Cursed at Cramton?

Normally it rains. Actually I was told normally it’s a ”monsoon rain and hurricane force winds at 7pm”.

This year, it didn’t rain, but boy did we struggle. We might really be cursed at the Cramton Bowl.

This is Samantha’s first year of high school and she’s in the Hoover High School Marching Band Percussion section. Twenty one of the 35 kids are in the pit, which means there’s a lot of instruments and equipment to move.

The band leases one 26’ truck for the Fall and rents another every time we need to move instruments and equipment. That’s to every football game, home and away, and to every band competition, of which there are five this year. These trucks carry snares, bass drums, quads, cymbals, marimbas, xylophones, keyboards, amps, mixing consoles, MacBooks, large brass, drum major stands and water. Most everything is on its own cart or has a custom cart built by previous equipment crews that fits perfectly in these trucks. After a layer of equipment is put in the truck, it’s strapped down so it won’t shift during transport.

I’m part of the group of parents who volunteered to be the equipment crew this year. The veterans have had fun scaring us a little before we started. We heard things like newbies have to bring the beer (relax, there’s none) or newbies will have to carry the heavy things and it’s going to rain so be prepared to get soaked and have a hot shower when you get home at three in the morning. It’s all said in fun, so I just grin and try to help as much as I can. However, I don’t think the most seasoned of the vets was even prepared for this.

We departed with the two box trucks and several passenger trucks and vans loaded with parents around 4PM from HHS for the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery. It didn’t take long for traffic to slow us down, first at the tank farm exit in Pelham. We hit another slowdown about 20 minutes later and finally we hit standstill traffic before Clanton. A semi truck had gotten into the cabled barrier in the median, spun around facing oncoming traffic and was sitting in the ditch on the outside of Interstate 65. When we got up close to it, we had to drive on the outside shoulder right beside the truck because the cables were still strung across the road and were only resting on the asphalt on the shoulder. It was a giant mess.

By now, we knew we weren’t going to make kickoff, but neither were the kids because they left after we did. Hoover Band regularly travels in nine yellow school buses with four Hoover Police Department escorts. The problem is that those buses must first finish their regular after school routes and return to the school before the kids can board and leave.

Just as we get clear of the wreck, we get word that one of the trucks broke down. The truck we had rented for the day (which had only 250 miles on the odometer when we picked it up) lost power and wouldn’t crank back up. On that truck were the drums, big brass and half the water. The truck with pit percussion was fine.

A decision had to be made. We knew we wouldn’t be able to bring everything, so Mr. Band Director, what should we bring?

If you’ve ever been in Marching Band for a second, you know that there’s always a rivalry between percussion and brass. Both think they’re the loudest and most important parts of the band. There’s a social pecking order between sections in the band and it’s always brass or percussion on top. Sometimes, brass might even be split up such that trombones are top dogs whereas mellophones are a bit lower. It’s silly, but it’s true.

In this moment, we finally got an answer to this age old debate. We heard it on the side of Interstate 65, cars whooshing by at 70+ mph just a foot or two from the side of our trucks. The HHS Band directors told us to get the battery (snare, quads, bass drums and cymbals) and to get to the game as soon as possible. There you have it, folks. Drums win. The end. Too bad so sad, brass. *I was in percussion when I was in the Coffee High School Marching Band 30 years ago, so the degree at which this gives me satisfaction cannot be overstated.*

There we were, inches from the right travel lane on I65S, about a half mile from the big wreck that had made folks sit for over 45 minutes in standstill traffic, unloading stuff from one truck onto anywhere we could fit it on the other truck. No doubt the folks whooshing past us were sick of sitting and had the hammer down trying to make up lost time.

But I’m simplifying things a lot. We didn’t just pull the drums out and toss them on the other truck. Remember how I said each layer was loaded in the truck and strapped down? Well, we had to unstrap and pull layer by layer out and roll those carts away from the lift gate so that we could finally get to the stuff we wanted. We started to worry that the battery running the lift gate was getting low, so when we got to the cart with the drums on it, we unloaded it from the lift gate in the fully raised position. Again, this was inches from the travel lanes. One band dad was hanging off the side of the cart, pulling stuff off the top and handing it down to other dads standing on the lift gate who were then handing it down to those of us on the ground who ran it back to the other truck.

At one point while we were doing that, the nine yellowdogs drove past us with their HPD escorts. HPD knew about the wreck and re-routed the kids onto 31S to bypass the wreck in Clanton. We got lots of cheers from the kids as they all blew past us. Plenty of us parents were updating our kids with the news about what had happened with the trucks.

With everything loaded onto the other truck and the other racks of brass loaded back onto the dead truck and strapped back in, we got back on the road. The working truck has a speed limiter on it, so there was no making good time. We did a steady 65mph the rest of the way. We left the Equipment Crew Manager dad with the dead truck. He got a tow truck to tow him the rest of the way, but that truck was a good hour away.

The equipment crew arrived at Cramton really late and the Auburn HS band had just taken the field for their halftime show. The game was televised and we could see that they kept going on commercial break when the other marching band didn’t take the field. It was pretty sad and there had to be 350 really disappointed kids. Many of them had been practicing and rehearsing since mid July. On top of that, Hoover was losing 14-0. We started unloading what we could from the one truck and the drummers got their instruments and began warming up. The whole stadium cheered when they started, which was cool. The Band played some tunes without brass and it sounded surprisingly okay.

The tow truck with the broken down truck finally arrived around 9:00. We unloaded all of it onto one of the street corners of the Cramton Bowl and the brass section mounted up. They went back and ended up playing in the stands the rest of the game. It’s like the rest of Hoover woke up when the Band started warming up. They tied the game up but ultimately lost in the last two minutes of the game with an AHS field goal.

Metro rentals sent a new truck down, but it arrived late, so the equipment crew got to see Cramton shut down last night. Despite the Montgomery asphalt being in poor condition, we loaded all of those carts up in record time. We got back to HHS last night around 12:15am and unloaded really quickly. We stood around and talked for a few minutes after we finished and the veterans kept saying, ”normally it’s not that bad” or ”I’ve never seen a night like tonight.” Everyone was worn out, but no one really complained. We all laughed lots and joked and rolled our eyes because Cramton Bowl is cursed for us.

Sam and I got home around 12:45. At least it wasn’t a monsoon with hurricane force winds.

Oh yeah, what was wrong with the truck? We last heard that the previous customer filled the fuel tank with gasoline instead of diesel fuel!