d'Isle | Miss New Mexico
Miss New Mexico
by Jean d'Isle
-- May 11, 2001
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.
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.
author, age 18, in the Naval Air Reserve
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
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
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,
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
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