Whenever I try to write about high school parties that involve the schools, the schools freak out and don't let me anywhere near the campus or party site. When I tried to write about a dance at Madison High School, the vice principal almost had me arrested. Since I had written about the Point Loma High School band, I figured they wouldn't mind me crashing their prom. Of course, there were hoops I had to jump through. I played phone tag with the principal, the vice principal, and a few other staff members. It took weeks to convince them to let me in. I promised them I'd stay away from topics regarding sex, drinking, or after-parties the students might have planned. The school agreed.
It was nice to go to a prom without having to rent a tux or worrying about the zit I got on my forehead the day before.
The Point Loma High School prom was held at Paradise Point. When did proms go from being at the high school gym to being at resorts? I'm guessing the mid-'70s. Everyone I talked to over 50 years old had their prom at their school gym, except one lady who told me, "The only reason we had one at a hotel ballroom was because our school was so small, we didn't even have a gym."
I arrived early but the parking lot was already full. I found out from a security guard that La Costa and Serra High Schools were also having their proms here this night (in different ballrooms). I saw two guys walking up who were lost. One said, "We just walked into the other school's prom. It was so embarrassing." I said to them, "It's not going to be as embarrassing as you guys walking into your prom without dates." They laughed and told me their girlfriends were in the car putting on their makeup. I'm not sure why the guys didn't wait for them.
At 8:15 there was a line of about 30 kids waiting to get into the ballroom. I remembered at my prom that we all thought it wouldn't be cool to show up too early. But worrying about being cool can get you into trouble. So many of my friends got limos that I felt weird driving my date in my old Mustang. I borrowed my parents' brand-new T-bird and promptly broke the headlight when I hit a pillar in the parking garage at Anthony's Restaurant in La Jolla.
I talked to a couple in line, Bernadette Ramirez and Joey Davidson. They told me they weren't a couple, just friends. I asked them how much it cost them to come to this event. They said $120 for the limo, $150 for the tux (he also rented a top hat), and $100 for the hotel. I knew a lot of kids had parties at hotels afterwards, but didn't ask any questions regarding that. I asked where they had dinner. "We saved money on that. We ate at a friend's house."
I saw some interracial couples. Back in the '80s, my high school (Mira Mesa) had all different races. We had lots of Filipino and Vietnamese, but it seemed like everyone dated someone of their own race. The few times people did date outside their race, they told stories about how their parents didn't like the idea.
As I walked in, I saw why the line was taking so long. The staff at the school was having the kids empty their pockets. One kid looked angry as he held his wallet, comb, and car keys in his hand. Better safe than sorry. We seem to hear about school shootings at least once a year now.
Since the students were being frisked and nobody was inside yet, I decided to talk to the DJ. He was spinning records for an empty dance floor.
His name was Peyton Vincent, and he worked for La Jolla DJs. I asked him how he decides on the music he'll play. He replied, "Sometimes it depends on the racial demographics. It can be different at different schools. The North County schools are strict and like very clean music played. One school wanted more disco, others like a lot of hip-hop. I was surprised with Coronado. They liked the '80s songs."
Vincent told me that he had radio edits of rap songs minus the nasty lyrics.
It didn't occur to me at the time to ask him if there are any proms that still hire full bands.
After talking to him and grabbing a Coke, I was surprised the ballroom was still empty. Then I noticed the line went from getting inside to lining up for pictures. When I went to that line, I asked why they didn't want to dance a little or kick back at a table before jumping back into another line. One guy said, "My girlfriend is making me. The pictures are the most important thing to her." She smiled and said, "With the money I spent on this dress, I'm getting photos taken in it. And besides, if we start dancing, we'll get sweaty and our hair will be a mess."
Another couple I talked to was Paul and Janee. She was a senior and he was in college. I asked how much they spent on their outfits. She said, "I saved some money, since I had this dress already. We ate at Old Venice, and probably spent a total of $300 to $400 on everything. We didn't rent a limo. We got an old GM. A 1950s model."
I saw a few couples standing out on the patio overlooking the water. One couple was smiling and taking in the view. I heard them talking about another couple who they were waiting for. One couple looked shy and weren't talking to each other. They didn't seem very social.
One couple walking by were gossiping about her last boyfriend. It was nothing that bad, but overhearing them brought back all those high school memories. Things that happened in 5th period that humiliated you and had you running home and telling your parents that you'd never go back to school again -- things we typically don't remember as adults. I thought of a classmate I had in 8th grade who killed himself. You wonder what could be so bad, and you wish that kids would realize that things do get better.