I’m not out often enough in the late evenings and that, of course, is my fault, being a creature of the morning and an introvert as well.
But during event season, the time of the year my job requires booth duty at dozens of outdoors’ events, I see a lot of night skies lit up by the moon. I see an entire day pass into darkness at different locations across Idaho.
Last evening, I worked the booth at Meridian Speedway, one of the raceways at which my program sponsors the main event. A few hours before leaving for the track, I prepare myself for hours of face-to-face with the masses. It’s gotten easier every year since I’ve been doing this event; I know what to expect, what to say. But I still have my moments of indiscretion and snark.
It’s the youth that give me fits. A cross between Rodney Dangerfield and WC Fields dressed in my program’s booth attire, I struggle with the dozens and dozens of children who come to the booth for the free stuff.
I’m piling more foam footballs onto the table and I see the same boy come back for the 4th time to grab the giveaway. I’m unable to resist the urge and I growl, “Okay, that’s it, I’m cutting you off.” The boy puts back the football and scurries away before I can tell him to look under the stands because I’m certain at least 200 of the footballs I’ve given away that evening are nesting there along with the popcorn and cheese covered chips.
Another boy stops by the booth and grabs four footballs and tries to slink away unseen. Silly child. I have specially designed vision that can spot a miscreant a mile away.
“Hey!” I yell. “You better not be selling those!”
Because they do. They come back for inventory and sell our free stuff in the stands. It drives me nuts. I think, “Where ARE these kids’ parents?”
I’ve become a booth babysitter for all the kids who’ve been dumped there at the racetrack by their distracted parents.
One 14-year old walks up to the booth, leans on the table and says, “I’m bored.”
“And that’s my problem, how?” I think. I only think it. I hold my tongue, wishing he had a mall to terrorize instead of the booth I’m standing in.
Each year now, I’ve come to expect to see the boy who’s been haunting us for the last six years at our events. He was a child when I first admonished him at the booth years ago. I’ve watched him grow from a pre-teen into a teenager with a bad case of acne. I figure he must have an entire storage facility filled with our foam footballs by now. He’s more respectful now since the incident a few years back. I had pointed him out among his tribe, stared him down and told him he’d acquired enough of our goods and didn’t need to return for more. Sort of in those words.
Where ARE their parents? Oh, right. They’re in the stands with their buckets of beer. They can’t come to the booth. Their offspring show up, instead, and say, “Can I get a football for my mom and dad, and my uncle and my grandpa and my cousin and my aunt and for my older brother?”
And I say, “No. Tell them to come to the booth and pick one up for themselves.”
Not that I want to meet the parents of these pesky little buggars. I’ve won the bluff almost every time. I dread the day I have to meet the parents.
Sometimes I get an up close glimpse of just how permissive their parents are. I’ve just finished telling a young boy that the insulated mugs are for adults only. His parent winks and says to his panhandler son, “That’s okay, I’ve got one for you.” Where ARE their parents? Right there at the booth undermining all the discipline I’ve been enforcing and thwarting my adult guidance.
Oh, I know I’m not a charmer. I realize that I lack the necessary tolerance and charisma that would excuse all sorts of behavior from our youthful visitors. But I’m not at these events to win any awards for best booth behavior. I knew long ago that I’d be referred to as the booth Grinch. I have a reputation to live up to now.
I worry only a little that my words are a bit harsh. After all, I’m there representing the tobacco prevention program. I think, “What if my remark turns the kid and leads him to start smoking?” I reassure myself with the belief that my impatient snarkiness isn’t a gateway drug. But I imagine a time, off in the future, when that kid is on his fifth quitting attempt, says, “I can remember the exact day I started smoking. It was at this booth and the woman working there was so mean, she drove me to pick up the habit.”
I see a young girl, probably no more than 11 or 12 years old, walk up to the booth. She’s wearing more makeup than Lady Gaga. My parental inner voice snarls in my head, “Young lady, you go wash that makeup off right now!” I also think, “Wow. I wish I could apply eyeliner that well.”
Where ARE her parents? They let her get out of the house looking like a pre-pubescent streetwalker?
It’s 50 degrees outside with a stiff northerly breeze and young girls are variably undressed in summer attire. I think, “This is no place to meet your future husband, you children.” Sometimes I do feel sorry for them because they’ve been dragged along to the racetrack by parents who can’t afford a sitter. They’d much rather be creating shopping havoc at the mall or trying out illicit substances at a friend’s house. But they’re connected—they’re all texting throughout the evening, updating their more fortunate friends about the cute guys they’ve seen at the concession stand.
I can be thankful that we’re not giving out baseball caps this year. Though, at least a half dozen times during the evening, kids will come to the booth and ask for one. Booth duty when the giveaway is a baseball cap should qualify for hazard pay. During those events, I want to string up barbed wire around the booth and rent a guard dog.
Occasionally, I remember what I was like at their age. And I wince. Oh, if my parents only knew the half of it! I’d have been so grounded.
I return home in time to see the Super Moon. It’s all worth it.