The last day of the road trip was a bit of a blur for me, because I was so sick. But I'll admit that I did a lot better than Jet had when he had the cold, he had two entire days of being completely out of it and sleeping all day. That might have been as much due to lack of sleep as a high schooler and catching up from the days before the Winter Break as well, but I will blame the Zycam zinc tablets that I took every three hours did a great job of lessening the severity of the cold.
I was still helpful, though, as we now have a saying in the family. I was helpful and I drove two of the supposed six hours that were left to our destination...
But the last hour's worth of driving turned into nearly three hours' worth of sitting in stop and go traffic, and we finally went by two huge semis who had, apparently, collided. There was an enormous hole through the side of one of the containers and contents spilled across the street. And we were getting texts from Mr. Legg about the fact that they'd landed at the airport and were finding lunch together.
Luckily, it took 60+ band members a lot longer to find lunch than it took for us to get to the hotel, and we arrived fifteen minutes before the bus from the airport.
So it took us about three days to go the same distance they took in a few hours on the plane, though they'd started at 3 am MST at the school and didn't get there until 3:30 pm EST. About ten hours in total for them. Once we got there, we had to unload the van, because Mr. Legg wanted the instruments and uniforms safe in their rooms. The bags were piled on chairs in front of the hotel, and we realized that it was better to have the uniform bags spread out so that the names and numbers could be seen because the bags were identical otherwise.
Everyone got some time to settle into their rooms, and then we spent the evening at a Dave and Busters-like place, with a taco/burrito bar for dinner and all the games we could play within a two hour limit. We got to sleep as plans had changed, and instead of doing rehearsals for the competitions the next day, we were going to leave early in the morning for...
Yeah... Disneyworld. The Magic Kingdom... *laughs* It's funny in a way as for sixteen years, Jet's refused to go to Disneyland every time the possibility has come up. And he was happy, this time, to just get it out of the way and go and see what the fuss was about.
The odd thing was realizing that he was there with his friends, and so John and I were on our own. So we took advantage of that, and went on what we wanted to go see, like Tom Sawyer's Island, the Tikki Room, and the Pirates of the Caribbean. While we did get FastPass cards, we weren't given them until we entered the park, so the reservations for the early rides were already gone. That was kind of sad, since people could buy them up to 30 days in advance and make their reservations then. The fun thing was that we *could* make reservations for It's a Small World for early in the afternoon.
So we did that, along with several other parents. *laughs* It was cool.
I realized, the further along we went with the day, that mostly I was there to revisit memories more than to experience anything that was new. Pirates was so different than it used to be, none of the New Orleans elements were there, no swamp, and Jack was added throughout. But none of the latter movies were represented, which seemed sad the other way.
But nearly everything else was almost exactly as I'd remembered it, but somehow smaller, now, and it was more obvious that it was just machines. Without a child to share it with, and not being a child anymore, it was just harder to find the magic in a lot of the older things.
But some of the newer things were intriguing. The People Mover was much as I remembered it. The new Stitch ride and the Star Wars bits were just starting to get added, with a promise for a park in the future just for the Star Wars stuff. There was a build your own light saber area, with bins of parts.
When the kids had the face-to-face check-in at 1pm, several of them had made their own lightsabers, and Jet had decided against spending that much money on a plastic sword. I agreed with him, even as I longed for one. *laughs* But when I came face to face with the bins of plastic parts, I couldn't get one. I have a bamboo shinai that makes a very satisfying smacking sound when it hits someone, and it won't break if I hit something or someone with it solidly, unlike a plastic sword...
No matter how pretty the colors and the lights. *laughs* Or the fact that I'm not supposed to be smacking anyone with anything outside of training.
We did go around the park, and I got a good solid look at the huge castle in the middle, much bigger than the one in LA, and the whole place is soooo big...
But when it came time to go, it was good. Other than the fact that the bus was late. Very late. So late that Bill and his assistant director, Ed Wellman III, were only able to get two rehearsals (jazz and concert) in around a dinner at the mall and had to schedule the third (the marching music for the parade) for the morning.
So the kids were up a 7 the next morning for breakfast, playing, and by the time they were done it was nearly 9:30 am and we had a 20 minute drive to the beach for a lunch out there and the drive back by 12:20. With the bus delay and the delays the kids themselves added by being obstreperous, the lunch was very short indeed.
