This is the first year I remember awaiting the end of summer. It’s not the heat, and no, it’s not the humidity. I can’t put my finger on it, but all summer something’s felt off. We’ve attended our share of pool parties, been out on the boat, and played in the sand, and on one level, I never want that to end. But on another, I know great things are coming: Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Coffee, Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale, GeckoFest, Gulfport Under the Stars, a writer’s retreat at Lake Louisa, and an annual Peep-O-Ween celebration where my friends and I watch bad horror movies, make a horror movie Peeps® cake, and our friend Dan spends more on new and inventive Halloween decor than my parents spent for my first two years of college.
I’ll admit, too, that I’m more than a little relived to see kids going back to school. I wish like crazy we had year-round school, because the past 18 months living around the corner from Tomlinson Park has taught me why my mom gave the Greek politician Draco a run for his money when it came to policing my summertime and after-school whereabouts.
Now, what I’m about to say runs the risk of making me sound very “You kids get off my lawn!” but I make no apologies, because, honestly, it needs saying.
We need to do something about whatever is going on in Tomlinson Park, and most likely what we need to do is either close it completely – most of it’s inaccessible to the majority of us anyway – or we need to find a way to supervise the little darlings who fritter away their time getting into what someone prone to understatement would call mischief.
Let me tell you what I mean by mischief, in no particular order: Kids harassing young mothers; kids dropping F-bombs like it’s Pearl Harbor; teens hopefully not getting pregnant on the boardwalk; kids jumping the fence between the ball fields to get on the roof of the clubhouse; and kids doing something that isn’t skating in the skate park.
Isn’t that just the wholesome small-town Mayberry feel we all say we have here? No? I couldn’t agree more. Hey, I was not exactly a juvenile delinquent, but I was a teenager. I had hormones and a propensity to find trouble, and I haven’t forgotten what I would have done as a teenager had my mom not had spies everywhere. At least, that’s the only conceivable way I can comprehend how she knew what she knew about my activities.
Sadly, some of the kids in the park don’t seem to have a mom like mine, and while I empathize with the pressures of parenting, especially if you can’t stay at home or afford a babysitter, those parents still need to do a better job monitoring their kids.
I feel, however, we’ll get more traction if we hold the city accountable, too. A few months ago, a big ol’ padlocked fence appeared across either end of the sidewalk between the two ball fields. I noticed for two reasons: Calypso is a wimp about long walks once it’s regularly above 90 degrees, so we only walk a half-loop for our noon walk. Two, one of my neighbors currently undergoing chemotherapy can’t make a complete loop around the park but could use the sidewalk in the middle to still get exercise and fresh air, and she was saddened that she couldn’t walk through the park anymore.
As it’s clearly marked for walking, what with the sidewalk and all, I asked the city manager why we couldn’t use it anymore. He told me that people were “doing things they shouldn’t be doing in there.” Of course, if you ask my neighbors who walk later in the evening, all the fence has done is keep out the law-abiding citizens and the less physically fit hooligans; the ones who want to get in can scale that fence, no problem. And they do. The bonus? It’s even harder for them to get caught now.
What I want to know is, why are we putting fences around public property when we went crazy to keep our police department a few years ago? Seems to me that our elite force of men-and-women-in-blue are well equipped to handle juvenile delinquents. So why is our solution to simply lock out law-abiding citizens and pretend the problem doesn’t exist? Can we not do more than close off public access because a few people can’t obey basic laws?
I, of course, have my own ideas about what would work. Here’s how I see it: Get a Recreation Director who understands the value of that awesome park. Tell her to open a staffed satellite rec center at Tomlinson Park and offer some free or low-cost activities. Those kids aren’t bad; they’re bored. No, it’s not fair that we have to help parent them, but in all honesty, we live by some pretty poor areas. Those parents have to choose, every day, between jobs that pay crap but help them feed their families, and constantly hounding their kids. It’s all well and good to preach the rhetoric of our quaint small town, but sometimes we need to do more than preach. We need to realize we’re all one community and act accordingly. Yes, I know some of those kids may live across 49th Street. I just don’t believe a community ends because the city limits do.
So once we get a Rec Director who can make our programs fun – something that’s sorely lacking right now, but that’s a whole other column – we either upgrade the skate park so it’s not such an embarrassment (my understanding is that grants exist specifically for skate parks) or we replace it with something kids will use. Then we use the staff from the satellite rec office to make sure the facilities at the park get used properly. We can open all the sidewalks, the kids can do something other than cause trouble, and, of course, we really will behave as that community we all say we value so much.
Closing off our access to these public areas fixes nothing; we may as well slap a Band-Aid on a severed artery. We are allowed to expect more from our government.
Hopefully by the time next summer rolls around.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.
Originally published in print and online for the Gabber newspaper on August 21, 2014.