The Outside Rail

The wifi stinks, so does the legroom. The movie choices are odd (the credits to Lilo and Stitch are rolling). There are two kids in Disney character snuggies (maybe) across the aisle. Four rows in front of me, Leonard the bus driver just keeps on steering - straight and steady. He's with us until Florence, S.C., where his relief awaits. He'll get eight hours sleep and drive home in the morning. We'll keep on heading south.

That's right, I'm on my way to Disney World. Bus Three of five with about 200 members of the high-school band and chorus.

It's 7:50 p.m. Thursday and we just passed the Cap Center on I-95. Long way to go. Brandi Carlile plays on my head phones, which is nice, though I hear some friends are seeing her in concert in Atlantic City Saturday. By Saturday, I'll have been to Animal Kingdom (the theme park, not the horse), Magic Kingdom and I'm not sure what else. Somewhere along the line, the band marches in a parade and the chorus sings in a show.

I'm a chaperone, though I'm somewhat unclear of my job. I searched some luggage before we left, I'm keeping an eye on my area on the bus. My 14-year-old son (trombone player) and his pals are toward the back. I've got a small feast in a cloth bag at my feet, having already eaten a Wawa turkey hoagie and some pretzels. There are two bananas, some animal crackers, trail mix, four packs of Belvita breakfast biscuits, an oatmeal bar. If I eat all that, I'll be dead. But if we get stranded in a blizzard, I'm prepared.

Oh hey, here's the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Damn, the National Harbor Casino is going to be huge. There's a ferris wheel...When it's up and running, it'll mean more money for purses at Laurel and Pimlico.

Welcome to Virginia. The last time I went to Disney, Nolan was 4 (?) and spent pretty much the whole trip asking, "Are we still in Virginia?" We were in a 2001 Toyota Sienna with a TV/VCR bungied to a cooler for the kids.

They changed the DVD, but all we have is sound . . . I think The Incredibles is next. What's with kids today? Somebody wants Lion King 1 1/2. Really? I'm not sure what I was watching in high school, but it was not animated movies. I distinctly remember getting in trouble for sneaking out to see The Blue Lagoon while on a family trip.

Anyway, there's video now. The preview is Chicken Little. Only in Theaters 2005. So I'm rolling down the highway watching a 10-year-old movie...OK. And yes it is The Incredibles. And we're in the express lane headed toward Richmond. I can't see the speedometer or the GPS, but Leonard is not hanging around. Roll on.

Mr. Incredible just hit on Elasti-Girl and the high-schooler in the next seat said, "That is one super power I'd like to have." I think she means elasticity. But I'm not sure.

Dash just got in trouble with the teacher, I'll be back later because I've got loads of time. 

PART TWO

It's 8:42. Overheard on the bus...

"You guys have never had Bojangles? It's fast food, but it's the best fast food you've ever had."

"Everybody get off the Internet so I can watch my shows. Top Chef is getting ready to come on."

"Hey, look at the moon. It's like the Cheshire cat."

"We're going to be coming up on Richmond . . . Where's that at? . . . It's in Virginia . . . Oh."

And we're a long way from Richmond, dude.

 

It's 9:01. We stopped on the shoulder. Mile 111.1. Not sure why. Thinking the guys driving buses four and five aren't as smooth as Leonard.

Band director: "OK guys, we're at Disney. If you'll get off the bus and wait for a shuttle..."

I had a conversation about fusion a few minutes ago. I told the girl she didn't need to know that stuff in the real world. Then she said she wants to be an astrophysicist. Maybe she does need to know that stuff. She's got a textbook and is reading diligently. Somewhere a science teacher smiles. Oh, and the band director knows his physics.

We're rolling again. 9:05 and all is well.

Movie watcher: "James Bond could have done that."

It's quieter, darker. There was a murmuring roar. Now there are independent conversations. I smell mint. Lots and lots of mint.

"Hey, one of my stories went away."

I don't get Snapchat.

"Redheads are all evil." That was to a scene in The Incredibles and had nothing to do with anyone on the bus as far as I can tell.

That Syndrome was one bad dude. Terrible villain. Someone in real life reminds me of Syndrome. I can't remember who.

Hey, there's 295. We passed Doswell, Secretariat's birthplace a little bit ago. Now we're on the way to Colonial Downs. 

Back to the movie, "Honey where is my super suit?"

"What?"

On cue, the whole bus responds, "Where . . . is . . . my . . . super . . . suit?"

These kids are all right.

Mr. Reynolds is grading papers and just returned an 86. It's a music test/quiz/whatever. He's snapping his fingers in time. Music is not my thing. I can listen to it.

"It went in the water, with all its circuits and electricity and stuff it would explode. It couldn't keep going like that."

"It would implode, not explode."

And that's a wrap on The Incredibles. Sorry I didn't keep up with the plot. The good guys win.

The kids may be getting a second wind. There are giggles from the back. I guess I'm responsible for the five seats around me. Seven kids, all girls. Some talk, some sleep, some read. Nolan just walked up front and asked for his bottle of water. It's 9:59.

There's the merge back to 95. We're south of Richmond. Keep those wheels turning, Leonard.

We're choosing new movies...Cool Runnings!

Miss Butera, another band director, just explained how she and some other band directors were sitting around the other day talking movies or something and she told herself, "Self, you're going to go on Amazon two-day ship us a copy of Cool Runnings." And here it is, fresh out of the shrinkwrap and in Leonard's DVD player.

