Tuesday, April 21, 2009

And it rained. Oh, how it rained.

I'm back in St. Louis after the marathon session of driving that led me to the Jacksonville, Florida and back. There's a surprisingly small amount of stories to tell, since of the two days the entire trip took, I spent 30 of the 48 hours in the car. It's more than 1800 miles round trip from St. Louis to Jacksonville; a distance which would have delivered me comfortably to Los Angeles or (more surreally) Port-au-prince, Haiti, had we taken the Sub-mo-car.

My dad and I left at about 6:00 AM CST on Sunday morning. Traffic was light. It started raining as we accellarated onto the interstate highway and wouldn't stop for more than seven hours. There was never any lightning, but the rain was occasionally so heavy as to encourage a reduction of speed and a wish for a "higher-than-highest" windshield wiper setting.

This trip was approximately the same distance as my drive from Kansas City to Colorado Springs seven years earlier, but consists of a much better balance of scenery-per-mile. The drive starts in the plains of southern Illinois, which are familiar to me after many years of driving to Chicago and Indiana. Then to the green grasslands of Kentucky, which were in fine form on our drive home. The gently rolling hills looked positively bucolic and the effect was only seldom spoiled by old-style painted billboards for stores selling "Guns-Bait-Camoflonge". No, I don't know what that last thing is, either.

From there, the road crosses the Appalachian Mountains and down by the bluffs of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River. There is an amazing amount of Civil War stuff in this area, but this wasn't a trip for sightseeing so on we went. A large portion of Georgia seems to have traded agriculture for a more prosaic crop: sex shops. As the interstate is the most direct route up and down the eastern seaboard, the road is positively teeming with adult stores of one variety or other, which my dad theorized may stay open to cater to the numerous truckers that ply the roadways. It is extremely incongruous to see billboards advertising Grandma's Down-home Pecan Pie right before (and I'm not making this up) "Strippers: What More Do We Say?"

Southern Georgia becomes agricultural again, with short and squat citrus groves playing neighbor to the upward-stretching grace of the pecan trees. The road in northern Florida goes through part of the Osceola National Forest, which had a distressingly high number of deer along the side of a road where people drive 80 mph. In the dark of the night, our eyes were peeled for any martyrs for the cause of leaf-eating. Our hotel had palm trees wrapped in white lights for that "Now youins be in Flahrida" feel.

Early rise on Monday morning to join the inward-bound rush hour traffic to Jacksonville. Fancy downtown is nice, with wide streets and graceful curbs that wrap around regularly spaced trees. The symphony center is nice, with a well-apointed lobby graced by an entrance twenty or thirty doors wide. Naturally, the only door unlocked at 7:40 AM is waaaay down at the end. My dad takes up a position on a couch waaaay at the OTHER end and I'm admitted to the Musician's Lounge.

My hopes for a quick whiskey and some light piano are dashed: this is just a room with a bunch of lockers and half-height storage islands for instrument unpacking. There's one other auditionee here already. We exchange manly salutations ("Hey." "Hiya.") Remember that everyone else in this room is a competitor, not a friend! We eat competitors for breakfast with a hollandaise sauce and our pinkies raised! Wait, what was I talking about?

Oh, right. I should talk a bit about bass trombonists, as a species. During the course of the morning while I was there, some thirty people came through that lounge. Allow me to offer the census outline of the population of tromboni basso.

The typical bass trombonist (for this morning, before 10AM) is likely to be:
  • --Male
  • --Above-average tall (most were above 5' 10")
  • --White (only one of the thirty was black)
  • --Wearing either glasses or facial hair (or both)
  • --Young (most seemed from mid-20s to mid-30s)
  • --Nervous (watch for compulsive zipping and unzipping of cases to retreive and replace unneccesary items)
Some individuals stood out from the pack:
  • --Any woman holding a bass trombone. Of the 30 candidates I saw, I estimate one in ten to be female. As women (for politeness sake) are assumed to not have facial hair, all were seen to have glasses as their contribution to the point mentioned above.
  • --Any women NOT holding instruments. Two girlfriends of candidates were seen in the lounge, picking invisible hairs off their dates' shoulders. They were regarded with envy by those auditionees without significant others and with wistfulness by the ones' whose girlfriends or wives could not attend (or who care not to be in a room of geeky trombonists).
  • --The guy with hair long enough to put into a ponytail. He had the most unconventional and "fresh" hairstyle in the room, with most of us opting for the "hair stays around my head" design. This lent him an air of distinction until the room was entered by...
  • --The other guy with hair long enough to ponytail. His head was carefully studied by First Ponytail when Second's back was turned. This may be the trombone equivalent of showing up to the Oscars wearing the same gown as someone else: a vital portion of your self and identity has been compromised and both parties are left on the defensive.
  • --The guy shuffling people around. The only one in the room who worked for the orchestra, his steps were constantly observed by every set of eyes. Whatever he said had importance, so whenever he started moving it was time to pay attention.

Next time, the actual audition process, including the distraction of playing with myself (in a non-self-gratification sense). To avoid leaving anyone in suspense over my fate: I did not advance to a later round, so no need to sit around wondering.


  1. sounds like you had an interesting time regardless...glad you're back safely

  2. That drive from STL to JAX is nice in my opinion. I'm glad you had a good time with your Dad. too. Long trip.