Just typing the word makes me uncomfortable. Now, imagine how I felt when my wife told me that I would need to be a chaperone on my son’s third grade school trip to the State House and State Museum. I tried to remind her that I still have not recovered from the time 20 years ago when a buddy called me to see if I wanted to tag along and help him chaperone a group of first-week high school seniors at Cherry Grove. Nevermind we were only three years older than the group of whom we were supposed to be in charge of their well-being. “It will be a free week at the beach,” said my buddy. Mentally, I am still paying the price today from what that week did to my soul.
Apparently, my first-week chaperone night terrors were not a good enough excuse to not go to the State House. My wife had already made this trip with our daughter two years ago and she could not go this year because she was again going on a school trip, this time with our daughter’s fifth grade class to Washington, DC. I had no argument; she was boarding a bus for four days and all I had to do was drive myself to Columbia (parents not allowed to ride the bus, which I took as a gift from the Almighty) and watch a couple of boys for five hours.
For those who grew up in the South Carolina public education system, you know a trip to the State House and State Museum is an annual rite of passage for third graders. For those who did not have the honor of making this trip, here is a rough outline of the itinerary:
7:00am - Kids to the school
9:45am - Kids arrive at State House
10:00am-12:00pm - Scavenger hunt on State House grounds and State House tour
12:00pm - Picnic lunch on State House grounds
1:00-2:40pm - State Museum
3:00pm - Flee Columbia
Even for the chaperonephobic like myself, this is a manageable trip. Learn a little state history, bond with your child. Just a nice little Friday.
Trip day was almost here and my main anxiety was making sure I had everything we needed and got my son to school on time. My wife normally handles the details (by details, I mean everything), but like I said, she was in the middle of trying to reach the pinnacle of elementary school chaperone experiences in Washington, DC. (Side Note: just attempt to summit Everest. It is much easier on the mind and body than a bus trip to DC with 5th graders.) Little did I know that my fears were unwarranted because the school does a great job of sending you reminders about the schedule in electronic formats (email and text), on paper, and in sticker form. Sticker form was a new one for me. Thursday when I got home from work, I thought my son had on a nametag, but upon closer inspection it was a printed sticker saying what time he was to be at the school and his dining plan. The only other thing the school could have done to remind me was brand 7am on his forehead.
Trip day is here. Our picnic lunches are packed and my son has removed all school items from his backpack and filled it with football and basketball card binders. Who knew an hour and a half bus trip was a prime opportunity for card trading. We are ready to roll. First stop, the classroom to drop off my son and pick up my chaperone packet. As we head to the school, I think about what a surprise it must have been for the teacher to see my name on the chaperone list. Let’s just say I am not the most active classroom parent. I participate in open house in August and call it a good year. So when we arrive to the classroom, I reintroduce myself and head to the table to get my packet. On the front of our packet is my name and the kids I will be in charge of that day. As I scan the table for my name, I notice most people have three or four kids for whom they are responsible. When I finally lock-in on my packet, I notice that the school must have been alarmed by my new-found desire to participate in my child’s education. I was only in charge of two kids, one of which was my own. It has become blatantly obvious at this point that no one at the school is aware that I have been licensed by the State of South Carolina to administer local anesthetic, a privilege only bestowed on the most responsible citizens of this state, but I digress.
I left the classroom and began my trek to Columbia. The kids would be coming down in four buses. Not just any buses though, these deluxe motorcoaches are part of the Jean’s bus fleet. I have no idea how Jean’s cornered the Upstate South Carolina field trip market, but they have. As a child, I made many school trips on a Jean’s bus and now to know my son is getting to experience luxury motorcoach travel at the same age I did brings me great joy. Jean’s does not stick around this long without taking care of the little details. One example of this can be seen in the picture below. Gold drapes are not standard issue decor on buses. It is just one of the many details that takes Jean’s to that premier coach level.
The trip down to Columbia was rather uneventful. The really only noteworthy item for me was to see that the trend of Upstate counties erecting large monuments on the interstate to let you know you have entered them has trickled down to the city level. Spartanburg and Anderson counties have them, and now the city of Clinton has erected an east and west bound monument to let you know you have arrived. I am so thankful city officials went ahead and approved this structure because the five interstate signs telling me I am in Clinton were just not enough.
I arrived in Columbia, and about 15 minutes before the buses were scheduled to arrive I decided to start feeding the parking meter on Assembly, which was installed around the time the State House was erected. I have no idea how much time I have because the time display has the clarity of a 1980s Casio digital wristwatch after you jumped into a pool. I then meander through the State House grounds and off in the distance I see a bunch of yellow shirts on the State House steps. My son’s class was all wearing their yellow field day shirts, but that could not be them here early. Afterall they were coming on a Jean’s bus. There is no way there was not some sort of mechanical failure on the way down. As I got closer, not only is it my son’s class, but they are taking their class picture on the steps. So after sitting in my car for the previous 45 minutes waiting on their arrival somehow I was late. Great start.
