Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Field Trip, part two

If you missed the first part of this, go here and read it first. I'll wait.

Everyone ready? OK.

We thought we were in big trouble. Our teacher went over the importance of staying with our chaperons at all times, and barely an hour into our trip, we'd already lost them.

Even more pressing was the fact that they knew where we were going; us, not so much. We had the hand-drawn map, and that was about it. None of us had a working watch, which was part of the reason we hustled to meet back at our rendezvous point.

Maybe we misunderstood where we were supposed to meet. We didn't think so, but we didn't have any other explanation. While I had visions of calling my parents to pick me up in San Francisco, we decided to do our best to get to our final destination.

We appointed Ryan, the lone sixth-grader in our group, to be the map holder. Dwight had been to the city a few times, which gave him seniority in the group. He led our excursion.

Technically, we'd both been to the city last year on another field trip, but the highlight of that trip was eating dim sum and sampling new cuisine. I got a tiny cup of tea that almost immediately made me sleepy, and a bowl of what was supposed to be tapioca pudding but had a skin on it about as thick as the bowl itself and the consistency of paste.

The highlight of that highlight was when Dwight, like many of our other classmates, ordered chicken feet and then proclaimed that his had athlete's foot.

Oh, and a few of the older kids in the class somehow managed to get locked in a church basement.

None of this really helped with navigating, though. On one hand, we were nervous, but on the other, we were free to do whatever we wanted. Nerds on the town. Party time.

Well, except for the fact that we didn't know what time it was. Worrywart that I am, I didn't want to check anything out until after we got to the Opera House. I figured that with our luck, we'd stop somewhere and end up missing everything by 10 minutes or something.

"We have plenty of time before we have to be there," Dwight explained. I knew he was right, but I still worried. Dwight suggested that I would worry less once I developed balls.

"That's not what your mom said."

We all were so conditioned to the insult-ridden jungle that was middle school, that it was second nature to just cap on someone if the opportunity was there. I learned 90 percent of all the filth I know now back in sixth and seventh grade. And this, before the Internet. I shudder now to realize the phrases that were bandied about by 11- and 12-year-olds.

Heck, when I moved to Tracy at the end of fifth grade, it was de rigueur to call everyone "scrotum."

It was nuts, I know.

Moving right along...

After a few blocks, we noticed one recurring feature on the streets of San Francisco. Newspaper vending machines. Or to be more precise, newspaper vending machines that featured publications with women clad in nothing but black bars and strategically placed stars. They didn't have papers like that back home. The closest we got to seeing boobies was watching scrambled Cinemax, squinting furiously in the hope of seeing something recognizable.

Don't act like you didn't do it, too, you perv.

With each sighting, there was more giggling and more salacious comments. But as the morning dragged on, the giggles eventually died down because it seemed that we had walked roughly 93 million miles and still saw nothing on our map.

We were aiming for Union Square, because we figured it was the biggest landmark on our map, and it was the one place where we figured we had the best chance of meeting up with another group from our class.

"Ryan, which way do we go?" I asked. Ryan unfolded the map and scrutinized the photocopied lines.

"Looks like a few more blocks up, and then we turn left, and then a few blocks more. I think."

"Screw that," Dwight said. "I'm starving. Let's get something to eat."

"But if we stop to get something to eat, we might miss everyone and then we'll be stuck here."

"Yeah, well if I die of starvation, it won't really matter anyway, will it?"

"I'm hungry, too," Mike said in his quiet, Oklahoma drawl. He was the tallest of our group, decked out in his leather bomber jacket and aviator shades. Having a tall guy in our group made us feel a little safer.

"All right," Dwight said. "Who wants to eat?" Everyone but me raised his hand.

So we popped in to the nearest deli and grabbed some grub. I didn't want to blow all my money, especially if I needed to make a long-distance call later (yes, in case I haven't made it clear, I was a compulsive worrier), so I made do with a root beer. Dwight offered to go splitsies on his sandwich to whoever wanted the other half, which I thought was decent of him.

In reality, it probably took longer to get our orders than it did to eat and drink everything. We were back on the street shortly. We'd go down a few blocks, and when the scenery changed noticeably--like more places with bars on the windows and doors and fewer tourists, we backtracked and tried another avenue.

Somehow we managed to get to Union Square, which was a tremendous relief.

"Ryan, the map," I said. He handed it to me. And immediately, I realized what the problem was.

"What?" Jim asked, noting the look on my face.

"According to this, Macy's should be over there," I said, pointing to the far end of the square. "But here it is on the opposite side."

"Are you looking at that thing right?" Dwight asked.

"Ryan, is this how you've had the map all day?" Jim asked.

"Well, yeah. See, this part is the top, right?"


Somehow we'd managed to make it to Union Square because we were so piss-poor at following directions from a map that had been held upside-down the whole time. We didn't give Ryan too much crap for it; he was a sixth-grader, after all. Plus, now that we had a solid point of reference, we figured we'd have no problem making it to the Opera House in time.

Still, we didn't know what time it was, and apparently it didn't occur to us to ask someone (I know I was too shy), so we pressed on. But not before making one brief detour on the way there. This detour would set into motion a series of events that would likely still be disputed today if all the parties got together.

To be continued...