Too many years ago I took my first trip out of state with a tour from Greenville High School to Washington, D.C. Any student from any class was eligible as long as they could raise the fare. I babysat to earn the money, and my parents finally agreed to let me go. After all, they reasoned, it would be perfectly safe because the principal and some teachers were chaperoning.
There were five of us corn-fed, independent, freshman class girls who stuck together on the tour. One evening we decided to go see the Capitol at night, which was supposed to be a brief walk from our hotel. It didn’t occur to us to ask anyone’s permission, but we did ask for directions to downtown. Later we learned we should have headed uptown.
Walking was the preferred mode of mobility for high school freshmen in those days, so we walked a long way before we realized we were probably lost. We found ourselves in a very seedy section of town surrounded by bars, pool halls and very unfriendly looking people. We didn’t know it, but we were right in the middle of a most disreputable and dangerous ghetto.
We stopped on a street corner to consider our options. Not even one of us could remember how we got there, so going back the way we came was not an option. We were afraid to ask directions. Seemingly out of nowhere a taxi pulled up to the corner and the driver asked, “You ladies need a ride?”
We piled into the cab and when the driver asked us, “Where to?” we couldn’t remember the name of our hotel. Somehow he figured it out and took us back, lecturing us all the way about how we had to stay with our tour group or probably get killed. Seems he had daughters of his own.
As a teacher for many years I was a chaperone for lots of eighth-grade class trips. Our first one was to our state capital, which was a perfectly respectable day trip back then.
We were even allowed to take along the school camcorder to record the trip for posterity. I think the principal was certain something horrible would happen, and we would never go out of town again.
We entrusted the camcorder and taping to various students. Not long into the trip we ran out of tape. When we got home and played the tape we found out why. They forgot to turn the camera off between interesting spots, so we had miles of tape of Columbus sidewalks, streets and walking feet.
My husband went along as a chaperone on one of our class trips to Washington, D.C. We were both panting for air as we walked though Arlington National Cemetery. Doggedly putting one foot in front of another, I was thinking it was time to turn the chaperone duties over to a younger teacher. But then I looked back, and the students were puffing, panting and complaining as they tried to keep up with us.
Washington, D.C. is a tough city to tour. Everything is either up steps or down steps. When the tour guide announced one night we were going down some steps to eat hamburgers, the chaperones rebelled. He took the kids and told us there were nice restaurants just up the street we could go to for a good meal.
We finally found a nice looking place that looked like it was on one level. When we told them how many of us there were the waiter said, “Right this way,” and led us across the room and up another flight of steps. We were too tired and hungry to argue.
Another time I found myself pounding on a hotel door for the third time early one morning, trying to rouse three boys. I was sure they were sound asleep, and I was also sure our floor had only kids on it. The next door opened and a harried looking man glared out as he yelled, “I’ve had it with you kids!”
I don’t know which one of us was more surprised, but I assured him I would quiet the kids. Just then the three boys stepped off the elevator. They had gotten up early and gone downstairs for breakfast.
Three of our grandkids just returned from their eighth-grade class trip to Los Angeles. From what I hear they learned a lot and “had a blast.” Class trips must still be great – for kids.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This column was first published in The Daily Advocate May 21, 2003.