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Drum and Bugle Corps is hands down, the most amazing thing I have ever experienced. There is absolutely nothing like it in the world. Living in school gyms and traveling on a crowded bus with the 100 other people you perform with across the entire country for an entire summer is unique in almost every way. Time moves differently, and the relationships you form with people go deeper than friendship. It is truly the feeling of family. There is however, one, minor, insignificant little detail can take away from this experience. Food.
Food in drum corps is not what I would call gourmet meals, but sometimes it is not half bad. It begins to get more and more similar as the days and weeks go by. The cook staff eventually gets lazy, (but claim to have run out of supplies and funding) and tends to make the same meals every day. Cereal. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Chow mien. I often found myself trying new combinations with my food for any new flavor or sensation in my mouth, such as peanut butter and chicken on a sandwich. We were so isolated from the rest of the world, fast food became a distant memory and we dreamt of home-cooked meals, waiting for us after our 2-month tour.
But of course, this food depression doesn’t usually start right away; at least, not during the first week of the move-in or all day rehearsals. It starts to take effect near the beginning of the summer tour, after 2 weeks of the all day rehearsals. Halfway through tour last year, my corps was in Sacramento, California. Ah, California. Home of the In-N-Out Burger, where there is one on almost every corner. Yes, we would see these forbidden restaurants everywhere, teasing us as our tour bus would drive by.
Like I said, Drum corps is unique. We never go out to eat. We were never to leave the housing site. Period. It is just how things are in drum corps. Our instructors, or “chaperones”, are responsible for our safety after we sign a contract with them. If we break the rules that are laid out in the member handbook, we will get sent home and run the risk of not being let back into the organization ever again. End of story. We had already had a multitude of opportunities to see this policy in action; it had taken effect on others, who ended up cut from the corps, so there really was no question regarding the policy.
While in Sacramento, we were staying in the upper gym of Hiram W. Johnson High School, near the middle of downtown Sacramento. We had arrived there over night at about 2 in the morning, and had almost died from the shock of the immediate heat. Some of us slept on the cool wood floor that night. Wake up was at 9 am, and a 3-hour rehearsal was to precede our performance later that afternoon, which we had to bus too. Groggily, my section (the front ensemble or “pit”), reluctantly pushed our equipment to the field. At first none of us noticed it, or at least nobody said anything. Soon enough, many of our section started moving slower and stopped moving, staring forward.
Standing, oh-so-temptingly across the street beyond the forsaken fence, was a wonderful, delectable In-N-Out Burger. I could hear the sound of rumbling stomachs from where I stood in the pit, on the front of the field. Quite possibly, those 3 hours of my life were the longest I have ever spent, staring at that symbol of the outside world.
After being dismissed, those of us in the pit pushed our equipment back to the semi-truck while the rest of the corps headed to the school for our lunch break. The load took only a brief 15 minutes as opposed to the 25 minutes it usually takes. When we arrived for lunch, sure enough, all our bland food was eaten up and packed. We had been forgotten, and it had only left us with one option.
Casually, 8 of the 10 us from the pit strolled back to the truck which we had just finished loading. A few, straggling horn players were finishing up putting their instruments on the truck, as the rest of the corps packed their stuff in the gym and prepared to leave. It was just about 1 o’clock and we were scheduled to leave for the performance site at 1:30.
Kevin, our axillary percussionist, was looking tense. He was sweating, though the morning heat wasn’t incredibly intense. His hands were in fists, shaking and he wasn’t moving. “I…I can’t stand it anymore,” he managed to spit out as he stared into space. As we glanced across the street, the space into which he stared, we all knew what he meant. Suddenly, Kevin took off running. He ran to the 10-foot fence that separated us from the real world.
It took him less than 10 seconds to cross the dirt covered field. The lot of us attempted to sprinted over to catch up with him, though we carefully positioned ourselves to be hidden behind the few trees that lined the field. We didn’t want to be as careless as Kevin, and risk getting caught. Just as we had caught up to him, Kevin started to scale the fence. All we could do was watch in awe, as he had the guts to do something that we had only dreamt about. The first to break out of the trance was Peter, our timpani player, who jumped at the fence and started to climb as well. Kevin had already reached the top and jumped over, landing solidly on the other side. Peter tried to copy this maneuver, but caught his shorts on the barbed wire that lined the rim of the metal wall. They ripped and almost tore off as he landed not-so-solidly aside Kevin. A small piece of his boxers stayed put on the edge of the barbed wire. Evidence. That was not good.
Chelsea and Patrick, who played mallets, attempted the climb and successfully made it to the other side, collecting the evidence on the way over and closely followed behind Kevin and Peter. In less of a craze as the other two stopped before bolting across the street.
“Are you guys coming?” huffed Chelsea, her eyes wide with excitement.
“No…I don’t think I could get my fat butt over the fence!” laughed Tanika, who was probably the most petite of us all.
“Yeah, me neither. We’ll stay on look out,” I said, as Ian, another mallet player who was staying on the safe side of the fence, stealthily barrel-rolled and hid behind a tree.
“Well, then we’ll get stuff for you! What do you want?” asked Patrick, our section leader. He was always so nice.
“MILKSHAKE!” yelled Tanika and I, almost in unison. We laughed as we gave Patrick the rest of our orders. We shoved money at them and they took off across the street. Kevin and Peter had already made it inside the In-N-Out, so all we could do then was wait.
The 3-hour rehearsal felt like nothing compared to the anticipation of getting my hands on that nice, smooth, creamy, vanilla milkshake and the warm, toasted burger with crispy fries. My food fantasy was interrupted as something caught my eye, and I could tell I wasn’t the only one who noticed it. I turned with wide eyes to the other 2 people who stood beside me and almost screamed in terror. The same look was on their faces. Walking on the sidewalk across the street, in the direction of the In-N-Out Burger were six members of our staff.
My immediate reaction was fear. It was not fear of getting sent home, but fear of the possibility that I may not get my milkshake. I panicked. So I whipped out my cell phone and made the call.
“PETER!” I almost yelled, while the other 2 pit stood around me. “The staff is right outside! THEY’RE HEADED TOWARDS YOU GUYS!!” He quickly hung up.
Ian, Tanika and I watched helplessly as the staff, laughing amongst eachother, entered the parking lot of the In-N-Out. Despite the 90-degree weather, my skin went cold and slightly clammy. Thoughts were racing through my head at a mile a minute. Where are they hiding? Will we get caught? What did they do with the food? Did they remember to hide my milkshake? I was so anxious, I didn’t realize I had luckily been wrong.
The staff passed the In-N-Out Burger without stopping in. It turned out they were headed for the Taco Bell, which was behind the In-N-Out. After they were out of sight, and in the Taco Bell, Kevin, Peter, Patrick and Chelsea sprinted across the street and maneuvered the feast through the fence before hopping over. That’s when the feeding frenzy began.
All of us with our meals just sat and talked, laughed, and cried. It was one of the deepest bonding experiences the pit had that summer. As we stuffed our trash into Ian’s backpack to throw away after we returned to the high school, we agreed that this would be our own little pit secret. With smug grins on our faces and full bellies, we quietly strolled back to the bus, and prepared ourselves to survive the rest of the summer.