Sleepless in Chicago

At the time this post is published Teacher are I have already been careening down the highway in a coach bus filled with middle school band students for an hour and a half. It’s our annual middle school band trip to Chicago for the Music in the Parks competition.

The middle school band has been going to Chicago to participate in Music in the Parks for about 12 years, but Teacher and I have only been going the past 7 years. Actually, I think the first year Teacher stayed home with the kids. It’s a lot of fun, but you don’t get much sleep.

The torture begins at 3 am – the time we need to wake up to be at school at the also-ungodly hour of 4 am. The bus leaves at 4:30 sharp and there’s a lot to do beforehand so we can’t be late.

On a positive note, I am so NOT a morning person, so my body may be up and moving but my brain will remain comatose for several more hours.

Luckily I’m able to function with a comatose brain; I do it frequently… and sometimes it’s not even morning!

Each year our first stop is VanderCook College of Music, Chuck’s alma mater, for a clinic with one of the music faculty. The first several years we had Charlie Menghini, but the last few years we’ve had Stacy Larson. Charlie is a wonderful musician and director, but I love Stacy because she taught middle school band for many years and really knows how to connect with our students.

By the way, Chuck is the middle school band program coordinator and director of the advanced band; I teach the intermediates and Bob teaches the beginners. I started out with the beginning band but after several years Bob wanted to switch, which was fine with me. Although I miss the excitement of seeing the students progress from not knowing anything to being able to play a whole song, I get to direct fun pieces like the Chronicles of Narnia or Pirates of the Caribbean. But I digress…

Where was I again?

Ah yes, VanderCook.

We generally arrive around 9 and have the clinic from 9:30-11:00, then we break for lunch. Some years the Music Parents our support organization pack subs and stuff for a picnic in the park which is fun except for the year that it absolutely poured the entire day, but this year we’re eating at a restaurant in Chinatown. I can’t wait; Chinatown is amazing and I love Chinese food!

After a little bit of free time in Chinatown we’ll hop on the El – we ride it almost every year. The first year I was terrified; I worried that someone would fall off the platform, someone wouldn’t get on the right train, someone would miss the stop, the train would break down, etc, etc, etc. If there’s anything that could go wrong on the El I worried about it, then I worried that I’d missed something on my list of potential catastrophes.

After that first year I haven’t worried as much, but I’m still nervous when it’s time to board and disembark, and I’m not happy until we’ve done a squad-check to make sure we have everyone.

Since the kids are getting out of school for the trip Chuck always schedules something educational for Friday afternoon. We’ve attended a Chicago Symphony performance, visited Shedd’s Aquarium, the Museum of Science and Industry, and other places that I can’t remember. This year we’re spending a couple of hours at the Art Institute before hitting Giordano’s for dinner.

Giordano’s (warning – the website has sound) is one of my very favorite places in Chicago, and a perfect place to take a bunch of middle-school kids. Of course the kids love pizza, and not only is Giordano’s pizza delicious, it’s also very filling. Chuck always seems to worry that the kids won’t get enough to eat on the trip so he plans tons of food. I’ll probably gain five pounds in these two days!

By this time of the day the adults are eager to get to the hotel and crawl into bed but the kids will still be going strong; hopped up on sugar, caffeine and excitement. Tired kids don’t have enough energy to get into trouble so we keep them going until they’re ready to drop too.

After supper we’ll hit Navy Pier, then go 97 floors up in the John Hancock tower before arriving at our hotel around 10:00.

You’d think it would be time for sleep – sweet, blessed sleep – but it’s not. We can’t go to bed yet because our chaperoning duties aren’t over; the pool is open until 11:00 and lights-out isn’t until 11:30. From past experience I know I’ll be running on caffeine and sheer will-power about now.

Sometime after 11:30 pm our squad will be tucked cozily into their hotel room and we’ll finally, finally, finally be able to hit the hay.

Insert the Hallelujah Chorus here, but quietly – we’re trying to sleep!

We’ll have to “sleep fast” as my grandma always used to say because breakfast Saturday morning is at 6:00 am sharp.


Point me toward the coffee – can I get an IV line please?

Fortunately by noon the competition will be over and we’ll be able to relax; our strings group performs around 9:40 and our band around 10:30. We’ll hit the food court in a local mall for lunch before heading to Great America for the rest of the day.

Aside from a 5:30 pm Awards Ceremony in Great America we’ll have nothing to do all day except enjoy the park and follow our squad from ride to ride. I hope our squad of boys likes rides; both Teacher and I do! We won’t leave the park until it closes around 9:00 and I can guarantee that it’ll be a quiet ride home; those kids will be tired puppies!

We’ll put on a movie for the bus ride home but there won’t be anyone to see it – almost everyone on the bus will be sleeping except for me and the driver. I never sleep on the bus. I have a pathological fear of falling asleep and drooling, or snoring, or farting, or something else totally embarrassing that would make the kids lose respect for me. Control issues, me? Nah; I don’t have any issues, as long as I’m in control.

I’m sure it’ll be close to 1 am before Teacher and I collapse into our bed at home, but in a cruel twist of fate we still won’t get much sleep; Sunday is Pentecost and the handbell choir will be playing in both services. By 6 am Teacher will be nudging me out of bed so I won’t be late for our 7:30 am warm-up.

To sleep, perchance to dream…

P.S. I’ll write about the trip and post photos next week; don’t miss it!

Amy Sue


  1. Well the weather forecast is for a wonderful Saturday… you will be able to fully enjoy all of the rides at Great America! Have an awesome time!

  2. Pingback: Chicago 2011 – Part One

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