The other day I drove by Philomath high school and began to think about what it used to look like when I went there. How it didn’t have a second floor or those big, fancy glass windows. For some reason seeing its new iteration made me think about the old book series “Sweet Valley High.” Then I realized the kids at the school today probably have no idea what that series is.
That thought led me to think of how different experiences and opportunities are for kids today. When I was a freshman, I believe I was the only one in my circle of friends that had a cell phone. My mom would sometimes let me take hers to school. It was as big as my hand and a flip phone, but most other kids still had pagers, so it was pretty cool.
I would guess that most teenagers these days have no idea what life was like without a cell phone. Back then we had to pre-plan events with a meeting time and place so that we could find each other. It was not possible to send a quick text asking where someone was or what they were going to do. Instead, we had to “page” someone who then had to scrounge change and find a payphone to call from. The process was a drag.
For unplanned rendezvous, we needed a central meeting place to find people on the fly. At the time, the Taco Bell/Subway/Texaco complex on Main Street was that place for most kids I knew. If we were looking for things to do, we would go there and see who else was there. Compared to what we can do today, that complex acted as a way to send a group text about what the day’s activities may be.
At the Texaco complex, even though there were “no loitering” signs outside the building, many of us did just that. I remember countless times that the lot would be full of teenagers socializing and congregating before they moved to another location.
That complex was also where I worked my first job. For its grand opening, the companies held interviews in the high school counseling center. I joined dozens of peers that showed up, and, at the age of 14, I was hired for Taco Bell.
Working at Taco Bell was more of a social event than a job. Because the interviews were held at the school, nearly all staff excluding some managers were peers. This meant that we often governed ourselves. It wasn’t “Lord of the Flies” but it did get a little crazy at times.
I recall the sour cream and guacamole wars we had after closing. Since we had to clean the floors anyway, sometimes we shot the devices similar to a caulking gun, at each other. Standing inside the walk-in cooler and waiting for someone to open the door would get extra laughs if you could surprise them with sour cream to the face.
Looking back, it was wasteful and probably punishable, but we were kids, and the thought of having fun consumed most of our time. That, I am sure, is the same for kids today.
I remember a project assigned in Mr. Dunham’s AV Tech class called “A Day in My Life.” We were supposed to make a video (yes, like on a video tape) and present it in class. My parents had a video camera. It was twice the size of my head and so heavy it made my shoulder numb. Nevertheless, they allowed me to bring it to school to record for the project.
I spent a couple of days filming friends skateboarding, being silly in the halls of the school, and engaging in shenanigans during off-campus lunches. I recorded myself at work making and wrapping a bean burrito in less than five seconds. I also had footage of friends building a castle out of Taco Bell’s sporks.
For the time, that AV Tech program was cutting-edge. We got a chance to splice and edit video, early training for what would become common knowledge among today’s kids. There’s an app for that now, of course.
Memories like these make me wonder what life will be like for youth 20 years from now. I’m not THAT old and I’ve already seen so much. I remember “car phones” in cases that fit between your seats with a cord that plugged into the cigarette lighter. I remember when text on a computer screen was neon green with a black background and letters often appeared slower than you typed them. I remember Pac Man on Atari.
The boom in technology, and in the growth of Philomath, scares some people. But I’m curious about what’s coming next. I wait in anticipation for experiences and opportunities the future holds. And for what places in Philomath may create fond memories for kids yet to come.