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Sweet and Slow on Catalina

July 23, 1988

I read Al Martinez's column (June 13) about the peer pressure and high cost of a high school prom night date. My husband and I both work and make a pretty good income but would never consider spending $1,000 on a night out. Not even if it was once in four years! I thought there was no hope for the "child" of Southern California until a miracle happened to change my mind. Listen up, Mr. Martinez, and have a Kleenex handy.

After two years and no vacation, my husband and I decided we could afford a two-day getaway to Catalina Island (hotel, food, tours, souvenirs--total $250). In case you are not familiar with it, it has a population of 2,400 residents. Four-hundred children ranging from kindergarten to senior high attend the island's only school. Everybody knows everybody. There is virtually no crime. Rules are a way of maintaining peace in paradise.

Thursday evening we were relaxed and unhurriedly planning a fancy dinner, a long walk along the harbor and an early bedtime with no TV. To our surprise and initial horror, we walked right into a group of teen-agers dressed to the nines. Tuxes, puffy silk dresses and coursages. Prom night! We immediately worried about rowdy, noisy bands, cars racing about, broken bottles and a sleepless night with the dinner party and dance practically next door.

Ah, but they looked adorable. I watched a short, stocky boy walk awkwardly holding hands with a tall, thin girl in shaky high heels. I couldn't resist, I had to ask them the details. In the middle of our conservation a golf cart drove up and the driver offered our chosen couple a ride. They zoomed off--all four of them, giggling and jiggling, hanging on for dear life--at 20 m.p.h.!

It turns out that all 25 seniors were expected to come to the dinner dance with or without dates. There must have been 40 or 50 teen-agers altogether. How wonderful it must have been for their parents to know their children were walking or riding a 20-m.p.h. golf cart to their big night out. Silly, happy, maybe even naughty enough to sneak a beer from their parents' refrigerator. But safe. None of these kids would be a statistic that night. No limousines, no helicopters, no hotel ballroom party, no cars. Pictures, flowers and hairdos, certainly. After all, it was their rite of passage! I saw a Princess Diana daintily remove her heels and put on tennis socks so she could walk to a pre-Prom party and not run her nylons. Two boys teased each other about their rented tuxedos. No one looked bored.

We had a delicious dinner, a pleasant, private walk to the Casino building, and slept well even with the faint sound of a dance band until 11 p.m.

I left Catalina with memories of bison, wild boar, seals, sea gulls, abalone sandwiches and a memorable golf cart ride rented by the hour. (You must be 21 to rent these carts. Anyone under 21 is expected to walk or ride a bicycle.)

But my most enduring and favorite memory is of those lucky students at Avalon High School. Their pace allows them the time to experience the thrills and privileges of being a teen-ager. I was sure they'd all live to be adults, fortified with a value system that would survive 55 m.p.h.

GIACINTA B. KOONTZ

Woodland Hills

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