Stories on Buses and Missing Pigs

On Wednesday, June 30, our weekly writers’ confab (Mark O’Brien, Yvonne Jones, Maribel Cardez, Laura Staley, and me) convened and we, of course, enjoyed ourselves. Near the end of our time together, Mark O’Brien told a story about someone buying pizzas for people in an effort to generate ideas for a marketing campaign or some such kind of inspirational quest. It was kind of a silly story that ended with one of us not quite getting the punch line. The story wasn’t a traditional joke – it was more an illustration of fads and the lunacy of following fads. When the story ended, I promised to tell a story about someone telling a story, and someone else not quite “getting” it. Of course, for me that requires miles and miles of preamble, back story, context, and not going in a straight line for point A to point M. Here it is, unedited for brevity.

Right now is prime marching band season. Don’t roll your eyes, I’m going to regale you with more stories from my marching band days. For those who haven’t been subjected to any of these, I was the head chaperone for a high school marching band for seven years, from 2005-2011. The seasons usually lasted about six weeks, commencing with band camp in early June and finishing up usually a week or so after the 4th of July. We traveled lean, with one equipment truck to haul most of our supplies and instruments. If the parade or event was in Wisconsin, we traveled by school bus. When we went out of state, it was by coach bus. To save on expenses, we stayed mostly in schools or churches, sometimes in community centers, athletic centers, or any place that would allow 75 to 100 kids, directors, and chaperones to bunk for a night or two.

It was fun and fast-paced. Many times, it was one night here, another night somewhere down the road. I always felt so good to be able to take stuff out of my overnight bag and make arrangements to settle in at the places where we stayed two or three nights. The one-night stops were set up with takedown in mind, how quickly could I be at re-assembling all my stuff and getting it all set and ready to go again on the morrow. I was up past most everyone else, making sure every door was locked, the surroundings were safe and secure, and that the kids stayed in their beds and weren’t disturbing anyone else. I can safely brag that our kids were usually sufficiently tired at the end of the days that we put in, and high school teens are pretty keen on getting sleep so there was never much of a problem in getting them to quiet down, relax and get some shut-eye.

While we were in transit from place to place, most of the adults were seated at the front of the buses. We all handled travel differently. During my tenure, the executive director of the band who had asked me to fill my particular role, was gone for the first three years that I served while he was pursuing his master’s degree in music. The guy who took his place was temperamentally similar to me – we were both rookies, learning as we went. He had an advantage over me in that he had traveled a lot with the band, and I had not. Much of the bus time was he and I conferring about what we hoped would transpire at the next stop. Granted, a lot of the itinerary was planned out far ahead of this time, but once we were on the road things could change and we had to be able to react to different realities that could and would spring up.

Sometimes, the kids would ask US to quiet down because we were keeping them awake or we were drowning out their music or movies.

When we weren’t plotting and planning and getting all of our ducks in a row, we would regale each other with stories. We normally traveled in three buses, and I always rode in the first bus with either or both of the executive directors so that we could plan and plot and roll with whatever events were affecting or not affecting our itinerary. Other chaperones and directors spaced themselves accordingly on the other two buses. As the chaperones and even some of the directors could change from one trip to the next, we saw that as opportunity, ok an obligation to share some of the same stories over and over. We found that laughter was a suitable replacement for sleep, and so we welcomed the opportunity to share stories of things that happened on previous band trips, and when the stories started to flow, inevitably one story always reminded someone of another story, and it was nothing for us to fill hours on end with story after story. Sometimes, the kids would ask US to quiet down because we were keeping them awake or we were drowning out their music or movies. Their requests for quiet were always acknowledged but not always respected…

One of my favorite stories took place in my first year with the band and I apologize, almost in the form of a spoiler alert, in that it doesn’t really have a punch line, and it may feel kinda like “You had to be there.” We were somewhere in Minnesota en route back to Wisconsin from a particularly challenging, some might say grueling, five-day trip with the band. Five days, five different parades in five different cities, and different lodging each night. It’s where I caught the bug for doing this, the adrenaline rushes, the fun of threading the needle to get our band in and out of staging areas, onto parade routes, packing up, and getting on the road again five different times was an exhilaration that I can’t put into words.

