Part One - by Larry Crane
It's been snowing and frozen here in Portland for a week - not something this town is used to. Many businesses were shut down and traffic wasn't moving, even though it wasn't that much snow. I feel dumb as my town complains about something that folks back East deal with all the time. Around 2 PM I take a taxi from my house out to PDX, Portland International Airport, and since I'm early for my flight I work on editing Tape Op on my laptop for a while. The flight to Sacramento is uneventful and quick. I call John Baccigaluppi to pick me up - he's in the office goofing off as usual so it takes a while to get to the airport to pick me up. When he pulls up in his 1983 Subaru wagon (paint flaking off, muffler broken, full of garbage) I remark, "This things on it's last legs, huh?" John cheerfully replies, "I hope not, this is the car we're taking to L.A. and then I'm going to Mexico to camp and surf." I know I'm in for an interesting week.
We go back to John's offices/studio and he deals with a few more details (i.e.: Pretends he's busy so I think he works hard.) I look around his recently moved and rebuilt control room at his studio, The Hangar, and admire all the strange gear he keeps buying on eBay. I think he might be spending all our magazine profits on eBay on esoteric gear. No wonder I can't make my Ferrari and yacht payments.
We eventually make it back to John's new house. He probably bought it with money he made fleecing all the bands in Sacramento at his funky studio. Poor saps. The house is nice - really large with lots of room for surfboards and bikes in the basement. We go out to dinner at some Italian restaurant chain place that is pretty darn good. John's wife Maria tries to look interested whenever the conversation drifts to recording or Tape Op. She knows too much about wine and food and confuses me when all I want is a plate of mac and cheese. We tried to get to sleep early as John claims we're leaving early. They give me a room in the attic that has the distinct feeling that something bad happened here. I have nightmares all night about Subaru repairs...
We get up too early and John makes us some odd breakfast burrito things. He spends about two hours trying to strap four surfboards and a mountain bike to the roof of the Subaru. I'm waiting around wondering why his cat is so strange. We finally hit the road and start heading south – our first destination is Santa Barbara where we are to interview Alan Parsons. We managed to set up this interview through our pal Les Camacho at Transamerica Audio Group, which is always better than doing it through some PR person (i.e.: the interviewee might actually be interested in talking and they're usually not doing a string of interviews for some publicity and giving the same answers all day). We drive through swamplands (John kept calling it a "delta" or something) and then get in some scary fog where we can't see the road ahead. (We took the 101 instead of I-5. The Subaru did the grapevine once and it's not something I want to experience again. Besides the surf is great in Santa Barbara, one of the reasons I'd suggested to Larry that we interview Alan. –JB) We pull into Santa Barbara a bit later than planned and I worry that Alan Parsons is gonna be mad at us. We manage to get him on John's crummy cell phone where Alan's trying to give me directions even though I can't hear a word he's saying. What a great way to start an interview, yelling, "What?" at him over a phone for 15 minutes. We search for street signs phonetically - "Haba Vaway" I think? Is that it? Meanwhile the car is running like it's about to die, and making a huge racket as we climb the hills surrounded by very nice homes. Homeowners glare at us as we drive by. We make it to Alan's home where he greets us, we meet his engineer/collaborator PJ, and he lets us hear some new material (quite excellent, actually) and we do a fun interview. John and I take photos of Alan, and amazingly my digital pix kick ass on his film. The coolest thing about Alan is his platinum record for sales of Pink Floyd's Meddle, an album he didn't even work on! Alan was totally enjoyable to hang with – look for the interview with him in Tape Op #42.
John and I find a run down hotel by the coast in Santa Barbara (John's specialty, cheap places to stay) and have a nice dinner at a seafood place that Alan recommended. We crash out after watching The Kids Are Alright on my computer's DVD player. I have an adapter that plugs into the video input on some TV sets – pretty cool.
John always wakes up too early to go check the surf. He wakes me up of course but that's okay as the fleabites from this place are starting to itch. We grab a breakfast at the original "Sambos" restaurant. They try to cover up the racism there but it still lurks underneath. Weird. John drags me to the beach where he dons a wetsuit and hits the surf. I get a few shots of him actually catching waves - funny, but for all this time I thought he was lying about surfing just to seem cool.
He keeps saying something about renting me a wetsuit but I pretend I can't hear him. I answer email at a picnic bench with my cell phone plugged in. Pretty nifty.