The funny thing was that they were tentative about going onto the white sand beach. Mr. Legg live streamed everyone's approach to the water, and one of the parents remarked, "Have none of them seen the ocean before?"
I think it had more to do with the fact that everyone was tired, and a little uncertain about what they were supposed to be able to do there and what they shouldn't do. There had been a lot of talk about no swimming of any kind, because it was a school event, and swimming in open water is forbidden. There were tiny rollers, and the water got deep quickly, but it was much warmer than the Pacific. Soon enough, everyone settled in and were playing in the surf and on the sand, and then a miracle occurred and the sun came out for the first time since we'd arrived. It was beautifully warm.
The food was not particularly good. There were hot dogs and hamburgers with buns, condiments, chips, and some tomatoes and lettuce and cheese for topping; but the hamburger patties were so completely overcooked they were as hard as pucks. There were a few salads, but no fruit. The desserts, however, made up for it with tiny strawberry cheesecakes, s'more based cups, rice crispy treats, and a whole selection of cookies. There were waiters running around with the drinks, and doing a good job of keeping everyone topped off.
The only problem was that we had to leave at noon, and we were lucky because the traffic had completely stopped due to an accident going the other way on the highway. So we managed to get to the concert band competition with plenty of time for the entire band to warm up. We had too many percussionists, so one of them sat with the parents, making for an audience of about seven people and three judges. So the auditorium was very quiet, later, Jet said that that kind of setup was a real downer for the band, they like playing to people and getting a response. And the same problem happened with the jazz competition after dinner.
However, the feedback that the judges gave Mr. Legg was good, and he was very happy with how the kids did, so the moment we got back, John and I ran off to the store got two gallons of vanilla ice cream, a bunch of root beer, cups, spoons, and scoops and came back and we had a root beer float party. The adults ordered seafood from a restaurant across the street, and had some time to enjoy that before falling into bed, because there was the rehearsal of the huge band in the morning.
This was just the brass section. Every single tuba migrated to the very top of the bleachers, setting themselves apart, as always. The trumpets, of course, took center stage of the entire group. The trombones modestly sat to the right, and everything else tried to fit on the left. It was 8 AM when we arrived, and still cold. The sun hadn't risen far enough to get over the bleachers where we were first there, but the sky was completely clear. So Mr. Legg sent John and I off to get water and granola bars for everyone.
Entire cases of water are heavy. But I managed to carry one from the parking lot to the bleachers, following John, but everyone that wandered by looked longingly at our water. Rather than trying to turn everyone away, John decided to get the van, bring it closer, and then load the water back onto it, so that our band would know to collect their water from us.
I got to wander around and get pictures of most of the sections, but the other parents were even better about getting video and snapshots.
It's startling just how large the whole thing is, and later, Jet would say that it was impossible to play precisely with that many band members, someone was always off, always holding a note a little too long, or edging into what should have been a rest when everyone else was keeping it. So it was sloppy. But the sound was utterly enormous, coming from that many instruments at once.
And they were good enough at it that they got to finish half an hour early, which was a godsend, because then everyone could run to the busses, put the instruments under the bus, and then go to Busch Gardens, where people ran around trying to ride rides, find some lunch, and then get back together again in order to find a place where everyone could change into their uniforms for the Ybor Outback Bowl Parade. Three-quarters of a mile through the old town of Ybor, which is the quaint district of Tampa Bay.
The change went well. We got to the parade route, and one of the kids had a red swoosh on his sneakers, and Mr. Legg told John to either get black tape or black spray paint. One of the guys directing the busses told us about a convenience store, and John ran over, and found the electrical tape empty, but there was a can of spray paint. It worked. Expensive shoes or no, they were now black. The regular marching band members had their Parade Masters, which are the most comfortable and utilitarian black marching shoe, ever, and those worked to a T.
The crowd ate up the kids' enthusiasm and gave it back, roaring and screaming, whistling and pounding the pavement, clapping and cheering as they danced by and played their hearts out. Of the bands, we were one of the smallest, as we had the furthest to go and fewer members could afford the trip, compare to one of the multi-hundred member bands. So of the bands, we still got third place in the Crowdpleasers award. We didn't do so well on strict form... *laughs* but no one had intended to. It was for the fun of it, and everyone had a blast.
