Trippin’ with the fourth grade at Detroit Zoo

Donna, Madison and Morgan Grohalski enjoyed a tame experience on the Union City Elementary School’s May 26 field trip to the Detroit Zoo.

Just went on the last elementary school field trip of my parental career. Next year both of my children will be middle school students and above pedestrian activities like bus trips to the zoo. But last week I boarded the first of two Starlight Tour & Travel busses and headed out with Union City’s entire fourth-grade class east toward the Detroit Zoo.

This was more about being supportive of and spending time with my daughter. I’ve never been a fan of zoos. And the only thing I dislike more than being around zoos is being around large numbers of small children. But I do like traveling by bus, so at least that was something. The weather ending up excellent the day of the trip made all the difference in my attitude. I was aboard a comfortable bus for a total of five hours on a sunny, temperate day. Rhymes with “hooray.”

I was assigned my daughter and one other child to supervise. I knew I got off easy. One child came equipped with three chaperones. It kind of begs the question of her suitability for a field trip. At least none of her guards were armed. I guess that’s a little something, too. Must be she outgrew the reinforced harnesses I used to see her wearing in the grocery store, complete with an anti-bite guard straight out of “The Silence of the Lambs.” Wonder if she lasted the day without biting another zoo patron, her escorts or one of the animals.

We sat in the very back of the bus, in the row next to the bathroom. The novelty of having a bathroom on board escaped none of the students. Many used it three or four times. And that was between here and Jackson. I, of course, held off. Some of the kids may have been using the bathroom for hand washing purposes, having started devouring items from their sack lunches before the busses ever left the school parking lot.

Once we arrived at the zoo, it was people-watching at its best. As an anti-theft device, most women opted to carry their purses bandolier-style: Cross-body and around their necks. This provided greatly exaggerated “lifting and separating” of bosoms, some of which would have already put Jayne Mansfield to shame. Many of the women wore non-supportive flip-flops on their feet, which had them scuffing along like death-row inmates toward the end of the day.

Whole groups of young children wore matching tee-shirts and/or had identifying “return to sender” type wristbands and/or name labels adhered or pinned to their backs. One kid, whom I saw on the way in and mentally voted most likely to appear on a milk carton, had been assigned a 500-pound, 105-year-old grandmother to watch him. They’re probably still looking for them in the polar bear pen. Another kid appeared to be wearing a shirt that had his home address permanently stamped on it. No proven wandering risk there!

One of the two children assigned me (I won’t reveal which one) didn’t seem particularly concerned with zoo rules. She walked on the grass, tapped on glass, ran afoul free-roaming fowl, picked flowers for her hair from two separate beds of exotic flowers. And that was within the first 15 minutes of our arrival. She went on to ride the merry-go-round dangerously and tried to pilfer coins that had been tossed into a fountain. I feared she would get us evicted from the zoo and we would have to spend four hours back on the bus, listening to bus driver Tom’s joke repertoire several times through.

Fortunately, enough chaos already reigned by the sheer volume of kids there that the underpaid and overwhelmed security guards let her fly under their radar. I briefly thought about having my wayward charge fall in line behind a militaristic-behaving pre-school group chaperone whose students looked as if participating in a reenactment of the Bataan Death March, but I didn’t have the heart.

At the end of the day, our busses were a welcome sight for sore eyes and sore feet. The students piled on to head home and to overuse the bathroom. Me, I was too field-tripped out to care.


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