Friday, July 17, 2009

The Curse of the Donuts

On the road from Kansas City to Grand Island, Nebraska a lot can go through your mind. It is easy to think about that this city you are heading towards is not an Island and is certainly not Grand. Like a handful of the more rural stops on my trip, there is not much in the ways of Kosher food. When something like this is known, one of the bigger cities, like Kansas City, packs us a second dinner to heat up in the hotel the next night.

It works out great, unless a staff member leaves it in the Kansas City hotel freezer. This fact came to light while visiting the Island Oasis water park, a great place for the locals, but not much for these east coast kids who had seen bigger and better. While the kids were there, I took on the task of dinner by hitching a ride with bus driver to the corner supermarket. By this point in the afternoon, the bus was a disaster. There were extra donuts and crumbs everywhere. Our once brilliant prize had come back to haunt us in the form of smashed and wasted donuts.

Inside the store I scraped together a complete makeshift dinner. Anything that could be put in a convectional oven soon found its way into my cart. Waffles, fish sticks, various Morning Star veggie products and fries made up the main components of the meal. I added in some fruit and vegetables to try and even things out. Anything with a kosher symbol was given a green light. It was a mess, but when we got back to the hotel it worked out.

To avoid further disaster, and because the kids had been bugging me about it, I decided the group would just do laundry that night. The woman at the front desk of our hotel told me about a decent place about a mile down the road. The recommendation seemed suspect, but once I verified the number of washers and dryers, I deemed it to be alright. Anyone who has had the misfortune of doing laundry with 48 teenagers knows it can be a war zone. A lot of them are wide eyed first timers, having relied on parents to do it at home. I know I was when I first did this trip in high school.

Once the loads were started, things began to cool down. People talked, played guitar, played cards and some of the boys were kicking a soccer ball around in the vacant parking lot. I was unaware of this, but certainly one of my other staff members might have thought this was not a very good idea, except for the fact that my staff member all had their usual routines. One was usually on her phone, one usually on his laptop and the other two were on each other.

I sat on the curb watching the Nebraska summer sunset, thinking about how we avoided disaster with tonight's dinner. I wondered what would happen to our large trays of frozen spaghetti and meatballs that had been left. Like clockwork, the buzzers began to go off and people began to shift their clothes to a dryer.

Once the dryers had been rumbling for several minutes, a light blue car pulled up. A skinny, mulleted man in white-washed jeans and cowboy boots opened the back door and put his feet on the ground before it was fully stopped, as if he was Fred Flintstone helping the car slow down. He yelled out "the laundromat is closing in five minutes". It was now 8:30 and the sign on the door said it would be closing at 9:00. I told him that the group almost finished and he said "don't even try it, there was a robbery here last week, so everyone has to be out in five minutes". I tried explaining that these were just kids and we only needed 20 minutes or so, we'd still be finished before 9:00. Mild hysteria ensued when he started opening the dryers and pulling clothes out on to the floor

There were four girls who combined their load in a economy sized dryer that was locked shut. Try as he might, the Mullet Cowboy could not make the door budge. The man granted these girls immunity and said they could stay but everyone else had to move their wet clothing. Despite the fact someone from our group got to leave their clothes in, he still made everyone else vacate the building. I gave up trying to reason with him as he ignored each one of my requests and questions.

At this moment, I was approached by a woman from Arby's and asked me if I was in charge of the group. I said I was. She told me one of my kids threw a rock and broke a window in her establishment. As the lunatic cowboy ran amok through the laundromat, I grabbed one of my staff and instructed them to have all the kids pack their stuff and get on the bus. The laundry was becoming a side note to the situation as Mullet Cowboy was starting to concern me. She said it was one of the soccer playing kids, so I rounded those kids up and questioned them about it. All of them said that they didn't do it to the point where they had no idea there was even an Arby's in the parking lot.

I told the woman that my kids said they didn't do it and I trusted them. This woman, however, did not trust them. She wanted to see what the kids would have to say to the police. While the staff was occupied by the laundromat fiasco and I was with the kids sitting on the curb while on the phone with the program director, trying to figure out what to do next.

It was bad enough being separated from the group, but when the cops arrived, they began to question the kids one at a time while taking down their names and hometowns. All of the kids repeatedly denied picking up any rock in the parking lot. When the cops stepped aside with the woman from Arby's, the kids again pleaded to me that they didn't do anything. After all six had been talked to, one of the cops pulled me off to the side and asked when we were leaving. I told him we were driving to Denver first thing in the morning. He said "That's right," as if we were leaving only because he decreed it.

Dismissed by the police, the six boys ran back to the laundromat to see what was going on. They had a late start gathering their clothes from the machines and getting back on the bus. The Arby's woman threw her arms up in the air and began yelling at the police, at which point I thought it wise to make my exit as well.

When we returned to the hotel, I had the group stay on the bus momentarily while I had a word with the front desk. I spoke slow and calm, like a man about to snap, because at this point I didn't know if I would cry or spontaneously combust. I discussed with them the situation we were put in, including the fact that they were the ones who recommended the laundromat. The hotel graciously offered up their two industrial dryers. It wasn't ideal, but it was our best option - everyone would have their clothing dried together in two giant sized dryers, one of whites and one of colors.

Throughout the whole ordeal the kids were great. They complied with each step of that night, no matter how horrible it got. One by one, they brought their bags of wet clothing through the back corridors of the hotel, through all the service areas until reaching the terribly humid housekeeping area. The manager explained what had happened to the staff and both dryers were emptied. The kids emptied their bags into the machines and returned to the group room for evening services.

On the way through the courtyard I was approached by one kid away from the rest of the group. He needed to tell me something. As soon as he looked at me I knew exactly what he was going to say: he was the one who threw the rock. My instinct proved to be right as he timidly confessed.

I wanted to yell. I wanted to scream. I wanted to react at all, but after the day we had been through, I didn't have the energy. I also knew there was a specific chain of command that had to be followed before issuing any disciplinary action on the trip, so I couldn't do anything on the spot. Instead I used the only method I had free range to use: guilt. I mentioned to him that six innocent of his friends were being questioned by the police for no reason while he sat on the bus and watched.

Following the end of evening services I addressed the group with the same demeanor which I had talked to the front desk. It bordered between breakdown and calm. I told them the plan was for them to head up to their rooms for the night while the staff dealt with the laundry issue. There would be a slightly earlier wake up call in order to take care of dividing up the clothes. Then we'd pack the bus, drive to Denver and pretend like this night never happened.

The laundry was finally done about an hour later. The staff brought it to our group meeting room using huge bins. We stayed up for hours sorting it out. The task was large and we tiptoed towards delirium. We assigned tables in the meeting room for each variety of clothing: one for shirts, one for socks, another shorts, and one for other things, like towels. There was one last table for girlie things that we didn't (and I'm sure they didn't) want laying out in public view. We covered the items with a table cloth.

Some of the kids woke up even earlier than we had told them to in hopes of finding their stuff before the rush. The room resembled people rummaging through the results of a natural disaster. Poking through the shirts, checking tags for their names and trying to find what belonged to them. Some things were surely destroyed because the heat was too high or they were delicate, but nobody complained to me.

The summer had been great and drama free up until the point we got the donuts, so we attributed the bad luck to us receiving them. Before the ride to Denver, we stacked the remaining donuts in the corner, hopefully leaving behind our bad fortune for good.

1 comment:

Danielle said...

It is so interesting to see this story from your point of view so many years later. I would have told this story so much differently and It amazes me to see how we both went through the same events but they effected us so differently