The first week of the 2010-11 school year at Bishop Dwenger High School had come to an end. Mary invited me over for dinner with her, Mitch, and the girls. During the typical pre-dinner hubbub, Maggie told me that the Bishop Dwenger show choir was going to New York City the following spring for a national competition. She and Abby were rightfully excited, almost as much Mary was. The show choir had previously made a trip to Orlando to perform at Walt Disney World when Sean was in the choir. A competition in New York City, though? THIS was the big time.
Maggie excitedly told me about their pending agenda: a tour of the city including the Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, Times Square, and the Lincoln Center; a Broadway show; SHOPPING!!!; oh yeah, and a little competition to make the trip legit. As Maggie bounced around describing the trip, the shopping, and what show they would see, and “Oh my gosh, I hope it’s ‘Wicked’! No, ‘The Lion King’! No, ‘Wicked’! Oh, I can’t make up my mind!”, my own mind wandered off to the school trip I had been on following my own senior year of high school. A wistful grin spread across my face.
“I know that look,” said Maggie, slowing down enough to notice. “What are you up to?”
“Kid,” I replied, “how would you like a chaperone for your trip?”
Maggie squealed with delight at the idea and ran off to tell Abby. Mary also seemed pleased with the prospect that I might be with the girls. “Oh, my gosh! That would be wonderful!” she proclaimed. “They would love having you come along and Mitch and I would feel so much better knowing–,” was all she managed to get out when we heard another squeal of delight come from upstairs. Within seconds we heard two pairs of feet come running downstairs.
Abby was the first to emerge into the kitchen. “Are you serious about going?” she demanded to know.
“Yep. I love New York and would love to go back,” I answered.
“Oh, my gosh, that would be the bomb!” Abby enthused before throwing her arms around my neck and nearly squeezing my melon off.
I managed to choke out a weak “I think so, too.”
Once the excitement died down, Mary and the girls and I discussed what needed to be done. Since I wasn’t the girls’ father it was assumed that someone from the school or the diocese would want to talk to me before granting me permission to go on the trip. Maggie said she would talk to Mrs. “V” about it. Mrs. V, the wife of the school’s choir director, was the de facto leader of the show choir. Nothing happened in show choir without her approval. Maggie was confident that Mrs. V would be cool with me going on the trip.
Once that was settled, we talked about their trip and compared it to my experience nearly thirty years prior. While I knew that an exact duplication of that trip was impossible, I held out hope that most of the experiences could be replicated. The girls chattered away about which Broadway show we should go to while Mary and I discussed the cost. It was well within my means as long as I planned ahead.
The following Friday night found me in my usual seat at the Dwenger home football game. The girls knew I would be there and were hoping to have news to share with me. Shortly after sitting down I spotted Maggie walking towards the bleachers. She spotted me, gave me a big wave, and then began darting through the crowd to get to me. She could barely conceal the grin on her face as she bounded up the steps.
“Hi!” This was her simple and customary greeting whenever we met
“Hi!” was my customary, yet thoughtful, response.
Never being one to waste any time, Maggie came right out with it. “How would you like to be a chaperone for our trip to New York next year?”
“Seriously?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she nodded. “Seriously. Mrs. V said it was fine with her.”
“She did? Does she even know who I am?”
“Yes, silly. Everybody in show choir knows who you are,” Maggie assured me. “You’re Thad,” she added with a little giggle.
“But what about the background check?” I asked. Visions of the Spanish Inquisition had haunted me all week.
Maggie shrugged. “Mrs. V said you can go. So you’re going.” Apparently Mrs. V wielded more power than any diocesan official.
“Well, okay,” I chuckled. “So where do we go from here?”
“We have a packet for you at home with all of the information. Why don’t you come over for dinner tomorrow night and we can look it over.”
“Well, okay. Sounds like a plan then,” I said.
“We’re going to New York!” Maggie squealed as she gave me a hug. “We’re going to have so much fun!”
“You’re going to love it,” I told her.
She gave me a kiss on the cheek, told me she loved me and that she would see me the next evening, then went over to join her friends for the game. I sat there laughing to myself, first at Maggie’s exuberance then at my good fortune. I was finally headed back for a real trip to New York City.
The next evening at the Black household Mary handed me the packet Maggie spoke of. Written across one end of the envelope in green highlighter were the words “Guess who’s going to New York!” A single heart was drawn for added emphasis. I pulled out the contents of the envelope to go over the details with Mary. I was immediately dismayed upon learning a very important detail.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The trip was scheduled for Spring Break that next April. A few weeks before the trip Mr. and Mrs. “V” held a meeting for the students that would be going, their parents, and all chaperones. Mrs. “V” ran the meeting and brooked little interruption.
The first order of business was to go over the trip itinerary. It had been amended with one or two changes compared to the itinerary we received in the autumn. It mattered little to me what changes were made. There were so many differences between this trip and the one I went on thirty years ago that I honestly felt bad for the kids.
The first big difference between the two trips was that we were going to be staying in New Jersey rather than Manhattan. The second, and in my opinion most egregious, difference was that every minute of the trip was planned out and managed. We would get from Point A to Point B via our tour bus. There would be no opportunities to explore, to ride the subway, or to just “experience” Manhattan. My excitement about going had severely diminished by the time we had the meeting.
Nothing about the meeting really struck me as all that important except for our departure time and location. The rest of the meeting was pretty boring until she began talking about how we should all dress, telling the kids that along with representing their school they were also representing the state of Indiana. She ended by reminding us that “We ARE going to New York City.” The reminder didn’t bother me. Her air of haughtiness, though, sat like a turd in a punch bowl for me. My first thought was that I need to arrive for the trip wearing a pair of bib overalls with a piece of straw sticking out of my mouth. Many of the asshats in New York would probably find that representative of Indiana.
The big day arrived a few days after the meeting with the V’s. Mitch and the girls picked me up at my house. Mitch expressed his disappointment and surprise that I hadn’t been able to find a pair of overalls. The girls were relieved. We arrived at Bishop Dwenger and went through all of the rigmarole of last minute details and figuring out who was on which bus and getting them all loaded. When things finally settled down the girls demanded that pictures be taken with their dad and me. Once that was finished we got on our respective buses. Abby was with her friends on one bus. Maggie and I were sitting near the back of ours.
Maggie and her friend Elaine were in the next-to-last row of the bus, where the cool kids usually sit. I was in the row in front of Maggie sitting next to a dad. We made idle chit-chat after introducing ourselves. I could tell he was excited as I was about our seating arrangement. At least I had the window seat.
Maggie tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention. She introduced me to Elaine for the first time in four years of show choir. I’d seen Elaine on stage countless times and had talked to her parents several times over the years. To date, the two of us had never gotten beyond saying “Hi” to each other. Elaine appeared to feel as awkward at this introduction as I did.
The girls and I made small talk for the remaining few minutes we had before we left. We soon heard the bus’ engine rev up and felt the sudden lurch as the driver let off the brake. I gave Maggie one last look and asked, “You excited?”
“Hell yeah I am,” she answered with a grin.