September 9, 2012
— clean getaway, cocaine stories, drug abuse, field trip, girls under 15s soccer team, inner city problems, new york trip, school trip, teenagers taking drugs
By Steve Dodd
Anyone who’s been on a school trip will tell you that you can’t predict where the trouble will come from. When it’s a girls’ football team, you can multiply this by ten. The kids who are hell on wheels in the classroom suddenly blossom into helpful, responsible little adults who keep telling you how everything is just awesome, while the quiet, studious, butter-wouldn’t-melt types morph into spoiled, irresponsible little monsters who don’t want to be tied to the same itinerary as everyone else and don’t see why they should.
I was trip leader for the Under 15s team’s visit to New York; the English Schools Football Association had organised a mini tour for us after we won the national championship. Girls’ football, or soccer as they call it over there, is a big deal. Well organised and popular. It was hoped the publicity would encourage more of our lot to get involved. Problem was they didn’t know our girls. Inner cities often breed talented footballers, but they have reputations for other things too. Of course it was such a wonderful opportunity for them and as their PE teacher and coach I had no choice but to sign up. I have to admit, at Heathrow, seeing all the kids lined up wearing new tracksuits with their nicknames stencilled in white on the back, it did make me feel proud, just for a second. I was wearing mine too. In an uninspired moment it had seemed a good idea to have just the word ‘Miss’ emblazoned on it.
Walking back from our evening excursion to the Empire State, already giddy with jet lag and conscious of managing a crocodile of over-excited young adults across Manhattan’s busy streets, we passed vendors selling giant pretzels and hot dogs. Some people will tell you street food is an essential part of the New York experience, but our head is a big Jamie Oliver fan and encouraging the consumption of such junk is just an anathema to her. So I ignored the pleas for a stop and pressed on for the sanctity of the hotel.
When we were crossing Broadway to reach our hotel, two stragglers turned and ran back across the road as the rest of us had reached the other side and the ‘Dont Walk’ light came back on. I could just see their heads beyond a never-ending stream of yellow cabs.
By the time I got back across Broadway, they had disappeared. The street vendor was less than helpful. Accused me in a thick middle eastern accent of “cutting in line,” whatever that means. Then some busker drumming on plastic buckets started beating a rhythm and shouting “no cuts!” over and over. I thought my head would explode. The pavements were teeming with people and there was a continuous blaring from passing motorists. When a large black woman barged me aside as if I were made of cardboard, I dashed for the safety of the corner drug store. Perhaps the girls would be inside, shopping for candy. No luck. I swallowed my panic and returned outside. That’s when two hooded youths pointed and glared at me. I’d seen them standing in front of the same ATM ever since we first passed this way. Probably dealers. Now they were mouthing obscenities at me, the taller one making shooting gestures with his hands. I felt so mixed up with anger at the girls for bunking off and fear that it was all going to end horribly, that I didn’t know what else to do. I limped back to the hotel, soaked in cold sweat.
Imagine my relief when my colleague told me that I must have just missed them because they had returned. One of them had already rejoined the group and was trying to avoid my eyes by looking at her shoes, but the other one was Emily, the team captain, someone I’d felt I could trust to help keep order on the trip. Apparently, when she saw the others gathered in the lobby, she had run straight into the cloakroom. Her friend tried to say that she’d put too much hot sauce on their snacks, but I wasn’t going to listen to that old flannel. I was overcome with fury at Emily’s irresponsible behaviour.
When I broke into the bathroom I smelled the rancid stench of vomit. She was bent over the sink, her trackie top in her hands, running water over its soiled front. On the floor lay her open handbag, its contents strewn across the tiles. But it was what was on the back of the sink, sitting between the taps, that made my heart stop. A plastic ziplock bag of white powder.
“Emily, step away from the sink.”
She stepped backwards, still grasping the sodden team jacket.
“Miss, I’m sorry Miss. It must have been the hotdog Miss.”
I picked up the ziplock bag and stared at the unexploded bomb inside.
“Where did you get this? Oh my god, Emily. Have you used any of this evil stuff?”
“No Miss, I was just about to when you burst in…”
“Are you sure, because this is really important.”
“Course Miss, my mum told me to soak the stain first then…”
“What are you talking about, child?”
“Persil, Miss, for washin’ stuff. I didn’t want to ruin me tracksuit.”