I stood in the doorway of my closet, surveying the racks of clothes and accessories. Gold, glittery high-heeled pumps? Check. Muppet-red calf-length faux fur coat? Got it. Studded punk-rock belts in three colors? Yep. I bit my lip in frustration. It might have been the first time in my life when I had absolutely nothing to wear. Then again, is there any wardrobe suited to selling out and abandoning everything you once held dear in the name of journalism?
In this case, yes. An Abercrombie polo with a popped collar would work just fine. And some oversized Chanel sunglasses. Maybe a pair of $160 Seven jeans. Could I put those on my expense account? And, while I'm at it, could I get reimbursed for my soul? After all, I was preparing to infiltrate one of the most insidious, nefarious circles of corruption and vice I could imagine: the privileged teenagers of the Park Cities.
I'd seen them cramming their Audis and Jags into the compact spaces in front of Mockingbird Station. I'd heard them discussing the complexities of their lives over venti skim lattes, lamenting their inability to get any schoolwork done while the maid was vacuuming. The adolescent spawn of the Park Cities was moneyed and beautiful. Snobby, perky and preppy. Everything I'd spent my high school years hating, counting down the days until graduation when I could escape the imbecility of my pea-brained peers. But three years later, I felt I'd grown. I was now worldly enough to put all that behind me. I wouldn't allow that old, bitter contempt to color my reporting, right?
Highland Park High School Parties
I dragged out a pair of pink imitation Ugg boots from the back of the closet. You've seen Uggs. They look like they're made for arctic exploration but are properly paired with a minuscule skirt and Prada bag. I'd bought mine because they were functional, good for trudging back and forth across the snowy sidewalks of New York City, where I'd gone to college. But my boots' soles were too thick, and the cottony fuzz peeking out the tops was clearly not the soft sheep's wool of the genuine article. I stuffed my feet into them and pulled on a denim miniskirt I'd made from an old pair of Levi's. Looking in the mirror, I practically had to shield my eyes from my legs' milky hue. Pathetic.
The lives of kids in Highland Park and University Park are the stuff of legend, or at least of Thursday night Fox programming. I'd heard tales of deviant behavior a la The O.C. , complete with all-night parties featuring tragic teenage girls with eating disorders and absentee parents. Stories of tanned, svelte adolescents doing lines of blow off their moms' vanity mirrors. And here I was, former church youth group president and incurable computer nerd, trying to play along for the sake of my job. O, fate is a cruel, cruel mistress.
I practiced straightening my hair until it gained a glossy Park Cities sheen. The girl in the mirror was one I recognized but had trouble liking. I'd spent four years at Mansfield High School in south Tarrant County dedicated to the art of jealously loathing anyone who appeared to be having a good time. My weekends were spent reading Ayn Rand novels, attending Christian punk rock concerts and updating my online journal. I had no patience with the Camaro-driving, football game-attending nitwits. Mansfield was the kind of town where people still kept buffalo in their front yard. Wal-Mart was the center of commerce, and the new Chili's the super-hot place to see and be seen. The idea that anyone under the age of 18 had access to sushi or Jimmy Choo heels was beyond my comprehension.
If raw fish wrapped in seaweed was an option, what other kinds of mind-altering substances might these Park Cities teenagers partake of? Were their kegs forged from pure gold? Did they serve trash-can punch in Waterford glasses? The possibilities were limitless. I knew there was a story to be told.
As I fastened my "A" initial necklace made of 18-carat gold and CZ, I vowed to myself that no designer knock-off shoes would prevent me from finding those vaunted parties. I would not allow my pasty skin to become an obstacle. If necessary, I'd lurk outside Highland Park High School like a pedophile--albeit a non-creepy, 21-year-old female one. I would stop at nothing to get what I wanted. Yes, my virtue would be challenged, but my resolve was strong. If these kids were going to get down, I'd be right there getting down with them.