Nothing like a little Jamaican bobsled team for inspiration. Leonard is already in the mood - passing trucks and hugging the curves.

Somehow, the movie has subtitles. It's in English, but it's got subtitles. Distracting, but the bus is quieter for some reason.

"Hey, you know what my grandfather says?

"No what."

"Get back to work."

"Feeel the rhythm, feeel the rhyme, let's go, it's pushcart time."

"Sanka, you dead?"

"Yah mon."

10:21 and all is well. Keep the greasy side down and the shiny side up, Leonard.

And now John Candy the washed up bobsledder turned bookie is cheering on Tumbleweed. Futilely. "Only a fool would put their money on Tumbleweed." That wasn't Travis Stone doing the racecall on the radio. How many kids on this bus could name another John Candy movie?

Welcome to North Carolina. It's 10:43.

And now it's 2 a.m. Darlington, S.C. Where gas is $1.43 a gallon. We've stopped to switch drivers. Goodbye, Leonard. Hello, new guy. The movie ended about midnight, the lights got turned down and some people went to sleep. Some. I might have. Not sure. I did rediscover my sciatic nerve and could really use a few laps around the bus to stretch out. 

Pretty much everyone is awake now, which ought to be interesting. Forty-some high-schoolers at 2 in the morning. Awake. They're quieter than you'd think, but they're awake. We're awake.

PART THREE

Ever spend three hours in a Denny's? A Denny's that's connected to a bowing alley? We did. No, we did not bowl. I guess it was 2 1/2, but we're on our way to three as we wait in the parking lot. Don't blame Denny's (Brunswick, Ga. Branch). There aren't many restaurants that can handle 200 people - most of them under 18 - for breakfast. Imagine the poor cook, and the dishwasher. Whew. They earned their money today. We ate eggs, pancakes, bacon and so on. Service was slow, of course it was. How could it be anything but slow. They tried, they called us sweetheart and honey and stuff. They served sweet tea.

The new bus driver's name is Mike. It's 9:20 a.m. and he's giving us a lecture about bus safety and wifi and whatnot. "We'll be cruising at an altitude of 4 feet and we're 38 miles north of the Florida line."

The 2-5:30 shift was smooth. It was not comfortable and there - still - wasn't much sleep attained. Denny's was probably a mistake. If you ever organize a five-bus trip, split up the restaurant stops. One bus per place of business would do it. Then meet up on the highway.

Breakfast was interesting. Lots of time for conversation. One kid wants to be a plumber. He could install a new water heater for me, well, not legally. But he could. My Twitter stats impressed the kids. They tried to make me understand Snapchat. I still don't get it. Some kids on a different bus were impressed with our movie options. They watched Les Mis and Finding Nemo. Culture and creatures.

It's 9:28 and the wheels are turning. Parking lot, service road, on ramp, I-95 South. More miles to go. We just passed a truck pulling a trailer full of rowing sculls parked next to the Hampton Inn. Red. Loong boats.

The kids are amped. Re-amped. Someone asked for quiet. Hah. Funny. Now there's a singalong. Did I mention there a choir kids on here too?

Quiet now and the first sign of sun. Georgia sun. It will be nice to get a feel for some spring/summer-like weather. I read the other day where Little League season has already started in Florida. It's 9 at home today.

And . . . we've got another movie. Star Wars Epsiode 19, I think. Actually, it's the first one ever made. You know how your home DVD player sometimes gets stuck on the home screen? Same thing on a bus.

The girl across from me rides horses. Just showed her some Barbara Livingston images from Facebook of Georgie Alvarez getting bucked off at Santa Anita. Crazy series. Is Barbara in the right place all the time, or does it just seem that way?

Florida-Georgia line and beyond. It's 10:30, R2D2 just played the video for Obi Wan Kenobi and we're in Jacksonville. Palm trees, more sunshine. It's 63 and sunny. Darth Vader is choking the guy with the Force.

The kids are chattering, checking wait times at Animal Kingdom, charging phones (hopeless). We left Bohemia Manor High 16 1/2 hours ago. Yikes. I could use a nap.

PART FOUR

Hey, you've got to sleep at some point. I finally did at about 10 Friday night. Of course, I woke up at 1:55 Saturday morning for an hour shift of hallway patrol. Very quiet, thankfully. No shenanigans, at least none that I could see.

We got to Disney's Animal Kingdom at about 1 Friday afternoon meaning, door-to-door, the trip took 19 hours. Bus driver challenge: let's do it in 18 or less on the way home. Animal Kingdom was cool, predictably. We rode the Everest roller coaster three times. Two would have been plenty for me. Frontward, backward, outdoors in the sun, indoors in the dark, scary Yeti images. We went on the safari and saw lions, cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, hippos, two white rhinos and more. The zebras were right up close to the truck so we got a good look. You think horses at first, but they're all muscle. I couldn't imagine trying to get one to do anything you wanted. Coiled and ready to bolt with no warning.

Earlier, we saw a bird show where Kiko the parrot sang Old McDonald - flawlessly and 20 macaws flew in over our heads, alighted on a circular perch while their caretakers explained they're lives and fed them snacks. Once the presentation finished, to an invisible cue, the macaws swooped and soared away. I'm not sure how or why they stay, but it was pretty cool. Even the kids were impressed.

The rest of the day included lots of walking, a great iced coffee, an expensive pizza dinner, a short bus ride to the hotel and sleep glorious sleep.

Today is Hollywood Studios. The Star Wars fans are charged up.

For the conclusion, check out Northbound with the Band.