Last Friday I took a day off work and went with Willow’s 4th grade class to Columbia, CA to pan for gold and buy a ton of ice cream and candy, which I’m sure the 49ers would have done, too, if they’d had access to freezers and high fructose corn syrup.
We don’t live near gold rush country, so we took a 3+ hour bus ride. At breakfast that morning, Scuba asked her about the bus, if it was a school bus, and she said, Nooooooo, it’s a LUXURY bus, with TV screens and velvety seats! And she was right that there were TV screens and surround sound, but the seats were more of an easy-care naugahyde or vinyl or something.
I sat in the front row with a mom I’d never met before, and we totally hit it off. We talked so much, in fact, that the bus driver finally just put in his earbuds. When we pulled into the parking lot, he got on the loudspeaker and was all, Okay kids. When you find gold, the first person you have to pay is the BUS DRIVER!
The field trip was completely fun. Like, really, REALLY, fun, and I wish I’d made time for it when the three big kids went when they were each in 4th grade. The kids were put into groups, and everyone had a job: doctor, navigator, leader, cook, hunter. They got some money at the start and went to an auction and had to decide what supplies to buy for their trek. Everyone wrote a letter home using a quill and ink (there was more ink on the kids than the paper). Willow’s letter said that the journey to Columbia was ruff, and one person died on the way from illness. The navigator got a map and the trail they needed to follow was highlighted for them. They followed the map, and had to stop at five or six different stations along the way where they had to make choices about buying things or trading and they had to get a signature from each station. Parents were supposed to watch and help only if the kids got really lost or ended up in town. We also had to help them cross what the park rangers called the “live” streets, which had actual cars driving down them. It was sort of funny to talk to a dude who looked like this:
and then have to make sure that the kids didn’t walk in front of a speeding Camry.
Willow’s team won (I think) even though nobody found any gold and they did buy the lotion or powder or something that the woman who said she’s been abandoned by her husband told them would make gold stick to them if they rolled in the dirt near any gold. Did you think it would work? we asked the kids. No, they said. But we got it anyway. Just because. (Which, you know, sounds just exactly like the cellulite cream I bought that one time.)
After the expedition part was over with, we had something like three hours to walk around the shops in Columbia. And I had these thoughts: #1) That is way.too.long. WTF? Then, I saw the cute little downtown and the little shops and I thought #2) RAD! This will be super fun and Willow and I can go to all these places, yay! And then when I realized that the chaperone duty didn’t actually end until we got back on the bus #3) Does the saloon serve beer? Cause this is WAY TOO long to keep track of 5 boys and 4 girls, even with three other parents.
In the end, our group did the best job of corralling our charges (we were winners all the way, yo) and I kind of bonded with this one little kid who was sort of a pain in the ass, behaviorally speaking. At one point, he came out of the ice cream shop with the other kids empty handed. I was all, Dude! No ice cream? I thought you said you wanted some? and he was all, No money, so I gave him some and then all the kids smelled my weakness and I bought a couple of sodas, a mood ring, and one horseshoe for my friend’s kid. And a couple of cap guns, but only after I said, Okay. You have to look me in the eye and tell me that your parents are okay with you having a gun. Because I do NOT want to get a call from them for getting you this if you’re not supposed to have one. Deal? and he looked right into my eyes and said, It’s fine. But only a fake one.
We rode the bus back home in the late afternoon, through the pink and gold central valley sunshine, past rows and rows and rows of almond trees, and past old barns and little towns and fruit stands, and back into the traffic and smog and cement of the bay area.
We got home and before we got off the bus, the teacher took the microphone and told the kids to make sure to leave no trace – no candy wrappers or trash or mess, and the bus driver was all You must leave only one thing on the bus: YOUR GOLD. I liked him a lot. Willow was happy that I went and the other kids were bent because I didn’t go on their gold rush trips. And I should have.