Nobody does teenage drama like the H.P., not even Fox. During the past three months, I met several members of our own version of The O.C. cast. I filled my weekends with football games, neighborhood cruising and more text messages to 17-year-olds than I and my cell phone bill are comfortable with. But even after spending my college career at NYU among the offspring of the richest families in the country, the privileged youth culture of the Park Cities still seemed foreign to me.
Whatever the Highland Park Independent School District touches seems to turn to gold. Highland Park ISD families, who live in both Highland Park and University Park, had an average household income of $192,361 in the 2000 census, compared with $55,363 in DISD. A cursory look at the Highland Park ISD Web site's "Points of Pride"--gag--shows government officials and national media entities falling all over themselves to shower the district with accolades. Newsweek ranks Highland Park High School the 12th best public school in the entire country for 2005. For the seventh time in eight years, Highland Park High's chronically exceptional academic and athletic programs won the 2005 UIL 4A "Lone Star Cup," only one of which is given out for each of the five classifications, 1A through 5A. The 1,918 students who walk the halls of HPHS have just about everything going for them.
With a record like theirs, you have to believe that practically every kid, even the dorky one with the greasy hair, was cut out of the star football-player mold. While the Park Cities kids I met suffer from the same kind of adolescent angst shared by their middle-class peers farther out in the suburbs, it's tempered with a bit of perspective. For Highland Park, there is an end in sight to the ennui that comes from living with Mom and Dad and going to youth group on Wednesday nights. Scots, as they're called after the school mascot, do things like spending summers or even years in Europe. They aspire to go to Princeton and Sarah Lawrence and Berkeley with the very realistic expectation that they'll get in--on scholarship. They also have fabulous taste in footwear.
Though the prospect of hanging out with these ideal specimens of humanity was, at first, terrifying, I retained a lot of knowledge from my high school years of A-list loathing. I knew my enemy. I could fake it. Besides, I've always enjoyed a good game of dress-up. Readers should note that I've changed the names to protect the Dallas Observer from Park Cities parents who can sue us for all we're worth. The addresses, though, are real. My first night out was a Saturday, after the Fighting Scots football team delivered a scathing 40-14 victory against Denton Ryan High School.
It was already 9:45 p.m., and of all things to go wrong, my collar refused to remain popped. My painstakingly ironed-out hair made the only polo I owned flop over in the back, eliminating this key element of my outfit. As I fussed with it, a couple of girlfriends arrived at my Dallas apartment, styled in metallic belts and spaghetti-strapped tanks courtesy of a high school-aged sister. We caked on the powder foundation, and I opted for a glittery pink eye shadow that flicked little sparkly bits of pure annoyance into my contact lenses.
Minutes later, we were flying down Hillcrest Avenue in my beloved but worn Jeep Cherokee with the perpetually flashing "Check Engine" light. If my sources were correct, all we'd have to do was drive down two or three random streets, perhaps taking a wrong turn at Euclid or Colgate, before a raging house party would rise before us like Las Vegas on the desolate Nevada horizon.
Anybody who'd spent more time in the Park Cities than I had would have known better. The place was like a tomb lined with beautiful foliage surrounding five-bedroom homes with Porsches and Volvos parked out front.
Suddenly, we heard what sounded like a roar of thunder in the distance as we crept down Lovers Lane. A jacked-up F-150 with custom exhaust pipes flew past us at a speed that could only be deemed appropriate by a 16-year-old. A blur of white shoe-polish text was scrawled on the back window. The game was over. The high schoolers were loose!
Ever the conscientious driver, I made a three-point turn and headed in the F-150's direction, but we'd lost him. I was either going to have to start driving like a teenager, inviting the wrath of the notoriously intolerant Park Cities traffic patrol, or head them off earlier.
Pulling up to the high school, we saw a slew of the most well-coiffed band nerds I'd ever seen loading and unloading their equipment from surrounding buses. The kids couldn't help the traditional, unflattering marching gear in blue and gold, but I was struck by what great heads of hair they had. Radiant shades of chestnut and auburn reflected the glow of the streetlights high above their heads, and I made the first sighting of the asymmetrical bangs I'd later see on Highland Park's population of miniature Abercrombie models.
