It's amazing what one gear shift can do. When the driver of the first bus moved his "five-on-the-floor" from neutral to first on Wednesday morning, a cheer went up -- in the first bus, in the second and among all the teachers and parents standing in the parking lot.

The moment was here at last. The three Eastern High School bands were on their way to Orlando, Fla., for a five-day festival that will draw dozens of high school bands from all along the East Coast.

Of course, the 85 band members wouldn't have gone south of East Capitol Street without your generosity. More than 800 readers of this column donated nearly $14,000 to help send the Ramblers south.

Were the kids grateful?

Were the kids thrilled?

Is it cold in North Dakota?

One young musician came up to me as I was saying goodbye to some of his sidekicks and shook my hand so hard I thought he was going to break it. "We really appreciate it," he said.

And was the staff at Eastern grateful? As band director Bob Sands put it, "If I wasn't a grown man, I'd cry."

I made Bob promise he wouldn't take quite so rash a step until he did me one favor: pick out a few musicians and ask them to keep diaries during the trip.

Bob agreed enthusiastically. So as soon as they get home next week, I'll be assembling a column from the reports of the students, so those of you who contributed can see what your money bought.

In the meantime, let me say again that anyone who thanks me has it all wrong. Bob Sands had the dream, and his 85 musicians have the skill. It was you donors who added the necessary fuel.