“Oh, the things you can find if you don’t stay behind!” — Dr. Seuss
My first big vacation was my school’s trip to Washington, D.C., Annapolis, New York, and Philadelphia. I think that it cost around $180 for the week, an amount I’d saved from my Drapery Fair paycheck, but maybe I’m remembering wrong. Regina Tours, a company that specialized in Catholic school trips, arranged for us Queen of Peace girls to hit all of the historic hot spots, and on Easter Sunday afternoon, we boarded a train for the adventure of a lifetime.
So, I know we saw the must-sees– the Capitol, the Washington Monument, Betsy Ross’s house, the Statue of Liberty. But the images that have stuck in my mind are not the viewing the Declaration of Independence or the United Nations. Here’s what I recall:
Five of us shared a room: Marlene, Carol, Mary Anne, Annie, and I. We were the only group who was allowed to go over the limit of four. Quite a coup. We took turns sleeping on the fold-up cot delivered to our room at each stop.
We ate at Horn and Hardart’s cafeterias everywhere. In Washington, we stayed at a depressing hotel for single women. Its H and H was next to a dingy parlor where residents could entertain gentlemen callers. The lodgers were dried-up old maids, probably as old as thirty-five or so, who worked in D.C. offices for such a pittance that they couldn’t afford to live in a real apartment building. We vowed never to join their ranks.
At Radio City Music Hall, the Rockettes dazzled us with their high-stepping act. This was followed by the movie The Singing Nun – a wholesome choice. I fell asleep to the tune of “Dominique.”
My friend Mary Anne nearly missed getting back on the bus at Mount Vernon, and was chastised for keeping everyone waiting. We gawked out the bus windows to see her saunter along in the company of a cowboy-hatted Texan she’d met. He even hugged her goodbye in front of everyone! Well worth Sister’s glare.
Our NYC hotel, the once-venerable Commodore, right over Grand Central station, was a tired old place. The dreary rooms looked like the ones we’d seen in seedy Boston Blackie movies, and ours had a locked connecting door. We spent the night listening through a drinking glass pressed to the door. Surely that muttered conversation we strained to hear was the plotting of a bank heist by our sinister neighbors in black Fedoras.
Annapolis was guy-gawking heaven. When classes ended, uniformed, studly midshipmen swarmed out of the buildings and we Catholic school girls snapped picture after picture of boys, boys, boys. Our bus driver corralled one obliging young man to pose with me in a photo. Oh, be still, my heart.
Our chaperones and the Regina Tours brochure emphasized that any misbehavior would result in “a long, lonely ride home at your own expense.” If we giggled too loudly or stayed up too late, we joked that we’d be sent packing. Then – scandal! A couple of girls, the kind that wore beehives to the sky and heavy black eyeliner — took that lonely ride when they were found drinking vodka in their hotel room.
We dressed up in suits and kitten heels. Even though the Capitol steps photo is black and white, I recognize the mint green wool suit that my mother made for the trip. It has always been one of my favorite outfits.
The photo (only a piece of it is shown here) reveals something I’d never considered. I can only spot two chaperones in the crowd, responsible for herding around over 150 girls. These guardians of our virtue surely excelled at organization, with-it-ness, and mind control, but, except for a handful of rebels with liquor hidden in their suitcases, we were a well-behaved, docile bunch. Such a feat of supervision would not be attempted today.