In late September, while teaching at one of the Buffalo high schools, I was asked to chaperone a Columbus Day weekend field trip to Washington, D.C. As someone who had never done this before or had the foggiest idea what it entailed, I said, “Why not? Let’s do it.” After discussing this idea with my wife, she, without hesitation, said, “Have a great time. I’ll see you in four days.”
Unfortunately, there was a glitch in this well-planned trip. The government was in its second week of a federal shutdown. Of course the teacher had planned this junket almost a year earlier and had not foreseen this dilemma. But, being a math instructor and schooled to think in an analytical mindset, he confidently assured us there was no problem. We went with Plan B and shouted, “Washington, here we come!”
After meeting in the predawn hours in the school parking lot, we herded 50 sleepy-eyed students and their baggage onto the bus. For many of these students, it was their first time away from their families and there were more than a few hugs and kisses before we headed to our nation’s capital.
The first few hours were peaceful and quiet. This was expected inasmuch as for many of these students, this early morning departure was hours before their usual school wake-up call. But things quickly changed. Enter the world of texting, tweeting, Facebooking, talking and using every imaginable electronic device available. Whatever happened to quiet conversation?
After motoring through a driving rainstorm and making two “pit stops” and a fast-food lunch, we arrived at our destination in mid-afternoon. The bus driver, who doubled as our “master of ceremonies,” picked up our tour guide near the White House.
Even though our guide told us the federal buildings and museums were closed, he assured us that we would have a most enjoyable, educational and informative weekend experience.
Our first stop was the Lincoln Memorial. Although we could not climb the stairs to get a closer look at “Honest Abe,” we nevertheless enjoyed the site. The view down the Mall toward the Washington Monument and the White House was breathtaking. Our guide throughout the entire time was not only informative but cordial and outgoing.
Later that day, we drove to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. There were signs posted stating that the memorial was officially closed, but the park rangers allowed visitors to pay their ardent tributes and homage to these fallen heroes.
Arriving at our hotel later that evening, we all looked forward to a hearty dinner and a 10 o’clock curfew.
The next day we drove to Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. Walking the grounds of this beautiful estate overlooking the Potomac River made you feel like you were stepping back in time to a more simple life.
We visited many other sites during our trip, and I have been fortunate to have visited them in the past. Spending four days interacting with these young adults – free and far removed from the constraints and disciplines of a classroom – was both gratifying and rewarding.
Arriving home Monday evening, I told my wife how much I enjoyed this trip and how lucky I was to accompany this fine group of students.