"In America there are two classes of travel -- first-class, and with children."
-- Kiddie-Kar Travel
There I was a few mornings ago, "sitting on the highway, watching all the cars -- trucks, vans, and speeding late-to-workers -- go by." A little "lyric license," perhaps, with the '50s-era song, "Standing on the corner, watching all the girls ... go by," but the staring, ogling experience was exactly the same.
As a chaperon for my granddaughter's school field trip, I was camped at the South Carolina Welcome Center in my engine-running Buick, waiting to pull in line behind two Horizon charter buses and their precious cargo: 100 kindergartners en route to the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia.
The wait was an eternal worry-session. Had I missed them? Would I be able to ease into the heavy traffic when they did come by, keep up with the buses, or find my way to the unfamiliar destination on my own? As usual, worry was an unnecessary companion. Hundreds of eastbound vehicles later, I spotted the well-marked buses and shifted my Buick into gear.
With so many over-sized trucks on the road at the same time, the pulling in behind part was a bit hairy. But in about an hour the buses, parents, teachers, para-pros, this grandmother, and 100 tightly-wound, safely "ID"ed children found ourselves at the entrance to the, "See, I can spell it - z-o-o!"
A quick, late-morning lunch, snack money, and repetitious instructions to, "Meet back here no later than 3 o'clock!" and we were off to the lions, the elephants, tigers, and even the -- ugh! -- ugly snakes.
"Ooh, a camel!" one child swooned. The "camel" turned out to be a llama with a more humped back than I remembered. Another chaperone and I agreed this animal could pass for the dromedary's cousin, or a young camel who had yet to grow his hump. (Dear readers, if camels are born with humps, please forgive my lack of zoology expertise.) Then we were off to the aquarium with its cavorting otters, poised penguins, and fish of every size and hue; and the bird "cage" where the less rambunctious children could entice the winged ones to perch on their fingers.
The African jungle exhibit was an obvious thrill for these North American children to see, but if we had taken a vote on which animals were their favorites -- with the possible exception of the monkeys -- my guess is they liked the plain, old American farm animals best. Perhaps that's because this group provided "hands-on" experience. The elephants, lions, giraffes, and a menacing rhino were yards away from us in their spacious pastures and caves, but the cows, horses, and goats were petting -- and nibbling -- close.
Or maybe we should take another vote. Now that I think of it, the most popular location for all the children seemed to be the largest, most congested group of animals in one place in the whole zoo: the merry-go-round. With her queasy grandmother on the sidelines, my little one joined her classmates in the mount of their choice for the four-minute ride -- and ride, and ride, long past depletion of the "snack money." Indulgent grandmothers are logical chaperons for a trip to the zoo.
The four hours went by all too quickly and, following visits to the ice cream stand and souvenir shop, it was time to reassemble for the trip home. Signs of weariness had begun to appear on the faces of the adults, but every child wore a smile.
The z-o-o is a wonderful place for a kindergarten field trip, and my hat is off to the staff and teachers of Grovetown Elementary School who not only planned an educational, fun-filled day, but also carefully guarded all those children from departure to return.
If there were a negative to the day, however, it would have to be the speed of the buses -- and the trailing caravan trying to keep up -- while we were on the Interstate. As several school officials have already expressed to me, this may be the time to rethink the policy of hiring charter buses for school trips of this length. The Columbia County school system already has a fleet of air-conditioned buses with monitored speeds. By making such a policy change, both the cost of the trips and the all-important safety factor would be improved.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local, free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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