When we were in California in October, we met up at a park in the city of Woodland with my wife’s sister and family. It was a nice, large park with several playgrounds, decent expanses of grass to play in, pockets of trees here and there, and several areas for picnicking or parties. When we arrived, a parking lot was blocked with a make-shift sign stating that the spots were all reserved. We parked elsewhere. While sitting in the grass, Afton on a blanket and Patrick in the sandy playground, another car pulled into the reserved area. A woman walked over from a covered picnic area and told the woman she could not park there because they have it reserved for guests to a birthday party. I heard the woman in the car tell the other woman how rude she was but that she would park elsewhere. I had noted the make-shift sign was NOT a city or parks sign, headed over to the woman in the car and asked her what the woman had told her. “She said they need the parking space for their party guests, and I asked if she had permission from the city to reserve the parking. She said no.” I encouraged the woman to not move her car, as she has no obligation to. From a distance I could see the other woman displeased at my interjection. She pushed no further.
A little while later, as Patrick played with his cousin and Afton slept softly under some trees, I saw a rather large van – or bus, what was it exactly? – pull into the parking lot and slide into the area that was self-reserved. A group of young boys, probably in the 10 to 12 year old range, ran toward the vehicle, excited for what was to come. Amidst a beautiful clear, blue sky, a warm October afternoon, Red-tailed Hawk flying overhead and several dragonflies whirring just atop the grass, I saw this:
What was I witnessing here? A group of kids gleefully jumping into a darkened truck to simultaneously play video games against each other. When the weather outside was so beautiful – it could not have been a better day! – they were encouraged to escape the fresh air and enter a stale cabin of flashing screens. I was already annoyed with that woman for thinking she could do want she wanted at the park; then she brought this in. The other father with us was rather shocked, and exclaimed to me, “Why even bother bringing it to the park?” To me, it seemed rather an insult for a company to pull such a vehicle up at an outdoor play space, but I guess this is their business: gametruckparty.com. The website actually says, “Moms love GameTruck because… It is easy!” Way to put a little effort into your kid’s birthday party! The sad thing, really, is that many of those kids will go home thinking that was the best birthday party they have ever been to, and will in turn tell their parents that’s what they want, and the company has sucked them in. When I had my son’s birthday party at a nature park here in Portland two years ago, I had parents telling me that they never knew such places did parties and that they loved it!
I was saddened to see such a display of disregard for what parks are all about – and what being outside is all about – during our visit to California. Our visits to a beach in San Diego, several redwood parks inland and on the coast, and a few state parks along the Oregon coast all made up for having to witness that. Here’s another picture of the truck – you can just see my group hanging out in the background, to the right of the playground, enjoying the air, grass, and trees, watching kids play without screens: