I was recently tapped by my girlfriend to chaperone her fifteen year old son’s trip to the Minnesota Zoo, since she had to work. Since I was not working that week and thought five hours with a bunch of smart ass teenagers would probably prompt some really funny material, I agreed. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Chaperones were to report for duty at 8:30 a.m. for a briefing about the days activities. I expected a slew of rules and regulations that we would need to follow and force upon the students. Much to my surprise I was wrong. They asked for one chaperone to volunteer to take attendance on each bus, and to make sure that we were at the Imax theater by a certain time. That was the extent of our chaperoning duties. No watching over a group of kids, no sticking around with the group to answer questions. Nothing. Just get on the bus and travel to the zoo. What a great gig, is there anyway I could do this full-time?
I will admit the ride to the zoo was rather annoying ( I could be on a bus with a group of deaf mutes and still get annoyed). The annoyance however was more directed at the other chaperones. Surprisingly the students were extremely well behaved. It made think of those Stepford movies. Nobody threw anything, nobody was an asshole to anyone else. Again, I was surprised and sort of let down.
After getting to the zoo, I saw another chaperone unloading lunches for the students and gave him a hand. Which, of course, prompted a conversation by Gary (I think that was his name, but I don’t recall). Gary was an old pro at the chaperone game. He does it a few times a year. He asked me which kid was mine and I said “Oh, I don’t have any kids” and I walked away from him without explaining why I was on a high school field trip. I figured that would spin his wheels enough that he wouldn’t inquire much more about me.
After unloading and the awkward conversation, the rest of the day was excellent. I have to say it was probably the most relaxing day I have had in years. I walked around the zoo, ALONE. Enjoying every minute of silence. Every wild animal smell. It was all a blessing. Occasionally I would get caught up in a heard of students and I would stop and let them pass. It was a minor inconvenience, that in other circumstances would have probably sent my head into a pounding rage induced headache. Something about those animals made me feel calm.
Maybe that is where I belong, amongst animals. Beings with no agenda. No thought other than self preservation. Or maybe I am the animal that should be locked in a cage.