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We all know that the marching activity has been a valuable means of getting young (and not so young) people off the streets… and into the parking lots. Here are a few tidbits of parking lot history:

MAY 1, 1919 – WASHINGTON, D.C. – During the postwar Red Scare, the Capitol Scarlet Knights innocently accept an invitation to march in a May Day parade. In a cruel twist of fate, the corps parks its buses behind the FBI Building. G-men, seeing the unit’s red shirts and believing it to be a Communist youth group, take the Knights in for questioning. J. Edgar Hoover personally frisks the buglers and drummers. Decades later, biographers link Hoover to the disappearance of several color guard skirts from the corps truck.

FBI Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

JULY 4, 1927 – LYNN, MA – In a Prohibition-era scandal, six clarinetists from the Wayward Girls Marching Band steal away after an exhibition. They trade their instruments for bathtub gin and, like salmon swimming upstream to spawn, instinctively proceed to the nearest parking lot, in the rear of a Woolworth’s. After spending the night drinking and watching a fireworks display, they are found the next day, confused and permanently cockeyed. In later life, three of the girls enter the missionary field, two form a vaudeville knife-throwing act, and one gets a job adjusting the sights on carnival air rifles.

Knife throwing act

SEPTEMBER 1, 1939 – HAWTHORNE, NJ – In a disturbing turn of events, the Hawthorne Huns add a Wagner medley to their repertoire on the very day that Hitler begins his blitzkrieg of eastern Europe. Word spreads, and soon the Huns, rehearsing in a Polish American Veterans post parking lot, are attacked by a mob that includes the corps’ own sponsors. The Huns’ music instructor, Horst “Horsechops” Heinkel, is blacklisted from drum corps but grows rich after the war as the owner of Fuehrerburger, a Bavarian theme restaurant. The Huns lose the use of the P.A.V. parking lot and are forced to practice for the Garden State Finals in an onion field. In 1940 they change their name to the Huevos Rancheros, becoming the first in a long line of area corps to adopt a Latin motif.

JANUARY 1, 1946 – TOKYO, JAPAN – In another case of ill-advised parking lot hijinks, four brass players from the U.S. Marine Drum & Bugle Corps paint SEMPER FI on their buttocks and flash General Douglas MacArthur. The crime occurs in a staff car lot behind an Allied officers geisha club. Summarily court-martialed and sentenced to five years in naval prison, the Marines are allowed to practice their horns while incarcerated, and they win Best Brass Quartet at the 1949 Military Penitentiary Invitational.

1950s and 60s – U.S. and parts of CANADA – The marching arts are not immune to the scourge of juvenile delinquency, and stadium parking lots become the scenes of countless gang fights. One equipment manager for a tough and impecunious Chicago drum corps is reduced to waiting in a hospital ER to retrieve drum sticks that have been lodged inside members of a rival unit. The incident is documented in medical journals and proctology textbooks.

Hospital Emergency Room

SPRING and SUMMER, 1975 – TROY, NY – The Fissionettes, a mediocre drill team financially supported by Troy Nuclear Power, practice in the facility’s employee parking lot and are exposed to particles of radioactive steam emitted by the plant after dusk. Thirty of fifty team members manifest acute mutations, sprouting superfluous limbs. This development proves fortuitous however – one lass can spin eight rifles at a time – and the Fissionettes capture the Class B Hudson Valley Circuit crown. They also bankrupt their corporate benefactor in a class-action lawsuit.

Parking lots had dwindled in importance by the late 1970s. It became fashionable at that time for many units to go on long tours, often to parts of the continent where pavement was scarce. In the 1980s many units became dependent on out-of-staters for membership, not having a full complement of people until after Memorial Day. These marching nomads were deprived of having a parking lot they could call home the year round. By 1990, any outfit not affluent enough to own a genuine stadium had likely disbanded.

But those of us lucky enough to have marched during the heyday of parking lots will always have fond memories of those great asphalt plains. Go to a lot where you once rehearsed and recall what the place once meant to you: adolescent love, experiments with cheap beer and ad hoc cocktails, and always a place to tinkle.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I see broken glass or pigeon droppings, I get a little misty.

Parking lot at sunset


*Featured Photo: Canada’s Wonderland parking lot
Enoch Leung from Canada, Wonderland parking lot (42138150261)CC BY-SA 2.0