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In the Vegetarian & Vegan News...
   Jean d'Isle | Miss New Mexico

Beauty Duty
Driving Miss New Mexico
by Jean d'Isle

Honolulu -- May 11, 2001

Sitting on Kalanianaole Highway in my pickup the other morning, watching traffic lights cycle from green to yellow to red and back with little perceptible forward movement, my wandering attention was snagged by a radio announcement regarding the upcoming Miss Universe Contest to be held in Puerto Rico this month. I'm really not a fan of beauty pageants, but because of a very personal association with the Miss Universe Contest the summer I graduated from high school, I was transported back those many years to the day I escorted Miss New Mexico in the grand parade down the main street of Long Beach, California.

The nostalgia of that memory was so strong that when I got home later in the day, I dug through old boxes of certificates, photos and other memorabilia until, lo and behold, there it was, slightly worn from a dozen cross-country and cross-ocean moves: a glossy 8X10 photograph of a beaming, bathing-suit clad Miss New Mexico and her youthful, grim-faced military escort, decked out in his best dress blue uniform. 

Grim-faced? Why grim? 

And therein lies the tale.

With high school graduation imminent and the first semester of college still several months away, my summer of lying about on the beaches of La Jolla was firmly on track. Well, not so firmly, it turned out. Through some glib persuasion and possibly some veiled threats of intense yard work, my father convinced me that a 90-day program at Los Alamitos Naval Air Station-sort of a fun-filled boys' camp- was just what I needed to fill my idle summer days. 


 




The author, age 18, in the Naval Air Reserve
Thus, within days of graduating from high school, I found myself marching around in a sailor suit as a member of the Naval Air Reserve. A combination of boot camp and classroom study, the accelerated training program I found myself in had no resemblance to the carefree beach program I had originally planned. Every waking moment, from reveille to lights out, was accounted for. Our education included mess duty and midnight fire watches; guarding clotheslines with useless wooden rifles slung over our shoulders; and intense classroom sessions to teach us why airplanes stay in the air. 

With only 90 days to turn us into "squared away" sailors, our instructors/tormentors filled our days with a steady stream of verbal and sometimes physical abuse: noise after lights out could result in the entire company being turned out to duck walk around the flagpole dressed only in skivvies and boondockers. An unsecured shirt button was automatically and gleefully pulled off (and it better by God be sewed back on before the next day). 

This was not the boys' camp my father promised me. 

So it was somewhat of a surprise when an announcement was made at quarters one morning that certain volunteers were going to be allowed to participate in the Miss Universe Parade coming up the following weekend. A select number of volunteers would be assigned escort duties for the contestants. An additional inducement (as if one were needed) would pair volunteers with contestants from their home state. 

Who could pass up a deal like that? 

I eagerly put forth my name and asked that I be assigned to Miss New Mexico (my birth state). It was almost like Christmas when the notice was posted and my name appeared next to Miss New Mexico. 

The pageant consisted of a parade down the main street of Long Beach, ending at a fancy hotel where the actual ceremony would take place in the grand ballroom. Escorting this lovely lady through the ceremony, exchanging small talk while nibbling hors d'oeuvres at the luxury hotel, maybe even a dance, were the fantasies that fueled my enthusiasm and made the onerous "boys' camp" routine bearable.

On D-day, we volunteers donned our best dress uniforms, our Dixie-cup hats and our inspection-ready black shoes polished to a mirror finish and boarded a bus for the parade site. On arrival, we escorts were briefly introduced to our respective Miss Universe contestants, who were clad in one-piece swimsuits, looking every bit like beauty queens. Considering it was a hot July day, they were much better prepared for the long march ahead than we escorts in our heavy dress blues.

At this point, the fantasy started to unravel. 

We volunteers were directed to some rather cumbersome wheeled vehicles, decorated with large banners identifying each contestant's home state. The clam-shell-like contraption was over 10-feet high and 6-feet wide, with a supporting apparatus inside to allow the contestant to maintain her balance while waving to the admiring crowd--basically a one-person float powered by, you guessed it, the volunteer "escorts."

For those who are not familiar with Ocean Boulevard--the main street of Long Beach and the route of the parade--a series of trolley tracks intersecting with other trolley tracks runs the length of the boulevard. So, in addition to pushing this awkward wheeled contrivance the length of the parade route, with frequent stops and starts familiar to parade goers, we had to maneuver through those trolley tracks without losing Miss Whoever in the process. Had they thought of it, I'm sure parade planners would have placed us behind the Long Beach Rodeo Association. 

As we wrestled our vehicles and our precious cargoes the length of the route, sweat running into our eyes and shiny black shoes now a collection of scuff marks, we were sustained by the thought of reaching the hotel and the more rewarding escort duties that lay ahead. As we arrived individually at the hotel entrance and the contestants dismounted to great fanfare and applause, each was met by an officer in cool dress whites and escorted into the ballroom. We sailor escorts, sweating and dirty from the giant slalom event down Ocean Boulevard, were directed to a waiting bus, where we sat in fatigued silence, trying to recall a recent classroom presentation on the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the punishment for mutiny and striking a superior officer. 

When all the contestants had been delivered to their beaming officer escorts and all sailor escorts were aboard the bus with no air conditioning, we departed for the return trip to the base. On the ride back to the barracks, as I sat there, wondering if my scuffed inspection shoes were salvageable and pondering the humiliating finale of my trek down Ocean Boulevard, I thought of the lessons I had learned from this character-building experience. Certainly it had reinforced a fundamental military caveat: never volunteer for anything. Secondly, as we are reminded all too often in life, nothing is as good as it sounds. And finally, at life's banquets, some are caterers and some are guests; and if I carried nothing more away from pushing Miss New Mexico, I learned that should I choose a military career, it was not going to be as a caterer.

  • To see photo of the author escorting Miss New Mexico, click here.

Jean d'Isle is a retired naval officer living in Hawaii. During his military career he served in a number of overseas assignments, including Germany, England, Spain, Viet Nam and Puerto Rico. Following his retirement, he was an adjunct faculty member of Hawaii Pacific University and is currently under contract with the U.S. Navy at the submarine base in Pearl Harbor.

To read more columns by Jean d'Isle, click here.

 
 

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