“What (pregnant pause) are you wearing?” one young dude asked the other.
“Don’t ask,” said the other, as he corralled another grocery cart in the parking lot of our neighborhood Fred Meyer store. He grinned and adjusted the little tiara on his head.
I knew the back story, so I had to smile myself.
Inside the store, I’d been approached by two teenage girls with a handful of plastic tiaras. They were members of the Portland Rose Festival Court, offering the head wear to employees and customers alike as they went about their Saturday afternoon grocery shopping.
“Would you like one, sir?” one of the girls asked.
“Um, I don’t think so,” I replied.
Two seconds later I changed my mind. “Oh, what the heck. Why not?”
I took a white one (passed over the pink) and asked who they were, knowing members of the court represent all the Portland high schools and a couple more in the ‘burbs.
One introduced herself as Annette Holgado from St. Mary’s Academy, the other as Emma Waibel from suburban West Linn. I’d read about Annette when she was selected and remembered two things: 1. She’s from Hillsboro (so she commutes on the light rail in the opposite direction as me); and 2) She attends the same school as my friend and fellow journalist Taylor Smith did, when she was St. Mary’s Rose Festival princess in 2008.
The Rose Festival Court has endured some criticism through the years as perpetuating sexist stereotypes of high school girls, but the court has changed dramatically in recent years to become more inclusive and much, much more than a popularity or beauty contest. The girls almost always are overachievers — academic stars, athletes and community service volunteers — and well respected by their peers. The girls receive $3,500 college scholarships and serve as ambassadors for the century-old Rose Festival.
That ambassadorship was on display for anyone to see Saturday. I saw an elderly Chinese woman in the checkout line; a young African American mom and her little girl, seated in the grocery cart; a middle-aged white guy; preteen and preschool girls; and a couple of cashiers — all wearing tiaras.
By the time it dawned on me that I might ask Annette and Emma to pose for a photo for this blog, they were long gone. Perhaps off to another store with their adult chaperone or maybe just back to their families. I thought of how their short visit brought a little bit of Rose Festival karma to this part of Northeast Portland and how many conversations would be started by someone asking, “Where did you get that tiara?”
Out in the parking lot, as I was loading my groceries into the car, I came upon the two young co-workers mentioned above.
“Not to be creep you out or anything,” I told the guy rounding up grocery carts, “but I write a blog, and I’d like get a photo of you if that’s OK.”
I moved closer to frame the picture and couldn’t help but notice his name tag: Taylor.
What a coincidence. My friend, ex-Princess Taylor, would have loved meeting “Prince” Taylor.
Photographs: Stephanie Yao Long, The Oregonian