The engine of the green Cavallo tour bus sat humming in the parking lot of a gas station on Route 60 in Southern Missouri. Taking a breath of muggy, humid air, I reached to open the trunk of our car when the door of the Cavallo bus opened with a whoosh and out walked our host Duane Garren along with the bus driver. Seconds later, I heard my mom’s laughter and a voice asking, “Do you remember me?” Puzzled, I looked up, “Why would Duane be asking us if we remembered him?” Then I realized the question was not coming from our host, but the driver. Ronnie Smith, whom we have known for years, was definitely the last person we expected to be driving us to the Memphis Quartet Show!!! Yet, there he was, opening the luggage bays with a clunk and setting our suitcases inside. After explaining to Duane what all the “fuss” was about, we climbed on board with forty-two other quartet fans and were off to Memphis, Tennessee!
As we made our way to the rear of the bus Duane introduced us to the other passengers. There was more than one familiar face we recognized from attending concerts in and around the area! Duane Garren sits on the board for the Memphis Quartet Show, but also promotes concerts, is the booking agent for The Lester’s, emcees concerts across the country and will be hosting the Southern Gospel Nights at Silver Dollar City’s Southern Gospel Picnic this year for the first time. Every year Duane takes a bus trip to the McKamey’s Homecoming, and this year, he took a bus to the very first Memphis Quartet Show. He travels with his wife Micki and their three children, Allie and Andy who are twins, and their little sister Macy – whom we had the privilege of sitting by on the bus! A few miles down the road the overhead speaker cracked and Duane kept the bus riders informed of the day’s schedule. With the clock ticking close to noon, lunch would be the next pit stop in the city of West Plains. “I just got off the phone with another bus tour from Springfield,” said Duane (speaking of the bus from the radio station), “They ate at McDonalds!” Those riding on Duane’s bus burst out with comments like “Aww!” and “Boo!” You could imagine how happy we were to find out that when we came into West Plains, we would be eating at Ryan’s! When we arrived, Duane explained that the restaurant had a special room blocked off so everyone could sit together and the meal was included in the “bus trip” package. (Duane & Micki take very good care of their people!)
As we sat down at a long table with folks from all over Southern Missouri, we learned how our bus driver, Ronnie, came to be the driver on Duane’s trip to Memphis. A few weeks ago, when they took a trip to the McKamey’s Homecoming, Ronnie was selected as their driver. Because he loves the music, drives safely and is easy to get along with, Duane and Micki put in a “request” with the bus company to have him drive for them again to the Memphis Quartet Show. We were blessed to have that request honored!
During the drive from West Plains to Memphis, I learned that when you travel on a bus with a group of people you have a lot in common with; time seems to travel rather quickly! Before we knew it the overhead speaker came on again and Duane was telling everyone that we were getting ready to cross the Mississippi River and drive into Memphis. After making a few announcements, he pointed out “the pyramid” (a building that looks like it’s made out of mirrors in the shape of pyramid) was just bought by Memphis and is being converted into a Bass Pro Shop that will have indoor fishing!!! LOL Anyway, they say it will be open in time for MQS next year and plans are to convert the top into a restaurant.
The Memphis Cook Convention Center sits alongside the Mississippi River along with the Marriot (which connects to the Convention Center via a skywalk). Ronnie took us down the one way street and pulled up in front of the Marriot to unload; beside the Cavallo lay a rail for the trolleys. As riders began to step off the bus, those of us onboard watched as an approaching Trolley slowed down considerably as it approached the Trolley stop, missing the back end of the bus by a few inches. The area did not afford much room between the curb parking and the Trolley tracks, but skillful driving put the big green bus curbside. The luggage was carefully removed from the bays as riders collected their bags and tugged them toward the hotel entrance. The evening concert began at 6 PM and it was nearing five o’clock as everyone checked into their rooms. Fans that were already checked in were walking towards the Cook building. Soon, we were among them.
TO BE CONTINUED