Guests of the Inner Sanctum

EarthJeff: Not in Kansas anymore – On the road with 18 teenagers… Part 1

Are we all ever out of our element…. Geez.  I thought I would share with you the wonderful experience with being out on the road with 18 teenagers and one other adult.  Now, picture this group.  18 kids from Detroit (most of whom have never had a chance to get out of the city and go anywhere), 15 girls and 3 young men.  Most of them 18 or older, only a couple are 17.  One tall (she is over 6 feet), athletic (she played major college basketball), drop-dead gorgeous black woman.  And me…. Creaky old gimpy-kneed white guy.  Oh, for ease I will refer to my fellow chaperone as Ms. Jones.

Before I get into some of the pieces of this adventure, I want to say this first… the kids deserve it… The kids have been fantastic.  So well behaved it makes me want to cry.  Well, if not cry then at least hug them all.  Absolutely incredible behavior.  I love them all, I really do.  And it is not just that they have been sneaky, they have just been great.  Look, I have a 20 year old daughter.  I have a 16 year old son.  I have taught many different environments, ages, grades.  I have coached.  I have chaperoned other trips.  These kids do not have anything that I have never seen before.  They Have Been Fantastic!

So the trip is for 3 days and nights up at this swanky, ski resort in northern Michigan.  Even though we wont be skiing, they have a great water park and Zip lining up here.  Hot tub… heated outdoor pool… bonfire some nights… mountain tubing..  so there is stuff to do.  We all load on a school bus and drive up here.  Since our group of 20 will be in two condos that hold 10 people each, there will be a kitchen and we can cook.  Huge breakfast buffet is included in the package and we will be able to fend for ourselves for lunch and dinner.  We (some of us) will be able to cook.  Therefore, on the way up we stop at a store (Meijer, kind of like Walmart if you aren’t familiar with it) for some groceries.  First mistake….  16 women?  Stopping to shop?  Uh oh.  Yes, they all buy food.  And clothes.  And other stuff.  And we aren’t even there yet.  Even Jones says (as she is filling her cart) “Gee I should have given them an hour”.  Ugh.  Of COURSE I was the first one back on the bus.  And it was a long time before the next person got on the bus.  The drivers kept looking at me as if to say “where is everyone”?  Beats me, I am just riding along.  The whole ride up some of them are grousing about how there is snow on the ground and some other high school trip went to Miami.  Hey, Miami would have been fine with me… I didn’t get a vote, I was just one of those that volunteered to go.  Besides, I don’t want to hear it, I am pre-occupied with the math of how we will put 20 people in two condos that each hold 10 (easy enough) when 4 of us are male… you get where I am going with this, more on it later.

Finally we get here.  Foot of snow on the ground.  Cold as heck.  Are we in northern Canada?  I don’t see any Mounties and I don’t recall crossing the border.  No hockey.  No sled dogs.  There ARE pine trees.  Oh, and no black faces.  We aren’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.  I am going to fit in fine.  Y’all…. Ahhhhh….  Before we get off the bus, Jones gives them the speech how we need to be on our best behavior.  Not just because they are all black, because they represent themselves, their folks, the school, us,  etc.  But, this is the real world, and because they are black and they know up here we are a group from Detroit and how stereotypes drive perception…. Yes, there is an extra burden on us to act like polite, intelligent, well-mannered adults.  They have, through their actions, a chance to possibly affect change, even if it is just in one person or with one thought.  She was very profound (by the way, not only is she an English teacher, she is absolutely fabulous with the kids.  While I am one of those “popular teachers” with the kids, she is that one that is everyone’s favorite teacher in the school).  And you could see in the kids faces that they were taking it to heart.  We care about them.  We were putting trust in them.  Many of them have never had anyone do that.  You could see it.

Were the people up here – some of them – expecting a group of thugs, gangsta’s and hood-rats to be descending on this place for a few days when they heard a student group from our Detroit high school was coming?  Probably.  Our kids not only have a chance to have some fun and learn, they have an opportunity to TEACH.  Maybe this IS a better choice than Miami.  Even if it is still colder than the North Pole.

Jones and I get off the bus to go check in.  We walk up to the valet guy who looks at her admiringly (as I said, she is stunning… and in her early 30’s), then looks at me like I am the luckiest guy alive even though he had no idea how I (shriveled up white guy about to turn 50) managed to be with her, then looks up and realizes we got off the school bus – his look changes immediately – as Jones says “we are from so and so high school in Detroit with our group of kids for 3 days”.  He now looks at her with an “oh shit” look, looks at the black faces in the windows, and then looks at me and says “oh… ah… are you the driver”?  Jones is trying REALLY hard not to burst out laughing and I manage to keep a straight face as I say “ah…. No…. I am the other chaperone”.

Now, this is so loaded with racial irony that I can not even begin to pick it apart.  I really wanted to say “Yes I am…”.  But I will let you pick it apart at will…. Have at it… more to follow on this adventure, I have to go do a quick check on the kids….

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