Do you know where Baton Rouge's Expressway Park is located? It’s a slow ride down Myrtle Walk where train tracks used to be, bordered to the north by South Boulevard, and on the west by East Boulevard. And, on the east by South 11th Street.
Interstate highways crisscross over the site, which is how the park got its name.
That’s geography of it. Expressway Park holds a spot in my heart and in the hearts of many others. What it used to be — and what it is now — is an indicator of the difference between my generation and the much younger folk.
For a number of summers during the early 1970s, Expressway Park was the bomb.
Where are the teenagers who used to be there? Where’s the music? Oh, wait. They young folk are communicating with their cellphones. They have FaceTime, Skype, Twitter and stuff. No one needs so much human contact anymore. As President Donald Trump often says at the end of a tweet: “Sad.”
During my late teens and early 20s, Expressway Park was the place to be on slow, hot summer afternoons. There would be dozens of young people playing softball, running, sitting, playing music, talking trash and politics.
On a couple of summer mornings, a few friends of mine would bring lawnmowers to cut the grass to make a better base path, and we would bring lime to make our own baseline. We’d play two games and bake in the sun. Between innings and after the game, those who had a few quarters bought “cold drinks” from the store next to the park.
Sometimes, we’d sit for the next hour or so just talking about sports and everything else. Somebody would break out a deck of cards, and we would sit in the bleachers and play spades or dominoes.
The group would thin out as some headed home to do chores. (It wasn’t cool to admit that’s why you were leaving.) Others would head off to a summer job or get a hustle on with the lawnmower to cut a few yards.
But it was in early evening when the place really lit up. Folks came from nearby and from “around the way” to be there. This was the era of Afros, and everyone had their hair just right.
Sometimes, guys would come over to show off their shiny, just-waxed cars. The most popular were the “Deuce and Quarter" (Buick Electra 225), Chevy SS 396 and the Cadillac Brougham, Vettes and Mustangs. The drivers would blow a little music from their car speakers to draw people to their cars with sunroofs and cutouts.
It was a place where guys and girls would come to see who they could see and who they could have a conversation with. This was life, and it was electric.
There was always a big turnout when there were impromptu softball games. While there were, at the most, two small sets of bleachers, folks were willing to stand around and watch the games. Teams usually consisted of former high school stars, wannabes, stars in their own minds and neighborhood heroes.
Some people would bring their small children to play on the swings or to just sit and watch all that was going on.
We used to play two-hand touch on a sandlot field there. Guys in their late teens to early 20s participated. On a couple of occasions, the winning team would get a case of beer.
We played. We drank our beer together and walked home. I will admit that a few of the participants may not have been of legal drinking age. Those of you who are without sin, just shut up.
When I pass now on weekdays and only see a few people other than when there is pee-wee football team practice, I hearken back to those fun days when it was just great to get together and hang out and to have long conversations with people you could actually touch.
But, I guess in the days of smartphones, there is little need for people to gather to talk, play cards or to just “check out” each other anymore.
Maybe one day, some of us mature folks can bring a couple of boom boxes over to the park and crank up the music. We could play some spades and see if someone can run a Boston. I think it would be fun.
There’s a lot to say about the advantages of technology. But, given the choice, I’ll take the face-to-face fun of old Expressway Park over FaceTime, Skype and Twitter any day of the week.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who now writes a weekly Advocate column, at firstname.lastname@example.org.