By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The numbers are down, but Fant still has his concerns. In his 19th year as police chief, Fant sees fewer house parties, but underage drinking prevails. My ears perk up when he says moms and dads even contribute to the problem. I was sure there was an O.C. episode in there somewhere.
"Many parents are thinking, 'Well, I'm going to try and supervise this and do it in a safe way,'" Fant says. The punishment for allowing consumption on your own property is a $4,000 fine or a year in jail.
I decide it would be great to watch some of these parental units get caught in the act.
One Friday night in September, I find that the inside of the artfully bricked, tastefully landscaped Highland Park Public Safety Department is surprisingly bland and sterile. I'd been expecting a little box of moist towelettes and hand lotion on a table by the door. I'm fully prepared to back the blue for an evening of giving deviant kids and their enabling parents the what-for. I am the Enforcer, a name-taking, ass-kicking, torch-bearing journalist of the people!
Or not. As last call approaches, the officer I've been assigned to for my "ride-along," bless his heart and ability to talk for four hours straight, turns his cruiser back toward home base. Once again, the evening's been good for him, bad for me. Not even a traffic ticket's been written on our watch. We did pull over one girl for a minor driving infraction--a cheerleader, on her way back from the away game in another city--but she got off with a warning. We didn't even make any sightings of the next big thing in underage deviance: the party on wheels.
Chief Fant says, "The recent trend is moving back into cars, which is scary to me. A group of three to five [teenagers] in an SUV will drive around, and we'll find alcohol in the car."
At the office the following week, a co-worker with a couple of school-aged step-siblings asks if I was at the big HPHS party Saturday night. They had a bouncer, he says. They had a professional DJ. They had a bartender. No, I reply, resisting the urge to throw my reporter's notebook with great force in his general direction. It was like high school all over again: Somehow, I always heard about the cool parties in the past tense. I held out hope, however. Homecoming was fast approaching. There had to be some kind of organized debauchery in the works.
The designer denim was out in full force on October 7, homecoming. Scots Stadium was packed with screaming teenagers zipping up and down the bleachers from one clique to another, screaming cheers all the while. If there's one thing Highland Park kids aren't, it's disloyal. Then again, it's hard not to be proud of a football team that always soundly whips its opponent, this time mostly black West Mesquite High School. Racial tension, anyone? The opposite sides of the football stadium were like an Oreo twisted open.
As the game ended and kids poured out, the girlfriend I'd been able to coax out was having a blast pointing out bizarre fashion trends. Soffee soccer shorts and those freaking Uggs--with Mardi Gras beads. Metallic loafers paired with sequin-covered bags the size of 3-year-olds. After eavesdropping on the crowds and totally giving up on my cover (the "Hi, I'm a reporter. Where's the party?" approach was surprisingly effective), we didn't have anything definite, so we decided to cruise. Circling the stadium, we passed a group of five Laguna Beachlookalikes packed into a Pathfinder, belting out a bad cover of the '80s Roxette hit, "Listen to Your Heart."
Then, just ahead, we spotted a promising gaggle of teens gathered around a car on Grassmere. Where was the party at? I inquired politely but firmly. My hold on this story was growing ever more slippery.
"We're like the only kids at Highland Park that don't drink," said a perky blonde in a UT sweatshirt.
Where are the rest of them, then?!
My cell phone whizzed. Incoming text message. This was a skill I'd learned specifically in order to communicate with the three or four HPHS students, relatives or co-workers of friends, who I'd been able to get on my side in the past few weeks.
"NTHING 2NITE. PPL GNG 2 LAKE HSES. SRRY."
I sighed. "She says there's nothing tonight, and that most people are going to lake houses." There was no hope in finding out which lake and which house. I felt bad for my friend, who'd made the 40-minute drive from Mansfield. I'd promised her some party action a la Can't Hardly Wait and She's All That. It would be just like in the movies, I'd said. Kids doing cannon balls, fully clothed, from the roof into the pool. Red plastic cups containing trash-can punch handed out to all who entered. There would surely be a token black kid--just one--chilling by the keg and doling out liquid goodness.