Monday, May 24, 2010

The Miscreants

On of the joys interesting aspects of having kids in school is that you are honored have to participate in their activities to one degree or another. It was while working with the band and orchestra booster clubs that I got to be a chaperon on many trips.

Actually, we were called Sponsors, and I was asked to be a sponsor on an orchestra trip to Amarillo. Now sponsors duty on trips with teens is to insure that smooching is kept to a minimum on buses, that everyone is in the right room at motels, and help out The Director whenever possible. Being a sponsor is an important duty.

We left for Amarillo on three buses at 5:00 p.m. for our 650 mile trek. Amarillo was hosting the Southwest Music Festival in which the orchestra was competing. The kids were primed, but the journey would be long.

The trip was uneventful. The only thing that sticks in my mind is the driver of our bus. He was named George. He was crusty and rude and always had an unlit cigar jutting from his mouth. I remember that he was always asking us to make the kids shut up. He didn't appreciate radios blaring, and kids cutting up and singing and such. His response to their antics was to curse and grimace and chomp down harder on his cigar.

We reached our motel in Amarillo early the next morning and the kids decided that 6:00 a.m. was the perfect time to swim. We tried our best to keep a rein on their enthusiasm...but I can guarantee that none of the motel guests remained sleeping. George and the other bus drivers --all a crusty bunch -- were among those who were trying to sleep. I don't think the drivers and the orchestra were on speaking terms at this point.

Later, at noon, we took the three busloads to Palo Duro canyon, about 30 miles south of Amarillo. Palo Duro is like a mini-Grand Canyon, a beautiful place and perfect for fun and adventure. Once there, the buses were unloaded and the kids were instructed to report back in three hours. The kids scattered, the bus drivers settled down to play cards and the sponsors strutted around trying to look important.

After two hours, the adults -- I guess there were eight of us -- were standing around talking. Suddenly, we all realized that we could hear...... absolutely nothing. You have to understand, Palo Duro is a big place with caves and cliffs and all sorts of rugged terrain....but we should have heard something.

Our concern grew. “Where are they?”......”What if someone is hurt?”......”They could be lost!”.....”Someone even now may be crying out for us.”

We grew more and more concerned. After all, the safety and well-being of each student had been entrusted to us....and we were standing here talking while they were out there dying.

Now we were a high tech group. We had walkie talkies and binoculars. So, we went out to search. George and the other bus drivers weren't interested in looking for punk kids. I now laugh now at our predicament. If you could have listened in on our walkie talkie conversation, you would have called out the National Guard.

You would have heard:

“Oh no, I see Cindy dangling over the edge of a cliff”

“Huh, Jack just pushed Mike down the side of a hill”

“Oh Jeez, I think there is some girl laying on the ground holding her ankle”

”Six of 'em running. One fell. Rolling down the side.”

”I see Everett. I think he's hurt.”

We hiked and climbed our way to each disaster...but when we arrived, no one was there. Somewhere, while climbing out of breath, some girl rushed up past me gasping 'Eric is after me.' before she disappeared around a corner. Who was she? Is she one of ours? Who is Eric?  Sponsorship is hard work! Despite our valiant efforts, we saved no one....uh, we could find no one to save. Defeated, we crawled back to the buses.

4:30. They all started coming in. Have you ever seen MASH on TV? That was the scene. They limped in with bruises and blood and cuts and scrapes and twisted ankles. The walking wounded -- all laughing, shouting, dancing and wearing their blood and bruises as a badge of honor. The bus drivers stared in horror. The Director was having conniption fits. We rushed into action with ace bandages and wet cloth and rubbing alcohol and orchestra aids (we don't use band aids here!). We did our best to patch them up. The Director was pacing and shouting. The performance was tomorrow morning and he suffering through images of broken fingers and busted lips.

You should understand. The kids were ecstatic over the experience. Many had never been away from home before. This freedom and right to explore was special.

Finally, patched up, we again boarded the buses to return to the motel. I received a lecture from George about how we need to control those banshees.

At the motel, we rested, then took the kids to a barbecue sponsored by the festival. Back at the motel at ten. Lights out at 10:30. Everyone needed to sleep, because we needed to arise at 5:30 the next morning to prepare for the adjudicated performance at 8:30."

