I’m at a Starbucks. That’s not weird or anything, about half of these blog posts were written at a Starbucks, just not this one. I started coming to this one because of outdoor seating allowing me to take my mask off. My usual is more limited, and with many nearby restaurants using parking spots as outside dining, it can be a crap shoot to get anywhere near the coffee shop. The one I am at today is the forth closest to my house. I’ve only really started coming here a couple months back, and then pretty irregularly.
So it was a surprise to me this morning when the barista remembered my name. I am not all that chatty, and don’t have a usual drink. Heck, they hadn’t even seen my unmasked face .. ever. But I was happy when she remembered my name. Then again, that wasn’t the first time this happened this week, and not the most significant to me.
It’s been a while since my last blog, and a lot has happened since then. Much of it non-blog worthy, or fall into that category where I just don’t want to share it. I’ve been meaning to get this going again, but good intentions didn’t turn into words. More on that in a future blog, right now let’s get back to the story.
Bear with me though, there is a lot of backstory to this.
Long time Bearfeeders know that I am involved in the marching band / pageantry arts activity, and have been since my school days. I remember the moment that put me down this path, and it was a specific moment, a single count. I had taken an interest in marching bands and competed with my high school on a couple tours before i was introduced to Drum Corps. For those who don’t know, Drum Corps is like the typical marching band except is considered the top level of the activity. IT is the most dynamic, most dramatic, most exciting, and highest caliber. The summer before my sophomore year in high school in 1987, I recorded the Drum Corps World Championships off of the live PBS broadcast. The first three groups they showed was everything I expected from the activity, and everything I liked about it. There was clean lines, great music, bold sounds, costumes, colors, and even gimmicks. Then this group came out, and from the first couple counts of their show they proved to be everything I never expected from the activity. They whipped around forms. They passed in tight spaces. They march fast and marched far. The were poetic, rhythmic, aggressive, beautiful. They didn’t have gimicks, or color flashes, or standard approaches – heck even their lines weren’t straight – but they amazed me of what a group could do. The group was called the Garfield Cadets, and everything they did sucked me in further. The last big move has gone down in legends as “The Scatter Front”. I could write a whole blog on that move, but to keep it quick – it was a traditional straight forward manuever everyone and their mother has done since the early 1900s; but then they innovated it by breaking it to pieces, then they stopped raised their horns and put it all back together. I’ve watched that move hundreds of times, and I am sure that last guy will never make it to the line in time, and every time he makes it right at the big hit. That big hit … that first time seeing that big hit … whatever my life was before that was not going to be my life after.
Five years later, I found myself auditioning for the Cadets, who by that time changed their name to the Cadets of Bergen County (they are known now as just The Cadets, but had also been known as Holy Name Cadets). There I was surrounded by these people I thought were gods of the activity. Over the five years I known them, and the dozens of years I researched them before I became aware, I saw them as almost robotic – sculpted heros from the granite of greatness. I was so nervous (and exhausted from an all night drive, and no food for 12 hours) I wrapped around a toliet when i should have been playing my horn. I busted my tail pre-season, but I knew I was the wink link in our line, just one bad move from getting cut from my dream group. During spring training, nearly two hundred members, staff, and volunteers came down with a horrific stomach flu that put each person down for days … only two were spared, and I was one of them. I understand survivor’s guilt because as others suffered, I kept practicing sure they would cut me for not suffering like they did.
Let me restate that — I thought they were going to cut me, because I didn’t get sick.
Things got better, and I continued to bust myself towards making it better. Though many times I found myself thinking I was just an imposter. I was just this guy from Wisconsin, surrounded by heros.
I don’t know exactly when, but that summer I met Scotty McGarry. He is the corps historian, having marched in some of the glory and traitorous days in the 1960s. He remains affiliated with the corps, now reaching into 6 decades of his presence. As the historian, he would bring in photos, videos, recordings, jackets, shirts, and other items to show the history of the corps. I ate it up. Scotty seemed to love that I ate it up. Once a year, Scotty puts on a history program and has done this every year for half a century. My first time at the program, Scotty pulled me aside to show me a picture of the first contra (tuba) line in drum corps history. He wanted to show me other great pictures, like the first females in the corps history. Different items related to the contras over time.
Scotty showed me that being a Cadet meant something. They way he puts it, there is a golden thread that stretches over the 87 year history of the corps. Each member is tied to that thread. From the oldest of the oldest, to the newest of the newest, to the ones that haven’t joined yet. Because of Scotty, I didn’t feel like an imposter anymore.
As the season was coming to a close, during a meal, Scotty called me over. Beside him was a man I didn’t know (whose name is lost to me). Scotty said he was a drum major for the Cadets back in his day and he wanted him to meet me.
Let me state that — He didn’t want me to meet this man, he wanted this man to meet me.
The one thing I remember above all else from that conversation was them saying “We watched you guys go out on the field last night, and we both said ‘they look just like us.'”
I wasn’t just looking up to those heros or legends that I dreamed about meeting some day. I was one of them. I was a Cadet. I am a Cadet.
Last Sunday, I joined a Cadet Alumni virtual call with the west coast regional alumni. I might not typically join those, but I made a wisecrack that since they used a picture of me in the call announcement I better show up. We were told there would be a special guest joining then out of the blue …. there was Scotty.
Being the humble great man that he is, he wanted each of us to introduce ourselves and say when we marched. To a person, he remembered each of us, the shows, the people we were friends with. When it got to me, he remembered my name, my nick name, my friends … even when he showed me that picture of the first Contra Line. Sixty years, and this guy remembers so many people and pulls us in to that golden thread.
But to be remembered by Scotty – it was a ‘wow’ moment for me. I can hear my dad say something like “of course he remembers you, you are hard to forget” or some fluffy thing like that. But when he remembered me, I remembered what it felt like all those years ago to be a part of something special. These last couple years have been hard. These last few months have been hard. So in what was something that made my year, Scotty made me remember that I am a Cadet.