Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Field Trip, part one

I always assumed that the purpose of field trips was to provide education students wouldn't otherwise get being cooped up in a classroom.

We lived in a relatively small town; once you learned which gum machine at Kmart would give you unlimited chiclets if you turned it just the right way, a seventh-grader had pretty much done it all.

The reasons we kids loved field trips was not becuse we could screw around. It was because we could screw around in scenic locales.

This was back when parents still were allowed to caravan to our destinations. Each parent (or pair of parents) was assigned a handful of kids they'd drive, usually their kid and the kid's friends.

My group's chaperons were the school psychologist, and--if memory serves--the director of the gifted education program. There's a reason I'm a little fuzzy on this point; I'll get to that shortly.

After a quick jaunt on the freeway, we were then to take BART from the Bay Fair Mall (which was then the closest station to us).

Again, being somewhat sheltered, getting to ride BART was a minor thrill. Alas, after riding it every day to and from work, the thrill has now diminished somewhat. But at the time, it was great sport to spot abandoned factories and claim that they were classmates' houses.

It was the mid-80s. What you wore and how rich you were perceived to be could make or break you like few other eras (he said, not having been in school for ages to even know if it's true).

After a few rousing sessions of "Hey, there's your mom," pointing to anyone who looked remotely disheveled, we arrived at Embarcadero Station. We deboarded and filed back into our groups.

Four seventh-graders and one sixth-grader comprised our group. As I can't swear to every detail, I'm not going to use their real names. There's another reason this is useful, too, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

No doubt realizing the chore that lay ahead of them (mischievous "smart" kids can be insufferable pains in the ass), our chaperons made a beeline for the nearest coffee dealer. They also generously treated the five of us to very rich, very hot cocoa.

The beauty of this trip was that, aside from getting to the War Memorial Opera House by the early afternoon to catch The Nutcracker, our groups were free to take in the winter wonderland that was San Francisco at Christmastime.

Each group was armed with a hand-drawn map that highlighted various must-see attractions. The chaperons also had at least a passing familiarity with the area.

I was hoping to talk the group into checking out a comic book store, but being the class dork, I knew that wasn't entirely likely.

Yes, I was the dork in a class of nerds. There's always someone at the bottom.

After scalding my tongue, I waited for my hot chocolate to cool a bit. Anywhere under 1,000 degrees Kelvin would be fine. While I gingerly took another sip, a deal was being made.

Our keepers wanted to look at boring grown-up stuff (my recollection is antique furniture, but I could be wrong), and we wanted to check out the toy store one floor up.

The deal: They'd check out their crap, we'd check out ours, and we'd meet back down there in 10 minutes.

Up we went. I knew exactly which Super Powers figures I needed to complete my collection, so that's what I was looking for. My best friend Jim and I looked together. Not only did they not have the figures on my list, they didn't even carry any of them. Bah.

After looking at the rest of the store's meager offerings, we regrouped and headed back downstairs. We were proud of ourselves; not only were we back in time, but we were there ahead of our chaperons.

Not only that, but they were late. After waiting, another group member, Dwight, went into the boring grown-up store. He returned, looking mildly worried.

They were nowhere to be found. Once the gravity of our situation sank in and we realized that an 11-year-old and four 12-year-olds were now left to navigate through a large metropolitan area they had no familiarity with, we were unanimous in our sentiment.

Dwight gave voice to that sentiment.

"Well, shit. Now what?"

To be continued...