Hundreds of kids were milling around, some walking into the surrounding neighborhood with younger siblings in tow, others hoofing it in $50 Rainbow flip-flops toward the HPHS parking garage. We could hear cars peeling out from the other side of Scots Stadium and followed suit.
Blazers and Land Rovers made sharp and unexpected turns on Preston and Hillcrest, only to disappear into the wilds of the winding streets beyond. The easy part was pinpointing which cars were filled with potential partyers. The hard part had to do with my prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that regulates the ability to assess dangerous behavior and develops later than the rest. My own maturity mocked me. Nay, it mocked the very spirit of enterprising journalism. Then we spotted a potential target: two SUVs stopped next to each other, their windows covered in the telltale white shoe polish.
One of them sped off, revealing two boys and two girls, probably seniors, standing near the curb.
I popped the collar and rolled down the window.
"Hey guys, what's up?" I barely recognized my own voice. It had taken on some kind of 90210-meets-Dora the Explorer tone. One of the guys was lifeguard-cute. The other, a blond, not so much.
"Who's that?" the lifeguard asked, squinting and peering into the car.
"Nobody," I said, cagily. Very coy. Already I was failing miserably. My girlfriend in the front seat came to my rescue.
"Are there any parties going on tonight?"
"Uh, I think Brian Bassinger's having a party or something," said the blond guy, prompting his girlfriend to speak up.
"You guys can't have him!" she said, rushing to put an arm around her stud's rather round waist. "He's mine!"
No problem there. "Where's Brian's house again?"
"St. Andrews," said the lifeguard. I could see the blond kid's girlfriend getting a little antsy, and I didn't want to wind up on the wrong end of her acrylic nails, so I thanked them and drove away. I had no idea where St. Andrews was, but it couldn't be far. A few minutes later, we saw a Wrangler and another truck pull over to the side of yet another idyllic residential street. Surely the group of sophomore and junior guys inside would be able to point us in the right direction. Once again, the 90210 voice took hold of my throat as I put the car in park.
"Are there, like, any parties tonight?" I asked, after exchanging pleasantries about the kick-ass nature of the Scots football team. The question was met with blank stares, then a blunt response.
"Who are you guys?"
"We're from Mansfield," I replied, as if his question were utterly preposterous. "Do y'all, like, know, um, Brandon..." my voice faded. For the life of me, I couldn't remember the kid's name. My unabashed friend in the back seat lowered her window and yelled.
"Yeah, I know that kid," one of the guys said. "Is he a senior?"
I avoided the question. "His house is on St. Andrews. Where's that?"
Blank stares. Good God, I thought. These kids live in a town that's less than 2.2 square miles, and they don't know where Brian Bassinger lives?
"What are y'all doing now?" I asked.
"We'll probably eat," shrugged the kid in the driver's seat. More blank stares. Not a talkative lot, this one. Just ahead of us, the impatient-looking guy in the Wrangler was watching our exchange in his rearview mirror.
"What about after you eat?" I asked. It was like pulling teeth.
"Hi, who are you?" yelled my now overzealous backseat girlfriend, at the Wrangler kid.
"DAVE!" yelled a voice from the other truck.
I didn't have time for this kind of disorganization. I had to think fast. Too fast. I looked at the driver of the truck.
"Give me your phone number."
Did I just demand digits from a 17-year-old? I did. Oh God. By this time one of the kids had gotten out of the truck and walked up to my window to inspect this car full of party-crazed bimbos. The kid fumbled his phone and started reciting a 214 number, then added, "His name's Jimmy."
"Thanks, Jimmy!" I squeaked, as I pounded the number into the keypad of my incredibly clunky, incredibly non-flip, incredibly un-cool phone. I tried to hide it by dialing under the steering wheel, but this kid wasn't fooled. The driver did pick up his cell, though, so we had the right number. It was time for a peel-out. "Bye, Dave!" we screamed, waving out the sunroof. It would be the most excitement we'd see all evening.
