Lately, since joining Facebook, I’ve been thinking about my drum corps days. Seems every time I log on, I have another friend request from someone I haven’t thought about in years, but who I can instantly remember and say “My god, remember the time that we hid in a train tunnel to avoid a tornado/had a disco party on the bus/performed in a thunderstorm/were threatened with a trip to the pokey in Alabama?”
In a nutshell, drum corps is like marching band. It’s horns and drums playing music and a colorguard spinning while marching on a football field, (flags, represent!) but it’s a culture as well. It’s the distilled essence of band geek and the most athletic activity 90% of the performers will ever do.
It’s an entire summer with 127 other performers, traveling across the country in a caravan of busses, semis and assorted support vehicles, all full of people whose only job is to keep the corps rolling so all you have to think about is the performance. It’s cut-throat, intense competition with other groups, all of you hell bent for leather as you strive to be the best of the best, but it’s also years later, coming across someone who might have marched with another group, and spending the entire time laughing till you cried about how incredible the experience was.
I’ve started going through my old photos and scanning them in to my computer, and my god! Film pictures! How archaic! I’m surprised the busses we rode in didn’t have stone wheels…thanks for not having modern day essentials like digital cameras and cell phones as standard equipment, LATE NINTIES!!! Way to be! And let us not, let us NOT forget that iPods were a thing of the distant future! The CD binders, they were immense! The AA batteries for the CD players were ubiquitous! My punctuation usage is getting out of hand!!111!!!!11
One of my favorite stories begins, as all things should, with clothing. Or lack thereof… You see, when you’re traveling across country in old Greyhound busses, your packing space is limited. Pretty much one giant duffle-type bag, and one sleeping bag (or air mattress and blanket, which was my preferred method for sleeping on high school gym floors EVERY night) per person under the bus. Of course, the amount of crap you could squeeze ONTO the bus was only limited to your ingenuity and the amount of patience your seatmate had.
The other factor to take into consideration was the heat. There are not many places in this country where it can’t get to eleventy-million degrees in the summertime, and I think we practiced in them all. Even one tour through the Cascades featured 90+ temperatures and sunny skies! Hell, the year I taught, the staff bus engine caught on FIRE driving through the Washington mountains, and we all just stayed on the bus, because it was cooler than outside. Anyhoodles, since we practiced outside 99% of the time, ALL day during the summer, the accepted uniform for a female in drum corps was a bikini, boy shorts, tennis shoes and a small notebook tied round the waist with “dots” or coordinates listed inside that told us all where the hell we were supposed to be at any given point in the show. The string was a convenient place to clip a Sun Smacker lip balm or two, as well. (But NEVER the yellow “sport” flavor, ‘cause that shit tasted like a backed-up toilet used by a vomitous skunk.) In fact, most of the girls in the guard omitted the shorts and shoes part of the equation, because at a certain length, what are boy shorts but bikini bottoms anyway, and who wants to be wearing TWO layers? Not the person whose knees just started sweating, that’s for sure. Many of us would also forgo shoes whenever possible, ostensibly so we could dance better, but mainly to avoid the dreaded sock tan line, that most obvious of all drum corps tell tales.
Now due to the packing constraints, most of us ran out of clothes before we ran out of days on tour, and laundry day came but once (!) a summer. We would all cram as many bathing suits as possible into our bags, along with socks, undies, towels, actual clothing, toiletries, uniforms, shoes, and in my case, at least 50 books. At one point I think I had 12 bathing suits, but even that was not enough. We would string rope and bungee cord across the bus and wash the day’s suit in the shower to hang and dry on the bus overnight.
By my third year, my seat mate and I had enough seniority to claim two seats each, and as we didn’t want to sit in the back of the bus (some things never change, and the fact that the “cool” kids sit in the back of the bus is one of the rules chiseled in stone) we had the entire front row to ourselves, which happened to feature one of the only working windows on MY side. As the air conditioning in our bus was laughable at best, the window stayed open most of the time, so I stretched my bungee across the opening and safety pinned my drying suits and towels to the line.
Picture this: 3 coach busses, two full-size tractor/trailer rigs (one semi hauling a trailer full of equipment, the other a trailer converted into a traveling kitchen), one conversion van pulling the small souvenir trailer and an RV serving as the command center and head of the operation, driving through the absolute backwoods bayous of Louisiana. We were on our way to a competition at Tiger Stadium on the LSU campus, when the unthinkable happened. My day’s swimsuit bottoms (blue bikini with a daisy on the hip) were sucked right out the window. Gloom descended on the front of the bus, as Mama Pickett the driver (rightly) refused to pull over so the whole bus could look for the wayward bottoms. It was a dark few minutes, till a shout rang out from the girls with the only other functioning window on my side. Most of the bus crammed their heads out the windows to see where, down by the back fender where some long gone Greyhound driver had years ago hit something and ripped a small piece of metal up from the fender, my bikini bottoms. Waving frantically in the wind of bus, they were the object of much pointing and waving as cars passed the caravan by. Mama Pickett was by this point on the CB with the other drivers, as they all tried to formulate a plan that didn’t involve stopping the caravan, but would allow for retrieval of the bottoms. Just as someone made the suggestion to try to snag them with a flagpole held out the window of one of the other vehicles, the bikini bottoms flew off the metal spar and landed by the side of the road, where they started to sink gently into the bayou. As the entire guard bus began to mourn the passing of the bottoms, the van full of volunteer cooks and support staff bombed over to the side of the road, and one of the dads leapt from the vehicle and WADED through the swamp to rescue my bikini. And there was much rejoicing.
I’ll be writing more on my experiences in the next few posts…stay tuned for such adventures as Why Trash bags Are Always Good and Yes, Virginia, There Can Be Tornadoes In Denver.
* I recently (like, 20 minutes ago, after a bit of a search) came across my journal from my four years in drum corps, and that was the title. The sub-title was “A Book of Semi Inspiration”. Why potted meat? Well, someone (cough, DAD) hid a can of Hormel’s Potted Meat Food Product in my tub of bus snacks for me to discover one lonely night on the road. And so I give you this: