By Emily Tannert
I knew I'd been in drum corps too long when I started recognizing truck stops. Once, I managed to stumble into the O'Hare Oasis near Chicago, use the restrooms, and get back on the bus at 1 a.m. without really waking up. After that, I knew something profound -- and not necessarily positive -- had taken place. The late-night fill-up can easily be the highlight of a standard tour day. The restrooms are generally clean, you can find any food you want, and many of the larger ones are filled with handy or amusing gadgets. Lost your toothbrush? Get one at the truck stop. Want the newest hot CD? Pick it up at the truck stop. Caught a cold? The truck stop will have Nyquil. Craving sugar? The truck stop will have so many choices, you won't be able to decide. Leave your bungee cords at home? Don't worry, the truck stop stocks five brands in 15 different lengths. It's a little like making a Wal-Mart run every single night. Of course, like everything else on tour, hitting the truck stop late at night has its own special process, depending on whether you've stopped right after the show or much later. Some corps like to get about 15 or 20 minutes away from the show site before stopping, in which case everyone piles out of the bus and into the truck stop to use the restroom, buy drinks and snacks (completely defeating the purpose of using the restroom), brush their teeth, and generally wander around amusing themselves with the gadgets in the truck stop (it's amazing what you find amusing after a long day in the sun). The downside to this is, of course, the crowds. Truck stops are built to handle large numbers of people; they are not built to handle 200-member touring groups. Sometimes you have to choose between fulfilling that chocolate-cream Mini Oreos craving or using the facilities. And you better make your snack decisions fast, because if you dally over the questions of 3 Musketeers vs. Snickers and barbecue vs. sour cream and onion, you won't get any of it. Leaving times are firm and it doesn't matter how long you've been without dental floss, when the line gets cut off, that's all she wrote! Unless, of course, you can get a staff member or a friend further forward in line to buy your stuff for you, which is the favored tactic for dealing with such a situation. If the corps drives an hour or two before stopping, most corps members will take care of their evening routines at the show site, and those few who want to get out at the truck stop are presented with the problem of how to actually leave the bus without waking too many of their unconscious compatriots -- many of whom are certainly sleeping in the aisle of the bus.The standard tactic is to climb down the aisle on the backs of the armrests. However, even this route presents its difficulties as many people use the armrests to prop up their pillows or elbows. Also, these flimsy pieces of foam-covered wood were never intended to act as late-night highways, so accidental breakage is always a significant possibility. These obstacles turn the simple act of exiting the bus into a gladiator-like exercise in running the gauntlet. The advantage to late-night stops, however, is that all those people you had to clamber over to get off the bus are still on the bus. You don't have to fight lines for the restroom, and you can take as long as you like picking out the perfect snack for the pre-show ride tomorrow because when the corps director gives the two-minute warning, you can saunter up to the counter, make your purchase, and still be back on the bus in less than a minute. Sometimes the need for gas is truly dire and rather than pulling over at a real, honest-to-goodness truck stop, you end up at a regular old gas station. These are not designed or equipped to handle more than ten people (including employees) at a time, so when a 200-member traveling troupe rolls through, the place generally looks like it's been hit by a soda-drinking tornado. These also seem to be the only occasions you end up stopping at the same gas station as another DCI group, and so everyone tries to share the single set of bathrooms, diesel pumps and available snacks. The place is a riot of colorful corps jackets and pajama pants, and regular patrons glower at the members wandering in the five available square feet of open floor. In these cases only the very brave or very foolish attempt to buy anything, and anyone who spends more than 60 seconds in the one-seater bathroom is accosted by jeers and cries. Yes, making it through a crowded truck stop with your bladder empty and stomach full is a tricky thing; but after a bit of practice, you'll become highly skilled at jumping off the bus, sprinting to the restroom and whirling through the food aisles. This talent, however, comes at about the same time as you get the layouts of half the truck stops along I-75 memorized. It's a very good sign that you, like me, have been marching for too long. Send Emily feedback and ideas at Emily Tannert is currently living in Knoxville, Tenn., taking a year off from school before she returns to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., for a master's degree. She was the 2002 drum major for the Pioneer, and will play in the 2003 Glassmen pit. She will age out in 2003.