More stops and more conversations with wary Highland Park kids revealed our worst fears: no party, because the football players have a post-game curfew. Even a call to Jimmy left us with no leads. We did find St. Andrews, after giving up and stopping for gas. As we pulled out of the station, the street sign rose in front of my Jeep like a victorious arch-nemesis. But it was after 2 a.m. There would be no debauchery tonight. Or maybe I'd been lied to, and these kids were just plain lame.
In 1999, a now-infamous warehouse party in Deep Ellum got national attention when enterprising Highland Park students decided the school dance just wouldn't cut it. Drugs were present, and of course, underage drinking was the main event. If I'd been a HPHS student at the time, I'd have written some kind of bitching-and-moaning article for the school paper about the inane behavior of my peers, secretly jealous I wasn't invited.
"We were CNN's top news story," says Chief Darrell Fant, Highland Park's top-ranking police officer, in a phone interview, a tinge of embarrassment in his voice. After the warehouse party was busted, Fant says Park Cities law enforcement realized they had a serious substance abuse trend on their hands. The year before, in 1998, they'd handed out 209 citations involving minor alcohol possession and consumption. So far, only 58 incidents are on the books for 2005.
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.
In the meantime, I would spend weekend nights trolling aimlessly. I'd become a Friday night regular at the Hillcrest 7-Eleven, where the Dr Pepper Slurpee machine never works. My friends, fed up, had left me to park myself alone on the bench outside the convenience store, watching an endless stream of young people filing in and out. In my head, I played "SMU or HPHS?" and almost always got it right: The SMU kids drove cheaper cars and were far less likely to be wearing $160 pairs of factory-torn jeans.
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 Beach lookalikes 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.
After a few more turns around the Mockingbird Lane area, I sent my friend back to Mansfield and cuddled up on my couch with BBC America. An advertisement ran for Teen Angels, a reality show about a vicious British psychologist who straightens out pot-smoking, cider-drinking foul-mouthed teenagers. This was just ridiculous.
The next night, I'm on the verge of total surrender. I go through the motions of assuming my Park Cities identity. Slather my legs with Nivea glow-tion, a wondrous concoction that turns pasty skin a healthy shade of tan. Pull on my denim mini, complete with Dr Pepper Slurpee stain from last week. String of fake pink pearls. Black V-neck cashmere sweater. A wretched, cheap Gwen Stefani bag. In my heart, I'd given up. I don't even bother to call anyone.
I park outside the HPHS gym, watching students stream out of the homecoming dance. Girls scamper along barefoot, with expensive heels in one hand and their date's suit jacket around their shoulders, giggling as they climb into Hummer limousines. I feel icky. Depraved. Shady.
As the massive vehicles pull away, I follow. They all seem to be headed up Preston and somewhere to the east. Could they be dumping huge quantities of teenagers off at a central location at which there would be unsupervised debauchery involving prescription drugs from their clueless parents' medicine cabinets?
Could be, but aren't. The limos pull up to the same house, but the kids are running in and out carrying what look like duffel bags and camping gear. Off to the lake house. There would be no way I could get in on that without some serious questions being asked. It is approaching 12:30 a.m. I decide to swing past the school one last time.
Six or seven girls and guys stand in a driveway across from the visitor's parking lot. As I'd done so many times before, I stop a few feet away and roll down the window. The perky 90210-meets-Dora the Explorer voice is gone.
"Look, I'm a reporter. I work for the Dallas Observer," I begin. "I'm doing a story on Highland Park parties. I need to go to one or my story's dead. Is there anything going on tonight?"
"What newspaper?" a girl asks, approaching the car, carrying her cell phone. It looks like it probably does more than my blender, my laptop and my toaster combined.
"The Observer," I say, hoping beyond hope that maybe these kids pick it up for the music listings or something.
