of course, but it sure is a great independence builder to be able to do what you want on your own time and at your own speed. I think for me, that was one of the biggest draws of the core when I was younger – I could get there easily whenever I wanted. I mentioned before that getting to someplace like Lime Ridge Mall was a big pain because the bus ride took so long. No one was going to drive me – my dad had better things to do on a Saturday afternoon, thank you very much. And for something like that, it would never have even occurred to me to ask him for a lift. Now, most kids are used to being driven everywhere and dropped off and picked up again at a certain time. And that’s great for some things, but once you get to a certain age, isn’t it better to do it yourself? Figure out where you’re going and with whom and make it happen? Or maybe that’s just me.
The last gig The Musician and his band played was their CD release party at This Ain’t Hollywood. It was all ages, 16+ and I knew he had been talking it up to a lot of his friends, trying to get them out to support the band. So while I sat at the back with the parents selling tshirts and CDs (yeah, that’s right – merch girl) I watched as the bar started to fill up and was SO excited to see quite a few kids – friends of my boy, and friends of the other guys – streaming in for the show. At the end of the night, band members and their friends hung around outside, drinking Cokes and waiting for rides home. For a lot of these kids, this was their first real show at a real bar and without their parents. And, like the friend of the radio show guest, they all had a fantastic time, made some great memories, and nothing bad happened – downtown.
I guess I’m basically just saying (in a mere 1100 words, cos I’m brief, yo) don’t tell your kids – or anyone for that matter – that they’re not allowed to go downtown. It’s a hollow, vague threat, and gives the impression that it’s a bad scary place. Which it isn’t. Really overall, just don’t be afraid of your city, people. Get to know it, explore it, find the different neighbourhoods and areas that make it special, and learn about them. Learn about them with your kids, and that might make all the difference. Let’s work towards creating the next generation of Hamiltonians who embrace all the areas of their city, who walk around and enjoy the differences, the people and the neighbourhoods. Let’s try to raise the kind of people who don’t just pass through areas like the downtown core on their way to someplace else, someplace they’ve determined to be better…or safer. I think we owe it to Hamilton – the past, present and future Hamilton – to try.