6 Great Marching Bands That Never Were

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back our Marching Band Correspondent, Auburn University's Steven Clontz! You may remember him from his first post, Marching to the Beat of a Different Slide Instrument, which explored variations on the trombone. Or his second, When Good Bands Go Bad. He's back today with the third in a series of four band-centric entries.

Marching band kind of gets the shaft in pop culture, with band geeks serving more often as the nerdy comic relief than leading roles. But in rare cases, someone will weave a story that can only be told by those who hold an instrument in their hand, and wear a shako on their head. So, I respectfully submit to the mental_floss community, the greatest marching bands in fiction. (As a courtesy, I'm excluding any bands that make an appearance on this page, which I wish I never stumbled upon.)

1. The East Great Falls High School Marching Band

american-pie.jpg"This one time, at band camp"¦" was the bane of my existence as a freshman in my high school marching band. Y'see, a little movie called American Pie was released in 1999, and barely a year later, I had the experience of going through my own first band camp ever. As soon as classes began, only a mere mention of my involvement in my school's marching band would be necessary to receive a chorus of "This one time, at band camp"¦" from anyone within earshot.

When I first saw American Pie, I was surprised that the marching band and Michelle, the character who coined that phrase, don't play a huge part in most of the first movie. But since then, American Pie has spawned two sequels, a slew of spin-off movies (including a whole movie about band camp), and an entire generation who associates band camp with the creepiest use for a flute I can think of. So I guess it rightfully deserves its place at the beginning of my list.

Incidentally, American Pie takes place in an alternate universe where people actually go away to a real backwoods summer camp for band. The name of this magical place is called Michigan, which may explain why an Alabama boy such as myself knows nothing of making s'mores in between music rehearsals. In my experience, band camp is nothing more than back-to-back rehearsals, all day, for seven or eight days in a row, followed by a few hours of sleep in my own bed. But perhaps some of you have had the pleasure of a more clichéd band camp experience?

2. The Bikini Bottom Marching Band

Maybe I was a little old to be watching cartoons starring a yellow filter-feeder on the bottom of the sea, even in 2001. But what I could not ignore was that Nickelodeon had just released an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants entitled simply, "Band Geeks".

The plot was your typical Spongebob fare. Squarepants' clarinet-toting, fun-squashing neighbor Squidward Tentacles had to pull a marching band together to perform in the annual Bubble Bowl in just a few days, because he could not bear to admit to his childhood rival Squilliam that he did not really have a band of his own to direct. And while the band performed pitifully at first, in the end they pulled together to support Squidward. The result of which, I am happy to say, can be viewed right now thanks to the wonderful World Wide Intertubes.

And it seems my love for this episode is not alone. According to my cousins Matt and Josh, "Band Geeks" was awarded the honor of being the number one "Nicktoon" ever, just recently. Also neat, their mother tells me that the singer of "Sweet Victory" is actually David Glen Eisley. After chiding me for my lack of Hair Band knowledge, she pointed me to another song he's done, Giuffria's Call To the Heart.

3. Atlanta A&T State University's Blue and Gold Marching Machine

Performing in a historically black college's marching band is a little different from my own band career. But thankfully, I can at least know sort of what it's like to be in a real Battle of the Bands, without fearing I might actually be attacked by one. And it's all thanks to the movie Drumline.

Drumline performed well at the box office, and critically too, with a score of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes. My friends in the band service fraternity Kappa Kappa Psi love it because it KKY is featured prominently. Also, of all the works featured in this article, it's the only one that actually presents marching band like it were just another sport. But I'm actually not a huge fan. Why, you ask? Not enough trombones. I can only pay attention to people banging on some overrated pots and pans for so long before I get bored. I'm still waiting for my coming-of-age story of a high school trumpet player with a heart of gold. But since Drumline is pretty much the only movie in that vein released"¦ ever?"¦ I may be waiting for a while.