"My boyfriend is having a party," says the girl, an exotic-looking brunette.
"Hey, don't write about us!" shouts one of her friends. "We won't be able to do anything."
For a fleeting moment, I actually consider her plea. Then I remember that I hate the fact that kids are getting away with this, especially when I had such a great time in high school being self-righteous and bitter.
"Where's this kid live?" I ask, ignoring the other girl.
The brunette gives me an address on Dartmouth Avenue and a few mangled directions. She dials a number on her phone and tells the person on the other end that her "friend" Andrea, wearing pink pearls, is coming.
The house is easy to find because the street outside is lined with SUVs. I don't even need to flash my faux jewels to gain entrance.
I'm shaking in disbelief. I've made it in!
Inside, three Coors Light tallboys rest on the knees of three bored-looking teenage guys reclining on minimally comfortable, modern-style couches surrounding a giant flat-screen television. They stare ahead at the TV like drones with popped collars. Behind them, on the other side of a wall full of windows, four or five more guys sit around a patio table, lit by blue light from the swimming pool. They, too, look a little under-whelmed, the way dads and uncles do when their favorite team's just lost the big game and they've gathered out back to mope into their beers. It's 12:45 a.m. Based on the timeless examples of films like Sixteen Candles and Varsity Blues, this party is decidedly lame.
"We gotta get more people here!"
This from the kid running around screaming and slurring into his cell phone, a Motorola Razr if I'm not mistaken. He's taken it upon himself to be the guest coordinator, doing his darnedest to pack in more of his peers alongside the slick contemporary décor of the house. It's a typical two-story living room with a staircase on the right leading to a second-floor landing and a kind of indoor balcony. There's more than enough space for probably 70 kids, but right now there's only 15 or 20 within sight. Plenty of room to stumble around aimlessly, and no line for the bathroom when too much Boone's Farm sends you racing for a porcelain receptacle (though fewer people also means fewer friends to hold your hair back). The guest coordinator stops in mid-yell as the person on the other end of the line picks up.
"Dude, you have got to get over here!" he pleads into the phone, and disappears into a doorway off the main room. Amazingly, no one seems to have noticed the 21-year-old in the fake Uggs walking in with 10 or so high schoolers still half-sporting their post-homecoming-dance formalwear.
"Hey, you want a beer?"
I spin around and find myself chest-to-face with a miniature Abercrombie model. He can't be a day over 15. His bangs are perfectly swept across his forehead, and the rest of his shaggy mane is just highlighted enough to look lighter than it really is, but not so much that it's obvious he's been to see his mother's overpriced hairdresser.
"Ah, sure," I say, weighing various scenarios involving my being arrested for taking alcohol from a minor in the event the party gets busted up by Highland Park's Finest. "You know what? No thanks," I stammer, imagining the story I'd tell my parents. "Sorry Mom, got caught chugging brewskis with 16-year-olds in the name of hard-hitting journalism."
"Man, we got Coors," the miniature Abercrombie model says, as if the mere mention of the Rocky Mountain brew will compel me to change my mind. "We've got everything."
I assure him that I'm fine for now, watching as he attempts to process the information. Not wanting alcohol does not seem to compute, and a look of vacant confusion wafts briefly over his face as he shrugs and disappears into the kitchen, where a passel of impossibly well-dressed blondes in lingerie-style tank tops gathers around the refrigerator. I wonder who lives here and decide to have a look around when I'm approached by an obviously drunk brunette girl, whom I place at a solid 16 years of age.
"Oh my God, hi! I'm Jessie!" she exclaims, and extends her hand.
I shake it.
"What's up?" she asks, batting her eyelashes and fingering several strings of beads around her neck. It looks like she's raided her dad's closet for an oversized striped polo and her 10-year-old little sister's room for a skirt. She sways, having a little trouble standing up perfectly straight, but she might still be a reliable source of information.
"Are there any parents here?" I ask.
