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April 17, 2011

The Once and Future, 8CC

This Spring marks the 20th anniversary of one of my greatest adventures. I’ve told the story a million times, but I don’t believe I’ve ever written it down. I apologize for the extra length, but I wanted to get the whole story down in one post.

In 1991, I was a lowly high school sophomore on my very first band trip. The band was heading down to Padre Island for the Buccaneer Days Music Festival. My roommates and I were already kind of known as troublemakers even before the trip began. We had reputations for slacking and mouthing off, and generally defying authority. This was back in my long-haired days and trouble was a close friend of mine.

Band trip is only three days long and you would think we could have stayed cool for that short time, but we were all so energetic and ready to prove ourselves. The faculty and chaperones handed us a rule sheet before we left and after reading it, we held a room meeting to discuss how we would hide and stash all the items on the list we weren’t supposed to have.

This rule list (checklist?) had the normal stuff on it: No tobacco, no alcohol, no girls in your room, no talking to girls from other schools, midnight curfew, no water guns, no water balloons, etc. All of these rules were in writing, which to my teenage mind, seemed like an accusation. Somehow instead of this trip feeling like a privilege, it felt like I was a prisoner being transferred from one prison to another; the chaperones were our guards, and our room made a pact to escape those bonds.

Before we even got on the bus, we went out and bought water guns, water balloons, a 3-man water balloon launcher, tobacco products, and alcohol products (we didn’t smoke or drink, but a checklist is a checklist). We all had delusions of becoming some sort of Han Solo, smuggler with a conscience. Amazingly we got all that stuff on the bus and eventually into our room without losing anything. Things started well.

The hotel was really beachfront condos. Each set of 6 boys or girls got a room with 2 double beds and two twins. The structure itself was a three-story U shape with a pool in the middle. There were individual balconies to each room and the front doors all opened to an open-air common walkway. Most of the condos were occupied by old retired beach people that hated the surge of young crazy kids, which was the main reason for the strict rules. I think the directors liked it that way; the residents sort of helped maintain order.

Others in the band (and orchestra by the way) didn’t plan ahead as well as we did. We were selling the smokes and drinks for triple price by the end of the first day. We took our water pistols through the hotel and blasted everyone with band T-shirts tied around heads in some kind of ninja mask. People knew it was us, but amazingly no one came to confiscate our stash or armory.

Small-time mischief was never enough for me so I spent part of the first day tracking the chaperones (guards). Where did they go? How much time did it take for them to make a circle of the grounds? How many were on duty at one time, etc? I intended to be out at night and it wasn’t very long before I realized that even though we were on the second floor, I could exit and enter our room and any in the complex via the balcony. No one was watching the balconies because it took people in peak condition with good vertical jumping ability and enough strength to pull themselves up from full extension to use them; plus it was dangerous. I’d found our escape route.

The first night’s test foray went well. Perhaps even a little too well. The trio of friends bailed out the balcony, skirted the guards in darkness and climbed onto the balcony of a room full of orchestra girls. The three of us spent the night with the six of them and nobody ever knew.

The second day was interesting because one of our roommates, Barry (names changed to protect the relatively innocent), hit it off with some hotties, one in particular, from an Austin school that was also staying in our hotel. I loved them because they were hot and specifically against the rules. Nothing tastes as sweet as forbidden fruit; everyone knows I’d have made it less than a day in Eden and I wouldn’t have waited for Eve to take initiative.

By the time night fell on that second day, Barry had already come to us with his request to help him get in to the Austin girls’ room undetected after hours. I love nothing in life more than quests and I was as excited as Gawain out to find the Holy Grail. I cleared the coffee table in one swipe of my arm, laid out some paper and drew the perimeter. We knew the target room, we knew the guards’ pattern, and we knew we’d be sent home if we got caught. The first night’s jaunt had been successful, but we only had to shift over a handful of rooms. The Austin girls were all the way across the hotel, on the opposite arm of the U, and they were on the third floor, which meant increased climbing and danger.

I did a scouting run to verify guard positions, leaving nothing to chance. I brazenly exited our room and walked down the hall. I made it about 10 paces before a guard, who also happened to be the school principal, was moving towards me. I didn’t know what to do; I hadn’t reached the nerve-center of the hotel to see the guard lineup. I had to think fast and after looking around, I bluffed that I was going to the vending machine to get a soda, but he countered that he would escort me there and when we got there, I didn’t have any change to buy a soda. You have to understand that the principal knew me. He knew I was a smart kid and that I was constantly breaking rules.

