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Dan Conradt: Coming of age is worth twenty bucks

"Dad, can I have some money for the field trip?" Steven asked.

In case you've heard that moths fly out of my wallet when I open it, it's not true. That only happens to people who are cheap; I'm frugal.

I handed him a $20 bill.

"I want the change back," I said. It was wishful thinking, and we both knew it; there was no way a near-teen would return from a day at the Mall of America with change from a 20. The last quarter would probably end up in a vending machine in exchange for a handful of stale Mike-and-Ikes. I was just glad he hadn't asked for my credit card.

He was about to board a bus for a daylong trip to the mall, and I'd used the drive to school to give him some Ward Cleaveresque advice: don't talk to strangers, stay in a group, don't run with scissors.


"I know, Dad, I know," he said to each reminder, making me glad I hadn't suggested that he wear clean underwear in case he got into an accident.

The sun was just rising when we got to school, and he seemed to be in a hurry to get out of the car. I did my best to delay him: "Are you warm enough? Do you remember the phone number at my office? Do you want my granola bar?"

"I'm FINE, Dad! See you tonight." He had to shout the last part over his shoulder as he ran to catch up with his friends.

I waited for the school door to close behind him, then I reluctantly drove away.

It wasn't his first field trip, but this one seemed different; somehow it marked the line between being a little boy and being a grown up.

How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm once they've seen the Mall of America?

I knew there would be chaperones — he'd probably listen to them more than he listens to Mom and Dad. But there would also be a lot of time with just "the boys." Two years earlier, having that same group of kids in our basement would have been called "a play date." Today, it would be a coming of age.

He might not have been aware of it, but I was.


I wondered if my parents felt the same way that night a lifetime ago when I climbed onto a school bus for the ride to Metropolitan Stadium to see the Twins play the Indians.

I was traveling with about 40 chaperones that night, but my parents weren't among them.

I used the dollar they gave me for the trip to buy a miniature souvenir baseball bat with a replica of Tony Oliva's autograph.

I felt quite grown up.

Forty years later, I was very aware of the fact that my own son was on a bus, headed for a shopping center built where the stadium once stood.

The sun was just setting when the school bus pulled back into town and Steven climbed off with the same group of friends he'd hurried to catch up to that morning.

He gave them a wave as he slipped into the back seat of the car.

"How was the trip?" I asked.


"It was great!" he said. "That mall has everything! There was a store that just sold socks! Just socks! Nothing else!! And there was a store that only sold wallets … and a restaurant that only served meatballs."

Yes, I thought, there's a big world out there.

"And did you know there used to be a baseball stadium there?" he asked. "They still have home plate attached to the floor!"

"I remember that stadium very well," I said. It was his night to revel in a new experience, but one day I'd tell him about the Tony Oliva bat.

I didn't bother to ask for my change back: "I bought a book of cheat codes for one of my video games, and I had a cup of coffee. Really STRONG coffee. We have to get some of that coffee!"


He was talking so fast that I wondered if he had just finished his cup when the bus pulled into town, but I decided to chalk it up to "enthusiasm."

"Thanks for the money, Dad. I had a great day."


That alone was worth twenty bucks, and more.

"Oh, I forgot the best part," he said. "We went to the greatest place EVER! It's called Cinnabon!"

Coffee and Cinnabon and a day with the boys.

Today, my son, you are a man.

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