Where are my slippers? After three days at Busch Gardens followed by cross-country travel, I am looking for my slippers and a good book. I have traipsed through airports in Tampa, Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego and Cleveland. I have trekked around the Torrey Pines golf course twice. I rode tour buses and amusement rides and I stood in line to get Phil Mickelson's autograph on my visor. I am bushed, pooped and otherwise done in from travel.
My feet may be tired but my spirit is soaring. This excursion has been an unparalleled opportunity to people-watch. I have seen them all. From the very elderly and confused passenger in a wheelchair to the robust infant sitting placidly on his father's lap, this has been a joyful experience.
Our first day at Busch Gardens, the park was filled with students on school trips. Most of the students were dressed in brightly colored shirts proclaiming they were finished with one section of schooling and ready to move on to the next level. Watching the teachers and chaperones herding their raucous charges was an experience unto itself.
I am not medically qualified to go on most of the rides at Busch Gardens ever since I was adjudged mentally sane. I am still not smart enough to stay off the water rides. I think it will cool me off, but it makes things worse. Walking around in wet clothing is unsightly and very uncomfortable.
I was waiting for our houseguest to disembark from a ride when I saw her. The print on her shirt said she was destined for middle school. Her eye makeup was a heavy black line completely surrounding her eyes and extending toward her hairline. Her hair was dramatically cut and colored. The shirt had been altered so it clung close to her body. The widened neck caused the shirt to fall off one shoulder, exposing her black, low-cut tank top. From her shoes to her hair, she was proclaiming she was not like the rest of the kids in her class.
I wanted to give her my card and ask her to call me in 20 years so she could tell me what had become of her. Would she be another Madonna, Vera Wang, or someone with unfulfilled dreams? Could she tell me then what made her so dramatic and unique?
My next student-watching experience came at an open-air eighth-grade graduation ceremony in San Diego. It was a picture perfect morning. The sky was a deep blue and the American flag waved as we sang the national anthem and said the Pledge of Allegiance.
There were 456 graduates representing 39 cultures. They looked just like the children I saw in Tampa, only this time they were dressed for success. I watched closely and then I spotted another "her."
This time, she was wearing a modest and bright dress. Her hair was cut unevenly with the varied colors I had seen in Tampa. I knew she was one with the girl from Tampa when I looked at her black, unlaced, high-top tennis shoes. The shoes had been decorated to match her dress.
This was a double graduation day, as I watched 760 students graduate from high school later the same day. The school these young men and women attended has been rated one of America's finest high schools by Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report. Some of the students had lost homes during the San Diego fires last year.
I could not see the clothing they were wearing because of the caps and gowns, but I knew a few of the students were out of the ordinary by the way they walked across the stage. One of the young men did a backflip. Not one cap bore a sign and all students were respectful and hushed. The top two students were women and headed to Ivy League schools.
From coast to coast, I watched the young of our country mark important days in their lives. Among those children are our future leaders, healers, teachers, entertainers and everyday workers. The only thing I am sure is that they face a changing world. They will be called upon to solve some of the problems we are handing them. In addition, they probably will not be driving SUVs.
Mary Partington lives in New Port Richey.