Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Are You Kidding?

Another week, another free-associating flashback to an ancient memory.

I read a brief post on the local social media engine this afternoon that referenced the Vince Lombardi rest stop, toward the very northern end of the New Jersey Turnpike. For most people, this location is at best a place to remedy the difficulties of a long highway journey – gotta go, gotta eat. For most people, this location is assuredly not a garden spot, in spite of it being located in the Garden State. For most people, this location is best experienced by utilizing, as one of my favorite teachers once said, “the ol’ git-in and git-out deal.”

But if you’re a college band person, and your band ever traveled between New England and the lower Mid-Atlantic, this joint may be the location of one or more of your favorite memories. Or at the very least, when you drive past at 70 miles an hour, you still look over at it and smile a little.

In my case, not a memory I would like to experience again, necessarily; but as with so many things in life … it’s amusing now.


The graduate assistant of the Boston University band (your humble correspondent) stepped up into the cab of the band’s equipment truck. It was the biggest truck which I was licensed to drive, and easily the biggest vehicle I’ve ever been in charge of, then or since. I was up high! and in control!

The second annual Allentown college band show was finished, and so was our weekend trip, which had taken us from Boston to Bridgewater State College (a brief appearance at their football halftime) to the University of Delaware (this was when BU had a football team to put on the field against UD), to Allentown, PA, to participate in a Sunday afternoon of college marching band performances.

That late-September afternoon was yielding to early evening, and the sun was still shining, but not far above the horizon. The two BU buses pulled away from J. Birney Crum Stadium and headed for whatever interstate gets you from Allentown to 95, and after all these years I am still not clear about which one that is. Therefore, I attached my truck (figuratively) to the back bumper of the second bus and worked hard not to lose it amidst the considerable Sunday-afternoon end-of-weekend traffic.

It seemed to be getting darker. And darker. And darker. Yes, the sun was going down, and it was that wonderful twilight during which it is a trial to drive sometimes; but it seemed comparatively very dark considering my headlights were on.

Weren’t they?

I tugged on the lever that controlled the truck’s headlights, and in an instant I knew what the rest of the trip was going to be like. The high-beams came on. I let go of the lever, and the high-beams went off. And the regular headlights did not come on. Either of them. And now it seemed rather exceptionally dark.

In order to see properly, I had to pull the high-beam lever back and hold it there. All the way to I-95, and the Jersey Turnpike. And all the way up the Turnpike. Not complaining; you do what ya gotta do. Mister Pollyanna here declared that it was great that the high-beams were both working very well.

I flashed the high-beams off-on, off-on, at the second bus, trying to get the driver’s attention. The lead bus was pulling away at a fully ridiculous rate of speed. Throughout the weekend I had gotten the impression that the two bus drivers didn’t get on as well as they could have, and it had been curious to watch Driver One pull lane-changing maneuvers seemingly in such a way that Driver Two had to work extra hard to match those lane changes without wiping out cars while trying. I knew that my not-quite-late-model truck had zero chance of catching up to Driver One … but somehow, without words (and at the time, without cellphones or any other means of electronic communication), I successfully suggested that Driver Two had better not kick in the warp drive and leave me out there too. Happily, he didn’t. We formed a pathetic little convoy, the smallest convoy you can make without being a single vehicle. Bus changes lanes? Truck changes lanes. Bus changes lanes again? Truck changes lanes again. Don’t ask why. Just do. I probably looked like a little kid trooping around after a high school football player he idolized.

After either ninety minutes or a thousand years of driving, I saw Driver Two get in the exit lane that would take us to the mighty Vince Lombardi service area, and I gave out with a tiny little “…yay…” Idly, I had wondered if there was a plan, or whether all the BU vehicles were free agents now.

By this time, I had catalogued most of the possible ways to describe this experience that could possibly avoid dropping F-bombs, but was running dangerously low on ideas. Mister Pollyanna had (he now is forced to admit) become more of a Bill Cosby “foul filth and your filthin’ foul” expresser of notions. I will smack the truck rental guy across the nose, lousy pre-trip alleged maintenance check, amateur-hour operation, grouse grouse grouse.

We pulled into the Vince parking lot, cozied up to where Bus One was parked (and had been for some time), and shut our engines off. I shook my left hand vigorously to see if blood wanted to renew its membership. Keys out of the ignition, don’t have to shut the lights off!!! … and I stumbled down out of the cab. I followed the stream of BU band members from Bus Two through the rear entrance of the Vince rest stop building, and found a fast-food vendor line to join. I stood right behind Driver Two. Driver One walked over to his colleague, looked at him, looked at me, and cheerfully said words I shall never ever forget. They may ring in my ears until I join the bleedin’ choir invisible.

Well! I think it’s goin’ pretty well, don’t you?”

Your mild-mannered correspondent did consider, over the course of a long split-second, what his best response might be. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to take advantage of that perfect opportunity, to righteously unload on someone who surely had it coming.

Sadly, I’m still wondering.

Instead … I looked at Driver One, then at Driver Two, then back at Driver One, and executed a maneuver that I have watched a very dear colleague of mine use to great effect on several occasions. I closed my eyes very slowly … carried out a textbook about-face … opened my eyes … and Slowly. Walked. Away.

March 7, 2014 Posted by | band, BUMB, marching band, social media, travel | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment