Saturday, May 31, 2008

DC - a Powerful Place

I recently returned from a successful trip to Washington DC as a chaperone for an eighth grade class trip. Despite my initial thoughts about how I may decide to throw some of the louder ones off of the Washington Monument or push them in front of a bus I actually made it through the trip pretty well. It was one of those regimented, over scheduled, jog through the sites to say you did it kind of trips - the ones that leave you wondering where you actually went by the time you get home and look at the pictures. We left on a Saturday morning at 3:15 AM and returned back on the following Saturday at 1:14 AM.

If you looked fast, you saw basically everything there was to see in Washington DC, and parts of Virginia and Maryland. If, like me, you like to actually READ the placards on the displays and study the fine detail in objects then you would either have to come back on your own or miss the bus. This was the one hour and twenty-five minutes at the Air and Space Museum, one hour and thirty minutes (lunch included in that time) at the Natural History Museum, jog up the stairs to the Lincoln Memorial (at night no less - the pictures suck as we didn't have tripods), the blitzkrieg tour of Gettysburg, etc. Did you get a picture of the Iwo Jima memorial? No, my flash wasn't charged before we had to run back to the bus. The downside of course was the incredible rush to get from place to place without spending any time to really enjoy them while we were there. The upside is that we can say, "been there, sprinted through that" about most of the things in the area. Let's see, my list shows that we saw:
  • National Air and Space Museum
  • Museum of Natural History
  • Newseum
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Jefferson Memorial
  • FDR Memorial
  • Washington Monument
  • White House tour
  • Capitol Building guided tour
  • Gettysburg battlefield guided tour
  • Gettysburg visitor center and museum
  • Mount Vernon tour
  • Monticello tour
  • Vietnam Memorial
  • Korea Memorial
  • WWII Memorial
  • Busch Gardens (yes, a whole 6 hours there riding roller coasters!)
  • Water Park
  • Hauntings Tour
  • Colonial Williamsburg tour
  • Jamestown tour
  • Attended President Bush's speech at Arlington Natl Cemetery on Memorial Day (in the Amphitheater - had to get there at 8:00 AM)
  • Dinner / Dance cruise
  • Yorktown tour
  • National Archives
There may have been more; those are off the top of my head. Anyway, it was a bit strange being a "kid herder" (no, not the little goats). We had to make sure they didn't touch the walls or display items in Monticello, hit each other and be loud at the President's address at Arlington, fight about the time to go to sleep, shine laser pointers in people's faces on the bus (yes, they did that on the bus back to the airport - teachers, if you want names, call me) - all the stupid and sometimes evil things 14 year old kids do when they are awake.

Anyway, we made it back - and didn't leave anyone behind. We did have a few stragglers on a couple of occasions - mostly the parents if you can believe that. I guess the worst items were:
  • Hotel changed the keys from the credit card shaped magnetic ones to an RFID wristband lock during the day and we had to all get new keys.
  • One hotel's magnetic key lock failed and a person couldn't get some of their items out of the room and we got delayed by 30 minutes (plus the items will have to be shipped back).
  • Kids fighting with their roommates because many are irresponsible and won't go to sleep and insist on watching TV at all hours of the night.
  • A couple of kids got dehydrated on the dance cruise and caused a bit of a scare (but they are fine).
On the plus side, tour guides Richard (Bus 1) and Beth (the "cool" bus) did an excellent job with the limited amount of time we were able to spend at each venue, contributing their unique blends of solid historical information and light humor to keep the kids engaged and paying attention (as much as that is possible). The teachers (Bob, Jacey, Shoba, and Pam) did a good job of organizing and keeping the chaos to a minimum although I think maybe a bit more communication with the chaperones so that we can help more would be an improvement for next time. Looks like I'll need to go again in two years when my other kid is in 8th grade.

Here's the President's address at Arlington:

Here's the WWII Memorial:

Here's the Washington Monument shot from the side of the Jefferson Memorial:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Washington DC - how worried should I be?

