A Baptist's Prayer
Updated: Mar 14
Who would take the personnel of two full bands in one 16-seat passenger van from North Carolina to Miami, Florida? Who would expect the entire trip to take less than three days from start to finish? Who would buy himself a plane ticket to and from the gig for "health reasons", while his employees breathed down each other's necks up and down the east coast in traffic? A man by the name of Steven Mallard, who owned and managed a pair of show bands -- that's who. Each were booked to play at a convention in the southernmost city in the continental U.S.
But this is not a story about Mr. Mallard -- you see, he wasn't there. He was likely comfortably back at home already, while the rest of us were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, headed north on I-95. The A/C was blasting, because grumpy old men like it freezing cold. I was wrapped in a blanket, shivering. I was the only girl on this trip, and at this moment in time, chivalry was dead.
Many of us had known each other for a few years, and had gigged and traveled together hundreds of times. We fell into a routine of familiarity; we knew each other's strengths and weaknesses as performers, and we knew each other's pet peeves and quirks when off the stage. We bickered at each other and knew when to not take it personally, and intuitively knew when it was cool to cut up, and when to give someone their emotional space. One of us, however, was new.
Bubba was filling in on drums for both bands, and while he'd met many of us before, he'd never traveled with us. He was a heavy set man from the countryside of the Carolinas, born and raised. And his drumming reflected it: he had that hard-hitting, down-home, gospel-infused groove that works well in all musical styles. His sound was one that most drummers envy and aspire to -- he was so in-the-pocket. That man could PLAY.
Bubba could also quip. And no one can drop a one liner like a man raised in the church of the Carolina countryside. Jokes, metaphors, insults, complements...you name it, they can dish it out and catch their audience completely off guard, doubling them over in stitches. And our Bubba was as good as any we'd ever known. We decided he fit right in, and he seemed to agree.
Traffic hadn't improved for hours. Cars and trucks were shuffling from lane to lane to fight stagnancy, and it was hard for our van to keep up, as we were also pulling a 20 foot trailer full of a PA system, lights, and costumes. Tempers were starting to flare as men got hungry and people began to need a restroom, yet there was no exit ramp in sight. We'd been on the road for over 12 hours, and we were sore from our cramped quarters, and from giving it our all at the gig the night before. Other drivers were losing patience as well, and the tension of road rage was mounting.
Louis, our trombonist, couldn't stand it anymore, and volunteered to drive. He rotated into that seat while in stopped traffic, and his impatience at least helped us pick up speed. It also raised our blood pressure if one happened to be paying attention to the road. Bubba was in the front passenger seat, and if anyone had been napping, he'd by then woken them up with his shrieking interjections.
An SUV cut us off, missing our front bumper by inches, and cut across to the lane on the other side. "We're all gonna die..." Bubba mumbled like a preacher.
Louis slammed on the brakes and saved us from colliding, and just as the van lurched, Bubba's hands flew into the air as if in prayer and he cried out, "LAWD!! Please forgive me for all the things I done wrong! And for all the TERRIBLE things I was thinkin' 'bout doin' to Jessika!!!"