Almost 40 is not almost dead, and Ellen Clare Spear was determined to prove that this summer. Ellie was mother of 2, Wife of 1, PTA Secretary, and a Star. That is not how her kids or husband thought of her, but it was what she was day-dreaming about as the mini-van pulled into the camp parking lot.
Her kids had been going to camp for years. This year they had earned the right to take the out of camp trips. One was going sailing, the other was doing a camp-ground to camp-ground hike. Both of them would be out of touch for two full weeks. Her husband was taking 2 weeks off to organize the charity golf tournament this year. It was generous, great fun and good business for him and it was as boring as could be for her. If she stayed home she knew she'd end up either working, or bored, or feeling guilty.
So Ellen Clare Spear was taking those weeks to meet her college chums and return to the days when she was Ellie Spike, who had her own band "Strut" and whose band had a "reputation". She never quite knew what the reputation was, since the band was Strut on stage and band nerds off stage, but she had been proud of having one. She did realize that not everyone would think her band days were quite so wild. The band members had all met in the college marching band. They were, in fact, all members of the band sorority. They may well have been the most rebellious girls in the marching band, but only because this was a small school in upper Wisconsin.
Strut was 4 girls that had been friends in the dorm. They also were all in band and they started noodling around in the band practice and slowing the practice down. The band director decided that he could either be hard-ass and kick them out, or be a bit more subtle and occupy them in some way, so he let those rebels put together a “special project” during some of the regular rehearsal time, which might be used in one of the half time performances. However they had to show that they could skip some of the main rehearsals and still not lose their way during the main performance. It worked pretty well, the gang had fun, they paid attention during the real rehearsals, and the band director could direct the whole band not, as he said in a moment of despair, “babysit the goof-balls”.
They had to audition their performance before the director would let them do during a game. He expected to find that they were going to come up with something that wasn’t good or that wasn’t acceptable. Their version of “Sympathy for the Devil” didn’t sound right, he had to cut short their audition of Donna Summer’s “Love to Love you” before anyone else recognized the song. He thought the “Still haven’t found what I’m looking for” was more appropriate than they suspected. Unexpectedly it was “in-a-gadda-da-vita” that seemed to work. The instrumentation was odd (tuba, drums and bagpipes) but it worked for the half time version. People would recognize it quickly and the goof-balls could have their 30 seconds of fame. The band director didn’t actually like what they played, but the crowds did and the director liked crowd loyalty. Based on the half time shows Strut also got some jobs at frats and the club in town. They didn’t claim to be good, but they were enjoyable and enjoyed themselves. Their odd instruments worked really well for a crowd that wanted volume and pretty girls more than fine musical craftsmanship. There were a lot of boys who were jealous of Ellie’s bagpipe. Nearly all of them remained that way until she graduated.
This year Ellie heard there was a convention of Band Fraternities and Sororities, so she asked Cynthia (the drummer) to make the reservations and arrangements for the convention. The convention was in a Kansas far from anywhere. When they pulled into the parking lot it wasn’t what they expected. There were lots of beater cars, motorcycles, and scruffy looking guys wandering around. Many of those guys appeared to be attached to their six packs of Rolling Rock.
In the lobby it was more of the same except that it was now also loud, crowded, and smelly. Ellie muttered: “There must be some other convention going on too. I wish they wouldn’t have two at once.” At the registration table she got the first good look at convention banner. The banner proclaimed that this was the convention for “The International Organization of Banned Sororities and Fraternities”. There were now enough Greek organizations that had gotten into serious trouble that some alumni had decided to form their own special interest group to provide guidance and legal support. The majority of attendees however were making a good case for banning more fraternities than reinstating any. These guys (and they were mostly guys) were faded boys trying to relive their young days and age hadn’t help them to do it better the second time around.
The members of Strut looked at the banner and then looked at Cynthia who said “I asked if it was the Band convention and they said yes.” Blaming Cynthia would do no good, and it was late so they would just have to check in, bar the door, and move on tomorrow disappointed. At checkin they found, to their surprise, they actually got a “suite”. It amounted to 2 standard guest rooms and a big hallway, but they could all fit in there, lock the door, turn on the TV and drink some wine.
They were all slept late and had a mild hangover. They got an edible breakfast at the diner next door and started to re-plan their trip. It turns out that this part of Kansas was no fun at all. They couldn’t get to any desirable city in less than 8 hours, and they couldn’t get a hotel room anyway. Having conventions in Kansas doesn’t make much sense, but there are a lot of people who have no sense, and a lot of them were downstairs right now. They were stuck for the weekend.
