First off you have to understand something. America is big. Now you think you already know that, but if you’re in the UK it’s hard to grasp. America is big. So when the high school football team plays an away game, they travel a long way. Sometimes it’s like going from England to somewhere in Europe to play another school. Therefore it makes sense to play several away games in row. And that’s why they have homecoming. It’s the return of the football team.
Laura took me to her high school reunion at the weekend. Glenbrook South. This was the 20 year reunion held on a Saturday to coincide with the homecoming parade down the main street of Glenview, which looks to me like a beautiful suburb of Chicago. Tree-lined streets with proper shops (not just boutiques), bars and restaurants down the main street and a recently re-done train station for light rail (commuter transit).
We met up with a few of Laura’s former classmates on Friday at Grandpa’s, a pub with an Irish feel but without the over-the-top theme pub thing. There were a few hundred people in Laura’s graduating class and many of them came to the pub. They smiled hopefully as they scanned the pub for long-lost friends and, to my amusement, I found that simply smiling back meant they would come over and shake my hand. Yes, I was that long-lost friend they never knew.
I know. I am a bad bunny. Obviously the accent was a dead give-away though, so I couldn’t string them along enough to insinuate myself into any reunion photo’s. I did get to meet a real live former homecoming queen and I can report that she was actually, well, a normal friendly person in her late thirties. I don’t why I thought former homecoming queens would be anything other than normal except for the fact I’ve watched too much television. Okay, she was normal with a degree and an MBA. They really value the whole education thing out here.
Saturday, we watched the parade. There were three bands, all of whom played well, by which I mean they played in tune–none of that painfully flat horn section I remember from filming in UK schools. There were some floats, including a large papier-mache dinosaur, animated by kids pulling on ropes and enlivened by sampled sound effects played by more kids on the back of a pick-up truck ahead of them. And there were a lot of sports teams, more than one squashed into their parents’ soft-top sports car. Or in some cases, into their own soft-top sports car.
On the whole, it was very small town America, like I was expecting from the movies and TV, and I liked that about it. It was regular folks living their lives. The homecoming queen and her attendants were the only major difference from the films. Not so much the girls, but the fact they were just sitting in the back of cars with their partners, waving and wearing sweats and slacks. I was expecting big floats carrything them with them all teeth and ballgowns. Well, it was a chilly day, so you can’t blame them, even if it wasn’t freezing Chicago-style–ie. cold enough to make body parts burst and fall off. It was just chilly. About 30º.
We went over to the high school next–Glenbrook South–for a tour of the building. Welcome back, Pointers. The first place we went was the amphitheatre. Yes, a full sized theater, with fixed seating, raked, and a stage with a hydraulic section that moves out for an orchestra. 2700 kids go to this school and most of their parents have money. I commented to one guy about this. He said, “Yep. We were a bunch of spoiled brats.” Spoiled smart brats. With lots of money. I gave him one of those ‘You should be my client’ smiles.
Our tour took us through the radio and TV studios. This is the high school TV studio. Before they start applying to go to film school. Can I have my education again, please? Oh, and they had a brand new Apple iMac G5. The one that’s just a flat screen with the computer inside. They only came out last month. We came out into the art block, walking past the Jewellery Studio as we entered the humanities wing. Upstairs, we could see the football field, soccer pitches and the student parking lot (yes), and around to the science wing.
Corridors were lined with lockers like every TV series you’ve ever seen. The dining room was a generic American TV school dining room. It all lived up to my media-biased expectations as we checked out the basketball court (on a par with Dacorum Sports Centre court where national UK games used to be played), and finally we ended up in an aircraft hanger where they obviously built Zeppelins. This, our guide pointed out, was home to the indoor running track and various other sporting facilities including about a dozen more basketball courts.
In short, it’s a big school. A nice big school. A very very nice big school. I should mention that I discovered that winning isn’t everything, by the way, for the average American kid. You are expected to take part and there’s a whole thing about “Earning a letter” which is the big letter that’s sewn on to the baseball (or other) jackets. To get ‘lettered’ high-schoolers need to be members of the band or take part in a sport. Not everyone wins but everyone who takes part can get their letter. I guess that’s kind of like getting a blue ribbon at university level in the UK.
Oh, and I learned that ‘varsity’ level sports refers to high school sports played by the best teams from each school, usually the seniors but it can include younger members of the school if they’re really good. Varsity is not the same as university sports, which was confusing. And, oh again. Not every school is like Glenbrook South. But a lot of them are.
So that was my American high school experience. For now, at least. Until Jack and Sam are a bit older. Laura and I went to the reunion and dance in the evening, although there wasn’t much dancing but, hey, there was a free bar and I didn’t know anyone. I built a fine rapport with the barman, downed more vodka tonics than I can remember and somehow seem to have collected a lot of blue and yellow mardi gras beads…