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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.

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Comments

Evelyn June 22, 2011 @ 3:57 p.m.

take a hike (literally). or go to belo. or deco's or satin lounge (which was kind of lame the one time i went).

or rent a car now (and pay crazy extra fees) and take a road trip and realize that the journey getting there is also part of the trip and sometimes better than the destination. (seriously--last yr my friend and i drove 5 hrs from the bay area to eureka to take pictures of a house and buy beer--crazy times man) and even though it sounds horribly cliche (because it is), it's also very true.

there are plenty of things to do in san diego, regardless of age or money or transportation issues.

also, freshman yr in school (and really, for any freshman in school-at loma) going to target was the highlight of many a friday night, and that was with taking a shuttle.

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Evelyn June 22, 2011 @ 4:17 p.m.

oh also, i'd say don't go online to look for dates. in my experience, there's a reason guys your age are online trolling and not outside seeking dates, as exemplified by mr. personality in your article.

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JG June 24, 2011 @ 4:47 p.m.

Growing up in San Diego I can't ever recall being at a loss for something to do. 18-20 was all about coffee shops and all age venues, which gratefully San Diego has in abundance. I saw Radiohead, Oasis and Smashing Pumpkins amongst other shows at all age venues. I fondly recall cafes and coffee shops being my introduction into our local music scene. Yes I also remember nights of frustration when missing bands that would play The Casbah, but it's not as if there wasn't always alternatives for live music I could get out to. I even found myself on occasion hanging out with teenagers at The Epicenter well into my late 20s because they had some good bands come through there.

Is TNT still happening? I don't get out much anymore, but that was the official weekend kick start back when. San Diego has an abundance of art, theater and music and there's always an opening or special event happening somewhere, most with no ID and cheap if not free booze.

Don't dismiss our neighbors south of the border either. It's not all about Avenida Revolución, the T.J. kids like to dance and get down too and they don't go to those gringo clubs. Get over your irrational fear, grab someone who knows the area and find the spots the locals hit up, which are by far the best.

But if you're really itching to get out and about and paint the town red, but still shy of 21, then start dating an older guy who frequents these places. I know, sounds creepy and sketchy, but I used to get my 20 year girlfriend into just about every venue, bar, club in town no questions asked. "oh, she's with you, ok".

Mostly though, just like children to teenagers to adults, don't be in too much of a rush to 'get somewhere'. The journey is the reward and one day you will be nostalgic for those Classy Thursdays.

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Rayrandall11 June 24, 2011 @ 7:44 p.m.

Dear Hayley Rafner, My name is Ray Randall I am from a part of a bad part of Southern California. I'm 19 years of age and i don't drink. You guys have more shows with open age events in that part of Cali than over here. I catch the Metro link every summer to go see shows and to visit with my aunt and uncle and help them around the house. My family has a problem with alcohol so my lifestyle had to change so I could be more responsible for my actions. I've been living on my own now for 5 months and paying bills at 16 is not a uncommon thing in my house hold. What im trying to say is enjoy being this young. Hollywood actors and musicians wish they could look as young as we are, and all of the businesses in our country are marketing to our age group 18-20. I dont have to get laid or wasted or high to have a good time out by the coast or in general. 18-20 may be awkward but the media, people of old age, and of younger ages worship us. We are the "Innovators of Society" we just have to make that first step to change the game and enjoy the simple pleasures of a young life. Sincerely Ray Randall

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Missionaccomplished June 24, 2011 @ 9:54 p.m.

Oooops! When I first saw it, I thought the cover story was about the "Slut Walk" protest coming to San Diego!

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Missionaccomplished June 24, 2011 @ 9:55 p.m.

I'll take that one, and that one and . . . that one there . . .

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natej June 26, 2011 @ 5:24 p.m.

This story was a testament to the horrible effects of pop culture on our youth, and the vapid aspirations it inspires. Our youth long to be stuffed into a tiny dresses and uncomfortable shoes, to spend hard earned money getting into snooty bars to be "seen" and hit on by people about as deep as the content of this article.

There are a plethora of things to do in San Diego for people of all ages. We live in one of the most all-age venue rich cities in America, not to mention the innumerable natural wonders within 2 hours by car(beaches, deserts, mountains, lakes), and weather that allows people to do anything they wish year round.

I fear this generation is going to spend the majority of their lives first longing for adulthood (21), then trying to remain that age forever. If your goal in life is to get into a club legally, you may want to reevaluate your life and set the bar (no pun intended) a little higher.

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Robert Johnston June 28, 2011 @ 4:54 p.m.

Enjoy life while you can, mija! Take it from me--hitting 21 isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Nor is getting into a bar "legit" for the first time.

Trying to grow up before your time? You will--but it's never that pleasant! --LPR

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Twister June 28, 2011 @ 6:57 p.m.

I well-remember what it was like being treated like a second-class citizen; getting booted out by my stepfather at age 18 and having to work, pay rent, work, go to college, work, and pay rent. Most of the bad stuff that has happened to me has been good for me, but I sure didn't think so at the time!

You're getting a good start with writing, but the club scene is a fraud, a way for the leeches of this world to pick your pocket. You're finding your way--your own way. You don't need to conform--least of all to your "peer" group.

Hang out with some older people, people you really would like to be with. Believe me, they will welcome you and accept you (but if they don't, just keep moving, because there are good-fits and bad fits in this world, like the shoes). When it comes to boys and men, don't let cool fool. Ask older women. (They're not all right about their advice, but their experiences, their stories, can inform, translated by you, for you.

And yes, take that hike. Push yourself right in there, and be in charge--in charge of YOURSELF. Don't try to be anybody else--that's being nothing. Don't manipulate and don't be manipulated.

To be (you), or not to be, that is still the question.

And don't take up arms against a sea of troubles, evade them, avoid them, and get past them as fast as you can. Yes, this life sometimes seems to be a vale of tears--but OH! when it hits those highs, particularly those Rocky Mountain kind of highs, it's WORTH all the tears.

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Visduh June 29, 2011 @ 7:46 p.m.

Hayley, you may wish you were older, but soon--very soon--you will wish that you were young(er) again, and there's no turning back the clock. Actually it sounds as if you have a fairly decent social life, especially for a young woman who gets off work at the obscene hour of 10 pm. Those bars you really, really want to enjoy should be a disappointment to you. Good things seldom come your way in a bar; plenty of bad things can happen in them, and even worse things start in them. You spend too much hard-earned money on overpriced drinks, you get hit on by obnoxious drunks, and if you do hook up with some guy, will likely wish you hadn't ever seen him.

BTW, I'm old enough to be your grandfather, and I do understand what you're feeling. Just don't think that some bar and a bunch of "friends" are the best you can hope for in life. There's more out there and you can find it.

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sublimeade July 14, 2011 @ 5:32 a.m.

Funny that she laughs at her teenage self for wanting to be one of the older girls, yet she's doing the same thing now .. pining for the day when she'll get into bars. She'll be laughing at her 20 year old self someday. Take the advice of the older gents and ladies, live in the moment.

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