Teen edition " Smoker’s Corner: The quest for ‘freedom’
March 31, 2009
It’s a sunny afternoon, and we plan our approach to the Corner with a bit of trepidation.
“How should we talk to them?” We ask each other. “What should we start with?” The two of us, wandering over with our AP English books grasped in our arms, stop at what seems like a good spot right on the corner and try to seem “cool.” We tell the students that we just want to interview them because we are doing a piece on Smoker’s Corner – nothing incriminating, just some research. Three students, upon our arrival, began inching away from us with mistrusting glares.
“Awww, you don’t want to participate in our interview?” We shout at their backs.
“We have s*** to do,” replies the girl, eyes half-closed in annoyance.
“Maybe later,” we say perkily. We receive silence in return.
Two students speak with us, however, charming, though shy, gentlemen with heavy backpacks slung over their shoulders. They answer each of our questions kindly, welcomingly. But they don’t smoke. They hang out on the Corner because they just don’t want to be in the school.
“School sucks,” they agree, kicking rocks and staring at their feet.
But is it much better on the Corner? Police come regularly to pursue the students there, making them pick up trash and perform other menial activities. Smoker’s Corner, the closest off-campus point for a student to escape the threats of the public educational system, is a street crossing plagued by weeds and cigarette butts, and is rarely a welcoming place to stand during the brief lunch hour. The two boys said they would go somewhere else if they had a longer lunch, but for now, the corner was convenient for getting some “fresh air” (in reality, often second-hand cigarette fumes and diesel smoke). The conversation with the two guys was nice, but not what we were looking for. We really wanted the information from the three students that refused to speak with us.
“What could we have done differently?” We asked ourselves as we left for lunch. “Should we have approached, a lit cigarette in hand? Would they have talked to us then?”
Smoker’s Corner has remained an icon through the years, just as much as Middle Park High School, the prison-like building across the street. To past years of graduates, there is always a memory of the Corner, whether it be fond, unpleasant, or a little hazy. Ryan McBride, who declares himself “awesome”, is a former Middle Park student who graduated in 2004 and had a few recollections of Smoker’s Corner as it once was. He portrayed it as a relatively clean, peaceful, and accepting place, where the cops never came, there were brick columns to sit on, and it was welcome to all. Everybody was there for a specific reason: to get their nicotine fix. Every patron of the corner was a smoker, but, he notes, that it wasn’t just a bunch of “hoodrats,” a derogatory term for young students that wonder the streets of Granby on a regular basis.
Smoker’s Corner, despite its former reputation as “neutral ground”, is actually illegal to stand on. Congregating on the corner is a criminal offense (trespassing on private property), standing on the sidewalk is an ordinance violation, and standing in the street is a traffic offense.
According to Granby Police Chief Bill Housley, while it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to posses tobacco, M.I.Ps aren’t given for tobacco possession. However, any tobacco substances are confiscated by law enforcement.
By standing on the corner, students aren’t only risking legal violations, they risk the very freedom that they yearn for when dashing from the high school to the street corner. The community complains about kids assembling on the corner, calling it an “eyesore”, Chief Housley tells us.
Mrs. Harmon and Mr. Klassen, principal and vice principal of MPHS, insist that the corner is one of the reasons that the high school is considering closed campus for the future. There is no policy with Smoker’s Corner at the high school ” MPHS administration may deal with off-campus issues only if they pertain to athletes or violence.
Principal Harmon admitted she isn’t quite sure how to deal with Smoker’s Corner. “Am I going to search a dozen kids coming across? No.”
Following our interviews with the school administration and law enforcement, we stood in the sunshine once more, staring at the street corner, wondering if we’d dig up the information we were hoping for, or get shot down yet again by the wary smokers.
This time we approached better prepared, with an absence of schoolbooks and our purses hung nonchalantly at our sides. We asked to sit down with the kids hanging out on the Corner’s sidewalk, and were delighted when our invitation was accepted. The teens that we sat with were the first that declined talking to us, and we began firing questions at them excitedly.
“What kinds of cigarettes do you guys smoke?”
Marlboro Reds seem to be the cigarettes of choice for the patrons of the Corner.
“Do you ever think about the negative effects that smoking has on your body?” we ask one of the girls.
“I’d rather die sooner than later,” she replies.
We turn to the other three kids, and ask them the same question. The boy in the oversized red shirt responds, “I’d rather fill my lungs with cigarette smoke than other things.”
When asked if a closed campus would keep them from smoking or from Smoker’s Corner, one girl said, “It’ll be harder to get out here if they close campus, but we’ll still get out here, they won’t keep us in there,” taking a drag of her Red.
Thanking them for their time, we walk back toward the parking lot and smoke-free air. Mid-way across the street, the boy in the oversized red tee-shirt yells for our attention.
“Is that for the school newspaper?” he hollers.
“Yes,” we yell back, “but we won’t be using your names.”
“Good,” he shouts back, finishing his cigarette.