Friday, August 15, 2008

America The Beautiful

For lack of anything interesting to write about that is presently happening in the "west house", I'm going to reflect on a past experience.

In December of 1999, about two weeks before the infamous Y2K, I was afforded the opportunity to take an all expenses paid trip. The Rebel Regiment, a high school marching band my daughter was a member of, received an invitation to march in the famous Rose Parade in California. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for +/- 270 kids. Let me add here that my son was also a member of this band but he had already graduated before this trip.

On this trip the band members and chaperons, as well as many others that paid their own way to accompany the band, rode tour buses to Atlanta and flew from there to California on commercial airlines. They could have flown out of Greenville but that would mean they would have to make connecting flights and to eliminate the risk of losing someone they drove to Atlanta for direct flights. They left on December 28th and were to return home on or around January 2nd, providing that all of the airplanes didn't blow up or crash because of Y2K.

I was a member of the "Pit Crew" for a number of years before this. This is a group of men, most of whom have kids in the band, that volunteer to drive the 8 buses and 2 large trucks with trailers behind them. We hauled the band and all of their equipment all over the Southeast to band competitions. We also were responsible for getting the equipment on and off of the field for the performances. As I said, the band members flew to California but it was going to be too costly to ship the instruments and uniforms out there so I, along with two other men who were also "Pit Crew" members, were asked to drive that stuff to and from the West Coast in exchange for an all expenses paid trip. Since Mel and I were already paying for three (her, our daughter and son) to go, it was either volunteer or stay at home because we just couldn't afford to pay for another spot.

As it turned out, it was worth the sacrifice. By sacrifice, I mean that in order for us to have the uniforms and instruments out there when the band arrived we would have to leave on December 23rd and miss Christmas with our families. By worth it, I mean that prior to this trip the furthest point in a Westward direction that I had been was probably Chattanooga, Tennessee so the things I was able to see made it so.

On this trip I made my first crossing of the Mississippi River, I saw my first real Texas tumbleweed. Up until then it was an onion, sliced a million ways, dipped in batter, and deep fried golden brown and put on a plate for some artery clogging enjoyment. I saw the oil wells in Oklahoma and Texas, not to mention the acres upon acres of farm lands with heads of cattle numbering in the millions. I saw the plateaus and red hills of New Mexico, and the deserts of Arizona. I drove across the Hoover Dam and almost got arrested for suspicion of trying to blow it up. Maybe I'll elaborate on that later in this post. I got to spend the night in Vegas and pull the arm of a couple of the gazillion one armed bandits that we ran across. We left Vegas and went through Death Valley. Let me tell you, even kudzu wouldn't grow in that place. It took me back to my childhood when I used to watch "Death Valley Days" on TV. I could just see the old mule train making it's way through that desert. I think I even saw the ghost of Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger and Tonto riding around out there.

After a good nights sleep in Barstow, CA, We headed on to LA. We arrived on the 27th, one day ahead of the band. That gave us a chance to rest up before having to put up with 270 teenagers. We should've took two days to do this cause one day of rest probably wasn't enough. Once the band started arriving in waves the next day, one of us had to be over at LAX to direct the people to the shuttle buses for the trip across the street to the hotel. Once at the hotel the chaperons took over. from then on we were just tourist until they had to do a performance in the parking lot right outside the Rose Bowl. The band got to go to see where they made the floats but we had to load the equipment back on the trucks and go back to the hotel so we didn't get to see that, but I would have loved to. We did get to participate in the other activities like a trip to the San Diego Zoo, Universal Studios, and breakfast at the Hard Rock Cafe.

During the parade, we dropped off the equipment at the beginning of the parade and drove to the end of the route to wait on the band to arrive to reload the stuff. So,,,,,,We didn't get to see much of the parade either but the chaperons did. They got seats in the grandstand right where the cameras are that show the parade on TV.

The next day we headed out with the trucks before the band and others even woke up, much less leaving for the airport. We drove out on I-40 but due to snow that fell in the Rockies while we were out there we had to come home via the Southern route (I-10 & I-20). This carried us through the Palm Springs area where they have windmill farms that have hundreds of windmills that generate power. We also went through the Southern part of Arizona where we saw different varieties of cacti including the one that looks like a person holding his arms up like you see in cowboy movies. They were everywhere. The rest areas in the desert had signs that warned people to stay on the paved walking areas due to the possibility of being stung by a scorpion. That was weird, I was looking all over for those little deadly things to make sure I didn't get stung. It took us one whole day just to drive back across Texas. All in all, I drove through 13 states on this trip, SC, GA, AL, MS, TN, AR, OK, TX, NM, AZ, NV, CA, and LA.

When I arrived back home on January 5th, 2000 I had time to sit down and reflect on the previous two weeks and the words to Katherine Lee Bates' song, America The Beautiful, came to my mind. Still today that song has a different meaning to me than it did before the trip.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
They liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every grain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Who needs to travel to other continents and countries when there is more to see in this country than one could see in a lifetime. As the song says. America is beautiful if you'll just take time to see it.

1 comment:

colbymarshall said...

I really, really, really want to travel across the states on a road trip. I think it would be a blast, not to mention the blog fodder I'm sure it would inspire!