Welcome to my new series, Fresh Hell Friday, in which I will dutifully recount some tales that made me go “what fresh hell is this?”
Rewind four years. It’s 2010. I’m on a trip to Italy with my choir. I wish I could remember which city we were in, but it had to have been either Rome, Salerno, Bologna, or Milan. I’m sure once I post this, I will receive a reverent corrective from some Facebook goof in the form of “that was when we were in ::insert Italian city::! I remember because I was so hungover.”
If you’ve ever been on a choir tour, things get real. As in shenanigan city. I use that word a lot. Shenanigan. My dweeby little iMac dictionary says it has something to do with “secret or dishonest activity.” I’ll go with secret. Because a lot of things that happen on choir tour really should just remain a secret. What happens in Italy stays in Italy, amiright?
So there’s two busses that take a bunch of us into the city for the day. Bus One has most of the choir, and Bus Two bus has a handful of students and a bunch of local Italian supporters that were sort of sponsoring our visit; artists, musicians, local government folk, and the like (including the prolific Italian artist Antonio Teruzzi). So the driver of Bus One quickly gained entrance onto everyone’s blacklist, because he was kind of a rude little man and a real stickler for numbers, which is pretty much the opposite of how Italians do, if you know them at all. As in, he wouldn’t let us squeeze three extra bodies onto Bus One because it was against the rules. In retrospect, he was probably just doing his job, but I think he secretly resented us for singing Disney songs on the way into town one day and then decided to take it out on us the rest of the trip.
So I’m on Bus Two. I figured interacting with the locals might be a nice alternative to listening to yet another stirring choral rendition of “A Whole New World.” We get into town and they drop us off at this nondescript place, which if you’ve ever been to Italy, you would know as the corner of cobblestone street, tall moss-covered/half-crumbling buildings, graffiti, and ancient statue somewhere in the peripheral. Check. It occurs to us few remaining singers that we have to be able to come back to this bus after a certain number of hours gallivanting around town so that we could change into our concert attire. A few comrades of mine, Melanie and Tristan, converse in broken English with the bus driver (which, unlike the driver of Bus One, has an actual heart), and he assures us that we can leave our folders and attire on the bus and have access to it before the concert.
You know that little voice in the back of your mind that you should always listen to? Well, the sweet sounds of gelato and wine (if they, in fact, make noise) overrode everything in that moment. It did seem highly unlikely that this bus, which had only carried a few singers, would come all the way back to meet us when concert time was nigh. What choice did we have but to agree with the driver, and then shove our traps with homemade pistachio coconut? Also, for some reason, the singers on the other bus were dropped off at separate locale, so we couldn’t just transfer our clothes onto that bus for easy access later. If only it had been that simple.
True to form, we go about our business for a good few hours before rendezvousing with the choir an hour before the concert at said nondescript location. Alas, only bus one pulls up. Tristan, Melanie, and I proceeded to glance knowingly at each other, kick ourselves mentally, and then traverse swiftly into hell. Here is what happened next:
1. Through some special linguistic finagling, we manage to find out that our bus was, in fact, located at what I’ll deem the bus depot, with our concert attire locked inside. Incidentally, not only are our dresses and tuxes being held hostage, but so are two giant tubs of concert programs. Neat. And so convenient.
2. We manage to convince the driver to take us there and back so we can retrieve our stuff. Tristan, Melanie, a few of the aforementioned “local sponsors” and I are taken on a Dan-Brown-Esque rip-roaring cab drive (in a bus, no less) around the city. I think a few people were ran over.
3. We get to Bus Two and manage to get it unlocked. Through some more ridiculous antics reminiscent of a thriller car-chase, we are taken to another nondescript location. During the drive, we manage to change clothes, which involved stripping down in front of the driver and sponsors. Anyone looking in that bus was granted a very niche peepshow (“Slutty Singers R Us??”) that included some interesting attempts at hiding “the goods” and some failed pantyhose endeavors. Always a jolly time.
Funny aside: I was using my dweeby thesaurus for an alternative to the word “Drive.” Here is, I kid you not, the last entry:
an act of driving a group of animals to a particular destination.
Animals seems like a strong word, but it’s all about perspective, I guess.
4. We arrive at nondescript locale No. 3, which is neither at the performance site nor previous drop off places. Luckily, our two local guides spoke in rapid tongues with the driver before telling us that this was the closest the bus could drop us off. Makes sense, as most Italian streets are 1/2 an inch wide and inevitably littered with mopeds and bicycles. Even the skinny folk struggle on Italian passageways.
5. A strange, disorderly caravan of weirdness ensued, which included (in this order):
- Two local Italian men, each of which had to have weighed 150 pounds or less (read: NIMBLE), sharing one end of a 50-lb tupperware tub of concert programs.
- A smattering of American choristers, 140 pounds or more each, dressed in formal concert attire (read: Pointy Little Heels), struggling to keep up with Speedy and Gonzolas, those agile little mf-ers.
- My dignity
6. Coming through: American Hot Mess Express. We meander at the speed of ridiculous through some winding streets, attempting like mad to locate Ancient Church No. 637, for a concert that in all reality began fifteen minutes ago, garnering some very questioning and interesting looks from the locals along the way.
We had to have scampered at least .75 of a mile. When you’re jogging athletically, 3/4 of a mile is a nice benchmark, mentally and physically. When you’re maneuvering the streets of an ancient city in a black dress in 85 degrees, praying for your heels to stop wedging in the cobblestone, and your only guides keep disappearing behind the next bend because they’re so freaking sprightly…. that is the most hellacious 3/4 of a mile. NOTHING, not even P90X, which I had completed mere days before embarking on this trip, could have prepared me for that level of athletic frolicking.
7. We arrive at the church as the singers are processing to the front. Maestro gives us a sympathetic-yet-frustrated-and-knowing look. We calmly position ourselves where we need to go and proceed to get down with “Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine.” I mouthed the words for the first half of the concert, because no amount of Eric Whitacre could have lowered my heart-rate or granted me the oxygen necessary to produce acceptable singing tones. Intermission came, we numbly caught our breath, and only laughed much later down the road, recounting the fresh hell we survived.
When I talk about this today, I call it like it is: an otherworldly nightmare of epic proportions. Late to a concert, half-dressed, lost in an unfamiliar city, following strangers around. And yet… it really happened. The only thing that could have made it all more like a bad dream was if we were naked. And we were not naked. At least not for that portion of the trip.