This article originally appeared in the summer 2003 issue of DCI Today. By Marco Buscaglia "Happiness is being one of the gang." Those words were written on a bedsheet I had as a kid, with Charlie Brown, Linus and the rest of the "Peanuts" gang standing around in a permanent state of bliss. I stuffed that same sheet into my sleeping bag while on tour with the Cavaliers from 1984 to 1989. I probably didn't realize it at the time but it pretty much summed up my reasons for marching. The 1980s were a wonderful time to be in the Cavaliers. After spending six years in the Cavalier Cadets, I joined the A-corps' baritone line in November of 1983, which was sort of at the onset of the corps' upswing, going from potential finalist to "corps on the move" to the top three. We had plenty of success in that era -- it was fun to truly compete again with corps the Cavaliers hadn't beaten in more than 20 years -- but there were disappointments as well. But they were never deemed important enough to keep us from coming back for the next summer or to dampen our enthusiasm for the real reason we marched: Each other. After a tough placement, we'd take solace in the upcoming overnight ride on the horn bus, which had been sitting idle for a while, windows shut, air conditioning on high. Eventually, the AC would go out and we'd open the windows to take in the summer air, but for the immediate ride, our bus would be chilled to perfection. Even after a bad performance, the horn bus wasn't a place for silent sulking. There were no locker-room "NOW YOU THINK ABOUT WHAT JUST HAPPENED!" speeches from older members or berating from staff or management. Instead, we'd move on, continuing our penchant for all-out sing-a-longs, usually consisting of family-unfriendly songs passed down from Cavaliers before us, along with an occasional testosterone-laced, triple-forte, unintentionally ironic ballad for good measure -- usually Debbie Boone's "You Light Up My Life," or Barry Manilow's "I Write the Songs." We were hardly a talented bunch, most of us participating in no other musical activities aside from drum corps. Some, like myself, marched because of our parents -- my father marched with the Cavaliers in the formative Logan Square years. But we drew strength from each other and worked incredibly well as a team. Most of the guys who cracked the top three in 1986 were local, many of us from the feeder corps. We used to joke around about our unwillingness to rehearse for 16 straight hours. Luckily, the corps today still adheres to the same principles. Today, the staff calls it practicing smart. We just called it, "When's dinner?" So many of the lessons I learned while marching are relevant today. Lessons as important as perseverance, respect for others and the desire to make the best of a bad situation.
Lessons as unimportant as saving time by brushing my teeth and shaving in the shower, and the ability to sleep while sitting. Even after aging out 14 years ago, some habits die hard. Once you've dried yourself off with the same towel 10 days in a row -- that same towel that airs out above your seat and has the aroma that can only come from 40 guys riding a bus -- I see no need for a fresh towel each day. In fact, I take offense at my wife's two-towel-a-shower habit. Then there's the hair. I began shaving my head when I was in the corps, mostly because -- well, really for no reason -- and I continue the practice today, now like Bruce Willis, to mask the ever-expanding bald spots. After sleeping on a gym floor with 127 others, I see no need for a large house. I tell my four kids their close quarters in our three-bedroom house in Chicago will only help them get along with others as they get older. I don't really believe it, but it sounds good. I travel well. My family actually relishes our long car rides to Florida or the occasional drives to Michigan. My kids entertain themselves while my wife -- whom I met in 1985 through a guy in the corps -- and I talk about all things great and insignificant. And the travel perks are attractive. I figure if I can load up the family and drag them out to cities like San Diego, Jamestown, N.Y., Arlington, Texas, Murfreesboro, Tenn., or Point Pleasant, N.J., I'll always have a place to stay, just as I would expect the families of the guys I marched with from the aforementioned cities to crash in Chicago whenever possible. Of course, not all habits are worth keeping. In partial thanks to the corps, I swear too much, always take the joke too far and usually forget the type of behavior that's appropriate in public until it's too late. I also find comfort in bus fumes, Carmex and eating off a tray. Most importantly, marching with the Cavaliers taught me a sense of perspective -- the whole "Don't sweat the small stuff" approach to life. We never let winning or losing define our experience. It would've cheapened the whole thing. My 12 years in drum corps also taught me to enjoy something while it's still around. I try to realize the temporary nature of things -- sure, it hurts when my 4-year-old daughter chomps on my arm after shouting, "I am woman, hear me roar!", but I bet I'll miss it when she stops. If I could go back in time for a few days, I'd go back for the bus rides and the other incidentals -- the sectionals cut short for impromptu basketball games in the Rosemont Junior High gym, the downtime before a show when we'd amuse ourselves with whatever or whoever we could find, the post-rehearsal stops at Wally's for a gyros and cheese fries. While it was thrilling to perform in front of thousands of people in Madison, Wis., or to be a part of the corps' ascent to the top five in Allentown, Pa., I always preferred hanging out with my friends -- like Charlie Brown -- being one of the gang.
Relationships that began in 1977 in a gym in Park Ridge, Ill., continue today in poker games, fantasy football leagues and late-night phone calls. The guys I marched with still get together for an occasional beer, a round of golf or a backyard cookout. Some times, we even bring our wives. Our conversations sometimes turn to corps, usually reminiscing about a friend or boasting about the current Cavaliers. But we hardly live in the Glory Days of our past. Our lives move too fast for expanded bouts of nostalgia, and it seems that we're happy right where we're at. We probably don't pay homage often enough to the unique way we've been brought together, but we don't need to. We already know. Marco Buscaglia is an editor at Tribune Media Services in Chicago