4. The Wellsville High School Marching Squids

petepete.jpgI complete my Nickelodeon triumvirate (SpongeBob, Drumline star Nick Cannon of All-That fame, and this) with one of my all-time favorite shows, Pete & Pete. And of course, my favorite episode from the series, "Day of the Dot," would have to be dedicated to their high school marching band. Big Pete (as opposed to his younger brother, Little Pete) grows jealous when his best-friend-slash-obvious-romantic-interest Ellen is given the honor of dotting the "i" in Squid on the marching field. (This tradition is most likely borrowed from The Ohio State University Marching Band.)

At first, Big Pete is happy for Ellen. But things turn foul when she begins to spend more time with her marching partner, James Markle, Jr., than with him. In the end, Big Pete takes things into his own hands, and hijacks the halftime show to prove that there is one force even stronger than even that of a musical marching ensemble "“ the power of love. And while I normally wouldn't even condone breaking rank during a marching band performance, to this day I still have a crush on Alison Fanelli (the actress who played Ellen), so I'll let it all slide.

5. The Westview High School Scapegoat Marching Band

dinkle.gifMy first pair of marching shoes when I got to college were Dinkles. However, I'm sure the World's Greatest Band Director Dr. Harry L. Dinkle was vastly disappointed when my university band of choice decided to switch over to MTXs (Mark Time to the X-treme, dudes).

Okay okay, so I'm probably getting ahead of myself. For the uninitiated, Funky Winkerbean is the quintessential example of marching band in the funny pages. This was true particularly when the strip was first started back in 1972, and the story revolved around several students at Westview High. Notable band characters included Holly Budd, who could always be found walking around school in her majorette uniform, and the aforementioned Dr. Dinkle, the self-proclaimed best band director ever. Fellow band-ites like myself can relate to a fear consistently replicated in a running gag from Funky Winkerbean - every band competition (except for the first one) occurs during a raging monsoon.

In 1992, cartoonist Batuik decided to relaunch the comic, moving it forward four years in time, so all the high school students had now graduated and were living the lives of grown-ups. At the same time, the strip began to take a more serious tone, tackling many serious issues, such as suicide, dyslexia, and most notably, cancer. However, this final point has brought me some hope. As I understand it, Funky relaunched again only a few weeks ago after Lisa died of breast cancer. The story now follows the next generation as they go through high school. So maybe, just maybe, next time I pick up the funnies I'll be greeted by the World's Greatest Band Director once again.

6. The River City Boys Band

musicman.jpgOur list concludes with the most eminent marching band in all of cinema, Professor Harold Hill's boys band. The boys of River City, enraptured by the opening of a new pool hall, needed something to keep them from turning down the steep slippery path of billards-induced temptation.

Or so Dr. Hill would have had them believe. In reality he was just a con artist who"¦ why am I even explaining this? The Music Man is by many counts, one of the greatest musicals of all time, receiving six Tonies, an Oscar, and a slew of other nominations. I'm not sure I've ever met anyone who doesn't know one of the show's most memorable songs, "Seventy-Six Trombones (in the Big Parade)." If you're one such poor soul, please, go out and rent the 1962 movie adaption now. Then you'll understand why I'm having so much trouble mastering my Elementary Spanish class since our instructor seems to insist on using Professor Hill's "Think Method."

That's all for this time. Have a bwayno day, guys!

job secrets
10 Secrets of Hotel Room Service

Guests visiting New York City's Waldorf Astoria hotel in the 1930s enjoyed an amenity that was unheard of at the time: waiters delivering meals directly to their rooms. While the Astoria’s reputation for luxury has endured, room service is no longer exclusive to five-star stays. Roughly 22 percent of the country’s 54,000 hotels [PDF] are willing and able to bring breakfast, lunch, or dinner to people who prefer to eat while splayed out on a large and strange bed.

To get the scoop on what goes into getting food from the kitchen to your floor, Mental Floss spoke with Matt, a hospitality specialist who spent a total of 10 years working in and around room service for a major San Francisco hotel. Matt preferred not to use his last name; since his stories sometimes involved naked people, undercooked chicken, and Oprah, you can understand why. Below, check out a few things you should know before you dig into that tray.


