Tuesday, February 05, 2008

COLUMN: Corn Chips

"The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley," quoth the Bard of Scotland, Robert Burns. I'm no expert on 18th century Romantic poetry, so I can't speak on exactly what's being gangly aft-ed, but I can certainly tell you that this week's column has gone horribly, horribly a-gley.

Two weekends ago, the Quad Cities saw the opening of Energy, a new dance club strictly for the under-21 sect. "O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!" thought the innocent newspaper columnist, "A story idea presents itself."

Being an alumni of the teen club crowd myself, I was happy to hear that a new place was opening in town. Frankly, it's been too long. The kids of the Quad Cities need something fun to do on the weekends, and at least MY dictionary defines "fun" as "(noun). See: Dance club."

So I was going to write a grandiose column about teen clubs and time it to Energy's grand opening.

On their first two nights, they packed some 800 kids into their Moline location. And then, like the Party-Pooping Patrol, the city of Moline swept in and shut the place down after one single weekend in business. Not that the city's to blame. It turns out that the owners didn't have the building up to code, nor had they received the proper licensing from the city, and that's a big ol' bummer. Moline no longer has a teen club, I no longer have a column idea.

Or do I? Just because Energy's closed doesn't mean I can't still take my nostalgia trip. And the guys behind the Energy club haven't packed it in -- they're scouring the Quad Cities for a new, up-to-code location, and I for one sincerely hope they find one. As far as I'm concerned, a teen age without a thumping bass beat and a dancefloor with which to potentially embarass oneself in life-altering ways is a teen age I'd rather skip, thanks.

I'm sure it'll be of no surprise to learn that I was something of a nerd in high school. I wasn't particularly downtrodden or anything about it, but suffice to say me and my drama geek friends were not exactly invited to the A-list parties. Until, that is, I learned how to DJ them. Music was my social saving grace back then, and when Galesburg opened up a teen club -- Checkpoint -- I had to be a part of it.

Now I could lie and tell you all that the club went and sought me out for my exceptional DJ'ing abilities. Truth is, from the day the place opened, I wouldn't leave the owners alone and eventually weaseled and begged my way into the DJ booth. I fear that the inside of that DJ booth at Checkpoint might be the one memory that I will forever refer to as "the best time of my life."

Checkpoint closed down about the same time I moved to Rock Island for college, and my central weekend hangout simply shifted to Bettendorf's Stage 2. While my collegiate brethren were obsessing over keggers and frat parties, I was obsessing over which Chess King ensemble to best make the scene down at the teen club. Only-child-syndrome made living on my own kinda rough -- and since beer parties really weren't my thing, the teen club was my solace. If it hadn't been for the friends and fun of that club, I don't think I would have made it through freshman year.

On any given Friday night, you could find us down there. Half of the club would be filled with the preppies and the underage social elite, and the other side -- our side -- would be packed to the brim with the folks they called... "corn chips." To this day, I don't know where the name came from or how it was meant to be derogatory. I don't know if anyone does, really. Today the labels "goth" and "punk" might apply to similar cliques, but back then we were all a bunch of corn chips.

All it meant is that we liked different music than most, and admittedly had a unique flair for expressing it. And even on the outcast corn chip side of the club, tables were chosen by high school clique: The UT kids sat over here, the Moline kids over there, Bettendorf kids had the back corner, and the table by the snack bar? That was Galesburg territory and our nesting place. The drama would play out in perfect teenaged form. One of our favorite hobbies was to wait until the DJ played the corn chip tearjerker anthem "Somebody" by Depeche Mode and take bets on the number of girls who would run to the bathroom distraught over their unrequited crush o' the week.

Like all good things, eventually my time at Stage 2 had to end. As much as we hated to leave the teenage years, we had to, fighting tooth and nail the whole way. My friend Natalie was the only person I knew who had a fake ID -- to prove she was UNDER 20 and still admissable to the teen club. Me? I knew my time at Stage 2 had reached its end when I was a junior in college and got an invitation to a fellow club-goer's 14th birthday party.

Still, that building -- now a barren Bettendorf parking lot -- was where I forged some of the best friendships of my life, met amazing people, listened to amazing music, and made me want to be a DJ for the rest of my life. Here's hoping Energy can get it together and do the same for some other socially adrift kid out there. Good luck on finding a new location, and if you ever need a fill-in DJ, I'm your guy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know how you feel,man!!!
I was a Stage 2 cat from 1987-1988 and i was shocked when you said it was completely gone.I came from Cambridge and believe me the people i met and the times i had there are never to be forgotten.
Did some web searches for old photos or info posted by people who were there the same time i was....might be hoping for too much!