A.K.A. The Best Summer of My Life
In the summer of 1982, one of my best friends and I toured with the Sky Ryders Drum & Bugle Corps out of Hutchinson, Kansas. Over the course of seven weeks, we traveled over 10,000 miles and did 33 performances, from Boston to San Diego, and Atlanta to Montreal, more than any other corps had ever done before. When we weren’t on the buses or sleeping —although those two often coincided—we were practicing, usually anywhere from six to twelve hours a day, sometimes more than that. I was on the cymbal line, and I distinctly remember one particular day where the cymbal players were just marching around a high school track, practicing different moves with the cymbals to make sure we were all in sync.
When we were at a performance site, we would usually sleep in sleeping bags in high school gymnasiums, showering in locker rooms where the hot water had been turned off ever since school let out for the summer. We survived mostly on sandwiches, Kool Aid, and diesel exhaust.
For a while the entire corps was squeezed onto two buses (we started with four), after two of the buses broke down, one of which had half the members’ luggage on it, including the bags containing the clothing of yours truly. The corps graciously sprang for underwear and t-shirts while we were waiting for the other buses to rejoin us. We borrowed other items from fellow members. Yes, we stopped to do laundry often.
By the way, if you ever find yourself stuck on a crowded Greyhound bus for an extended length of time, the most comfortable place to sleep, if you can get it, is the luggage rack. Trust me. I speak from personal experience here. That’s probably my foot hanging off the luggage rack in the picture up there.
On a typical day—if we weren’t traveling—we would be up at 6:00 a.m. for a quick breakfast, and then hit the field. We would march until noon, with a couple of breaks for water, and then lunch. Afternoons would start with section practice for a couple of hours, and then back to the field until supper. After that, more marching until it was time to collapse into (or onto, based upon how exhausted we were) our sleeping bags. Depending on where we were and how far we had to travel to get to the next show, we would practice until anywhere from nine to midnight. I sometimes wonder if we didn’t cover as much ground with our feet as we did in the buses. When we got to the show, we usually just changed into our uniforms right in front of everybody. Believe me, after a while, that’s not nearly as titillating as it sounds.
I graduated high school in the spring of 1981 at 182 pounds. By the end of the summer of 1982, I was 167. I’m 5’11” tall and I have long arms. I used to have a picture of myself from that summer walking toward the camera with my arms spread out. I swear I looked like a shorter version of the tall aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, except that I was a lovely shade of reddish bronze from sunburn most of the time.
The practices for the corps began in the winter of 1981/1982, one weekend a month. At the time, I was attending Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, LA. On the weekends for practicing, I would jump in my car after classes on Friday afternoon and drive eight hours to southwest Missouri, where I would pick up my friend, and he would drive the rest of the way to Hutchinson, KS while I slept, so we could get there by Saturday morning. After we were done on Sunday afternoon, we would reverse the process so I could get back to college in time for Monday morning classes. Surprisingly, I passed all of my classes.
By now you’re probably wondering when the good part comes. Considering what you’ve read so far, you may be asking how I could possibly think of this summer as the best of my life. Well, besides being a band geek through and through, I could say I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, and anything different to do in the summer had to be an improvement. But that’s not what made this such a great summer. I could talk about traveling all across the U.S., and being able to see so many different places, but, even though I loved that too, that’s not what the best part of the summer was either.
What made this the best summer of my life was the fact that I was with a group of over a hundred others who all had the same goal, to be the best corps possible, and who were all willing to work just as hard, endure whatever they had to, in order to achieve that goal. And when we were at the competitions, once the shows were over and we had a few minutes, we didn’t keep to ourselves, looking over our shoulders at the other corps with hostility. We didn’t call them names or make snide comments because they were trying to beat us or because they were in a different group, not even among ourselves in private.
No, when we looked at the members of the other groups, we saw kindred spirits. We saw others who were working just as hard as we were so that they could be the best they could be. We interacted and socialized with the other corps’ members as comrades in arms, rather than competitors. We all knew, once on the field, we would work as hard as we could to win, but off the field there was a mutual respect among the corps. Hundreds of young people and their instructors all working toward the same goal, and all admiring and cheering the others on as they performed. We congratulated them if they won, and we were gracious in accepting their congratulations if we won. At the end of the day, we were all corps geeks, and we loved it.
I can’t help but wonder what an entire society like that could accomplish.
So, what was your best summer?