We sponsors have the distinct honor of sitting in the motel hallways during the evening. This is not only to provide security for the students, but also to insure that no cross-pollination occurs between the sexes.

After 10:30, all quieted down. Peace. abruptly be shattered by 15 Dominoes pizzas being delivered at 12:30 a.m! Why didn't we disconnect the phones, we asked ourselves? Now, I ask you. What would you do in this situation? Well, we were very stern.

"You have five minutes to eat that pizza and get back in bed! And that's final!"

After the pizza debacle, all was quiet until the 5:30 wake-up."

Have you ever tried to wake the dead? We had a breakfast buffet set up in the lobby. I cannot describe this group of misfits careening off the walls, bouncing and tripping trying to find the lobby with their eyes shut. Hair uncombed. Uniforms buttoned wrong. Gowns unzipped. Shoes untied. No make-up...too much make-up in the wrong places. I overheard one of the lady sponsors trying to instruct an uncomprehending girl that she absolutely must wear a bra.

We poured coffee, milk and juice down them. We stuffed food in their mouths. We zipped, straightened and tied, trying to make some semblance of humanity out is this group of sleepwalking miscreants. Some one threw up. Oh God! The Director was sitting on the couch...catatonic. George and the drivers were not shy about expressing their disgust at the whole scene.

Finally we stuffed them into the buses while still dressing them. 15 minutes later we were at the rehearsal hall.

They were in that hall for an hour. We weren't allowed in. I watched as they, not exited, but they oozed sort of like molasses, toward the auditorium. Zombies. I caught up with The Director. He looked at me with panic and pleading on his face and gasped, 'Jerry.... they....tha'...they are still asleep!' "

With dread I entered the auditorium. I stood in back with the bus drivers. The auditorium, to my dismay, was packed. The reputation of this orchestra had preceded it.

The curtain opened with applause. What I saw shook me to my core. Sitting, half slumped in their chairs, ladies with their beautiful maroon gowns...wrinkled...with legs in bandages and red marks on their elbows. Men, some sorta' slumping to the side, and others slightly weaving. There was a hushed murmuring in the audience. I think I heard someone remark, "They're drunk." The Director half-heartedly bowed to the audience and adjudicators. I was embarrassed and wanted to leave. George smirked around his unlit cigar.

The Director stood in front of the orchestra and lifted his arms, with his baton in his right hand.

As The Director’s arms rose on that stage, something happened. Somehow, without apparent movement, the orchestra swelled. Their shoulders squared as their instruments came up -- their postures molded into perfection and their heads locked proudly.

The baton came down. A luxurious, soothing, rich sound filled the auditorium and snapped the audience into a trance. The dynamics were richer than I had ever heard before, violinists swaying in tranced unison, cellos and bass attacking with a subtle intensity. The volume grew, trumpets entered softly and crescendoed into the melody while a counterpoint of french horns soared loud and booming and satisfying. The audience in that auditorium shivered.

I watched as the mouths of the bus drivers dropped open. George's cigar dropped to the floor from his mouth. His words were, 'Holy shit!'

Those kids performed for 45 minutes - three pieces. Each song was climaxed by a standing ovation.

They won First Place, Best in Class and Sweepstakes honors.

Afterward, while walking to the buses, George, the hateful bus driver, insisted on shaking every orchestra member’s hand. He would grab their instrument cases and loaded them himself. Later, driving home, George would shout, "You kids play some damn fine songs. Hey, do you guys want to sing sumpin'?"

That's my little story. No particular moral to it.

Those kids, the very ones that can't keep their rooms clean, forgets to empty the trash and is destined to become homeless, illiterate bums -- those kids were musicians. Somewhere, in their souls, when that baton came down, our world ceased, and theirs began. They were musicians.


  1. That's a very entertaining piece of writing. It reminds me of when I was in high school, going on choir trips and club competitions. This story illustrates the gift that is youth. Adults could never bounce back so quickly!

  2. The moral to the story is to not assume that kids can't rise to the occasion just because they're beat up and half asleep! They may not have had pride in their appearance that morning, but they did have pride in their ability to make award winning music!