Richardson High was a three-year school back then so for me, high school began in 10th grade. On my first day at the new building, earlier that year, I walked in the building still wearing my summer clothes and immediately, in the entryway even, some teacher or faculty guy told me to go the principal’s office and wait for the principal. I asked why and he replied that my shorts were too short. What? Come on. I’m going to go the principal’s office, wait for him there, and when he shows up I’m going to explain that my shorts are too short and he needs to send me home? Yeah, that’s going to happen.

I politely told the fashion police OK and walked to the office door. When I got to the door, I looked back; fashion police was distracted so I bolted up the stairs and away. I figured there was no risk since the principal didn’t know I was coming to see him in the first place and fashion police had no idea who I was. The problem was, fashion police was the principal. Way to make an impression on the first day of high school, genius.

So as I was saying, this principal knew me pretty well by the time band trip rolled around. He and I had many encounters and none of them were for good reasons, but even with all our history, him knowing that I was a troublemaker, finding me out after curfew, and walking me to the vending machine, I told him I had forgotten to bring to change and he simply offered to buy my soda. He offered to buy my soda, without hesitation, without begrudging me, without suspicion. Mr. Bishop was a good man. He wasn’t naïve; he was genuinely kind. He’s probably still all of those things, but I haven’t seen him since the 90s.

I couldn’t take Mr. Bishop’s money, not with mischief as my primary motivation. I refused and said I’d just do without, but of course, I had what I was looking for. The guards were clustered in the same spot and from our layout drawing we could determine the lines of sight and more importantly the blind spots that would get us all the way across the courtyard and to the temple of Devi.

We had our plan, we had the green light from the ladies and we were ready to go when someone, I don’t remember who, but I know it wasn’t me, suggested we show up in our tuxedo pants, bow-ties and nothing else. Classy.

Once again, we bailed out our balcony, only this time with Barry, who was uninitiated in the balcony climbing techniques, but we figured the three of us could perform some kind of boost/pull combination even accounting for the third floor and we weren’t worried. Hormonal teen dudes can accomplish just about anything with the right motivation.

We hit the ground running, out past the dunes and into the darkness. Our black pants kept us camouflaged, but we didn’t need it. There was no one around and the guards were on the other side of the hotel. We made the first turn around the U, then the second, but after the second turn a real guard, the hotel security, spotted us. He called us over and drunkenly yelled at us for walking in the area with rattlesnakes at night. He didn’t seem to notice how we were dressed, but I guess after seeing kids in swimsuits all day, we probably looked appropriately dressed.

We’re pretty quick witted, so when he asked us what room we were in, we gave him the girls’ number and sure enough he escorted us “back” to their room.

Our guards never saw us. We’d made it! Not the way we planned, but we’d made it to the front door and no one was the wiser except some armchair herpetologist that we were certain wouldn’t even remember us in the morning.

We knocked on the door and immediately the girls began screaming. We couldn’t believe it. We were exposed, in the common area, without shirts, in the light and the girls were screaming, “Oh my God!!” at the top of their lungs. Turns out we didn’t factor in the girls’ reactions at all. These girls were pumped up that we had made it, and they were screaming with glee. They opened the door and we rushed in. Our fantastic entry was nearly ruined by the increased risk of making an obscene amount of noise after curfew. Barry made introductions and the girls drank us in. We stood there for a minute chit-chatting until Barry and his girl excused themselves to a bedroom, leaving the three of us with the five of them.

Let’s just say, we had a good time. There may have been dancing in our costumes, there may have been making-out, it’s all very foggy in my memory and although I think I have established that I’m no gentleman, I’m still not going to tell. The thing was, the more comfortable we all got, the more fun we were having, the louder our party got. We got stupid, and careless. We were making a loud racquet and it was the middle of the night. Of course, someone was going to tell us to shut up.

When the knock came, we all panicked. The girls bought us time at the front door, but their guards knew that something was up. One of my bros and I ran to the balcony, while the third hid in the closet.

Barry was still in the bedroom, and I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing he was putting his bow tie back on. Out on the balcony, we were well hidden and we scooted out onto the ledge just in case they looked out there. We were thirty feet up balancing on a 10-inch ledge. The guards were in the living room when Barry bolted out of the bedroom and hit the balcony without even noticing us on the ledge. The guards saw him, but he was moving so fast that he slipped over the balcony rail onto the second story and then over that balcony rail and onto the ground before the guards even reacted. He may have been gone, but we were busted. The guard stepped out on the balcony following Barry and found us on the ledge. When closetman heard us get busted, he stepped out of the closet thinking the girls sold us out, but really he probably could have stayed in there all night.