I'm scheduled to chaperone a middle-school (8th grade) field trip to Washington DC soon. I've already had trepidations about this as I figured by the end of the week I'd be more likely to push the kids in front of a train than actually try to round them up and ride herd on them. I was thinking that they'd probably be noisy, unruly, and just a bit rude - after all, they are 13 and 14 - the age where they start thinking that they know everything and adults are silly old farts who "just don't get it.".

As if that wasn't enough to think about, now I see that there was recently a scandal on another school's trip to DC. No, the president and the senate left the kids alone. TSA didn't take their iPods or steal their other toys. They didn't get mugged or hit by a car. Instead, the kids allegedy had sex. Damn! I didn't think that I would have to worry about that until 10th grade! Here is the CNN video on the recent brouhaha. There are plenty of sites and bloggers who will tell you all about that trip and what went wrong. I'm more worried about my kid and other charges and how to keep things from going wrong for them. After all, I wonder what happens to an "unsuccessful chaperone"? Banned from the chaperone circuit for life? Expelled from the bus? Registered as a sex offender? More likely, you go down in history as the second doofus to make CNN headlines as your charges also get expelled and people talk about how terrible you must be at your volunteer job.

Anyway, it's an eye opener for me as I didn't think I'd have to be checking the bathrooms and closets on the dance cruise or making sure that there aren't two people under one towel at the hotel's water park. Raging Waters meet raging hormones. We'll be going to the usual places like the White House (Bill's gone, so they should be safe), the various memorials, Arlington National Cemetary (kids - out of the crypt, now!), and everything else all in one week. After a quick visit to some place out of American history, we climb back on the bus and count heads - have to make sure there aren't two in the bathroom!

Well, if anything this news has given me food for thought. Wait: speaking of food - have to make sure the seafood place isn't serving oysters - can't be having the kids exposed to even rumored aphrodisiacs on the trip. Hopefully the kids will return from the trip tired, sore (from walking - what were you thinking?), and chaste - no belts required. If we are lucky they might even learn something that doesn't involve birds and bees.

Update - May 19th, 2008. What was that about a crash? Well, I can't tell you much as the site this comes from says in its copyright notice that material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed (I guess they didn't realize they published it!) - however it appears another DC trip had their trip end with a tragic tour bus accident (here). As if I wasn't worried enough already. Now I'll have to walk around the bus inspecting the tires before getting on each time.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Yosemite - Vernal Falls Trail

On Saturday May 3rd, we went to Yosemite National Park. I highly recommend that you don't go there as you might annoy me by making it too crowded. As always, Yosemite was beautiful. It was beautiful before you were born, and it will be beautiful after you die. The pace of change there for the granite, water falls, and forests is on a timescale so far outside that of a human that it seems eternal. The ethereal beauty is likewise timeless.


On this trip, we took the Vernal Falls trail to the top. You can read about the trail here. It rises 1,000 feet over about 1.5 miles, although you actually walk about 1/2 mile from the parking area just to get to the trail head for a round-trip approximating 4 miles. I'd previously been up Vernal falls 13 years ago. At that time, there were a couple of factors that made this trip really, really hard. Back then, it was a wet year in the park and the water was running down the stairs on the "Mist" trail. It was enough to make you think they "Missed" the naming on that trail and should have called it the "feet are under 3 inches of water, drenched to the bone, watch your step trail". Also, I was out of shape on that trip. It was like climbing the face of Kolvir - those of you who have read Roger Zelazny will know about Kolvir. Anyway, this time I was in much better shape and there was a lot less water. You still got wet, but not drenched, and you could keep your feet dry if you were careful. I still needed to put my camera in a large zip-lock bag, but otherwise it was great. This time the trail seemed relatively easy even though you climb 600 granite steps and 600 feet in elevation over the last quarter mile.

What a spectacular view! Yosemite never fails to humble and amaze.


As usual, there were some free-loaders there in the park. It's a $250 fine if you feed them - but enough people must risk this fine that the animals get a lot of handouts. I imagine they don't try to fine the squirrels, and so they swarm all around you and even on you.


Anyway, as long as it isn't a day when I will be there, this hike is strongly recommended. On my days there, you need to stay home!