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This piece was originally published on Discourse Blog on May 27, 2021.
We’re gathered here to discuss the events that took place this past Saturday, May 22, in Huntington Beach, Calif. in which 17-year-old Adrian Lopez posted a birthday party flyer on TikTok, which then went viral resulting in thousands of teenagers gathering, partying, rioting, and getting arrested. As it happens, I was there, along with my entire family.
In all likelihood, this kind of thing is bound to happen again. This is simply the world we live in now. Someday, you might find yourself in the middle of such an event, as I did on Saturday. When that day comes, it will be good to know what to expect. You might think the last year has adequately rewired your brain into the kind of defensive crouch that would prepare you for a spontaneous eruption of youths barreling into the streets, ascending flagpoles, igniting fireworks, and hurtling themselves into each other’s arms, but it hasn’t. But, fear not. They are simply internet teens who have been inside for a year and want to feel something. They literally can’t even see you. Also, I’ve prepared this document as a diary of events and a guide for future olds, who might need help navigating a completely unfamiliar gathering of teens united in memedom. It is my hope that this will prove useful to you.
8:00 p.m. You’ll leave dinner at Duke’s Huntington Beach—awful acoustics, but better than you expected for a tourist spot!!—with your spouse, parents, in-laws, siblings, and siblings-in-law with the intention of walking the iconic pier to show your parents, who have never been to Huntington Beach, a little bit more of what your spouse’s hometown is like. At dinner you’ll have made your spouse tell the story of how, at 10 years old, he had to swim around the pier to prove his mettle as a junior lifeguard and saw a human turd floating in the water. The table will have a mighty good laugh as the story is recounted, but there will be a palpable sense of disgust underneath the laughter.
8:05 p.m. Everyone will comment on how chilly it is. Someone will say that the pier seems busier than normal. Later this will serve as a different kind of chilly: chilly foreshadowing.
8:07 p.m. A roar will start to build on one side of the pier. What’s that? It’s teens. They seem to be swirling like a typhoon around a central point. What are they doing? Let’s run through the possibilities: Protesting? No, there are no signs. Dancing? Hmm, no music. Do they seem happy? Mad? It’s impossible to distinguish between the two. In any case, it seems calm enough, but again, why are there so many of them? Oh well, it’s cold. Time to keep moving.
8:27 p.m. At the end of the pier your brother-in-law will relay to your sister-in-law who will relay to your brother that it’s Adrian’s birthday. “It’s Adrian’s birthday,” he’ll finally tell you. Who? Adrian. Who is Adrian? Not sure. A guy or a girl? Not sure. It has to do with a viral TikTok, someone says. Like Adrian is a TikTok star or Adrian had a viral post? Everyone shrugs. “It’s Adrian’s birthday,” your mom will repeat. You’ll watch a fisherman catch a stingray and throw it back into the water. You’ll watch your father, a fisherman himself, observe his hobby peers with excitement and fascination. This will please you. It’s dark now and you’ll stare down at the black ocean water and watch it churn and think about what it would be like to jump. Then you’ll think again about the turd. You’ll linger for a moment and consider all of it. The breeze will pick up and you’ll be shaken from your reverie. “Shall we?” your spouse will say. You’ll shiver and nod.
8:35 p.m. You’ll ask your brother and sister-in-law whether they experience the impulse to jump from high places, or the Imp of the Perverse. You’ll talk about wanting to step in front of a bus, but you won’t finish the conversation because you’ll notice that the crowd gathered at the end of the pier has gotten exponentially larger and much rowdier. A firework will explode and people will scream and scatter. Sirens will sound, and you’ll watch several police cars move in. You’ll expect chaos, but things will momentarily feel calmer. You’ll look back and see your relatives filming at the edge of the pier and you’ll look over to see what they’re documenting. A particularly dense area of the crowd will have amassed around someone holding a traffic cone up like it’s the Stanley Cup. For a moment you’ll actually wonder whether they’re holding something of significance. “That must be Adrian!” you’ll think, before realizing again that it is just a traffic cone.
8:42 p.m. More fireworks. More sirens. More cop cars will descend on various locations. You’ll watch teenagers stage dive from the pier and fall into the arms of strangers and you’ll remember COVID. You’ll think about the potential of a superspreader event, especially in a place that’s been a central hub for anti-maskers. You’ll push that from your mind as you see a young man climb a flagpole unassisted. Impressive, you’ll think. You’ll wonder if it’s weird that you find this invigorating.
8:50 p.m. You’ll look at your family and laugh and shrug, unable to process being around this many people, unable to begin to understand what you’re experiencing, unable to tell whether you should be laughing or getting out of there. You’ll laugh again. More fireworks and screaming and teenagers moving en masse to document whatever is unfolding. You’ll look to your spouse to get his assessment of what’s happening in his hometown and you’ll be surprised at the lack of emotion on his face. Later he’ll tell you he wasn’t really that surprised by any of it.
8:55 p.m. You and your family will decide it’s time to leave. You’ll approach Duke’s once again and see a line of cops protecting the entrance like a fortress, which will seem silly and dark. You’ll watch them watch another firework go off without flinching. The Duke’s employees will ask if it’s okay if you fetch your car yourself. You’ll tell them that’s fine. As you pull out of the parking lot you’ll wait for people to shuffle by. One will stop to take a selfie. Another will sprint by screaming: “Someone got stabbed!!!!” You’ll fail to find any record of this later. You’ll take an alternate route home.
9:23 p.m. Back at the home of your in-laws, you’ll sip coffee and everyone will share the details they cobbled together on the ride home. Someone will say that the event was called “Adrian’s Kickback” and another will say that Adrian isn’t a singular person at all, but an unknowable collective of people. This will prove untrue. You’ll say goodbye and drive home. You’ll sleep quite well.
9:13 a.m. The next morning, you watch news reports, and hear of arrests and vandalism. You’ll be happy that things didn’t escalate further. You’ll be happy the cops didn’t hurt anyone. You’ll breathe a sigh of relief that this was all mostly in good fun, as you expected. You’ll feel some sense of vague happiness that people got to feel some sense of release.
The rest of Sunday and Monday morning: You will literally forget this happened until you see a news story about it on Monday morning. You won’t bother reading it.