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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #322
Chicken Bus
David Gunn

The summer home of the Calgary Philharmonic is in an acoustically superb natural amphitheater in the middle of a pristine forest preserve. While that may sound like an ideal setting for musical performances, especially for the woodwinds, there is a downside. Due to a typographical error in what was already a poorly worded clause in Chapter 9 § 550 of the Reorganized Canadian Code of Logistical Responsibilities, that forest is located just south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, 3,180 highway miles away. If the unusually lengthy distance between performance venues wasn't bad enough, a provision in the Orchestra Workers Union Local #859 Contract for 2000-2002 stipulated that the musicians were required to travel by bus. But not just any bus. The vehicle had to stop at every town along the route that accommodated a telecommunications tower, and it had to be shaped like a chicken.

During last July's 15-day journey, Mel the timpanist endeavored to stay awake for all 217 stops. After the first 40 or 50 of them, the municipalities and their towers looked pretty much the same, but what continued to pique Mel's interest was the type of wildlife the different towers attracted. Nearly without fail, the animals were exclusively crustacean and avian -- either lobsters or vultures. The lobsters hung out in mineral-rich pools of deuterium that seeped from the reactors at the base of the towers. Surprisingly, they exhibited no ill effects from the radiation baths they were taking each day; in fact, they thrived. According to the town arthropodiatrists that Mel spoke to, the lobsters' senses of sight improved fourfold, many developed rudimentary levitational abilities, and their carapaces, when steamed properly, became, if not downright tasty, at least edible. The vultures, too, exhibited unusual evolutionary modification. Roosting in the uppermost reaches of the towers, they were exposed to far higher concentrations of radiation, as well as to myriad UHF television broadcasts. Together, the two forces turned the vultures into vegetarians. Millions of generations of carrion binges were supplanted by light meals of carrots, zucchini and feta, sometimes complemented with a side of ouzo. But an even more amazing development was the vultures' command of ventriloquy. With a natural facility that would've put Jimmy Nelson to shame, the vultures added their own intrinsic senses of bird humor to an impressive ability to project their voices up to 50 feet away that added up to impromptu, if unnerving, entertainment around the telecommunication towers.

Throughout its colorful history, the bus had been spray painted all eight primary colors and, as a result, had been involved in over a dozen accidents. At first, the owner, an Irishman with a vulturous temperament of his own, spared no expense to have the vehicle repaired. But after three mishaps, subsequent out-of-pocket expenditures lost their cost-effective luster. So he hired Nell, a neighbor with an acetylene torch, to provide basic body work. Nell was able to massage a little life back into the sheet metal, but that was all. The result was that after 13 accidents and one intentional sideswipe, the bus resembled a giant rooster lying on its side, serendipitously fulfilling the proviso in the current contract of Orchestra Workers Union Local #859.

Last week, the bus discharged its cargo of 86 cramped and cranky Canadians, including Mel, into the South Halifax Forest Preserve. Being professionals, the performers quickly lost their bus anxiety and found their musical groove, presenting a flurry of inspired concerts and workshops. But now the midsummer residency is over, the bus sits idling at the curb, the telecommunicatory towns await. Mel, however, had not been simply idling away his between-performance time. He had pored over the Reorganized Canadian Code of Logistical Responsibilities and, to his delight, discovered a clause in Chapter 9 § 551 that allowed for a telecommoratorium should the bus become permanently disabled. So, while an accomplice took the driver to a local restaurant for weasel cake, Mel blew up the bus.

A police investigator wrote up the incident as an act of god, eliminating from the original report the subsequent three words, "damned angry passengers," after he had spoken to Mel. The orchestra members and bus driver happily flew home to Calgary where, not two hours later, the current Orchestra Workers Union Local #859 Contract suffered the same fate as the bus, and the administrationist who wrote it acquired a carapace and began to lapse into ventriloquese.

There is, unfortunately, no credible segue from that story to this 322nd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, so I'll just pass the microphonic baton to Kalvos and let him figure out what to do next.