This is an old story, but one I have had cause to think of on several occasions lately, as I drive the route to be described quite often these days.
It was 1986, and the Queen City Big Band had some kind of corporate gig in Tauranga. We were raising funds for our forthcoming trip to the USA, and were playing most weekends – twice sometimes.
Three of us had work commitments on the Saturday morning, and so elected to travel down later by car, instead of with the rest of the band in the bus earlier in the day. So I got picked up at home at around 5pm – plenty of time to get to Tauranga and start playing back in those days.
An hour or so on, as State Highway 2 becomes State Highway 27 after the Paeroa turnoff, we climbed into the windy bit and after wriggling nervously in the back seat for a bit, I asked my colleagues casually, “Ummmm, did one of you pick up my music pack from the hall floor as we loaded the car?” (Note carefully, attack and the moral high ground are good positions to approach an impending crisis from). “No”, they both said, “should we stop and check?” Yes, that might be a good idea. We pulled into a lay by part way up the hill and stripped the car bare as we ransacked it for the music. Everything came out – instruments, uniforms, other people’s music – all sorts of detritus that we carry in our cars. Of course, as I had started to suspect, the music wasn’t there. By this time I’ve decided that contrition might work better than attack. “Sorry, sorry, sorry….argh what will we do?” Much hand wringing and grovelling followed. But what we needed was a solution.
The logical thing would be to have driven on and for me to have faked it. But no, we gave it a go at meeting the music half way. This was the 80s – cellphones were on the horizon, but they weren’t there yet. We drove to a nearby farmhouse and I called a relative who agreed to go pick up the music and meet us at Collision Crossroads in 45 minutes. For you young folk, this was the intersection at the bottom of the Bombay Hills where there used to be a large traffic island, and State Highway 2 was a full left turn off the main road, and not a graceful curve off the motorway. We would still have time to make it to Tauranga before the downbeat at 8pm. But of course without the aid of today’s technology, this was always going to be a long shot, and we never did manage to rendezvous. And now very short of time, we fled without the music.
Travelling back down the highway for the second time that night I again felt that tingly feeling of impending doom right down to my finger tips as I became aware that a vital and wildly expensive piece of equipment previously next to me in the back seat was missing. “Umm,” I asked timidly, “Is my clarinet in the front by any chance?” The clarinet was, of course, sitting in the middle of rural Waikato by a farm gate a good half hour further down the road. We ascertained this when we stripped the car for a second time that night.
With my heart somewhere near my feet we retraced our steps, and there it was – in its case in the middle of the rest area by the gate, unharmed and dry.
The rest of the journey passed in steamy silence. Matamata was a blur and that old Jag cruised the Kaimais with ease. I’d like to say that my fellow travellers were gracious in their silence. I know they both had plenty they wanted to say, but the gig still lay ahead of us, so really, the hard part was yet to come.
The end result was that we arrived somewhat late for the gig, I still had no music, but I DID have my clarinet, and not a soul in the band was speaking to me as the story filtered through. To my credit, I did a pretty good job of regurgitating four hours worth of music from inside my head, and I’m sure the punters were none the wiser.
The cold shoulder continued the next day, but it was to become the stuff of legend, and people today still remember “that time Claire left her music behind in Auckland”. And it’s that infamous spot that still haunts me today. I drove this route recently with the driver from that fateful night, and he too still remembers the spot. We almost stopped to pay homage. It feels like there should be a plaque. Of course he felt the need to share the story with the younger musician travelling with us.
There is no moral to this story, and no moral high ground either. But at least I’ve never turned up with an empty instrument case with the horn still on the bed at home. And you know who you are!!