Last Thursday I found myself on a bus with 40 rowdy middle schoolers (and their phones), en route to an abandoned coal mine in Scranton. The two-hour drive to the mine gave me ample time to contemplate how my life choices had led me to this exact moment—and regretfully inform several students that no, I did not pack a phone charger. In September I put my name in to chaperone several of my daughter’s class field trips, notably daytrips to NYC, DC and a cool art museum in Philly. Somehow, I was assigned the coal mine trip. When we arrived at the Lackawanna Coal Mine our tour guide handed out helmets and hairnets. I looked over at my middle school daughter in a panic. “Are you ok?” she mouthed. I took a helmet but paused at the pile of hair nets. How often did they clean these helmets anyway? And what were the chances that the last person to wear my helmet had lice? Right on cue my scalp started to itch. I glanced up, hoping to commiserate with someone (anyone!) but none of my fellow chaperones appeared to share my trepidation. Suddenly, my daughter was by my side. “Deep breaths, ok? It’s just a helmet,” she assured me. (I guess you can take the mom out of the Main Line but not the Main Line out of the mom?!?)
Our tour guide then ushered us into a cable car that transported us 300 feet underground to the coal mine, where it stays a cool 53 degrees year-round. Fun fact: Fresh air is piped in from the surface to keep everyone alive for the hour-long tour. (Our tour guide John informed us that a chipmunk who wandered in late night was not so fortunate.) As we traversed the half-mile underground tunnel, John kept our attention with riveting tales of mining life during the mid- to late 1800’s, including the constant dangers miners faced and how the mules went blind due to lack of sunlight. Children as young as five could get a job opening and closing the mine’s door for 12 hours straight. Miners had to purchase all their own equipment and were frequently cheated by corrupt mining bosses. At one point during the tour, John turned off all the underground lights to illustrate the terror miners felt if their lamp extinguished. This was more action-packed than an episode of The Real Housewives. I was hooked!
When the tour was over, we piled back into the cable car and chugged to the surface. At the first sign of sunlight, several kids cried out in relief. One of the chaperones turned to me and rolled her eyes. “Can you believe these kids? They wouldn’t last a day in the mines!” True, but I doubt we’d fare much better. Besides, helmet hair is no joke, friends.