Drum Corps International
Down the road with Sassy Peach: The Cavaliers chronicles

Down the road with Sassy Peach: The Cavaliers chronicles

by Michael Boo

Last week we were entertained by Down the Road with Sassy Peach: The Madison Diaries. This week, Donna Leal continues her summer journey, jumping from Scouts to volunteer with the Cavaliers. This week we'll read about the remainder of her 2005 exploits. If you've shared a unique experience with a corps, please share it with us by contacting me at boomike@dci.org. Prologue To understand exactly why I made the switch from the Madison Scouts to the Cavaliers requires a trip back to June. Although I normally tour with the Madison Scouts as a member of the food crew, I am not opposed to helping out a fellow corps if the opportunity presents itself. In this spirit, I found myself volunteering for the day with the Cavaliers. As spring progressed and I began hearing stirrings about the upcoming season, I started searching corps Web sites, specifically to see what corps would be performing at Sevier County High School's annual Drums across America contest. I was hoping to discover that one of my big three (Madison, Santa Clara Vanguard or the Cavaliers) would be at this year's show. As I perused Cavaliers' 2005 touring schedule, I noticed, much to my vast puzzlement, that the corps would be in Knoxville, Tenn., on June 21. I was intrigued -- being as Drums across America was not scheduled until July. I suspected the stop in Knoxville was for a rehearsal day between Dayton, Ohio and Fort Mill, S.C. I immediately fired an e-mail to the Cavaliers' office, volunteering my services for the day. Shortly thereafter, I received a response from Cavaliers volunteer and travel coordinator Pam Cabanski, graciously accepting my offer. Pam also explained (I was right!) there was a rehearsal day in Knoxville. I began looking forward to seeing what life was like with the Cavaliers. Sometime in May I received another e-mail from Pam noting the stop in Knoxville had been changed to Sevierville. This move was perfect for me, as Sevierville is only about 15 minutes from my home in Gatlinburg, Tenn. Spending a day on a cook truck would be heaven armed with the knowledge I could sleep in my bed that night. However I had not been looking forward to being on a cook truck all day then driving over an hour to my home! I arrived at Pigeon Forge Intermediate School at around 10 a.m. The food crew was busily serving breakfast to hungry Cavaliers. I immediately found a job that is never done: Washing dishes. The first person I met was Ronnie Bynum, one of the color guard instructors. I always seem to gravitate to color guard instructors. Ronnie was absolutely delightful and we quickly discovered we knew some of the same people. Shortly thereafter I met Tom Skube and found a new best friend. Tom's son, Jason, is a former marching member of Cavaliers, and Tom tours with the corps as a general fix-it man, something no corps should be without. Tom stuck by my side all day. He enjoyed teasing me about my Southern accent and life in the South. He really made my day a pleasure by going out of his way to introduce me to people. Marla Pollan and Darlene Thomas, volunteers on the food truck and Cavalier moms, were warm and gracious to me. Later that morning, Tom introduced me to the Cavaliers' Director, Jeff Fiedler. Quite honestly I was almost afraid to meet Jeff. He frightened me, Mr. Fiedler did. He always seemed so ferocious. Luckily, my irrational fears were unfounded and I found Jeff to be a very courtly man. He was not at all like the brutal ogre of a director I had envisioned. Upon meeting Jeff I asked if it would somehow be possible for the corps to play "Over the Rainbow," as I love it so. He made no promises other than to see what he could do. Hmm. I KNEW I should have baked him a cake. My day was marred by the arrival of an incredibly nasty migraine headache, yet I was determined not to let it ruin my time with the Cavaliers. All in all, I had a great experience and felt like a part of the Cavalier family. I even had the chance to catch some color guard rehearsal. Later that afternoon we moved from Sevierville Intermediate School to Sevier County High School for High School/Fan Appreciation Night. We watched the rehearsal, culminating in a run -through of the show. My head was pounding and as much as I enjoy the Cavaliers, there was nothing I wanted more than to go home, pop a Zomig (migraine medicine) and go to bed. Thinking the evening's rehearsal had concluded, we began making our way from the stadium. About the same time I noticed the horn line in an arc and heard my name. "Look behind you," I heard someone say. A member of the Cavaliers' staff (I later discovered it was brass caption head David Bertman) was making a little speech about me, DM Leal. "And all she wants is to hear Rainbow," he mentioned. The corps began playing and I, well, I got real emotional. Tom and Marla put