  3. Have had similar panic attacks, nasty bus drivers and kids too exhausted to perform until they got on the field and were stunning .... thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    I'm assuming the piccolautist was part of the orchestra.

  4. wow, that gave me chills! leave it to kids to surprise you like that. I believe they all have in in them, I'm a mom to a soccer team like that ... biggest bunch of misfits off the field, pretty flippen spectacular in action!!

  5. Awesome Jerry! Isn't amazing how we think they hear nothing but when it matters they pull it off.

  6. Bravo! Once again you have captured for us inspiring and entertaining examples of the human spirit -- in the teen adventurers, the musicians and George.

  7. Aww! I love this! I really was there. Great job - I could really see Old George and wish I had an "Old Man With An Unlit Cigar" emoticon. Thanks for sharing :D

  8. Great experience, great writing. A standing ovation for the kids . . . and for Jerry!

  9. Wonderful writing as usual. It is clear to see Music is one of your first loves. The one thing I just love about your posts is the fact you can take almost any situation, and make the best of it.

  10. You are a born storyteller, Jerry, and this one was great. Just when I think this is the technologically-lost generation, you reminded me that kids are still kids.

  11. Wonderful, wonderful story!

    I was a chaperone for a group of Senior Girl Scouts on a trip to Savannah years ago. My husband said that I left a sweet little housewife and came back as General Lee. Once was enough.

    650 miles with a busload of kids AND a grouchy bus driver? You'll have to do something really terrible to ever tarnish that halo!

  12. Such a wonderful story! Very intertaining and really had me. I bet they slept all the way home!!

  13. Amazing. I love teenagers. Their moods are so mecurial, their hormones out of wack, but their minds work in the most mysterious of ways.

    Fabulous story, fabulous writing.

  14. Our Daughter was in the Jr High and High School Band and like you we were amazed everytime they actually performed because we all looked at each other wondering where these kids came from.

    Palo Duro Canyon I can just imagine, went there a few years back and it is a beautiful place only we had less kids than you did :)

    Enjoyed my visit I will be back.

  15. That was a lovely post.

    It's funny but it brings back old memories of my college psych professor telling us about state dependent learning. "If you study drunk for my tests, you sure as hell better come to the test drunk!"

    That's my kind of advice.

  16. I really enjoyed your have a nice way of unfolding the details.
    While we never had our kinds in a band we had plenty of road trips with soccer and baseball. These times with our children are priceless...and make for great storytelling. Whenever we would load the car (that was our bus) with all the soccer girls my husband would put on U2's It's A Beautiful matter how bloodied and bruised they were from the game. It didn't matter if they won or lost..just being there made it a beautiful day. I love your blog already and thanks for following mine!!!

  17. Loved your story and your depiction of the bus drivers certainly matches my reality.

    I have to admit I got a little lump in my throat when they got the standing ovation!

    Thanks for becoming a Betty follower! I am one of your now. Do I get candy or something?

  18. I liked both lessons:
    1) Never be a chaperone or sponsor on a school trip.
    2) Never underestimate your kids, because they really do get to have lives beyond your dominion.

  19. Jerry, you have got to stop making me weep. My children think something's seriously wrong with me. I'm so damn proud of those kids...and I've never met any of them.

    But thank you so much for sharing their story!

  20. That story reminds me of when our cub scout pack took a trip down to Disneyland when I was a kid. Long story but suffice it to say it was an eye-opener to me how many opportunities there are for physical injury at Disneyland. [Just to set a time stamp to this trip; we flew down there in a propeller airliner.]

  21. As a veteran of several similar bus excursions----as a teenager, not a chaperone---I could feel it all from the kids' point of view. And it was freakin' wonderful. Although it's been over 40 years since the last time I climbed onto a bus bound for a class trip or musical competition, it appears that little has changed. I do remember the bus drivers being the best part, though. Don't think we ever had a crusty crabby one.

  22. Hi Jerry - Charlie sent me and I'm so glad - that's a joyous story. I'll bet George would have even allowed you to sing 'The Road to Amarillo.' on the way home.

  23. This is brilliant. I've had a similar experience as a chaperon years ago.