An Ode to Teen Hangout Spots

Image via CW.
Image via CW.

Everyone had their spot. They were the places we went to chill, escape or eat, to laugh, make out or decompress, to rant about life-altering events and basically live out our lives free from stressful adults. In honor of Teen Week, these are the memorable places the Jezebel staff frequented as teens, either alone or with peers.

AOL Chat Rooms

The family computer in my parents’ house was a chunky IBM PC running MS-DOS with dial-up, positioned directly opposite the front entrance where it couldn’t be missed. That’s where I sat alone for most of my teenage years and plugged myself in and out. In terms of physical space, there was always the movie theater at Green Acres Mall in Queens, New York, and there was the record store, Music Factory, where I once met my rap idol Eve at an in-store signing of her second album Scorpion (she asked me how to spell my name). But as early as 14, those physical places were becoming less thrilling and, though I still was obsessed with books, my library visits had become scattered.


Almost too easily, I fell for the diversion of AOL chat rooms, where I could fake a personality and develop a false (and dangerous) sense of adventurousness by dating boys in my neighborhood after getting to “know” them via Instant Messenger. Sadly, I often preferred AOL than actual hangouts. In these chat rooms, I would download and supply songs and albums to strangers, and this was how I built my earliest music library, when I got my own PC and became an early pioneer of illegal sharing. I was also a justice warrior of sorts, going into chat rooms labeled something like “White People Only” in hopes of changing the minds of idiots I didn’t know at the time were trolls. I had no idea what I was doing. —Clover Hope

The Parking Lot in the Center of Town

In high school, my friends and I really only hung out on school property, in between classes, at lunch and after school, sitting on the curb in front of the theatre, like the huge nerds that we were. The summer after high school, I moved away from California and back to upstate New York and spent the entire summer hanging around the municipal parking lot in the center of my very small town. We called it the “M.P.” because it was easier than saying its full name and also because calling it something other than a parking lot stripped away some of the lameness of standing around one person’s car for hours at a time listening to “Baba O’Reilly” until someone old enough to buy us beer drove through.

We spent that entire summer on a frenzied quest to find ecstasy, with little to no success, but we did find at various points mushrooms, terrible weed and acid. Occasionally we deviated from the norm and retired to the picnic tables in the back near the woods of our elementary school and drank 40s. If someone’s parents were out of town, we hung out there, but for the most part, we stood around like dirtbags in the parking lot for hours at a time. —Megan Reynolds


The Squares

Next to Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center there used to be a series of sadly neglected planters, which I am fairly certain have since been demolished in one of the area’s many renovations. The spot was called “The Squares,” as in, “I’ll meet you at the squares.” That’s where I smoked my first cigarette, got discreetly felt up under my coat, drew in chalk on the sidewalk, showed off my pinstripe Carhartt pants, and completely disregarded the cultural richness of the area. Officers were generally sent to wave us off by 4 p.m., but it took a long time. Moving 60 teenagers off a giant street corner with built in seating is no easy task. I sometimes wonder if the redesign was in part inspired by the fact that two massive high schools were just down the block. The only way to stop The Squares was to send them back into the earth! —Aimee Lutkin


The Diners in Jersey

My refusal to acknowledge my own mortality as a teen was typified in diners, where I’d chain smoke cigarettes, guzzle sugar-sweetened coffee, and eat chocolate chip pancakes (often with a side of fries) at 11 o’clock on weekend nights. Jersey is known for its diners, but those I frequented—the Point Diner, in particular—were not, in retrospect, particularly good. They were just there, and open late and there was literally nothing for us to do but go and sit and consume toxins and listen to music on their CD jukeboxes.


The music system at the Point Diner was such that every table around the restaurant’s perimeter had its own small jukebox, but only one central music system. When you put your money in, the speakers turned on and whatever music that was queued up before yours would sound until the playlist cycled through and got to your selections. Mostly, my friends and I would play what we thought was cool—the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, Prince—but we also had a particular affinity for Celine Dion’s “Think Twice,” a giant, howlingly sad ballad that was a hit all over the world but somehow eluded the taste of the U.S.—not for the lack of our trying by listening to that song over and over again at the Point Diner and melodramatically miming the climax like aspiring drag queens.