their arms around me as we listened to the Cavaliers' theme song. The reigning 2004 DCI World Champion drum corps, the Cavaliers, played "Over the Rainbow" and dedicated it to me. It was a fierce moment. I guess with all honesty I can say June 21, 2005, was the day I stopped being just a fan and absolutely fell in love with the Cavaliers. This is Michael Boo interjecting for a moment. What are YOUR Fierce Moments from being in or around drum corps? Send them to me at boomike@dci.org for a future Fanfare column. Shortly thereafter I noticed on the Web site that the corps needed kitchen help. I e-mailed Pam and asked how critical the situation was. The Scouts and Cavaliers would both be in San Antonio, Texas, then head to Murfreesboro, Tenn. (My original plan was to go to Murfreesboro with Madison). It shouldn't be a problem logistically if I were to leave the Scouts in San Antonio to assist Cavaliers. I knew the Scouts were blessed with an abundance of good volunteers during that time. If the Cavaliers were really in dire straits, perhaps something could be worked out. Pam responded almost immediately and told me how desperate the corps was for help on the food truck. It was one of the anguishing decisions I've ever had to make. I love my Scouts and didn't want to leave them, but my Cavaliers needed me too. "The Cavaliers played 'Rainbow' for me," I kept reminding myself. Not everyone is lucky enough to love two corps as equally and as much as I love my Scouts and Cavaliers. It was one of the few times in my life that I felt like a parent. How can you choose between your children? Everyone I know gave me advice. I knew they all meant well, but no one could begin to understand the battle raging in my heart. Only someone involved with drum corps could help me find the solution. I had been communicating with Mike Boo for several months and felt he, more than anyone else, could help me in making the correct decision, so I unburdened myself to him. I e-mailed Mike, told him of my situation, and asked for his advice. His thoughtful and heartfelt reply had much to do with helping me arrive at what I hoped would be the correct decision. (Thank you Michael.) After much debate, I finally decided what I was going to do. I would leave San Antonio with the Cavaliers. Heaven knows it wasn't the easiest thing to do, but I felt it was the right thing. Southerners take great pride in "doing right." So one Friday morning in early July I called Debbie Krebs of Madison's cook truck crew to tell her of the change in plans. Strangely enough, she began the conversation by telling me she had seen Jeff Fiedler at a recent show and had informed him The Cavaliers could have me for a day, but only for a day. (Although I'm sure Mr. Fiedler didn't have an inkling whom Deb was talking about. He was probably just being polite.) "Uh Deb?," I said, "I have something to tell you." I hasten to add if things had gone awry with the Scouts and my departure would have been a hardship for the corps, I would have stayed with Madison. After all, I had initially promised the Scouts I would go with them. The thing I most wanted to avoid was bruised feelings. Luckily, Deb had four experienced people on the cook truck from San Antonio to Murfreesboro and gave her blessing. So thanks to an odd culmination of events and an unexpected twist in fate, I found myself preparing to leave the Scouts and join the Cavaliers. July 23, 2005 -- San Antonio, Texas Deb and Will (the cook truck driver) helped me carry my luggage to where the Cavalier buses were parked. Although the corps buses were close to Madison's, the walk seemed unusually long. This is so difficult. I feel like it's my first day at a new school and I don't know anyone. Luckily, Paul (the volunteer bus driver) has been a recipient of Deb's good cooking and promises Deb he'd take care of me. My friends leave as the Scouts will soon be heading to Dallas, and I am quite alone. Shortly thereafter I watch as the Scouts caravan departs. The opportunity to change my mind has passed. I'm now with the Cavaliers. There's something going on but I have no idea what it is. The parking lot is milling with parents, friends, fans, girlfriends and girls who want a Cavalier boyfriend. Everyone but me seems to know everyone else. The only person whose name I even know is Jeff Fiedler, and I'm positive he has absolutely no idea who I am. If pushed, he may recall me as the woman who pestered him to hear "Rainbow" several weeks ago in Sevierville. I remembered meeting Ronnie Bynum, but doubt if he would remember me. The REM song "Camera" keeps running through my head. "Alone in a crowd," I hear Michael Stipe sing. Fortunately, it is easy to be inconspicuous in a large group of people. Meanwhile, I continued to wander and worry. What if the Cavaliers didn't like me because I came from the Scouts? Would people think it was strange if I wore a Cavaliers sweatshirt with a Madison Scouts jacket? I had been warned the