In the Suburbs / Halloween, then and now
Trick or treating today is nothing like the good old days of the 1950s.
As a 7- or 8-year-old, I'd get into an inexpensive costume -- a devil, a pirate, a vampire -- and take off with a small group of friends for two or three hours of trick or treating in our Chicago neighborhood.
One of our favorite haunts was a group of high rise apartments just down the alley from where we lived in East Rogers Park, near Lake Michigan. There were three buildings in the complex, and like any young kids in paradise, we'd take the elevator to the top floor and run up and down the halls, knocking on doors or ringing bells. We carried pillow cases for our booty and always came home with a treasure trove of snacks, guaranteed to plant the seeds of diabetes and obesity. But who cared then?
We were unsupervised kids, and we never thought about whether sex offenders lived in any of those apartments. We never worried about razor blades in apples. And we never cared about roaming around alone within a two-block radius of our homes. We lived for every Halloween.
The picture is totally different today, especially in our neighborhood. For one thing, my wife and I make an annual jaunt to Walmart or Target, where we spend easily $25 or $30 on bags of snacks. Ours is a heavily traveled neighborhood of about 70 homes. Because our house is on a boulevard, it's a primary target.
Another unusual thing is that a large percentage of our costumed revelers arrive by in cars, vans -- even mini-buses. Then they walk the neighborhood, filling bags and baskets with goodies and returning to those vehicles for rides home to Bridgeport, Stratford or other towns. My wife and I believe there must be some kind of special magic about our neighborhood.
Almost from the moment darkness falls and for at least three hours, we are bombarded by children, families, younger and older siblings and their friends, ringing the bell. And that sends our trio of four-legged neurotics into a frenzy.
After a while, I stop counting the mini-candy bars I'm dropping into bags and just try to deplete the supply so my wife won't be tempted to snack.
Occasionally, I'll glance out my front window and see cars and vans parked up and down our street, Brooklawn Avenue. I am waiting for a tour bus from Manhattan to stop by and unload casino-goers, who are trick or treating for slot-machine money. Halloween has become that much of a circus around here.
What I notice more than anything is that all of these children and even teenagers are accompanied by adults. The adults stand on the grass and watch intently as their children approach our door. The parents watch me drop the candy into bags or baskets and when the children return to their mom or dad or both, their bags are checked thoroughly.
The littlest trick or treaters still have that look of innocence and wonder in their wide eyes as they approach my door. But unlike those carefree days of the `50s when we roamed unsupervised in Chicago, these kids have probably been warned to be very polite, accept their treats and leave. And I'm sure when the children arrive home, parents examine every loosely wrapped piece of candy or apple. Loose candy wrappers could mean someone tampered with the candy and apples could have who-knows-what inserted into them.
These times are even more extreme than when our kids were trick or treating after we moved to Fairfield. We lived on Green Knolls Lane in the early 80s and then on Melody Lane for another 16 years. In those days, we insisted that the kids remain strictly on our block. But most of the parents allowed the older children to watch the younger ones, and since we knew all of our neighbors, it never crossed our mind to go along unless the kids were very young.
Unfortunately, I would have to think twice about safety now if our daughters were suddenly young again and roaming the area for Halloween.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.