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As a general rule, we have absolutely no excuse for not getting our holiday letter done in time for the holidays. But THIS YEAR, we have what may be one of the BEST EXCUSES EVER!!! And if we're lyin', we're dyin'!

Our little marching band, the Get A Life Marching Band, received a late invitation (12/29/08) to march in the Presidential Inaugural Parade after having received a rejection letter in early December. Once we received that invitation, we had to scurry around like gerbils in an exercise wheel and get a bunch of stuff done to get ready for the parade. We had less than 3 weeks to pull it off. So we were living, eating, & breathing Inaugural Parade that whole time.

Pretty good excuse, huh?

You can check it all out at our website, www.getalifemb.org, including worldwide television and press interviews with both of us [1] and CSPAN video of the band going past the presidential reviewing stand where the First Couple was groovin' to our music! If you watch the video and want to pick us out, we are the two left-most people in the front row of the band block. [2]

So that's how we ended 2008 and started 2009. Pretty good finish & start, huh? Let's back up to the beginning of 2008.

The first couple boogies down with GAL

The Get A Life Marching Band Does Florida

The year kicked off with a band road trip to Florida in January to perform in Disney World and at the Gasparilla Pirate Parade in Tampa -- Arrrrrr, Matey! Disney World was fun, but very buttoned down. Steve did, however, score a GREAT pair of ears!


Making Magic in the Kingdom
Here's my ears!
Backstage at Disney
Rolling down Disney's Main Street
Through the maelstrom at Gasparilla

Bring on the Pirates!!!

The Gasparilla Pirate Festival celebrates the invasion of Tampa Bay by legendary pirate Jose Gaspar. Each year, Gasparilla arrives on a 165' pirate ship, "borrows" the key to the city from the mayor of Tampa, then leads a parade down Bayshore Boulevard. The parade was absolutely crazy--people drinking beer, people throwing beads, people drinking more beer, people throwing more beads, people drinking even more beer, people throwing even more beads. Did we mention people were drinking beer? [3]

Pretty good way to start the year, huh?

Treble in River City Does the Oregon Coast

Our rock 'n' roll band had several gigs last summer which seemed to be clustered around the same time period, including an opening-day performance at the Clark County Fair and a gig on the Courthouse lawn in Hillsboro under 150+ year old sequoia trees. One of our more notable gigs was a wedding at the Oregon coast. The band made a weekend of it, renting out two houses, frolicking on the beach with kites, eating good food, and oh-playing for the wedding.

Pretty good way to spend a weekend at the coast, huh?


Rockin' the Clark County Fair

Roy Disney joins GAL. No, this isn't Washington, but we needed to fit the photo in SOMEWHERE!

GAL Does Washington [4]

The marching band headed north across the Columbia four times this year, and two are worth reporting on. Our first-ever bus trip to the Puyallup Fair [5] (near Tacoma) was uneventful until we reached the Fairgrounds. Couldn't find the right entrance, heavy traffic, turned into what looked like a good entrance -- and found ourselves driving down the middle of the midway, waving at the cotton candy booths and gawking fairgoers as we serenely glided to where we belonged. We did "wandering minstrel" shows all afternoon, including one that prompted a taco stand owner to give free tacos to the whole band.

Oysterfest was our second Washington state debut. We marveled at the finals of the oyster-shucking speed championships, [6] ate good chow, [7] and wowed a crowd that begged for not one but TWO encores -- first time ever. [8]

Metro does Reorganization

Metro, Janet's work place, went through a major reorganization last fall. Instead of reporting to her old boss, she now reports to her boss's boss. Is that boss or what? But that doesn't mean she was promoted. She and 3 of her cow-orkers are in a different 'department' and now report directly to him. As far as Janet is concerned, the jury is still out on this reorg. Her work hasn't changed. She just gives stuff to different people now. On the other hand, as one of Steve's colleagues said years ago: "Organizations are like socks. Every now and then you should change them whether or not you think you need to."

Portland Community Wind Band Does Holiday Concerts

The concert band we play in put on three performances of its holiday concert -- the best in its short history. Listen to a few selections right here. Janet got to pinch-hit in one of them. Because the lead alto sax player was unable to make one of the concerts, she switched from tenor sax to alto sax to fill in that part. She spent lots of time rehearsing with podcasts of the music so that she would sound like she'd been playing with the band on that part all along instead of only having played the alto part with the band twice. The concerts were lots of fun. The band may have found its niche-playing for retirement communities.

Steve & Janet Do Florida
(this time without a band)

We headed to Florida for Christmas to spend time with Steve's brother's family and his Mom, barely escaping Portland which had been snowed in for a week. This was a totally relaxing visit. We were content just hanging out by the pool, eating, hanging out in the house, eating, eating, eating till all hell broke loose on 12/29.