After the parade, everyone went back to Busch Gardens for a sandwich dinner, an awards ceremony, and then they stayed until after the fireworks at midnight to mark the New Year. John and I wandered about after the ceremony, and after I had 28,000 steps, we decided that we were going to just take the trophies back to the hotel in the van along with the instruments and make an "earlier" night of it. We still had to be up when they came back, because we had to hand the uniforms and instruments out again, as the kids had to put them on the next morning at 6am for a 6:30 am breakfast to get out of there at 7 am for another rehearsal before the Bowl game.
Everyone was crazed that morning, trying to get that schedule to work, especially since it was just raining outside with 40 degree temps and wind... and at about 7, the management cancelled the rehearsal and everyone collapsed back into their beds, packed instead of just throwing things together, or ate some breakfast, because we didn't have to get to the bus until 9:20 am to get to the venue. The game was at noon, and we had to go to the high school to pick up our lunch boxes, but that was it before getting to the stadium.
Though it still came down, just lighter than before, and with a wicked wind behind it. The busses had to park a half a mile from the stadium, and everyone walked without a problem. The marching band kids are so used to marching miles at a time, so this was nothing to them. On the way there it felt more like a Seattle spring day, with super light mist coming down, but it didn't make things uncomfortable.
But we got up there, and endured and watched.
The view was good. And the band members were amazing. They stayed with us, went and did buddy system for the bathrooms, and figured out how to stay mostly warm. The seats were covered in water, and it took a while to wipe them down and/or just perch on them until we could sit on them.
After the first quarter, we filed back down, via the escalators down under the stadium into the security and setup tunnels to their gates. They'd been assigned them during the rehearsals, and they knew where to go. It was impressive with the other bands, the color guards, and the dancers flooding in, and our color guard and Legg's family asked the parents to hold their coats for while they were out on the field. I ended up with a huge pile of coats on me. Lori Beth, the mom of the parents that were going to drive the van back, took the Legg's coats off me, so that I could see again. *laughs*
Some of the parents that had come with were angry about the demands. I had too many coats to be able to do much picture taking, but John, Lisa, Lori Beth, Angela, and Ben all did as they were able, and it worked out nicely. The fun part was watching all the parents figure out ways by security. Ben borrowed a field pass for a bit of it. Lisa, John, Angela, Lori Beth and I went up to the first tier from the basement. Angela ending up on the press box elevator. Lisa ended up in a front row seat with the auspices of the guard next to her, who knew it was empty. John and I were in the standing boxes in the midst of the first tier.
And we got our shots.
When they all left the field, though, we had a harder time getting back to the band. We'd walked from tunnel C to tunnel D, and went up on D to get to the side of the field that was the base of the show. But when we got back down to tunnel D, they were closing it up already, as none of the bands exited there because the teams were going back onto the field from there. So we ran around the outside of the stadium toward gate C.
For some reason, all the band were stuck in there and someone wasn't letting them out, and all the other parents were telling me that I couldn't go in there, but I had the color guards' coats and they were basically in swimsuits in the rain. So I just walked up to security with my Silver Creek High School Band hat on, and said, "I'm a band mom, and I have our color guards' coats. I need to get these to the kids."
The security guard let me by, and I just zoomed on in, looking for our band. I heard shouting behind me, and then another voice saying, very clearly, "She's a band mom. Let her through." *laughs* And I got to my kids and gave them their coats and pants and clothes and they were suitably grateful; but hung up behind some security thing. A few of the kids left through a side door, and others were staying to go the main way, so I went with the side door kids to make sure they found the parents. They did, but the rest got hung up for a bit, and Mrs. Legg, with her kids, came out in full rant. *laughs*
She'd gotten the main body of the band through "an idiot who was stopping us for no reason."