Ellie was about to send Cynthia out for lots more wine when there was a knock on the door. Outside was a very young and very perky woman in a professional looking pant suit. “HI. My name is Buffy. I’m the event planner. I hope you’re having a great time. When would you like to do the sound check?”
“The sound crew wants to make sure they have time to get some dinner and finish their setup. When do you want to have the sound check?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You are ‘Ellie Spike and Strut’ right?” Ellie wasn’t expecting to have a scheduled performance, but apparently Cynthia had signed them up. “Your description in the registration sounded so good that we have Strut down as the main act tonight after the buffet. That’s why we upped you to this suite. Nice isn’t it?”
“We’re not playing, we are hiding here in the room until we can get out of here. There was a mixup, we’re in the wrong place, we’re scared to leave the room, and we’re laying low.”
“What? Shit. No. Wait, You were the only ones to sign up to play and this crowd is crazy. It’s the first time I’ve been in charge of a meeting myself and it’s all going to hell.”
“Telling us the crowd is crazy is not really making us comfortable about getting up in front of them.”
“These guys are idiots. They’ll riot if they don’t have a band. Shit.” Buffy closed her eyes. “OK, I’m taking a deep breath. I’m centering. I’m thinking. OK, I’m going to have to get some extra security here anyway to toss the jerks out if we cancel the entertainment. What if I get some extra extra security? My boyfriend can get the high school foot ball team out for a few bucks. We’ll put them between the stage and the crowd. You’ll be safe or my boyfriend Biff is going to be out of luck for a long time.” Buffy was young, but she was determined.
“We’ll split if it looks unsafe, but we’ll give it a try.”
“Thank you. Thanks. Thanks! What do you need? When can you do a sound check? Thanks. Thanks. Thanks. Bye.” Buffy was out the door without waiting for an answer.
I guess we’ll do with out that sound check Ellie thought.
So Ellie and Strut got out their gear and went to setup in the big meeting room. They hadn’t actually practiced with each other in 15 years, so they wanted to have a little warmup. They had two unexpected advantages for this gig: Marching band teaches you how to play loud, and the acoustics on the room were terrible. Even if they were good the sound would be a mess so playing loud and long would work as well as anything. A hour or two of practice would be plenty.
In the break after the third song Ellie was alarmed to see a young thin guy with a couple of beers coming down the aisle clearly drunk and loudly shouting “I want to sing. I can sing better than you. I can sing much better than you”. She also saw Buffy at the edge of the stage mouthing “Don’t worry. Don’t worry.” The jerk was getting down close to stage when the football team security team rushed him, picked him up, and threw him out an open window. The members of Strut were staring at each other, but Buffy was still standing next to the stage and she was now beaming and pumping her hand with a thumbs up sign. She passed a note over: “Biff arranged that. Nobody will think we’re kidding now.”
After an hour and half Ellie announced they needed to stop. “Got to hit the road early, and the management said they’d call the cops if we played later.”
“NO NO, you can’t go!” The crowd, those who hadn’t passed out yet, started slapping the table and stomping their feet. Even Buffy shouted “One More.” So the crowd got the longest and loudest bag pipe and tuba encore version of "in-a-gadda-ad-vita" ever performed.
All the members of Strut slept well that night, until the knock on the door at 7 am. Ellie dragged herself up to find Buffy. “Uh, you should pack up and get out of here. Oops, Ok, Hi, that was great last night. It kept almost everybody out of trouble. You guys really want to get out of here.”
“Why do we want to get out? You said it went great.”
“Well, uh, it did, well yeah, the police are going to show up and bust everybody they can find. Anyone who has even has a parking ticket is going to have to spend a long time getting things sorted out. The cops figure that a lot of their acquaintances might be here.”
“Buffy, how do you know this?”
“Uh, never-mind, This is not a big town if you grew up here. Don’t tell anybody I told you. Didn’t Biff do a good job? He and the team did great. No need to worry about getting lucky now!” At this Buffy turned beet red. “Uh, I mean I’ll thank Biff and the team separately. I mean differently. I mean pizza. I mean I need to shut up now. You're all set and checked out. We took care of the bill. Bye. Thanks. Good luck. Bye!!” Buffy disappeared down the hall.
They packed up and were out the door in 30 minutes. On the drive home Ellie was happy to notice that she did not feel almost dead at all.