Friday, September 4, 2009

Hell is Not a Place.......'s a train ride.

......with two middle school students.

Thank you to my friend Maggie for jogging my memory with her post about a train trip this weekend and giving me something to blog about tonight. Sometimes coming up with a topic is the hardest part.

I taught middle school for three years. This is the period in my life that I refer to as "the-closest-to-hell-that-I-ever-want-to-come" years. One year a colleague of mine organized a trip to New York City for the fledgling middle school newspaper staff. That was back in the years when you didn't have to make an academic connection in order to take students on a field trip. You just had to make the money connection and you were good to go.

There were two students in this little group of ten whose parents would not allow them to fly. One was because he was allegedly "claustrophobic," and I don't forget the rationale of the other one. The principal said if those two couldn't go, no one could go, and the trip organizer began looking for someone who would agree to accompany those two on the train.

Because I was young and stupid and couldn't say no to anyone, much less anyone named Cay (her last name was Kelly, and I thought it was a shame to spell her first name with a "C", considering the alliteration thing they apparently had going on and all), I agreed to take those two students on the train. How bad could it be?

How bad CAN eighteen hours on a train be when you can't even go to the club car? Do you know how many times an Amtrak train stops between Georgia and the Big Apple? Twenty-three. Twenty-three times this bad boy stopped, no more than 45 minutes between any two stops. It was like trying to sleep in a hospital. Without the drugs.

It was nighttime when we got on the train, so things were relatively quiet. We settled down in our seats and I advised the students to sleep as much as they could. None of us could sleep very much, forever, for watching the couple in the front of our car.

They were young and obviously in love. And it's possible they had spent a great deal of time in the club car. They made out heavily, sometimes sitting in the same seat. They couldn't keep their hands off each other, and I thought my little sixth-grade girl and eighth-grade boy's eyes would bug out of their heads. I thought to myself, "How sweet. They must be on their honeymoon. But they really, really should tone it down."

This went on throughout the night, until sometime in the wee hours when we pulled into a station somewhere in Virginia. And SHE got off the train. There was a young man waiting for her on the platform, and they walked away arm-in-arm as the train pulled out of the station. If I could have opened that window, I seriously would have yelled, "Do you know what she's been DOING all night?" He got off the train in some other state, looking what I thought was smug and self-satisfied. Satisfied. Heh heh. I made a funny.

We had left Georgia around 9:00 PM, and we chugged into Penn Station in NYC sometime around 3:00 the next afternoon. We had been instructed to take a cab from the station to our hotel, which was easy to do even considering the fact that I had never been in a cab in my life. We didn't have those out in the country. The cab ride itself, however, was a gut-wrenching experience. It was wilder than any roller coaster I had ever been on, and the two students were scared to death.

Some other highlights of that trip included dinner at Sardi's, where we fully expected to see some famous people but were disappointed, and the students, being middle schoolers, counted their money down to the exact penny when we paid for dinner. It took longer to settle the bill than it did to be served. It was pretty close to the length of the train ride. I was embarrassed that we looked like country bumpkins off the farm for the first time.

We took a bus tour of the city and got to see the Statue of Liberty up close and personal. But the line to WALK up the steps was about four hours long, so we didn't get to do that. Our tour bus got stuck somewhere in Harlem for a while when it tried to go down a narrow street, where cars were parked on both sides.

We went to the Empire State Building, but many of the students refused to spend their money to go to the observation platform when there was a McDonald's right across the street. We bought cheap t-shirts, and even I was puzzled when they came out of the wash the first time looking like trapezoids.

You would think I would learn about volunteering to accompany students on trips out of the state. But fast forward fourteen years, when I found myself as a chaperon on Sweet Girl's high school band's trip to . . . you guessed it . . . New York City.

This time Hell was not a place . . . it was a bus ride.

No comments: