High times in the lean years

Coming of age in '70-'80s Spring Hill often meant finding your fun in the weeds.

Published May 4, 2007

SPRING HILL - Friday and Saturday nights in the early years here meant parties on roads with no homes, quiet and Quaaludes, canned Bud and Boone's Farm screwtop wine and conversations about what was to come.

What teenagers do and where and how they do it can say a lot about a time and a place.

Here in southwest Hernando County, in the fledgling 1970s and into the early '80s, when this now busy population center was still mostly desolate, teens drove to dark, undeveloped dead-end streets, opened their trunks and flicked on their lights.

"We smoked some doobs, we drank some beers, and we tried to make it the best we could until it was our time to leave, " said Drew Thomas, Springstead High School Class of '82, who now lives outside Pittsburgh.

"But we were part of it, " he said. "We were part of how that place grew up."

Spring Hill started 40 years ago this week. It's now home to an estimated 100, 000 people. Back then, though, there was a 7-Eleven and a Winn-Dixie and not much more, and miles of roads just waiting for people to buy lots and move down.

"Just scrub oaks and emptiness, " said Bryon Holz, Springstead Class of '79.

"When I came to Spring Hill, " said Bill Vonada, Class of '82, now the school's football coach, "everybody had two things in common: They were all from someplace else, and that someplace else was better."

Those who were here in their teens at that time were forced to come of age in a place that was trying to do the same.

Michael White, Class of '83, who works at Olympia High School in Orlando, went to the roller rink in Port Richey to look at the girls.

Vonada did a lot of fishing and walking in the woods.

Thomas and his buddies often pitched a tent in the woods that are now so many homes in Timber Pines and went what they called "moose hunting."

Which meant drinking Moosehead beer. A lot of it.

"Which amounted to throwing up, " he said.

Some kids had Atari.

Some rode around on bikes or "borrowed" golf carts.

Others hung out in Pioneer Park or in the lot in front of 7-Eleven or played stickball or Wiffle Ball in the street or built tree houses out in the woods or went tubing on the Weeki Wachee River or down to Port Richey to the Gulf View Square mall or to Clearwater for midnight starts of the Rocky Horror Picture Show or over to Brooksville on quarter-for-a-carload night at the drive-in theater to watch third-rate flicks like Dawn of the Dead and Humanoids from the Deep.

Garage bands battled with bingo dates for rented community-center space.

Teens today mope about having nothing to do and nowhere to go, but 30, 35 years ago - before iPods, YouTube and MySpace - there were far, far fewer things to do here.

And those kids managed.

A big part of that - something that still gets talked about at reunions - was the parties on the blank-slate streets.

"I was one of those snotty-nosed kids in elementary school, " Clayton Eccard, Class of '79, wrote in an e-mail, "that ran around in those woods and out by those cul-de-sacs finding the remnants of the high school kids' parties the night before."

Those remnants: "discarded Playboy magazines, " "used condoms, " "empty beer cans and liquor bottles."

"Likely not a lot different, " Eccard added, "than the things that went on when I was in high school."

They smoked cigarettes from the 7-Eleven and other stuff that was home-grown in locked closets.

They drank Ripple and Boone's Farm and Mad Dog 20/20.

They listened to Styx and AC/DC and Boston and Journey and Alice Cooper and Supertramp and Cheap Trick.

They talked about girls, and boys, and all the things they wanted to be and do.

"When we did stuff like that, " Thomas said, "we did it together."

"We struggled together - to find ourselves, learn who we were, learn what we wanted or expected in and of life, and to make sense of it all, " Eccard said. "Pretty much what kids today do, I suppose.

"We had a lot more space to do it in, " he said, "but not any more time."

And on those late nights in the early days of Spring Hill, when the music was off and it was quiet, the power lines let off a constant audible hum, and this place's first teenagers could hear the electricity shooting through the stillness.

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or 352 848-1434.


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