Crank Wanker

”I'm dropping the bass drum off at your house because, as you know, I'm out of commission.”

It seemed like an odd way to begin a conversation at 7 PM on a Thursday night. I was working late because I was going to be taking the next day off to play a feast in Brooklyn, and I wondered what our drummer was talking about, as well as how my cell phone was actually getting reception in my office. He went on to explain that he'd been out of work on disability since tearing his Achilles tendon last month and definitely wouldn't be able to do any band jobs. Because the Brooklyn band leader and his son/band-leading partner don't drive, those of us with cars often get saddled with lugging the thing they'd have the most trouble transporting via train or cab.

It seemed to be since I spoke to both band leaders less than a week ago, that one of them might have mentioned something. The bass drummer certainly seemed to think I was already aware of his injury. Someone was pulling a fast one. I considered showing up at the gig Friday morning and pretending not to have the drum. It backfired when I saw the band leader's son on a corner and my dad yelled at me to pull over so he could get the drum out of the trunk and I wouldn't have to carry it from wherever we ended up parking. But when I popped the trunk, the kid said they didn't need the drum until our evening gig, since they got the wife of a trumpet player to bring her own for the morning job and had someone else playing later on. Again, it would have been nice if someone put me in the loop.

Both father and son agreed on the same story, that they had no idea about the bass drummer until they called him to remind him of the job and he informed them he couldn't do it. I'd spoken with the band leader's son within the last week. I couldn't get a straight timeline as to when they spoke with the bass drummer. He had hurt himself in June. The band leader also accused the guy of lying because he didn't want to do the job. “When my son called him, he was in California with his girlfriend. What the heck was he doing in California? How could he get there with a broken leg?” I knew the girl lived there and he'd began a long-distance relationship after meeting her on a cruise, so that explains why he was there. And if he's not working anyway, he might as well rack up some sympathy points. Where I really had to bite my tongue was when I considered sarcastically agreeing that it would be impossible to pedal a plane if you're on crutches and in a cast. In any event, I saw the guy the night before when he gave me the drum, and I'm pretty sure he wasn't hobbling about in a cast with crutches to put on an elaborate ruse.

The gig was awesome and terrible. It was awesome because we had some of the best food stops in years. There was a breakfast buffet outside one house with rows and rows of aluminum trays filled with giant pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, and more. Also, a new regulation now limits city and borough processions to no more than five hours, at which time we were losing our police escort(not that that prevented some nervy drivers from whizzing through intersections and nearly running people over). So we were pretty much guaranteed to be done by 1 PM. It was terrible because, once the sun got to full strength, we were feeling those 95 degrees. I'm the youngest guy in the band, a few months behind the band leader's son, and I found walking to be an effort after a few hours. One woman who'd never done the job before wouldn't stop complaining during the last hour, while I reminded her that most years we'd only be halfway through the job. That new regulation was a life saver. My dad walked with us in the beginning as a spectator, took a bathroom break in a local church, and when he emerged he had no idea what street we were on. So he was spared the majority of the walking.

At night, there was a job in Long Island, and one on Staten Island. The band leader's son was taking most of the band there, while we were taking the band leader out to the one closer to where we live, to meet up with some replacement musicians. But we have five hours to kill, and no recourse but to take the guy home with us first, yet another surprise from our non-driving employers. Sitting in traffic on the expressway, I soon heard one of the funniest phone conversations ever.

“Yeah. Yeah I spoke wit' Kevin and George. I didn't like their attitude,” said our band leader, answering his cell phone.

“Here's the t'ing. My bus meets dis other bus, which is always late. And I know dat bus goes to the T--targay umlaut....yeah, dat's it.” I had to assume the person on the other end asked if he meant Tangier Outlets. Mind you, this wasn't even the funniest part of the conversation. He went on to complain that Kevin and George both had become dismissive, and always hung up when he called the bus depot to complain about their service. One of them suggested he ride a bike to work when he asked how he was supposed to get there. He didn't understand if there were three buses in the morning, why there were only two in the evening. He didn't get why a busy mall got better service than a field where he waited alone. If I worked for the bus company, I'd assume this guy was making a crank phone call. He didn't sound like a real person to me. I've known this man for years, and I couldn't believe he was serious.

I definitely almost lost it when he described an incident in which he was running for a bus he'd just missed and was waving his arms. “I had trouble wit' dat driver before! He saw me! I know he saw me! Everybody on the bus was waving and telling him there was someone to pick up! I tripped and fell in the street!” He complained about how taking two buses gets him home after 9 PM every night, and how he has to be up at 5 AM to make the connections needed to get him to his warehouse job by 8:30. Public transportation sucks around here, especially the further East you live. It's not like Brooklyn where he spent the bulk of his life. Moving to Suffolk has been a culture shock he never adjusted to. A car is such a necessity around here, but he's too old to learn to drive now. He'll probably retire in 3 or 4 years. His son should learn, but apparently fails the written test any time he actually applies. The kid is living with his parents, a wife, a step son, and two baby girls less than a year apart. They spend a lot of money on cab fare.

I guess they've always managed to find someone to help, someone to carry a drum or give them a lift. There was a span of about a year where I felt sorry for them and used to drive them all the way home. But that was about an hour out of my way, which meant I got home two hours later. At some point, I stopped feeling guilty about giving them a ride to a train station. After Friday night's gig, I definitely took him to a station. We're all playing on Saturday morning for another band out on the island, and I expect my shuttle services will be called upon once more. I still don't get the sense of entitlement, that they expect people to give them rides, and on a larger scale now expect the county to adjust their bus route to make his commute more convenient. I recognize that my personality is the opposite extreme, that I'm very laid-back and accepting of circumstances when the road gets rough. I do give the official who called him back credit for listening to his complaint, even if he can't realistically address it. I would have had a hard time taking him seriously. And when all is said and done, maybe getting a bike isn't such bad advice after all.


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