Getting there is half the fun and all of the hassle

The day had an unusually early start, and there were nearly six hours of driving before my rehearsal had even begun….

Of course, it would stand to reason that the gig with the longest commute would have the latest stop time, and  that rehearsals would be on Fridays, which always promise the worst traffic of the week.

The first miles are quiet, but then it’s straight through the center of a bustling town center, full of the well-heeled and well-lubricated out for a night on the town, and in the road. For a few anxious moments, the road looks like a video game- dodge the revelers and win a prize!

Once to the road, all looks good. The ominous-looking status-update signs looming over the M6 for once offer good news- clear sailing to the M5 junction! I’ll be home by 1:30 at this rate!

For a few precious moments, all is good in the world of Ken. Messiaen on the stereo (his music always sounds best late at night). When is someone going to pay me lots of money to conduct, even record, his music????

However, my optimism soon proves to be premature. “M5-M6 Junction Closed” suddenly appears on one of the signs. WTF????

Normally, this would be followed by a sign instructing the unlucky driver in a detour, but mile after mile, all I see is the same message- “M5-M6 Junction Closed.”

My mind races. I know Birmingham less well than any of the major British cities. I can try to go overland and connect to an A road , then cut back to the M5, if it’s open further down, or I can go all the way around the city, which promises an hour’s delay at least, with traffic at the airport always a problem, even at funny hours.

Still, I’m forty miles off… Perhaps things will clear off? Perhaps I’ll get some indication of a detour?

No, the miles disappear and the only message is the same message. I call the AA- they also confirm that, as they say in Maine, “you can’t get there from here…”

Now only ten miles from certain disaster- the M6-M6 Toll junction is just ahead, when uncertain disaster strikes. For the first time in an hour there is new information on the sign of doom- “Accident ahead, right two lanes closed.”

My inner monologue explodes in a cacophony of profanity, which my inner voice of reason tries to calm with logic. “It’s late, there won’t be many people along here, we’ll just slow down a bit and go round…” We slow, and everyone gets over and we quickly form a queue and begin to crawl, and then to stop. It’s not two lanes closed, it’s all three..

We sit for a moment, then people get crazy and start pulling out into the empty lanes. Suddenly the scene becomes like a sequence in a Mad Max movie. Otherwise temperate and reasonable people are slashing in and out of lanes, honky, gesturing, screaming, even as ambulances whiz by. I can feel myself becoming caught up in the bloodlust and road rage. Does he really think I’m going to let him in? I bet if I watch the brake lights on that truck, I can get the jump on her….  

Then, all movement stops. Gradually, people cut their engines. I even shut down Messiaen. I’m close to the front now- I can hear the engines running on the cop cars and ambulances and the odd guy on his cell phone. My thoughts turn back to the rehearsal. I’d decided to leave a nasty passage for intonation to next week. Should I have taken it apart tonight? Sometimes a problem like that sorts itself out, and if you try to tackle it too early, you just ruin everyone’s confidence. On the other hand, this spot is inherently challenging- I think the sorting may be inevitable…

We sit. We wait.

Finally, we start to move…..

Hope swells in my bosom. Then, there it is again “M5-M6 Junction Closed.” Still no detour information.

Then, there it is. The junction. Closed. It’ll be around Birmingham the long way. Add another hour to the delay for the wreck, it’ll be a beer at Vftp Headquarters around 4 AM….

Then, a miracle, just at the end of the mile long slip road, a guy in a yellow jacket is picking up cones. I look- there’s a gap. Dare I? I catch his eye, toot the horn and point…. Can I? He waves me through.

It’s the small victories that count the most.  

c. 2007 Kenneth Woods

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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3 comments on “Getting there is half the fun and all of the hassle”

  1. Sheridan

    Sounds like a recent commute to Columbus for me- a shut-down highway, then off on some two-lane out in BFE, behind trucks going 10mph up hills, then back on the interstate racing through construction going 80+mph… and finally sprinting into the backstage area at five after and finding that, to my delighted surprise, the concert hadn’t started yet. (A broken elevator plus a sold-out crowd meant that it took forever to get everyone seated.) I should NEVER have made it to that concert! Miraculous.

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