Two notable things happened midway up the State House steps before the day even got going. My back was to a statue as the kids gathered around the chaperones and one child yells, “It’s George Washington.” In my mind, I am thinking there is no chance the statue midway up the State House steps is George Washington. What are they teaching these children? I turn around and look at the statue and, of course, it is the famous South Carolinian, George Washington. Right next to George was a podium, which one student immediately stands behind and stares out over the State House grounds like he is about to make an important speech. He then screams, “I have a dream! Girls to the north, boys to the south!!”
Now that we have the genders separated, it was time to start the scavenger hunt. While the school only placed two children in my custody, the boys had already decided they wanted to do the scavenger hunt with another mom and three of their friends. Even they knew I was not cut out for this. The hunt was a great way to see the different monuments on the grounds and learn a little history as you walk around. We had a very teachable moment next to the monument honoring our law enforcement officers. The “landscaping crew” was all wearing the same outfits - the khaki ones with a navy stripe down the side that are issued by the Department of Corrections. Sing with me... Hear that sound of the lawnmower? Well don’t ya know, that’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang.
It was now our turn to tour the State House. When you enter, you go through a rigorous security checkpoint. There is one person who is feeding your wallet and cell phone through an x-ray machine without actually ever looking at the tv screen showing the x-rayed items. The tour begins with a nice video in a small auditorium off to the side of the visitor entrance. It does a nice job explaining the history of the State House and what takes place inside it. Our tour guide then takes us up a small flight of stairs to the level that houses the Governor and Lt. Governor offices. I learned two interesting pieces of history on this part of the tour. First, that our governor Henry McMaster fought in the Civil War and secondly, that our Lt. Governor is from Ohio. While the first seems more likely, only the second is true. The tour guide could not confirm if the Lt. Governor was trying to move the state capitol to Hilton Head.
The tour then moved upstairs to where the real work takes place, where the laws are made. Our first stop, the Senate Chambers. They were not in session today so the place was a ghost town, but thankfully the Sergeant at Arms, “Mr. Chuck” was working. He was able to point out where the Senator from our area sits. “See that candy dish, he sits right there.” Of course he does. You don’t approach Mr. Turner before making sure that breath is in check with a Wintergreen Lifesaver. Good to see our state dental lobbying efforts are paying off.
The tour continued on to the House chamber where I can confirm that our Rep. Bannister does not have the same stringent fresh breath requirements as our Senator.
In both the Senate and House chambers, there are lamps at the end of the desk that, when lit, signify the legislative bodies are ready for business. Don’t go looking for the light switch to turn them on. The tour guide explained to us that the lamps turn on when the Senate Sword is placed in a gold rack at the front of the desk. The weight of the sword completes the circuit. The same thing happens when the Mace is placed in the gold rack in the House. The tour guide could not confirm that the lamps are refurbished from the Swensen’s that sat on Haywood Road in the 1980s. Here is a short video of the lights turning on in the Senate.
It was time to escort our group back to the bus to head over to the State Museum. My son was planning to ride back to Greenville with me after the museum, and I was already a little concerned because the trip down in the Jean’s bus had gone so smooth that he might not have the full Jean’s experience. But, as it turns out, my worries were unfounded. Right on cue, Bus 1 had an issue with the handicap lift. This can be overcome...if the lift is not stuck in the down position. This made the three-minute ride turn into a 45-minute adventure. So let me fill you in on what I saw during this time...
We all know Columbia is “Famously Hot,” but that is not just a marketing slogan, as seen by the minivan below needing a little more airflow as it crossed a major Columbia intersection.
The State House is very manageable for a chaperone. The State Museum requires a different level of training. If you are in charge of a group of girls, ignore this part. You will be able to casually stroll through the museum and enjoy the many great exhibits. If you are in charge of watching boys, I recommend a whistle, a cattle prod and the following workout video.
The boys will cover three floors of the museum in approximately seven minutes, then spend the remaining hour and a half throwing rocks from the fossil exhibit or trying to kill each other in a giant tire...
which is unfortunate because they miss out on great exhibits like “Kitchen Gadgets”
or “A Mouse Decomposes...”
It is obvious that the museum is aware of the toll that it can take on a chaperone and they have wisely created a coping area out front. This area is well designed and allows a place for the chaperone to stop shaking and gain back some basic body functions before they have to drive home. It is equipped with an ashtray and a place to dispose of your empty beer bottles.
I did not think I needed to visit this area and decided to head on back. I thought my brain was firing normally, but a sign that maybe I should not have been driving happened as we were driving back into Mauldin and a convertible Smart Car passed me in the right lane. As I type this, I can say my nerves have returned to normal and the Jean’s bus fleet made it back to the Upstate. I can also report that I have entered counseling to prepare on the small chance I go to Washington, DC in two years.
If you ever need a reminder of what a gift from God school teachers are, then sign up as a chaperone. Thank you to all the teachers who do an amazing job everyday with our children!