bus could get quite chilly and I get cold easily. It would not take much imagination to picture me in a sweatshirt and wool jacket. What if people were mean or unkind to me? I had expressed my concerns to Sal before leaving the Scouts and he assured me that in the unlikely event that happened, all I would need to do was call the Scouts' office and he would find someone to pick me up. If that indeed were the case, how would I get home? Would I be stuck in some weird town in the middle of nowhere? I don't think I would enjoy riding in a Greyhound bus back to Tennessee, but on the other hand it might be offensive enough to capture my attention and I'd have horrifying yet entertaining stories to regale my friends with when I returned home. Luckily, I met Peg Fischer who was running the cook truck, so I finally had someone to talk to. Peg was quite friendly and we swapped stories and ideas on the joys and trials of feeding a large corps of strapping young men. We eventually left the parking lot of the Alamodome and journeyed to Ronald Reagan High School in San Antonio where we would be spending the night. It is so strange for me to look out the window at the other buses and realize I am with the Cavaliers instead of the Scouts. This is the first time I've ever had to actually spend a night in a school and quite frankly, I don't feel like I've missed a thing. I did enjoy the built-in bunks on the Scouts staff bus! You know you're touring with a drum corps when built-in bunks on a bus are considered to be a luxury item. (I later ruefully discover that sleeping in a bus seat can't be described as a comfortable way to spend the night. There is absolutely no way a 40-something-year-old woman with long legs and a bad back is going to enjoy sleeping in a bus seat.) But it's been a tiring day for me, both physically and emotionally, and I have no problem going to sleep. July 24, 2005 -- San Antonio, Texas Well, I am pleased to report I will be enjoying my time with the Cavaliers, if my first glimpse this morning at breakfast is any indication. I'm a morning person and tend to be almost annoyingly cheerful early in the day -- after I've had my initial cup of coffee -- so I enjoyed speaking with many a Cavalier first thing this morning. Everyone who came through the line was incredibly polite. Even the ones -- and I'm sure there are some -- who don't begin to sparkle until later in the day spoke. My fears have been quelled. My time with the Cavaliers begins in a most pleasant way, as we have a free day in San Antonio. The day starts at a local laundry and continues to Riverwalk. The afternoon is spent exploring downtown San Antonio with Peg and Sara Neumann (cook truck). We are joined by Jan Zebrowski, who works in the uniform department, and Cavalier mom, Irene Laydon, who works souvenirs. The ladies splurged by getting pedicures -- Peg's toes were painted a fine Cavalier green -- while I thoroughly enjoyed some time doing absolutely nothing but reading the latest issue of Texas Highways magazine. Peg's son Brian plays baritone in the corps, so I have the opportunity throughout the day to meet and speak with several members of the horn line. I continue to be impressed by the Cavaliers I meet. They are all lovely young men, and I comment with frequency how glad I am that I joined the corps for a few days. And of course, I have to tell my "Rainbow" story to everyone I meet. Everyone remembers the evening in Sevierville, and I enjoy personally thanking the members I meet for playing it for me. Our day in San Antonio draws to a close after a marvelous dinner at a San Antonio restaurant called Mi Tierra. The corps meets back at the Alamodome in the early evening for the trip East. July 25, 2005 Lafayette, Louisiana I again find myself in Lafayette, La. This quiet Southern town is no longer a tranquil spot for a weary drum corps to spend the day, but has turned into a suburb of hell. I hasten to add I am not being insulting about Lafayette. Lafayette is filled with many warm, gracious people who have awed me twice in less than a week with their hospitality. But -- and it cannot be denied -- it is absurdly too hot. Trying to breathe is like trying to breathe through a mask of hot, wet cotton. And I like hot weather! (Uh...liked) But as I mentioned, the people are wonderful and cannot do enough for the corps. We are staying at Acadian High School in a Mrs. Hidalgo's biology classroom. Her name sticks in my head as that is the name of a Viggo Mortensen movie I enjoyed earlier this year. I think I was the only person who enjoyed it. Maybe I just enjoyed Viggo. Mrs. Hidalgo also seems to have an unusual fondness for frogs, as she has quite a collection stuffed in a cabinet. I wonder if her fascination with the amphibious creatures poses a problem if her class has to dissect one. A mom of one of the members is spending the day with us, and she is a trooper. She is here for the duration and is willing to do anything she's