When a room service delivery employee takes a tray from the kitchen to your room, it’s typically covered in a metal lid to retain heat and to prevent other guests from sneezing on it. The higher up you are, the longer it has to travel—and the more that lid traps steam, soaking your food in moisture. “Food sweats in there,” Matt says. “Instead of having crispy, toasted bread, you get wet toast. The longer it stays in there, the worse it gets.” If you want crunchy fries, you’d better be on the first couple of floors.


A seafood dinner is presented on a plate

That lid is a nuisance in other ways. Because it traps heat, it’s effectively cooking your food in the time it takes to get from the chef’s hands to yours. “If you order a steak medium, it will probably be medium well by the time it gets to you,” Matt says. While you can try to outsmart the lid by requesting meat be cooked a notch lower than your preference, it's not so easy to avoid overcooked fish—which will probably also stink up your room. Instead, stick with burgers, club sandwiches, or salads. According to Matt, it’s hard to mess any of them up.


Just because you see a menu in your room, it doesn’t mean the hotel has a kitchen or chef on-site. To cut costs, more hotels are opting to out-source their room service to local eateries. “It might be ‘presented’ by the hotel, but it’s from a restaurant down the street,” Matt says. Alternately, hotels might try to save money by eliminating an overnight chef and having food pre-prepped so a desk clerk or other employee can just heat it up. That’s more likely if sandwiches or salads are the only thing available after certain hours.


Two coffee cups sit on a hotel bed

No, not for the reason you’re thinking. Because so many hotel guests are business travelers who are away from home for weeks or months at a time, some of them get tired of eating alone. When that happens, they turn to the first—and maybe only—person who could offer company: the room service waiter. “People are usually traveling alone, so they’ll offer you food,” Matt explains. Sometimes the traveler is a familiar face: According to Matt, he once sat down to eat with Oprah Winfrey, who was eating by herself despite her suite being filled with her own employees. He also says he had a bite with John F. Kennedy Junior, who wanted to finish watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High before heading for his limo.


Busy hotel kitchens aren’t always paying attention to whether the chicken wings they buy in bulk are frozen raw, frozen cooked, or somewhere in between. “Ask for them extra crispy,” Matt says. That way, they’ll be cooked thoroughly regardless of their freezer status. “I recommend that to everyone.”


A hotel guest pours milk into a bowl of cereal

Breakfast is undoubtedly the busiest time for room service, and those little cards that allow you to check off your menu items the night before are a huge help. “It’s great for everybody involved,” Matt says. “The kitchen can pace themselves and you can get your food on time.”


Yes, guests answer the door barely clothed. No, this is not optimal. “We don’t want to see it,” Matt says. “It's something we dealt with numerous times.” While it's likely your waiter will use discretion, any combination of genitalia, drugs, or illicit activity is best kept out of their sight.


A hotel room service tray sits in a hallway

That move where you stick your soggy fries outside your door? It can lead to some awkward encounters. Matt says he’s seen other guests stop, examine trays, and then pick up discarded food from them. Other times, people leave unimaginably gross items on the trays. “I’ve found condoms on there. Divorce paperwork. All kinds of things.”


Weird people aside, “We don’t really want it out there,” Matt says. “It stinks.” Instead, dial 0 for the front desk and let them know you’re done eating. They’ll dispatch someone to come and get it.


A tip is placed near a hotel check

People pay out the nose for room service, with hotels adding surcharges for “service” and “in-room” dining that can turn a $5 club sandwich into a $15 expense. That’s not great news for guests, but it does mean you don’t need to feel bad about not offering a cash tip. Those service fees usually go straight to the employees who got your food to your room. “I never tip,” Matt says. “Most of the time, the service and delivery charges are given to the waiter or split between the people who answered the phone and pick up the tray. It’s better to leave it all on paper to make sure it gets divided up.”

Big Questions
What is Mercury in Retrograde, and Why Do We Blame Things On It?