The Austin guards walked us to our guards, and man what a scene. With the three of us showing up in those get-ups way after hours, our guards were embarrassed, amused, shocked, overwhelmed and straight-up pissed off. They took us to our assigned guard, who had to be woken up and quickly explained what had been going on. I didn’t grow up with men so it was a rare day that I saw a man go unhinged. This guy blew up. He was mad as hell and wanted to kill us. He locked us in his room and stormed out.

At this point, a lot of things began happening. We had started a chain of chaos and people were waking to deal with us. Barry’s presence had been reported, so our guards knew they needed to track down our fourth, but when our guard went to our room no one was talking. Barry was an unlikely accomplice for us since as I mentioned in the room drama, we weren’t the closest of friends. The other two roomies were much more likely to do something crazy with us, and false accusations were really getting thrown around. When it was clear that one of the other guys was going to go down for the crime, Barry turned himself in. I wasn’t there, but from all accounts, the other guys were willing to burn with us even though they didn’t do anything wrong beyond not narcing us out. Good guys those two.

Our guard brought Barry to join us locked in the room, but instead of feeling shame, Barry was pumped. “They’re only mad because we got so far.” Boo-yah, we had done it, hadn’t we? We made it. We outsmarted them all and had one hell of a night. A night to remember, unlike the thousands before it. A night that wasn’t over yet.

The directors were woken up and our chaperone was losing it. “Send them home now! Put them on the next bus out!” Thankfully they didn’t know about the other stuff we’d done so at this point, we seemed like first offenders, although since we had involved the chaperones of another school, leniency was unlikely. Until, out of the excitement, came a calm, steady, familiar voice, “Now let’s hold on, just everybody calm down. Let’s wait until morning when everyone is thinking clearly to decide what to do.” Thanks again, Mr. Bishop. Somehow the principal was awake and standing up for us. We didn’t know why, but we could all hear it clearly because they were having the conversation right outside our new cell.

Our guard was clearly unhappy about it, but he came in to his room and told us to stay put. He noticed we were all without shirts so he turned the AC down as far as it would go and went to the bedroom to try and get some sleep before dawn.

By dawn it was 55 degrees in our small cell and with no clothes to put on, we were all shivering and awake. Our guard either couldn’t sleep or heard us talking and moving around so he came out and let us go. We were the first people on the beach that morning; we stripped off our tux pants (again) to hit the ocean waters and do some body surfing. I remember that morning well as the warm air hit us and felt good on our chilled bare skin. Even the ocean felt warm after sleeping in a refrigerator; we swam and surfed not knowing if we’d be put on the first bus home when we came back to shore.

As it turned out, our punishment was much lighter in the morning than it would have been the night before. Maybe because we hadn’t performed at contest yet and we were important members of jazz, concert band, and symphonic orchestra. Or maybe it was the first time offender leniency. We’ll never know, but we weren’t sent home. We were given an 8:00 curfew for the rest of the trip, which was only one more night. From then on we became known as the 8CC, or 8 o’clock curfew club.

Of course we cheated on our 8:00 curfew on that third night, and we got caught with girls in our room, frozen water balloons (for ice sculpting), and there was more drama as our guard revealed himself to be a racist and said intolerant things and physically accosted our non-narcing Asian roommate. We also kicked butt at contest and won for Jazz and concert bands.

When we returned to Richardson, news of our exploits had already spread like wildfire. Back in that day, there were no cell phones or texts so people had to find landlines to get the word out, but get it out they did. When I walked the halls Monday morning it seemed like everyone I passed was high-fiving me, shouting out, or just giving me an approving nod. A legend was born. And now, 20 years later, I haven’t slowed down much.

The quest turned out to be much more successful since we got caught. If we’d have pulled it off completely, nobody would have ever known, but getting caught bonded us and built our reputations. Long live the 8CC.

Song of the Month

I went to my family reunion at the beginning of this month and that always makes me think of my grandmother. In parallel with the extra long post I'm going to put about half a song up for you to read. I recommend just about everything by The Bravery, but this song in particular reminds me of Memaw.

"This is not the End" The Bravery
     Tell me
     Come on tell me what you can
     Even as you wait for death you're wiser than I am
     Tell me what does it mean to exist
     I am not a scientist I must believe in more than this
     And I can not accept
     That everything that's real
     Is only what our eyes can see
     And our hands can feel

     Not even earth can hold us
     Not even life controls us
     Not even the ground can keep us down
     The memories in my head
     Are just as real the time we spent
     You'll always be close to me my friend
     This is not the end

     I don't care
     I don't care what you believe
     As long as you are in my heart
     You're just as real as me
     Maybe even more
     Someone has touched so many lives
     Can never never die