asked. I apologize for not recalling her name, but I want to thank her for all her help! Honestly, I don't know how much help I am on the food truck. I sometimes think I spend the majority of my time getting in or out of someone else's way. Every corps, I'm sure, does things differently -- other than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches -- and unfortunately I won't have much time to learn how the Cavaliers do everything before heading home. The heat is certainly taking its toll, as one of our guard members appears to be suffering severe dehydration and is being ministered to by two of the nurses. The Cavaliers are extremely blessed to have trained medical personnel who travel with the corps, especially blessed when the heat is this unpleasant. I wonder if the average fan realizes just how difficult it is to work as hard as a corps does every day. Sure, they read or hear about the long days, but do they REALLY know what the members of every corps go through on a daily basis for eight weeks? I wish every fan could spend a day with a corps and see first hand how demanding our activity is. I know my admiration for the members soars every time I see them rehearse in the blistering sun. Drum corps is not for the faint-hearted. The guard member who had such a bad afternoon concerns me, and I continue to inquire as to how he is feeling whenever I see him. I know he is in capable hands and seems none the worst for the wear and tear, but my maternal instincts are raising their heads. If I had a son who had suffered such a frightening episode, I'd certainly appreciate it to know people were concerned about him. July 26, 2005 -- Troy, Ala., or To Live and Die in L.A. (lower Alabama) As we were traveling toward our destination of Troy, Ala., I noticed the road we were on is called "The Lost Highway." "Lost Highway" is the name of an old Hank Williams song. This stretch of road must be named "The Lost Highway" as a tribute to Williams, who was born in nearby Montgomery. "The Lost Highway." Huh. That sounds slightly ominous. It's official. I am in hell. I have been very wicked throughout my years, have died, and am now facing punishment for a misspent life. This has got to be one of the hottest, most humid places in the United States of America. The temperature in the cook truck has not gone below 99 degrees all day. I go home tomorrow and at this point it seems as though tomorrow will never arrive. We have fans but they don't seem to do much besides circulate hot air. Luckily the dorm where we're staying is air-conditioned and we take advantage of it. However, I feel guilty when I do sneak away. It's as though I'm shirking my duties to the corps. The appearance of assistant drum major Chris Lugo brings me great joy. I ADORE him. It's as though one of his primary functions while I'm with the corps is to pop in when I'm feeling glum and brighten my day. He's sporting a Florida football shirt that certainly is a conversational ice breaker. Put two SEC fans together and they'll ALWAYS have something to talk about, regardless of which team they support. Seeing his shirt reminds me he was the member who was exceptionally nice to me in Sevierville. We talk for a few minutes about among other things, the best football conference in America. Chris is, quite possibly, the most charming man I've ever met. (And you have to trust me on this; I have certainly met my share.) Bless his heart -- he even hugs me when he leaves. As dirty and smelly as I am, he hugs me. You've got to love a corps with members like that. I was able to listen to some of the brass warm up this evening. Oddly enough, I've never seen a warmup during my drum corps adventures. During a break, I have the opportunity to speak with Jeff Waldmuller and meet yet another wonderful Cavalier. I love my Scouts, but these guys are about to completely steal my heart! I tell him who I am and why I'm with the corps for a couple of days. Like everyone else I've spoken with, he remembers the evening in Sevierville and playing "Rainbow." "I really liked it!," I blithered. I heard myself and stopped in mid-sentence. "Who am I trying to kid?," I asked. "I loved it when you played 'Rainbow' for me. I cried like a big ole girl." After the show is over, evening snack is served. I am in charge of dessert. "Are you guarding the cobbler?," asks Jeff Fiedler. "I'm guarding something," I reply. I later have a grand time speaking with Jeff and Chris Lugo. They appeared to enjoy my witty repartee, but on the other hand they might have just been humoring me. July 27, 2005 -- Gatlinburg, Tenn./What a long, wonderful trip it's been! After a four-and-a-half hour car trip and a hearty lunch at Cracker Barrel, I am home. For the first few nights I dream I'm still on tour and when I wake up in my own bed, I have no idea where I am. The memories of what I experienced the past two weeks consume me and I sit down at my computer and begin to write. I am now coping with days of