By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
In the garage of the San Luis Resort on Galveston Island, Dana Prentice takes a quick look at her hair in the car's reflection. Her silver earrings dangle just so, with the right one hidden by her brown bangs. She adjusts her dress, a turquoise number that cuts across her chest and shows off her shoulders, tan from a sunny spring spent on the water in Seabrook, where she lives.
I tug on my vest and jacket, doing my own straightening. The rental tux fits like a rental tux, but at least the shoes are comfortable. "You ready?" I ask. She is, and we head across the garage.
I've never been so nervous in my life.
We walk into the building and head up the stairs on our way to the main foyer. I'm telling myself to breathe, relax, you're a professional journalist. This should be a cakewalk. I can hear the crowd upstairs, bubbling with excitement and high-pitched laughter. Breathe deep.
Dana and I hit the top of the stairs and take in the scene. Prom 2006. Hundreds of Clear Lake High's glossy-faced teenagers are dressed to the nines. There's activity everywhere; young girls dart back and forth, complimenting one another on their hair, dresses and makeup.
"You look so pretty!"
I'm certain I'm gonna be called out for the fraud I am, but suddenly we're in the mix. I follow Dana over to some of her friends, and we say hello. Next, we're in the pictures line. It moves with Nazi-like efficiency. The photographer grabs our hands and mashes them together. I barely have time to shoot a smile before the flash pops and she says "Next."
As we head inside, I think about why I, a 23-year-old college graduate, am cruising a high school prom. Ask Hollywood, and they'll tell you every story ends here. After prom night, the credits are supposed to roll. All that's left are the memories and pictures. But those memories don't really hold up, and I've never been much of a picture taker. My own "real" prom was a scant five years ago. I remember I was there. I remember we wanted to write "Prom 2001: Everybody Gets Laid!" on the back of a van but were vetoed by the parents who owned the van. And that's about it. Four years of college and light beer have a way of erasing prom and high school. I'm only five years older than these kids, but I'm now completely terrified of them. If you skim the papers, you know that when they're not having booze-drenched orgies, they're probably shooting heroin into their eyeballs. At prom, of course, they do both.
Who are these kids? Will their prom be as special as it's supposed to be? Is it important? Is it even fun? Or is it just a tired, old ritual, put on for moms with digital cameras, marketed by limo companies and sold back to teenagers as movies starring Freddie Prinze Jr.?
Here I am, ready to walk into the most anxiety-inducing assignment in my short journalism career: Prom 2K6. Notepad in tow, we hop on the escalators and start up to the dance...
But maybe I should back up here. Let's start with a java chip frappuccino.
The Starbucks on NASA Parkway sits just down the way from the Johnson Space Center. I'm here to meet Dana, my potential prom date. When I first had the idea of going to prom, I already had a date in mind; she was a good friend's little sister's best friend. I'd already hung out with her plenty of times and knew that there'd be no awkwardness there. Then she got a boyfriend and I was tossed quicker than you can say "Molly Ringwald." I was dateless.
Thank God for MySpace. All those media reports you've been reading about older men meeting underage girls on the ubiquitous social networking site? True. I put an ad up on mine after being dumped, and a friend of a friend surfed by and sent Dana my way. I wasn't hideous. Actually, it was a pretty flattering picture. And I was tall. She could wear any heels she wanted. Dana's boyfriend had recently decided to call it quits, and she was also dateless. Unlike me, she was supposed to be going...but hey.
We've decided to meet up in a public place for a crazy test. I have to prove I would open doors, remember her corsage and, in general, be a good date. I need to check her out too -- I'm a little worried about what kind of girl would want to go to prom with a reporter. She has to possess either a lot of crazy or just the right combination of maturity and irony to know that maybe, just maybe, high school isn't that important after all. Fortunately, she's got the latter.
"Hi, you must be Dana," I say.
"Yeah," she says.
"Ray." I shake her hand.
"Uh, what do you want?" I ask, gesturing to the menu board. She's cute. This is starting to feel more like a date.