"Ha ha!" she giggles. "We have a babysitter!"
Seeing my incomprehension, Jessie points to the upstairs landing and gives me the international sign for "Shhh!" There's a 20-something woman talking on a cordless phone. I try to ask whose house this is, but the drunken brunette seems to be a little fuzzy on that particular detail. I feel a wave of relief pass over me: It's not that these kids don't care that I'm not carrying a Gucci bag. It's that they're too drunk to notice.
Just as I'm starting to explain to Jessie who I am and why I'm here to ruin her social life, the front door flies open. Seven or eight kids, definitely seniors and all guys, rush the living room. They're already carrying booze, already drunk, and they're loud. I look up just in time to see the babysitter exhibiting all the symptoms of an anxiety attack.
"YOU TOLD ME THIS WAS GOING TO BE EIGHT PEOPLE!" she yells, clambering down the stairs with the speed of a coked-up gazelle. She starts herding people out the front door. I hug the wall, determined to stay until the bitter end. We meet in the kitchen doorway, and I tell the babysitter I work for a newspaper.
"This was supposed to be eight people," she says, a look of panic creeping across her face. The babysitter is small-framed and mousy, so different from the Barbie-style blondes she's physically pulling away from the kitchen counter. This woman meant business. I shuffled my imitation Uggs across the living room, not waiting to see whether she was wielding acrylic nails.
Outside, 10 or 15 kids are milling around in the street as I climb into my car. A tall, buff-looking blond guy must have heard me say I was a reporter and yells in my direction.
"What are you guys going to do now?" I ask.
"Drive around and get wasted," he says, pulling a bottle of Everclear, a 151-proof pure grain alcohol, out of his back pocket and taking a long swig. "You want some?"
"Nah, I'm good." He tells me he'll be 19 in January. He's a senior at HPHS. If I had to guess, I'd put him on the wrestling or swim team. Behind him, his friends trade sports bottles filled with various alcoholic substances I can smell from several feet away. One of them approaches my car, a beer in his outstretched hand.
"Reporter?" he asks. "How old are you?"
"Not buying you anything," I reply tersely.
"It's cool. You coming? One for the road?"
"Aren't you guys afraid of getting pulled over?" I ask, incredulous.
"Nah, he's a real good driver," says the new kid, gesturing toward the Suburban now crawling with students. A couple of girls in athletic shorts and T-shirts climb in one of the side doors. It's Highland Park PD's worst nightmare: a carload of kids, armed not only with beer but with one of the strongest liquors available. Where did they get it?
"I've got a fake." The kid with the beer flashes his wallet in and out of his back pocket. I shake my head, and wave them back toward their vehicle.
They pull out in front of me along with another SUV, and at the next stop sign, the girls jump out of the Suburban and walk toward my Jeep, cell phones plastered against the sides of their heads. One of them approaches my window and says, "Derek, is this you?" while peering into my car.
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"No," I say loudly, and they jump away, startled. These girls have absolutely no idea what's going on. They're ditzy and drunk. I watch them turn the corner behind my car, flip-flops clapping away into the night. The Suburban's long gone. Another episode of The H.P. is over.
Far more low-key than the raging keggers I'd been assured took place each and every weekend behind the 12-foot gates on St. Andrews and Beverly Drive, this Dartmouth Avenue party would just have to do for my investigative purposes. It had taken weeks of surprisingly hard work to crack the Highland Park shell, and I was worn out. In the end, the bad behavior couldn't have lasted more than 16 minutes tops, which is probably all for the best. It would only have been a matter of time before someone called me out on the imitation Uggs and I would be forced to leave, shamed forever because of my limited footwear budget.
It was much easier to get my teenage debauchery the new-fangled way: sitting at home on the couch with my cat, watching Laguna Beach or The O.C. Then again, there's nothing like live, uncensored rich kids behaving badly.
But actual self-absorbed, mindless teens with too much money are a lot of work, plus they don't respond well to remote controls. Or parenting. Or babysitters.