Every town and city has a main street. Often they are called Main Street. Not the mall: those dreary places designed for shopping for necessities. Main Street is a road lined with fountains, nooks & crannies to explore, shops of unusual goods, and a fascinating place to entertain kids.
The best main streets I know and where I have entertained kids and grandkids aplenty are those of southern California. There is Long Beach, Seal Beach, Sunset Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach (a bit pricey), Laguna Beach, San Clemente (of Nixon retirement), and Dana Point, a place of many yachts.. My favorite is Huntington Beach, for it is still pure 1950s California, unspoilt by progress.
In Kansas City, Missouri is a marvelous main street along which to beguile kids. And further east is Alexandria, Virginia—surely the most perfect historic main street in all America. Stop a while beside the office where George Washington plied his trade as a surveyor. There I have walked many a mile with a beautiful ginger-headed grand-daughter who beguiles shoppers and shop-attendants with spark and smile. She shows no interest in the material goods, but delights in people and their fawning over her beauty and promise.
Plan to take the kids and grandkids when the main street is not crowded. Avoid Friday and Saturday. Weekdays are best. Sundays have a certain charm, for then you will be with other working families out for a walk and a bit of kid entertainment that makes both parents and off-spring happy.
Plan to park on the very top floor of the parking garage. Kids thrill to the swirl up a parking ramp; up and up to the heavens. Then park besides the concrete barrier and let the kids gaze over the street below and the sights to the ocean dotted with cargo chips waiting their turn in Los Angeles harbor. Explain international trade to them. They will go blank and ask “who can push the elevator button?”
And so to the elevators. They bounce with excitement as the lights flash on the wall and you tighten in anticipation of the arrival of the elevator. Then the fights begin: who will push which button? It matters not; let them each push one. The worst is that you will stop at each floor to add more folk to the party in this exciting transport machine.
Hence out to the road and the first fountain. Here they can linger for hours, if not distracted by the adjacent chocolate shop. Give them a few copper coins and tell them it is good luck to throw them far into the waters. A competition will soon establish. The boys are best at it. They toss with energetic abandon into the far distance at the middle of the fountain. The girls are demure; they shyly advance a coin or two into the bubbling stream. You can almost see their instinct to save for bread, hearth, and family. For the boys this is a challenge of impending manhood: strength; distance; accuracy; who can bring down the wounded prey?
OK. Give in and head for the chocolate shop.
“One only!” you admonish. The boys grab two chocolate bars of heavy cocoa. The girls select a pink wrapping of marzipan.
“That is not chocolate,” you growl.
“You said we can choose what we want,” their plaintive reply.
So you pay and with a wink at the feeble youngster at the till, making sure additional chocolate is put into the package. It is but a short time before the girls say they do not like marzipan and you will have to produce honest chocolate.
Out into the sun and burning pavement (sidewalk.) Grab hands and sticky paws. Lead them down past the pub. You would dearly love to pop in for a beer; but this is neither the time nor place. So onwards towards the pier. Past the shop selling cheap T-shirts.
“Grandpa, Stop.” Into the To-shirt shop you troop. What can you do? They are beguiled by the colors and goodies.
“What the hell,” you think. “They can always use another T-shirt or cap.”
Amazing how quickly they get lost amongst the racks of clothes. The boys are grabbing the toy cars topped with surf boards. The girls are fondling the soft-knit sweaters.
“In this climate, they will never use those,” you opine.
But they have never felt so soft a cloth, so sensuous a material, so perfect a pink woolen knit. Their heart is aflame with desire. And the result: you buy something they love and desire, and will summarily dump to the back of the closet when they get home. And your daughter, their mother, will ask: “What were you thinking when you bought that?”
“It is only money.” Not true; but at least a way to assuage your guilt.
To the pier and a walk out above and into the ocean. To the north are the aspirant surfers. To the south are the expert surfers. Their physicality and dexterity as they mount the board and grab a wave to fly to the beach, balancing and finally falling into the waters, brings everybody to a stop. The boys dream of glory—even though they do not yet know the word. The girls dream of romance and heroes—even though the concepts have not yet formed in their young minds. You just wish you were young again and could do this; an endless summer of wind, sun, waves, surf, tanned bodies, and…. you can fill in the rest.
At the end of the pier is a restaurant. It has a red roof, white surfaces, and brilliant views of the sea and birds. Seals often play in the green-blue waters as you sit chomping hamburgers. The kids get crayons to color-in the menus. No point in asking: order French fires, hamburgers, and coke. Everybody, including you, loves this food. It is salty, fatty, hot, meaty, and so satisfying. They won’t finish it. They will spill the coke. The fries will litter the floor. The crayons will break and melt in the sweaty hands of aspirant artists. No matter: a big tip will take care of the mess.
Hence, well satisfied and full, you all stumble back the length of the pier to the town. An itinerant street hustler is making his dog ride a skate board. Drummers are pounding a repetitive rhythm on African skins. A lady in a tight bikini is skating by on roller blades. The kids will not care or notice. They are angling to be carried; to be lifted onto shoulders; to be carried piggy-back; to be cuddled in loving arms.
If there is but one grandkid this is easy. Do what is easiest on the basis of their mass and age. If there are more, you have to play diplomat. The youngest gets preference. Girls before boys. There is always your favorite; but you dare not admit or show it. That is the penance of being a grandfather. They are all equal—although deep in your heart there are favorites. One because they are so bold. One because they are naturally lovable. One because you can already see their cynicism and intellect rejecting dogma and prejudice—in any place but America they would become prisoners of conscience or political opposition. This is the one to nurture, for they could change the world for the better. Although that lovable one—why they will procreate and bring great-grandkids you may never know.
So turn everyone’s attention to the waves, to the flags for sale along the pier, to the kites flying in a blue sky, and urge them to the stairs down to the beach where the warm water awaits. The car is far up an elevator high above Main Street. It can wait tired bodies, aching feet, and wailing voices. This is heaven, here and now. It cannot possibly be better than this. Except the middle kid stumbles and falls and all hell breaks loose. That is the contradiction and pleasure and delight of Main Street, USA. Go enjoy it with the kids and grandkids. I do.