The waitress that served us most frequently was referred to as “Crazy Mary” for her open eccentricity—she was self-consciously funny and loud but somehow cold and impersonal, like her whole deal was a performance we were to observe and not interfere with. One night when we walked in, she accused my group of friends of having walked out without paying our check the week before, as if we’d be so brazen to 1) do that at a place where we went literally hundreds of times and b) walk right back in without acknowledging it. That kinda killed our love affair with the Point Diner, which given the unhealthy lifestyle it facilitated, was for the best. Sometimes when a performative stranger accuses you of theft, they’re doing you a favor. —Rich Juzwiak


The Pizza Place by My High School

There were a few pizza places by my high school on New York’s Upper West Side, but only one was THE pizza place—that if you said “I’m going to The Pizza Place” (not the actual name of the spot), everyone knew what you meant. It was reasonably, sized, with reasonably priced ‘za, and reasonably close to school as well. Perhaps most importantly, the guys working the counter were super nice to a group of teenagers who would come in, take up several tables at 3:30 pm on any given day of the week (definitely Fridays) and sit for hours until we had to wend our way home—or to someone else’s home, if we were lucky and didn’t have strict parents.


They didn’t seem to care that some of us never (or rarely) ordered anything, or that if we did, it wasn’t more than a slice and a Snapple. They were just friendly dudes who knew a few of us by name and let even those of us they didn’t take up space in their restaurant flirting and most certainly loudly talking about nonsense.

A couple of years ago I was in the neighborhood on a Saturday for work. During my lunch break, I sauntered by The Pizza Place. It was largely empty, but the same guys were working the counter. I ordered a plain slice and Snapple, and sat near a dad patiently feeding his young daughters, seemingly the one tasked with parent duty that particular weekend day. It felt exactly the same—sans the teen screaming, of course. —Kate Dries


Club Bleu in Detroit

Bleu was a place to see and be seen. Back then, we never wore the same thing twice, so it wasn’t odd to spend the entire day at Forever 21 pulling together outfits for that night. Pants, tops, jewelry—the works. Detroit winters are merciless, but that didn’t stop us from lining up in crop tops and culottes hoping the bouncer would clear us for entry before we froze to death. Once inside, it was a gathering place for teens in the city, suburbs, and private schools—the place you needed to be if you wanted to go out with someone who had not already dated your friend’s best friend. It was also a haven for drama. The night was a “banger” if there was at least one confrontation and we danced enough to sweat out our hair.


We would wrap up our nights at Ram’s Horn, the closest thing we had to a diner. I always ordered the turkey burger with honey mustard on a whole wheat bun—surprisingly health conscious for an 18-year-old. I rarely order fries because I couldn’t afford them. Now I can, but rarely pair them with crop tops. —Jennifer Perry


When you’re a teen, your house is your parents’ house, and private spaces actually aren’t. This meant that if you lived in a vaguely suburban area where parks were closed after dark, there weren’t many places you could reliably learn to get high or make out except, if you were lucky, your car. I had an old dark blue SUV that was big enough to fit at least four girls who were too scared to smoke a bowl in their basements, but somehow were okay doing it while circling a single residential block at 10 miles per hour.


When I was doing the many-hour drive from my college in Vermont to home in DC one year, the engine started smoking somewhere in New York. I drove the remaining hours extremely slowly, only to learn the engine was cracked (@Jalopnik is this something that can happen?) and I had to throw it into the junk heap, only very narrowly having escaped a fiery road disaster. But that little blue car had served its purpose, providing me with a place to smoke and do some uncomfortable kissing when I had none. —Joanna Rothkopf


The CPL stood for the “church parking lot” where a bunch of kids from my high school would go to consolidate into carpools and drink vodka and sprite before heading out to wherever we were going later. Often though, we’d just sort of stay in the parking lot all night, and I basically have no memories of doing anything there other than listening to Incubus with my friend Molly while we waited for our other friends to show up. It was just where we hung out. It was also always cold. I grew up in coastal Northern California, so was pretty much always shivering until I turned 18. There was a lot of borrowing of sweatshirts and returning of them in the CPL.


The lot was—still is, I guess—down the hill and in the shadow of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church which kept me from giving handjobs without feeling a little weird about it, though the church didn’t look like a church so much as an oversized geodesic dome with a cross on top. I can’t say with authority if this was a universal reaction, but it was certainly a more chaste space overall than the “BPL,” the back parking lot of our high school, where I touched a penis over a pair of pants for the first time. —Kelly Stout

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Kate Dries

Fuck Aimée of course you picked the Squares what a good one!