I grew up in a town called West Linn. It’s a suburb – a predominantly white, yuppy and well-to-do suburb – a few miles south of Portland, Oregon. My parents weren’t wealthy by any means, but they weren’t scraping by either. My father is a psychologist with his own private practice and allowed my mother to be a stay at home Mom until she went stir crazy after having my younger brother Sam and got her own degree in counseling.
The town itself is as remarkable as an overcast Portland sky. When I was a kid there was no movie theater, no golf course, go-cart track, family fun center, batting cage, mall, shopping center, high end restaurant, parking garage, stadium, pond, lake, river, skate park or downtown to speak of.
Middle school and high school hang outs included– AND limited to – Shari’s and the local Safeway parking lot. Kids would take their weekly allowances and caravan down to Shari’s and purchase bottomless Home-style fries, sodas and Mozzarella sticks. They’d roll through the doors 15-20 at a time like fish cascading through a dam. Pushy, loud, at times smelly, and of course stingy, the teens would be instantly identified and subsequently waiters would cringe; knowing the pack would purchase $6.50 worth of bottomless fries and drinks, sit for four hours and leave a five cent tip – but not before peeling out in a car mom and dad bought.
I look back on those days and wonder: how many curses have been silently uttered towards me? How many waiters threw back their heads, eyeing the heavens, and asked “Why God?”
When mom and dad’s money ran dry, kids would head back up to Safeway. They’d circle the cars, parking perpendicular, and diagonal over parking lines, as if fearful of an Indian attack during the night, and just hang. They’d sit on the hoods of their cars, inside their cars, under their cars and around their cars, doing almost nothing. Talking, or not talking; any time away from home, away from the watchful oppressive eye of their living, breathing bank accounts, constituted entertainment.
There was money everywhere. Laptops, Ugg boots, sweet 16 BMW’s and weekend trips to Cabo were ordinary. The median level of wealth fell somewhere between the salary of a Dentist and a pimp residing over an entire estate of high class hookers. Money was so numerous, so readily available, that it no was no longer a thing to flaunt and peacock about. Laptops, Ugg boots and the BMW Z3 convertible are not noteworthy when an underclassman has the model newer. Not every student was wealthy, far from it, but rather there were so many wealthy families in the area, that there was no wealthy clique at the school. There was no rich kid’s group, no handful of students the rest of us could look at with jealous disdain, telling ourselves that money can’t buy experience: that’s something only Saturday morning chores and part time jobs could buy.
With wealth being numerous, all of the sudden having the nicest, newest thing was not only common, but boring. Kids had to do something to break the mold, so they turned to what any self-respecting, still-developing, mostly-stupid-and-independent person with access to mom and dad’s unlimited cash flow would do: Drugs.
Copious amounts of drugs. Not just alcohol or weed. Cocaine, oxycodone, a couple of cases of heroin, a kid getting caught with crack here, a student with vicodin there, and the occasional case of ecstasy. And aderall. More aderall in the pockets of these teens than a class field trip from the High School of At Risk children walking through a museum dedicated to the history of rice. Looking at the rap sheet of drug abuse, one would be tempted to think West Linn High School was in Detroit: ridden with drop outs, dead beats, drug addicts, teen moms, future gas attendants and Albertson’s Courtesy Clerks.
And yet there’s been a .5% average dropout rate since the school’s conception. There is no home-econ or shop class, but instead 30+ Advanced Placement college courses ranging from AP Physics, to AP criminology, taught by a staff made up entirely of individuals with their Master’s degree in what they teach; meaning the teachers have both a master’s degree in education and their field of expertise, making them more qualified than most professors at the college level. When I was attending, it was the biggest and best of everything in the town. There’s a football stadium, a baseball stadium, four bands, 400+ desktop computers, 50+ personal laptops, Wifi, a school library larger than the town’s library, two cafeterias, two gyms, a wrestling room and an ever expanding trophy case.
The students have so many opportunities for upward (or in the cases of extreme wealth, sidestepping) economic growth. Somewhere around 90% of my graduating class went off to college. Some students were able to skip as much as a year of college because they had accrued a vast amount of credits during high school.
The money was a double-edged sword. It allowed for a massive amount of opportunity while also allowing students to turn to an outlet to spend their free cash.
When I turned 16, my parents helped me buy a car. We went 50/50 on a 1996 Ford Escort and they matched what I put in. Truth be told, the $1,650 I put towards the car was part of an allowance that I had been forced to save since I was twelve years old.
It allowed me to have a real car, and not a Chrysler Minivan that smelled like 20 years of poor decisions and cigarettes. It wasn’t a BMW Z3, but it was a car that lasted me 110,000 miles and 11 years. I never had $150 shoes, Apple products or the newest clothing, but not because I couldn’t: my parents were more than willing to provide what they could, rather I was perfectly content sitting in my room in front of a computer screen. I was never out past my curfew because I was never out. I didn’t get into trouble with alcohol or drugs because I couldn’t download them.
Some of the students have gone to rehab since high school, others have a fallen off the deep end, and even more have turned out just fine. Because, truth be told, even though our class was partaking in some shotty behavior, we still had wealthy parents to fall back on. There was no syndicate of crime, no random violence in the streets or gang-like behavior to swallow up teens that made a series of bad decisions that teens were so apt to make. There was a bunch of bored rich kids with the desire to do something beyond sitting on the hood of a car or eating yet another Fried Food Platter from Shari’s.
No wonder I bought a computer and played video games like they were a full time job; I saved myself from having to deal with things like drugs and boredom. And girlfriends, and a healthy skin tone, and good posture and social skills and sports and a friends group outside of the internet and “positive self-esteem” – whatever that meant. I found most of those later in life.
Except for that healthy skin tone one: on a sunny day, when the angle is just right, and the sky is a clear, perfect blue, astronauts circling the earth on the International Space Station can see flashes of light, reflecting off my dove white skin like solar flares erupting off the sun’s surface.