That's when Janet's cell phone rang. She answered it. The guy on the other end asked for Steve Tolopka. She asked who was calling (says she had a feeling this was THE CALL because 'why would anyone ask for Steve Tolopka on my cell phone?'). She went out on the patio where Steve was just hanging out by the pool and said, 'It's Matthew from the Presidential Inaugural Committee; I think you'll wanna take this.' Before we got THE CALL, Steve told Janet there was no chance we'd get an invitation, that the decisions had been made about who was in the parade, & that ship had sailed. WELL!

Parrots & piratephernalia -- ready for Gasparilla!

The Get A Life Marching Band Does Philadelphia AND Washington DC!!

After intense preparations which included lots of rehearsals, ordering new uniform parts, & learning the 47 pages of rules from General Order #1 so the band would behave as well as could be expected from a bunch of funny, crazy band geeks, the band headed east. At such a late date, the closest we could stay for a reasonable price was Philadelphia. We flew to Philly on Sunday. The band had Monday free to be touristy. Some visited the sights of Philly and some visited DC. Four of us had to go to DC for parade orientation. While we were there, we paid a visit to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden's office. [9]

Hope the parade starts soon!
Meeting Senator Ron Wyden

At 2 AM we boarded our buses for DC. Even though we didn't need to be at the Pentagon until 12:30 PM, we left insanely early because we were freaked out about getting caught in a two-million-person traffic jam. We arrived before dawn and were shunted to the Pentagon South Parking Lot where we hung out on our buses and in warming tents for hours. [10] The parade was a couple of hours late starting and Brrr!, it was cold! We finally made it to The Ellipse in late afternoon, where band members shot approximately 1 petabyte of photos with the White House or Washington Monument in the background.

By the time we left The Ellipse for the 1.5 mile march down Constitution Avenue to the parade merge point [11] at the Capitol, the sun was setting so the temperature was going down even further. As we finally swung onto parade route, a voice from the sky boomed "Ladies and Gentlemen, now entering Pennsylvania Avenue -- the Get a Life Marching Band from Portland, Oregon!" and we began to play -- which is when the brass players discovered the cold resulted in sticky valves and not-sliding slides. Fortunately, the Presidential Reviewing Stand was at the White House (other end of the parade route), which gave the brass players time to get things unstuck and everyone some time to warm up as much as one could when it feels like it's less than 20 degrees.

We made it! GAL poses at the White House
(That's our military escort PFC Douglas Coward at left)

But the payoff was worth it. The reviewing stand was only about 15 feet off to the side of the band, so we got to see and play for the Obamas and Vice President Biden. Truly the trip of a lifetime and we'll treasure the memory and honor of representing our state and being part of history by playing for the first African-American president. What a rush!

Check out our spiffy Secret Service credentials (on Steve's lapel)
Performing for the President

On a sad note

Last June, Steve lost his dad. Steve had the honor and the burden of writing and delivering the eulogy, one of the tougher things he's had to. Dad had been ill for a long time and it was tough to say goodbye to someone who has been such a big part of our lives. It's still hard to believe that he won't be there when we visit Mom in Kentucky. We still have our special memories of Dad and many pop up unexpectedly at the most mundane times. We can't think of the song 'Detour' or use his pet phrases [12] without thinking of him. Those little everyday things keep his memory alive and keep him in our hearts.

With love,

Steve & Janet

We love you. We miss you ...

[1] We're not making this up - we had confirmed reports from friends of band members that CNN's coverage was shown in both Poland and Crete!

[2] From your perspective. From our perspective we were the two rightmost people in the front row. From the President's perspective, it had already been a loooong day.

[3] Astonishingly, it wasn't just band members.

[4] Not the District of Columbia - the other one. Big state, upper left hand corner of the U.S.?

[5] Nobody except natives can pronounce Pew-OLL-up correct-ly, which is probably why they call it "The Fair".

[6] Two dozen oysters in less than two minutes, with all fingers still attached!

[7] Our friend Ron's analysis: "I had a bacon-wrapped oyster, which was pretty good until I found an oyster in the middle of it."

[8] It's also possible that they just didn't want to leave the building because it was raining like crazy - but they did seem genuinely enthusiastic.

[9] It turns out that Senator Wyden's office had a large hand in getting our invitation extended - but that's a story for another day!

[10] Friend Ron again: "We spent the night in the Pentagon parking lot at least we've become a better class of bum!"

[11] The spot where the bands, floats, and equestrian units came together just prior to the parade starting point.

[12] "Don't force it - use a bigger hammer!"