accumulated mess. Always one to use music to lighten a heavy workload, I hit play on the remote control for the stereo. The Cavaliers' "Over the Rainbow" starts to play. My eyes fill with tears and I think my heart is breaking again. I miss all those sweet Cavaliers! I wonder if it's too late to catch up with the corps and tour for a few more days. I'm well rested, my clothes are clean, and my buddy Tom Skube is on tour with Cavaliers -- it might be a great deal of fun! A popular bumper sticker several years ago urged people to practice "random acts of kindness." The acts of kindness one experiences while on the road with a drum corps are numerous and reaffirm my belief that not only are the members the best young people in America, but the people who are involved with our activity are pretty special as well. Some I recall: The sweet young woman named Autumn, a mellophone player from Spirit, whom I met after the show in Kentucky. The baritone player, another member of Spirit, who in San Antonio not only told us how to find our buses, but went out of his way to walk us over to where they were parked. A quarter of a century has passed, and legendary brass arranger Jim Ott could still be proud of his kids. The Drum Corps Tigers from Texas who came by the Scouts' housing site in Alvin, Texas, to see if we needed anything while in Houston. How can I ever forget the same Drum Corps Tigers who not only brought us ice after the show, but drove through the parking lot with a truck bed filled with Gatorade dispensing it to anyone who wanted a bottle? I don't know who enjoyed it more -- the people who were handing it out or the people who were happily accepting it. Gail Perrin, a resident of Lafayette, La., brought care packages for the Scouts, a corps whose members she did not even know. The city of Troy, Ala., public relations department provided a much-appreciated huge container of snacks for hungry Cavaliers. Jackie Watson, Scout mom and fellow food truck worker, shared with me an experience she had at a show earlier in the season. While talking to an audience member, she mentioned she worked on the Scouts' food truck. Members of the Colts, who were sitting in close proximity, burst into spontaneous applause. So concludes my long, hot, exhausting, but wonderful, ten days with two drum corps. To all my Scouts and all my Cavaliers, thank you for your incredible kindness and for allowing me to be a part of your lives, if only for a few days. And to all the members of the 2005 Cavaliers horn line, I want to give an extra special thank-you for playing "Rainbow" for me on that unforgettable June night in Sevierville, Tenn. It is a memory I will always, ALWAYS cherish. Like the 2004 Scouts, the 2005 Cavaliers horn line will forever have a special place in my heart. And as for me? Where will my travels take me next year? Which corps will I go with? My food truck career is over and I have officially retired. Hopefully, July of 2006 will find me enjoying a tropical drink complete with a little umbrella while sitting on the beach in Sanibel, Fla. My days shall be spent basking in the sun by the Gulf, my evenings watching the sun set to the West while keeping an eye peeled for the elusive "Green Flash." Looking for the Green Flash is a favorite sunset activity for those of us who love the beach. The Green Flash occurs right at the exact moment the last rays of sun touch the horizon. If conditions are favorable -- and they seldom are -- careful observers will notice a green flash of light. I won't have to worry about mixing Gatorade or Tang, but mixing the perfect cocktail. The only concerns pertaining to food I will have, is when I try to decide where to have dinner. On second thought -- how much fun would that be? Sal? Jeff? How are we going to work this out? Fanfare archives Michael Boo has been involved with drum and bugle corps since 1975, when he marched his first of three seasons with the Cavaliers.

He has a bachelor's degree in music education and a master's degree in music theory and composition.
   
He has written about the drum corps activity for over a quarter century for publications such as Drum Corps World, and presently is involved in a variety of projects for Drum Corps International, including souvenir program books, CD liner notes, DCI Update and Web articles, and other endeavors. Michael currently writes music for a variety of idioms, is a church handbell and vocal choir director, an assistant director of a community band, and a licensed Realtor in the state of Indiana. His other writing projects are for numerous publications, and he has published an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating. His hobbies include TaeKwonDo and hiking the Indiana Dunes. But more than anything, Michael is proud to love drum corps and to be a part of the activity in some small way, chronicling various facets of each season for the enjoyment of others.

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