Snarling Through Peoria

The other quartets were competing up in Lombard that weekend some thirty years ago. Several of the cooler people in our barbershop chapter had booked a hospitality room in the host hotel and were traveling northward to cheer them on. My high school quartet had foundered after graduation, but I ran into the one other surviving member in the hall between classes in college that week.

“I’m going,” my former lead singer informed me. “You go too. It’ll be fun.”

My Friday classes let out early, and five or six uneventful hours later his 1970s vintage Plymouth Duster was pulling out of a fast-food drive-through in the competition city.

“Eat quickly,” he said as I unwrapped a burrito with green sauce. “We gotta check in and be at the auditorium in time for the show.”

Twenty minutes later, I was putting on my own show.

“I’ll tell you how it went,” he said, escaping quickly before the next round of vomiting began. I wiped my beard on my sleeve and reached for the aspirin bottle.

I woke up very late the next day. “You sure missed a heck of a contest. And a party! They let me sing!” the former lead singer cheerfully informed me. “And the food! Lots and lots of …”

I ran for the bathroom.

That evening I had a very high temperature and was still popping aspirin.

“Everyone’s wondering where you are,” said the singer, beating a hasty retreat.

In the distance a mediocre boogie band began their set. They only knew six or eight songs, and they played them all once or twice per hour all evening. I groaned and switched on the TV. A new show called “Hill Street Blues” took all the episode plots from the entire season and ran them all at the same time, in tiny installments, in the same episode. Thoroughly confused and too sick and tired to change the channel, I hung on through the local news. The new “Saturday Night Live” began, with writing that made “Fridays” look like “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” A parody of “Fame” went on way too long. And who WERE these people? What’s a Charles Rocket? I switched it off, tried to close my ears to the boogie band, and drifted off to sleep. Immediately, the room door banged open. “Wow! Whaaat a paaaaaartyyyy!” hollered the singer, back with a huge grin and a million stories about all the wild times I missed.

I was more than glad to leave for home the next day. The Plymouth Duster wasn’t. We gassed it up (gas is so much higher in the Chicago area than downstate), finally got out of town about noon, and headed south, carefully listening to the car every mile of the way.

“You sure the car is OK?” I asked for the hundredth time or so. The fever had broken and my brain was very, very tired.

“Quiet, I’m listening to the car,” said the lead singer.

The miles passed.

“This isn’t the way home,” I observed.

“We’re stopping in Peoria to visit some relatives,” he said. “I can ask about my car.”

A couple of hours later, we left. The car sounded more and more like trouble and tempers grew shorter and shorter every time we passed a road marker.

“One hour to go,” I said as we pulled onto the on-ramp just past Springfield after pulling over to look undeneath the hood.

He shook his head dubiously.

Darkness had fallen by the time the Duster died in my driveway. My Mom came outside, took a look at us, offered us dinner and drove the former lead singer home.

The car followed half a week later.

At the next barbershop chapter rehearsal, several people came up to me.

You’re still green,” said a bass.

You missed a heck of a time,” said a tenor.

“Their host chapter is having a show up there in a couple of weeks,” said one of the lead singers. “Wanna go?”

It was months before I hit the road again. I took the chapter van.

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