Suburban youth revisited

Being a teenager in Cameron Park in the mid-1990s meant spending every weekend lying on your bed with the cordless phone pressed to your ear. Phone conversations went like this:

You: “What’re you doing?”

Friend: “Nothing. I’m so bored.”

You: “Me, too. There’s never anything to do.”

Friend: “Gawd, tell me about it.”

As you grew in age and mobility, you actually started leaving the suburbs. Downtown Sacramento’s cafes seemed so sophisticated, compared with the local Denny’s. Sometimes you’d even drive to San Francisco. Gradually, you forgot what it meant to be hemmed in by the limited entertainment options of the suburban community your parents chose for its safety and good schools.

Until last Saturday, that is. You drove up Highway 50 to spend the day with your family and found the town in fog so thick it looked like it had been directed by John Carpenter. You couldn’t drive safely back to Sacramento, so you opted for hometown fun.

The few friends you could press into an excursion piled into the car at 10:30 p.m. You inched through the fog toward “downtown” Cameron Park—a collection of grocery-store plazas alongside a freeway overpass. Every building was dark, but a neon sign glowed behind Safeway. A bar!

The Hideaway was so hidden that only a handful of people had found it. A couple sat at the shadowy bar chatting with the bartender. Further down, a man in a suit grinned into his drink, occasionally bursting into spontaneous laughter. Rounding out this quartet was a man in a leather jacket painted with an American flag, who battled the Trivia Whiz video game.

The upside to the sparse attendance was that no one had to wait for drinks. They were cheap—a round for three people was less than $7. The downside was that, as you made your way to the brightly lit pool tables in the adjoining room, you felt like you were under a spotlight.

“You can tell when they stopped updating the jukebox by the Toad the Wet Sprocket and Alice in Chains CDs,” your friend observed while searching for appropriate pool music. You opted for Elvis, always a safe bet.

A couple appeared at the neighboring pool table—more interested in making out than in playing. You began your own feeble game, sinking the eight ball almost immediately and making up your own rules instead.

The couple put on Alanis Morissette’s “Head over Feet.” The man began singing to his date, punctuating his affections with falsetto outbursts. “I’ve never wanted something rational!” he crooned. He continued his serenade through Hank Williams Sr.’s “Hey Good Lookin’.” By the time Live’s “Lightning Crashes” came on, the two were back to embracing passionately. In the other room, patriotic-jacket man lost his trivia battle and the suit guy had disappeared. The party was definitely over.

Back in the car, your friend remarked, “I think a night out in Cameron Park is when you rent a movie and stay home.” You followed the siren call of your parents’ TiVo all the way back through the fog.