I was making my weekly grocery pilgrimage this past Friday when I ended up in line behind four women with three very full shopping carts. I quickly looked around for another aisle, but the lines were all equally long, so I sighed and resigned myself to my fate.

Emily Tannert
But as I watched them struggle to unload and organize the massive amount of food, I had a peculiar flash of insight, and had to stop myself laughing as I sympathized with their plight -- I had been there many times before. As the assistant tour manager for the Glassmen, I ran most of the errands, and that included shopping for the corps on a daily basis. And let me tell you, you have not shopped until you've shopped for 200 people! I should first note that most drum corps get most food from a food service company (Sysco, US Foods, etc.) and that any shopping that happens while on the road is just for perishable items and to fill the gaps between food orders. That said, my typical daily shopping list might look a lot like this: 30 loaves each white and wheat
50 packages hot dog buns
8 gallons milk -- 4 x 2 percent, 2 x 1 percent, 2 x skim
1 gallon barbecue sauce
10-plus lbs. peanut butter
250 slices American cheese
40 tomatoes        
18 heads lettuce
20 lbs. baby carrots
6 watermelons
Generic Dayquil I joked to my mother once that I learned enough about bargain hunting, I'd be able to cut my food bills in half. I told friends that I knew more about the price of different types of milk in different regions of the country than anyone outside the dairy industry had any right to. I developed a sort of a radar for bread stores and produce stands (along with hospitals, hardware stores, and laundromats) that still goes off now and then. Even though I've never willingly eaten tomatoes in my life, I discovered how to find the biggest and ripest. And I figured out every way there was to shove that enormous list's worth of food into two carts that I could manage by myself as I rushed through the grocery store. Most of the time, I shopped at Wal-Mart. Many people these days talk about Wal-Mart as being responsible for every human evil since the fall of man, but from a drum corps standpoint, it's the perfect place one-stop bargains. I also preferred it because once I spent the time to fill out the initial paperwork, they had our tax-exempt status on file, and all I had to do was give the checkout clerk our card and it was all taken care of -- no arguments or explanations as to why even though the form said Ohio, yes, it really is a federal tax number, and yes, it really does work in Massachusetts or Kansas or Alabama, and yes, you are going to have to take it, whether you like it or not! Wal-Marts also offer the advantage that they are almost all laid out the same, so finding even a chef's most exotic request was always easy. To this day I think you could probably blindfold me, turn me loose in a Wal-Mart, and I'd be able to find everything I needed in a very short amount of time. After just one visit from me, a store's stocking records would be totally thrown awry, and whenever we were in town for more than a day or two, I'd be able to see the effects of my bulk-buying presence in the extra racks of buns sitting out in the bread aisle and freshly-unpacked number six (industrial sized) cans of tropical fruit salad in the institutional sizes section. I often cleaned out the less well-maintained sections of the store, like white cake mix and marshmallow fluff -- sometimes to the dismayed glances and dirty looks of my fellow shoppers. Checkout really was the best part of the entire shopping experience; it never got old, watching the clerk's eyes grow big as he or she watched me pile the contents of cart after cart full of food on the belt. After the first two or three trips, I got very good at managing the checkout process, and most of the time, the clerk trusted that I really did have 30 loaves of wheat bread and 50 packages of buns without trying to count them all to check -- although I think this was more likely due to laziness than to the inherent trustworthiness of my face, although no, I never tried to sneak an extra loaf or five through. By the end of my first summer, I could check out my entire drum corps grocery order faster than your average housewife with the week's half-full shopping cart. Once I was done scaring the clerk, I broke the bag boy's heart by refusing his help in getting out to my vehicle. I realized early on in my shopping adventures that having another person helping me to pack the van just got in the way -- I was faster by myself -- but whenever I'd politely decline any assistance, usually over his repeated strenuous objections, the young man would glare after me as if I had just challenged his masculinity by not accepting his offer. I probably had.) There were always questions and comments from curious clerks and onlookers alike. Some person would inevitably say, "Wow, that must be a big party you're throwing!" "You must really like milk!" was another common gem of an observation, along with, "You must eat a lot of toast and sandwiches!" Some days (OK, on bad days) I'd just say, "No, I feed 135 teenagers four meals a day," as I was walking out the door, and leave them gaping in astonishment behind me. Most of the time, though, I laughed along and explained a little bit about drum corps. I always sort of enjoyed astonishing people with how much food a corps could go through; so in response to the bread comment, I'd tell them how 60 loaves would only last one meal, a statement which was of course met with shock and disbelief. The other inevitable part of checkout was that just as I was getting to the tricky point of unloading a cart, or was trying to correct a clerk that had rung in 20 loaves of white bread and 35 heads of lettuce when it was really the other way around, or trying to fish pennies out of the cash envelope, the cell phone would ring. One of my bosses would want to know when I was coming back, or a kid would be ready to be picked up from the hospital, or the kitchen crew would want to know -- ten minutes too late, of course -- whether I could pick this or that up while I was out and about? And my efficient, well-ordered, peaceful universe of the Wal-Mart with its neat aisles, predictable rows, and level prices would disappear into the wider world of chaos that is the average drum corps day. Still, it was a calming refuge while I was there -- as long as no one got between me and the last five-pound bag of potato chips.
Emily Tannert is a sophomore music education/percussion performance major at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La., and holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University. Emily aged out of the Glassmen in 2003 and was assistant tour manager for the corps in 2004 and 2005. You can contact Emily at emily@imoses.com. Making it happen, financially Auditioning: Just go for it The Ageout rule Doing drum corps Transitioning to the professional level The Basics on auditioning From storm-ravaged Louisiana, some hearty thanks So you want to march