I once interviewed for a job in Albuquerque, New Mexico. ABQ enjoys maximum sunshine, a mountain range for the directionally-challenged, and a choice of red or green. I chose green. The food is terrific.
Otherwise, the town is at once small yet massively populous. At the Sunport, I felt I could see forever. It seems in many places, I could see the physical limit of town and emptiness beyond. Somehow 600,000 people live in ABQ, though. Albuquerque also has a massive car and sign culture. It took forever to drive through downtown because of the various cruisers. It's impossible to spot specific establishments on certain streets because all have elevated signs streetside. I didn't get the job, by the way.
My first bell choir trip took the team to Casper, Wyoming. Highlights of Casper included being pulled into the North Platte River, and receiving free pornographic programs on the hotel TV. There are explanations for both, but they are not related.
One of our more fun excursions (fun in my Boy Scout mindset) was a rafting trip on the North Platte River. Since the river did not contain any treacherous rapids, those of us in one raft decided to invade the adjacent raft. We started well, but as I climbed in, someone yanked my skinny frame from behind, and into the water. My skin sunburned because I removed my wet shirt for the rest of the trip.
As far as the porn goes, I call it serendipitous. We did not alter the box in any way. Rather, when we turned to the appropriate channel, the scrambling did not activate immediately. So we could watch clearly for a bit, then the quality would fade gradually until it was scrambled. We kept resetting the channel so we could complete all the programs-- three or four of them, rerun all day. One program took place on a college campus. I clearly remember three sorority girls, topless, exclaiming they were “happy, happy, mother fucking happy.” Immediately after that declaration, one of the women accidentally nicks her breast, inflicting some discomfort. A second woman in the group consoles the first woman by sucking her nipple. It was a delightful production.
My family stopped in Dallas on one of those Galveston vacations. We went to the zoo. We visited the Reunion Tower. We sat in traffic, I suppose. That's a popular pastime. Dallas, Fort Worth and environs will expand forever. Only the boundaries of the universe itself will say no more.
Fort Smith, Arkansas
I once interviewed for a job in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Television stations in northwest Arkansas are split between Fort Smith and Fayetteville, towns about 60 miles apart. Fayetteville is hilly, dominated by the major state university, and more vibrant. Fort Smith is in the river valley, old, worn. Everything in downtown Fort Smith closed at 5:00. It seemed like all other commerce existed on one long street. I didn't get the job, by the way.
In 1993, the bell choir visited Greencastle, Indiana, the home of DePauw University, and yes, that’s with a “w.” DePaul University must be furious. The university seemed to spend a large amount of its endowment on an auditorium, which had nice acoustics and new fabric on the seats. The dorms were not as spectacular. In fact, the building was missing a few steps at one of the front entrances. Someone mentioned the dorm was nearly a hundred years old. I believed it.
Despite the condition of the building, it became a police state for Jed and myself. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” became the official theme song. We declared martial law. We set the rules, and advertised heavily. Our bizarre behavior attracted the attention of two girls, Anna and Abby. They rang in a choir from Toledo, Ohio, and would become the center of our attention for the weekend.
However, there was a problem. The region refused to schedule an individual concert for us because we came from a different region. They reluctantly gave us one. This one held greater importance for us because another choir had already played one of our pieces. We play it with emotion and contrasting tempos. They played it like robots. I never thought we got the recognition we deserved for our clearly superior performance. The other choirs seemed to resent our presence. Despite this, our choir had a good time hanging out with the Toledo choir.
Anna and Abby seemed inseparable, both from each other and from Jed. But that didn’t surprise me. It’s hard to describe them as anything but ordinary teenagers, definitely cute, a little vulgar at times, though. We stayed up all night talking to them. I don’t actually remember seeing them ring, but I’m sure they did fine. Because of those two girls, though, we didn’t get to cause as much mayhem as I liked, not even “the wave” in church. But we did witness a nice surprise for one of our sponsors, Bill Pinches. He had a birthday, and to celebrate, we did the right thing. We decorated his door with condoms. The picture of him staring at the door, startled, is a classic. Bill backed away from the door slowly. He stared at a few condoms in his hands, as if they were cursed. He questioned Jed and me first. But it was not our idea. The girls in our choir had picked up the slack. I think Bill grew to like the joke, but I don’t know if he disposed of those condoms or not.
After an uninspiring mass ring, we said goodbye to our new friends and hit the road for Terre Haute, Indiana, proud home of the federal execution. We were all dead tired by the time we got home.
Mitchell, South Dakota
Mitchell contains a palace made of corn. I signed my name in the guest book. Wheeeeee.
Amazingly, I visited Mt. Rushmore twice in one year. My first bell choir trip took us through Rapid City in 1990. I saw NBA player Bill Cartwright in the gift shop. Later that summer, the return trip from vacation in Idaho took me through Rapid City. I did not see any celebrities the second time.
I've only changed planes here. But I'm sure it's nice. Hi, guys.