I have come to the conclusion that an irate mother can terrify anyone into compliance. It's an amazing super power. *laughs*
We got out. Everyone was exhausted, and Michigan was losing, so our Michigan fans were content with leaving. We got back out to the van and bus, everyone got out of their uniforms, put them into their bags one last time, and packed up all the instruments into their cases. We emptied the rental van of everything, and then packed all the instruments, uniforms, and staging equipment back into it, a feat that seemed no less magical for having done it once before. With all the uniform bags, instrument cases, and stands strewn all over the concrete parking structure, it seemed a crazy aspiration, but once again, it all fit.
Then Lori Beth and Ben went off on their adventure, while the rest of us got back onto the bus, and headed for the airport. The flight home was uneventful, just long waits in the airport; but by the time we hit DIA, everyone was wrung out, most of the kids were sick, few had been able to sleep on the plane, and then we had an hour long bus ride back to the high school. A couple of the girls just broke down crying, one had a panic attack, and it was hard. But we made it, and to the credit of every parent and the kids themselves, within ten minutes of the busses stopping in the parking lot, everyone left. It was 12 degrees out, bitter cold, so I think that had something to do with it as no one wanted to be left out in that.
The three of us went home, found the mud room light on from when Jet ran home to get his retainer, and my electric blanket still on. *laughs* We unpacked enough to get ourselves into bed, and Jet asked us what we liked about the trip. At that exact moment, I couldn't think of a thing. *laughs*
In the morning, John called in sick for Jet, as he had a second cold from the trip itself; and the three of us puttered about the house, falling asleep at odd times, and putting things away.
By then I had enough brain, and said that I really loved the Ybor parade, and Jet said, well, yeah, everyone liked that. It was fun and they had the crowd interaction that they craved, which hadn't been in anything else they'd done, even the big stadium performance had only earned a polite clap from the half an audience that hadn't left to go to the bathroom or get a snack while the kids played. Jet said that he'd liked being able to go to Disney World, see what all the fuss was about without spending either too much money or too much time. He really enjoyed having done that, and probably not having to do it again.
John later told me that because we'd decided to drive the van there, we'd gotten the whole trip for free for the two of us, at least. We'd paid the $1400 for Jet, but the hotel, food, tickets, and everything had been free for the two of us. That was cool to know. I thought we'd had to pay for everything, too... and it felt good and odd to know that we hadn't had to and that abandoning some of the fun things in order to get what the band needed felt even better in some ways.
All in all, it was worth doing.
I am sure I won't do it again and very sure that I will avoid BrightSpark travel for all future consideration. There were just too many things that went wrong, too many schedules that were unrealistic or didn't take into account the nature of high school kids, and too many stupid mistakes. The biggest of which was keeping everyone up until at least 1:30 am into the New Year and then requiring that they attend an 8 am rehearsal, having packed, checked out of their rooms, and had all their equipment ready for the bowl game. All four of the boys in Jet's room heard the 6 am wake up call and promptly all four of the fell back asleep, and then made a heroic effort to be at the bus at 7:30, only to have management cancel the rehearsal then.
Management said that they would call it by 6:30, and if they had, it would have saved a ton of frantic effort to make an impossible deadline. Also, getting all the teens started at 3 am to get to the airport on time and not getting us home until nearly 1 am... no wonder everyone ended up sick as dogs. There were bus problems (the late bus the first day, items missing when busses were changed, thrown away clothing, etc.), food problems (the box lunches didn't have the sandwiches made up, just all the ingredients for a sandwich in the box), and hotel problems (the elevators were horrible, the New Years breakfast was a crucial half an hour on the very day when timing mattered the most, and the staff gave up making up the kids' rooms completely before New Years Eve) all along the way and none of them were adequately addressed. Our guide did what he could, but his hands were tied to the point of the ridiculous.
And Jet says it's cynical of me, but I do note that the bands who got first prize in every judged competition were the biggest bands, who brought along the most people and probably paid the travel service the most money.
That said, it did prove to be a very interesting experience, and the kids brought away pride in accomplishing so much, doing well with what they had, and making the best of every situation they came across. They had a blast at the Ybor Parade, and the memories of that will last. They were on a bigger stage than they'd ever been on before in their lives, they did professionally on that venue, and they got to spend a final five days with a marching band that is mostly made of senior who are graduating this spring.
Given that Jet may well graduate a year early, it might have been his last chance with the marching band, which has given him great pleasure and pride for the last three years. So it's a good way to go out, if he does. We'll see.</div>