While their tuxedo-clad son sat at the steering wheel, Helen and Dave Herlocker hastily hosed down the family car, removing the grime just before Daniel, 16, left to pick up his prom date.
Minutes beforethis frantic scene, Dave had arrived home from a trip to Virginia, where he had loaded up the "prom coach" with the contents of his daughter's dorm room. Traffic snarls hampered the trip back.
Daniel wasn't about to transport his Cinderella to Westminster High's junior prom in a filthy car. He had scheduled the washing and waxing on his pre-prom agenda, but the minutes had evaporated. He had to be in his tuxedo before the clock struck five.
Fifteen minutes before dress time, Dave rolled in, unloaded, vacuumed and soaped the car, with help from his wife. They were into the rinse cycle as Danieleased down the driveway. The car would have to air dry.
"We neverdo things the easy way," sighed Helen.
Daniel is a pro on the prom circuit. The Westminster High junior attended three formal dances last year and plans a repeat of that schedule this prom season.
"I like getting dressed up and spending a classy evening with friends," he said.
With prom costs spiraling, students often have to ask their parents for more than a car wash. Factoring in tux rental, tickets, corsage, a dinner for two at a nice restaurant, a young man is looking at about a $200 price tag, said Daniel.
Their dates usually outspend them, considering the cost of dresses, accessories, hairdos, manicures and makeup.
"Girls spend just as much," said Michelle Smith, 16, who attended Liberty's senior prom at the Hyatt Regency Hotelin Baltimore. "A formal dress costs between $200 and $300 and you usually want a new one for each prom."
To avoid selling a duplicate dress, area stores keep a list of who is going to what prom, said Julie J. Langlois, 16.
As chairman of South Carroll High's prom committee, Julie had little time to shop and settled on the second dress she saw. She and several friends spent Saturday morning decorating Martin's Westminster with flowers and balloons before --ing off to dress.
Julie said she might help her date pay for dinner and she saved her parents a little money, too.
"I wouldn't trust anyone else to do my hair," she said. "After playing a season of lacrosse, my nails are a wreck so I'm wearing gloves."
Teachers also get involved in the prom works, helping students with fund-raising activities to offset the cost of tickets.
Kathie M. Tromble, junior class adviser atSouth Carroll, has assisted the prom committee since September.
In addition to financial support, parents, teachers and friends often perform before- and after-dance duties. The Herlockers figured on losing a night's sleep when they invited 10 young couples to their home for a post-prom
party and breakfast.
All five county high schools scheduled well-chaperoned after-dance parties and encouraged students to attend.
"There's a potential for the danger of drinking anddriving after the prom," said Chris Centofanti, a mother of three who has coordinated Liberty's after-prom party for four years. "We liketo keep thekids off the streets, out of their cars, and away from booze after the dance."
She said the parents' club usually hires a disc jockey to play music all night, supplies plenty of food for the students and coffee for themselves.
"It's a lot of work and takes about a week to catch up on the lost sleep," she said. "It's worth it to all of us, if we can save somebody's life."
State police also are adding special prom season patrols to their regular rounds, warning minors that the mere presence of an odor of alcohol could lead to adrunken driving arrest of drivers under 21 years old.
Operation Prom, a safe-driving program sponsored by Fox 45 Television, also hopes to offset the drinking and driving problem. Students sign pledges to celebrate safe and sober.
Liberty High had the highest county participation in the program last year, sparking inter-school competition.
"We really pushed Operation Prom at South Carroll," said CareyA. Marschki, 16, a member of Students Against Drunk Driving. "Our homeroom had 100 percent participation. Most kids stick to their pledge, too."
Darryk J. Modracek, 16, a Liberty junior, said limousine rental is an additional safety measure. Three couples shared the cost for hiring his, and rode in it from the start of the evening to finish.
"Renting a limo was our idea at first, but our parents were really glad we wouldn't have to be driving in downtown Baltimore," he said.
Despite all the work, time, and money, most young dancers saidthey would do it all over again.
"I wouldn't miss the experience for anything," said Darryk. "I am definitely going again next year."
Daniel said he may just invest in his own tuxedo.
"If I keep going to three proms a year, it will pay for itself in no time."