Story Of The Stick

Running at top speed down Barrington Street, my back pack careening crazily back and forth, my mind raced wildly: would I have to sleep on the streets another night if I miss this train?


Let me take you back a day. My percussion teacher David MacRae, asked me to fill in for him on a performance of "The Pirates of Penzance" that was playing at the Neptune theatre in Halifax. I enthusiastically agreed but there was a catch. I needed to find a special drumstick that had timpani mallet heads on one end and snare drum tips on the other. I've long since forgotten why I didn't use his sticks, but I digress. After a few phone calls to music stores in the area, I found only one place that carried such a stick: Music Stop in Dartmouth. Trouble was, they were across the water from Halifax and I didn't have a car. Time was running out so I quickly cobbled together a plan. I'll hop on a train today, get to Halifax by evening, stay at my previous teacher's house on Coburg Avenue, get up the next day, bus it to Dartmouth, buy the sticks, bus it back to the train station and hop safely onto the train which leaves at 1:00 p.m. Remember, this is probably 1983 so cell phones and internet were still unheard of.


My big mistake was not phoning my old drum teacher and telling him I was coming. I was so eager to get going, I assumed he'd just be there. He wasn't and his door was locked.


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I am standing at the door ringing and ringing the bell. No answer. Silence. I pound on the door. No answer. It's close to 8 p.m. Now and the music store has long since closed. I have no credit card, no phone, little cash, and I am facing a night of sleeping on the street. Never done that before. The setting sun finds me slumped on my teacher's front porch. I'm hoping that perhaps he'll return soon we'll have a jolly laugh at my predicament. He'll invite me in, I'll wash up, we'll talk drumming and I'll have a warm, comfy sleep on his sofa. Thank goodness it is summer because by 11:30 p.m. I've already resigned myself to curling up on the stoop and catching what sleep I can. My eyes close and I am dreaming. Suddenly, I am yanked out of sleep by the creak of the front step. I sit bolt upright. It's my teacher's neighbour unlocking his front door. He stares down at me, wondering why there is a vagrant sleeping on his shared stoop. Still in a fog, I declare (probably too loudly) that I am Brad's drum student, not a bum and that I'm supposed to meet him, and he isn't here, so I'm waiting. I think he mumbles "good luck" and disappears inside his house. Before I fall sideways back onto the porch, using my balled up jacket for a pillow, I pray silently that the neighbour doesn't call the cops. Great, now I can't sleep.


Throughout the night I awake to the sound of passers by. I think they they are standing on the sidewalk, gawking at me, chuckling amongst themselves about the dude sleeping out in the open. Who knows. I'm cold, hungry and groggy.


The sound of traffic, of cars wakes me up. The sun is out and the light makes me blink. It's 5:00 a.m.  I sit upright. My neck is stiff, my lower back is grumpy, and my stomach is an empty hollow. I rise slowly, stretch, don my jacket and step off the porch, legs unsteady beneath me like I'd been at sea for years. I walk to the train station through the cool, morning air. Since the train station is closed, I go next door to the hotel. The lobby is warm and no one notices me yet. I head straight for the washroom and clean my hands and face. I have some change so I feed it to the lobby vending machine and have chips for breakfast. Out of the corner of my eye I spy a luxurious, high back chair. I make a beeline for it and sink down into it, letting out a satisfied sigh. Next thing I know, I wake up and it's 7:00 a.m. I had fallen asleep and no kicked me out. Awesome! Feeling refreshed but still hungry, I head out of the hotel and locate a pay phone. Ring ring ring then the sound of the Music Stop answering machine telling me they are not open until 12:00. WHAT???? Suddenly, I'm in a real panic. How do I get the sticks in time to make it back for the 1:00 train? I'm bussing it and I don't know the bus system. Quickly, I run to a bus stop and begin drilling the queue of passengers about schedules. Satisfied, I grab a bus and make it over the bridge to Dartmouth at least three hours before the music store even opens. I sit in the bus shelter cursing my stupidity and bad planning. Closer to noon my face is pressed to the store front glass as if I could will them to open early. Finally, an employee unlocks the door and I rush in, asking where to find the drumsticks. Frantically, I scan the shelves for my prize. I find them, they cost a startling $25 (1983 prices, remember) and I dart out of there, sticks clutched closely.


My bus takes forever to arrive. Eventually, I'm speeding around Dartmouth and nervously checking my watch. Am I on the milk run, what is taking so long?? Twenty minutes before my train leaves and we are still in Dartmouth, across the water, and I don't even have a train ticket yet!


Back to where we started this article and my adventure. My bus is heading down the straightaway that is Barrington Street. At the end is the train station. I have ten minutes left, tops. The bus signals it is turning right. No! I leap up, yank the cord and curse under my breath that the driver doesn't turn before I get off. I hit the ground running at top speed, my back pack nearly flying off of my shoulders. The bus roars past me heading straight for the train station. How could I have been so stupid, why did I get off that early? I'm still running, my heart is pounding, my chest is sore and I still have several blocks to go. Out of breath, my ears roaring, I burst into the train station, run to the counter. To my right the train is poised to leave for Truro, my home, and the conductor is waving it out of the station. Gulping for air, I beg the ticket man to let me on. He signals the train, I buy my ticket and run to the conductor. I made it! I search the aisles for an empty seat, find one, and collapse into it, throwing my knapsack into the floor. Halifax pulls away slowly away from my window. As my heart and lungs gasp their thanks for ending their torture, I gaze out at the quickly moving scenery: this has to be the craziest way to get a pair of drum sticks and my parents will probably kill me.