The energy on the bus was contagious, surging through us all like a shorting circuit. Our sections bunched up as close as they could with only two allowed to a seat, and each section was easily distinguishable despite the matching uniforms. The percussionists all sat in the back, drumming beats onto the backs of seats and making up rhymes about each other, trying to see who could deliver the best roast. The mellophones were taking pictures and videos of each other to edit into memes later, laughing and shoving each other. The trumpets were talking loudly, speaking so quickly that the words ran together and became background noise despite the volume. The color guard sat close to the front, doing each other’s show makeup and laughing nearly to tears. I sat amongst them, struggling to put on our uniform red lipstick as I held back a laugh. In this space, teeming with spirit and music and pride, nerves dissolved into excitement and gave way to rowdy unity.
Very suddenly, the noise settled to a dull hum and the bus slowed to a stop. All eyes went to the windows: railroad track. I could hear the soft murmur of seasoned band members telling all the newbies to “touch a nut”, and I reached up to touch one of the screws holding the window frames in place. All along the bus, dozens of hands touched dozens of screws, a band tradition passed along over the years. We did this every time the bus stopped for a railroad track in hopes that our combined efforts would hold the bus together until it was safely across.
Thanks to our dedication, the bus didn’t fall apart as we crossed the tracks. Noise and spirit gradually filled the bus again, increasing at the same rate as if they were one and the same. Looking around the bus, I could pick out each person, unique and vibrant in their own ways, but the collective energy that surged through the bus felt like that of one entity. The distinct laughter and chatter from each seat melted together into one joyous chorus. If I took my glasses off to wipe them, we would blur into a sea of red, our show shirts blending together seamlessly.
Soon enough, we reached our destination, and we were released from the bus by section, with loading crew first, then color guard, then percussion, then high brass. Even as we split, the energy stayed, and it felt like a geyser bubbling up in my chest. The adrenaline of performance was unmatchable; there was no feeling like the intense pressure of showing months of work in a mere ten minutes. We rode this high from the moment we stepped of the bus to the moment we stepped onto the field, a time period that always seemed to simultaneously fly by and painstakingly crawl along. So quickly, yet eons later, we were in our starting positions, waiting for our cue to begin. If my heart was beating quicker than usual, harder than usual, I didn’t notice. I took a deep breath, pulling my shoulders back and standing tall.
“Port Saint Lucie High School, you may begin your show.”
The best run was never at a competition. There was never a time when we could confidently say that we were ready to go, with nothing left to improve upon. We rehearsed, cleaned, rehearsed again, until it was time to load onto the bus and head to Crown Jewel or MPA. So, we were never really ready, but in that same sense, we were always, always ready. Somehow, though we had done plenty of run-throughs that were much cleaner, much better, and though there were drops and cracked notes and missed steps, this time, the routine felt like a show. This time, the separate pieces came together, banded together, to provoke feelings and spark hearts and elicit tears. This time, the final notes sounded like an end credits scene, and the applause that followed sounded so beautifully fitting.
When we marched off the field, we left the entire show behind, with every drop of sweat shed while running between yard lines, every ounce of water hastily chugged between run-throughs, every echo of every word we chanted in united enthusiasm under the floodlights, and every minute of several months of dedicated rehearsals. As I turned back to check for any flags that may have been left behind, I saw the faint remains of precisely tossed rifles, perfectly timed catches, meticulously pointed toes, and intensely focused expressions. I could hear the metronome ticking away as angles were adjusted, counts were clarified, and timing was perfected. I could feel the ache in my muscles after a full two weeks of eight-hour practices. I could feel my heart beating in perfect time with the music, brassy notes filling my lungs with every breath, wood and metal and tape connecting so deeply with the flesh of my hands that they practically melded together.
I turned back around, following the rest of the band through the gate and out to the sidewalk. Looking around, I could pick out each person, unique and vibrant in their own ways, but the collective energy that surged through us felt like that of one entity. If I took my glasses off to wipe them, or if the pride in my chest bubbled over and settled in my eyes as unshed tears, we would blur into a sea of red, our show shirts blending together seamlessly. Later, we climbed back onto the buses, celebrating our straight superior rating as much as our exhausted bodies would allow, and we reached a railroad track. Every weary hand reached up to touch a nut, holding together the bus while it crossed, just as we held together the band, held together a show, and held together each other. And though it was a silly idea, a simple tradition passed along over the years, I stared at the ‘X’ the screwhead had imprinted onto my fingertip for a long while, music and memories flooding my mind.