Crashed computers, missed flights, tensions in your workplace—a person who subscribes to astrology would tell you to expect all this chaos and more when Mercury starts retrograding for the first time this year on Friday, March 23. But according to an astronomer, this common celestial phenomenon is no reason to stay cooped up at home for weeks at a time.

"We don't know of any physical mechanism that would cause things like power outages or personality changes in people," Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, tells Mental Floss. So if Mercury doesn’t throw business dealings and relationships out of whack when it appears to change direction in the sky, why are so many people convinced that it does?


Mercury retrograde—as it's technically called—was being written about in astrology circles as far back as the mid-18th century. The event was noted in British agricultural almanacs of the time, which farmers would read to sync their planting schedules to the patterns of the stars. During the spiritualism craze of the Victorian era, interest in astrology boomed, with many believing that the stars affected the Earth in a variety of (often inconvenient) ways. Late 19th-century publications like The Astrologer’s Magazine and The Science of the Stars connected Mercury retrograde with heavy rainfall. Characterizations of the happening as an "ill omen" also appeared in a handful of articles during that period, but its association with outright disaster wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today.

While other spiritualist hobbies like séances and crystal gazing gradually faded, astrology grew even more popular. By the 1970s, horoscopes were a newspaper mainstay and Mercury retrograde was a recurring player. Because the Roman god Mercury was said to govern travel, commerce, financial wealth, and communication, in astrological circles, Mercury the planet became linked to those matters as well.

"Don’t start anything when Mercury is retrograde," an April 1979 issue of The Baltimore Sun instructed its readers. "A large communications organization notes that magnetic storms, disrupting messages, are prolonged when Mercury appears to be going backwards. Mercury, of course, is the planet associated with communication." The power attributed to the event has become so overblown that today it's blamed for everything from digestive problems to broken washing machines.


Though hysteria around Mercury retrograde is stronger than ever, there's still zero evidence that it's something we should worry about. Even the flimsiest explanations, like the idea that the gravitational pull from Mercury influences the water in our bodies in the same way that the moon controls the tides, are easily deflated by science. "A car 20 feet away from you will exert a stronger pull of gravity than the planet Mercury does," Dr. Hammergren says.

To understand how little Mercury retrograde impacts life on Earth, it helps to learn the physical process behind the phenomenon. When the planet nearest to the Sun is retrograde, it appears to move "backwards" (east to west rather than west to east) across the sky. This apparent reversal in Mercury's orbit is actually just an illusion to the people viewing it from Earth. Picture Mercury and Earth circling the Sun like cars on a racetrack. A year on Mercury is shorter than a year on Earth (88 Earth days compared to 365), which means Mercury experiences four years in the time it takes us to finish one solar loop.

When the planets are next to one another on the same side of the Sun, Mercury looks like it's moving east to those of us on Earth. But when Mercury overtakes Earth and continues its orbit, its straight trajectory seems to change course. According to Dr. Hammergren, it's just a trick of perspective. "Same thing if you were passing a car on a highway, maybe going a little bit faster than they are," he says. "They're not really going backwards, they just appear to be going backwards relative to your motion."

Embedded from GIFY

Earth's orbit isn't identical to that of any other planet in the solar system, which means that all the planets appear to move backwards at varying points in time. Planets farther from the Sun than Earth have even more noticeable retrograde patterns because they're visible at night. But thanks to astrology, it's Mercury's retrograde motion that incites dread every few months.

Dr. Hammergren blames the superstition attached to Mercury, and astrology as a whole, on confirmation bias: "[Believers] will say, 'Aha! See, there's a shake-up in my workplace because Mercury's retrograde.'" He urges people to review the past year and see if the periods of their lives when Mercury was retrograde were especially catastrophic. They'll likely find that misinterpreted messages and technical problems are fairly common throughout the year. But as Dr. Hammergren says, when things go wrong and Mercury isn't retrograde, "we don't get that hashtag. It's called Monday."

This story originally ran in 2017.


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