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Friday, 30 July 2021 11:33

COLUMN: Food Courts and Front Porches: Meeting places of yesteryear

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I imagine it goes without saying that I am not a huge fan of our so-called instant society. 

Of course, I am active on a number of social media platforms, but I do it mostly out of necessity as most of the people I know these days use social media as we used to use the telephone. Instead of calling someone and hearing their voice, it has become more convenient to send a Facebook message.

Sometimes this isn't so bad. I'm what they now call “socially awkward” and it is much less stressful to send a message than to pick up the phone and talk to a stranger. I've stuttered most of my life, and while the stutter is mostly gone these days, I still get a little anxious on the phone. 

It made me think about how many social settings have been made extinct because of technology and I discovered more than I had thought there would be. 

A few days ago, on Facebook, a friend of mine posted a link to a website that showed “dead malls” and one of them was a big regional mall from the area in which we grew up. 

I'm not going to go into how online shopping and Amazon have all but killed the mall as we knew it, but more about how the mall was a gathering place. 

Almost 40 years ago, I was a teenager and our hangout was the mall. Our parents would drop us off and give us a couple of dollars and we were set for the day. Our parents would leave and go do whatever parents did amongst themselves 40 years ago and we were temporarily independent. Most of the time, we would do a few laps around the mall, more if the mall had more than one level. 

Where I grew up, the malls were mostly two-story affairs with a lot of stores and a big food court. In those days, the food court was a novel concept and it made for a perfect meeting place. A bunch of us could sit around a table and eat our dollar slices of pizza and drink our Cokes and try to be slick with the girls. The majority of us were pretty unsuccessful, but we never failed to try. 

This was our malt shop. This was our street corner. 

As we got older, we would bring our sweethearts here and as we were even older still, we would bring our children here. I remember the first time I was in the mall with my wife and daughter and realized I was one of the parents now. The food court was no longer my turf. 

In my neighborhood, we have porches and yards, but I rarely see anyone on a porch or in their yard. I see them when they mow their lawns or leave for work, but I never see anyone just enjoying the yard. 

I have to admit, I don't spend time in my yard, either. 

As a child, I remember seeing adults in my neighborhood on their porches, with a glass of iced tea and a cigarette and talking with the neighbor next door. We lived in rowhouses in suburban Baltimore, and you always had an adjoining porch. It was great if you had a neighbor you got along with because you could spend all day sitting on the porch and shooting the breeze. 

As I got a little older, I would take a paperback book and a bottle of Coca-Cola and sit on the porch — on the steps because we didn't have chairs on the porch — and before I knew it, the afternoon was gone. 

We had one of those insulated metal boxes for the milkman on our porch, but there hadn't been a milkman there in years, so we used it as a trash can for our Coke bottles and popsicle wrappers. My grandfather once found one of my brother's empty cigarette packs crumpled in the milk box and never said anything to our mother, even though my brother and I were 13 and probably shouldn't have been smoking anyway. I didn't smoke then, but I did throw an empty pint bottle of Southern Comfort in there when I was well under the legal drinking age. 

I'm not against social media. As a newspaper columnist, it has helped me reach people around the globe. I am able to keep up with family and far away friends. Unfortunately for me, also, it has distanced me from what is right at my fingertips and just outside my front door. 

I can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and others. I can also be found at home on my porch. Come by and say hello. 


Joe Weaver

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