We had finished our last parade, check that, in Minnesota, at that time many of these were “band festivals” and the hosts and locals sneered at the word “parade.” Whatever, even I don’t have the desire or patience to fill in that back story. We had stopped to eat at what was purported to be the original “Ponderosa” restaurant, and we were now headed back to home. Only about seven or eight hours of bus time betwixt us and the completion of a successful trip. A few of us adults started to roll out the stories. My cohort Randy is a great storyteller, and he swears that this is a true story. His dad was supposedly a part of this prank, though he had long since passed on when Randy had told it to us… it does sound a bit apocryphal, but I don’t care. I love it, and so I will try to do it justice here.

His dad grew up in rural Minnesota. One of his buddies got the idea to pull a prank on their school. Late one night they gathered up some live pigs in a truck and drove over to their school. They had put a stone in a door or had some way of keeping a door unlocked. They had pieces of coal, I believe, and proceeded to mark each pig with a number. The first pig was labeled “1,” the second “2” and the third was labeled “4.” Do you see where this is headed? They opened the door to the school, gave each pig a good swat on the hindquarters and slammed the door, and took off in their truck.

When he finished telling that story, all of us that had gathered around were in tears. There really wasn’t a punchline as we were all able to fill in the blanks as to what happened when whoever it was opened the school and set about rounding up pigs from inside the building. We have no idea how long they searched and what it took for them to conclude that they were only going to find pigs 1, 2, and 4. Everyone took a shot at painting some outrageous scenario and that would set off another round of laughter and howling. It wasn’t helpful for the peace and quiet of Bus One when someone was heard in a tiny meek voice, saying that she just didn’t get it and what happened to pig Three…


Tom Dietzler
Tom Dietzler
Lifelong, proud somewhat strident Wisconsinite, I love my state and love to sing its praises. A bon vivant and raconteur, lover of history, literature and good conversations. Laughter and music are salves that I frequently am applying to my soul. I have spent time (too much) in manufacturing and printing and have found great joy in my current position as director of operations at a large church in the same area where I grew up. Husband to Rhonda and father of two adult children Melanie and Zack, I’m the constant companion of my five-year-old Lab, Oliver, who is my muse to a lot of my stories. I’m a fan of deep conversation and my interests are in learning and gaining wisdom, so in the last few years I have become and less politically vocal, and hopefully more respectful and open-minded. Rhonda and I sold our home in 2018, bought a condo and have traveled a bit more, golfed a bit more and are enjoying life a bit more. If you take the time to get to know me, prepare yourself for an invite to the 30th state to join the union, a gem located in the upper Midwest, full of beautiful scenery formed by the glaciers, with lots of lakes and trees and gorgeous scenery, and the nicest people that you’d ever want to meet.

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  1. Loved your story, Tom.

    I just want to add this picture to your imagination.
    Unless you know where to ask, most people wouldn’t be able to make a real luau – with a whole roasted pig – because their supermarkets don’t have whole pigs. But our butcher does, so when some friends had dug a suitable hole in their back yard, our daughter picked up a medium sized piglet. The butcher was happy to see her, because not always do the customers “remember” to pick up the specialty foods they have ordered over the phone.

    Thus it happened, on the last day before Christmas one year, that the butcher who had dressed as Santa for the day had such a whole piglet waiting for its new owner. But the customer never showed, and by closing time our butcher knew he had to bring this pig home with him because the store was closed over the holidays.

    Only, that day he was riding his motor bike.

    Almost everybody in the Christian world have seen pictures of Jesus carrying a lamb over his shoulders – that is the way to carry a four legged animal where you can hold on to two feet with one hand and have a free hand for your staff. Or your handlebar.

    And thus it happened that many unsuspecting motorists that Christmas Eve caught a glimpse of Santa, riding a motor bike, with a pig around his ears.