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…