We head down the coast, stopping at another surf break while I wait for John to play around with his big surfboard in tiny waves and then stop for tacos in Ventura at a "real" Mexican joint. In the early evening we pull into Laguna Beach to crash at Geoff and Debbie Daking's place. We unload all the surfboards into their front yard. Geoff won't allow talk about pro audio in his house so we have to pretend that we have lives outside of that world as we hang out. We eventually head out to dinner at some Caribbean restaurant that is amazing. The owner starts running Geoff and John through some rum tasting. By the end I'm elected to drive all these drunkards home (as I'm not drinking) so we pile John, Geoff, Debbie and their friend into a VW minibus/camper and I haul them home. Geoff has broadband Ethernet so I plug in my laptop in to send Alan a photo to use for an upcoming book that has an interview with him (who knew, Larry Crane: Photographer?). Geoff sees my computer and grabs it and starts deleting programs and updating software. Before I know it my whole desktop is scrambled and I'm using new email and browser programs. This will take me weeks to reconfigure. Never mix alcohol and laptops. Debbie sets me up with a bed in a hallway - I guess all the servants take up more rooms than I thought at the Daking mansion, where I have nightmares about VW minibuses breaking down in the desert. Must have been thirsty?
We have some delicious food with the Dakings (as always) and head into Anaheim for the NAMM show. The damn car is sputtering and coughing as usual, John says it's fine. We wonder if the "other" magazines are riding into NAMM in a beat up Subaru with a bike on top. Luckily we actually make it there. We check into the sleazy dive that John booked for the stay in Anaheim. He always makes us stay in the same place every year – he probably gets some kickback that he pockets. We have to share a room with Andy Hong, who offers to sleep on the hide-a-bed couch, alleviating all of our paranoia about sharing beds. No doubt if John could save $3 we'd be sharing beds though.
We went to the NAMM show for the day.
For dinner we trekked into Hollywood or some such place to meet with Andy's pal Sarah. We had amazing Japanese food: Sashimi, noodles, raw quail eggs, etc. Did I mention raw quail eggs? Oh yes. John and I passed on them, which you mixed into the soba noodles. Andy didn't pass. After seeing some really dreadful bands at the Viper Room, we drove back into Anaheim in Andy's huge rental SUV with his portable GPS system (no shit). At this point I must diverge and explain Andy Hong. Yes, Andy is our Gear Reviews Editor, but he is also an international man of mystery. Really. He lives in Boston, where he and his brother have an architecture business and a cool home they built. Next to the home and attached to the architecture offices, there's Andy's studio. He only records what he wants to do, a concept I cannot fathom. But the funny thing is that Andy also works for some company in Amsterdam, where he is seen quite often. Plus he's in NY and L.A. a lot. When we quiz him about stuff we get evasive answers like, "I'm actually retired" or "I own several corporations." No one is quite sure what's really going on but I think secret government agent might not be too far of the mark. He plays a good cover though.
We wake up and Andy apologizes for keeping us awake all night. As I always wear earplugs to drown out John's snoring, I ask what was going on. Apparently raw quail eggs might make one sick, very sick. His body was trying to rid itself of the eggs all night. We never see Andy again as he misses all his meetings and claims he's snowboarding. Hmmm. Secret mission with elaborate cover perhaps?
We went to the NAMM show for the day.
For dinner John and I found the one half decent restaurant in Anaheim – a Mexican restaurant near our motel. For anyone traveling through Anaheim – give up on finding good food in most cases. The whole area is considered a "resort" and is geared to fleece families of their dough when they bring the kids to Disneyland. So imagine too many "family" restaurants with awful food. Hideous food. And "theme" restaurants where people in armor joust as you eat. Huh? We crash out, exhausted, still glad we didn't eat quail eggs.
Breakfast at Carl's Junior. John pretends it's really good but I know he's still cutting corners. I ask him why Tascam couldn't take us out for breakfast. He acts like he didn't hear me.
Lunch with John LaGrou and his photographer pal Frank Bevans is pleasant. Hearing John's tales of playing prog rock was fascinating, if a bit scary.
For dinner we plan to drive to an Italian place in Newport Beach or somewhere (gotta escape family dining) and meet the Dakings. We get in the Subaru and get about two blocks before the clutch cable breaks. I'm not surprised. We call a tow truck, which shows up an hour later. He can't help us because we need a flat bed truck as the car is 4WD. Amazingly that truck shows up sooner. We've cancelled our dinner plans with Geoff and Debbie, and cancelled our drink plans with Will Bailey (tech head buddy from Seattle) and Bob Muller (Dangerous Music). We eventually get towed into Laguna Beach where we deposit the broken car in Geoff's driveway. Finally, some revenge for messing up my laptop. Geoff and Debbie have friends over and are snacking on some great food, which we share in. Geoff loans us a car, which I have to drive since John drank all Geoff's wine. We head back to Anaheim and crash out.
We get up and pack up. After another fine breakfast at Carl's Junior John drops me off at the airport. I'm early, so I edit more of the magazine and wait. The flight home is uneventful besides the usual kids screaming in the aisle behind me. In Portland my lovely wife, Jane Cowan, picks me up at the airport and we go out for steaks.
Meanwhile, John heads to Mexico…
Part Two - by John Baccigaluppi
I had no doubts that I'd still make it to Mexico, if maybe a day or two late, and luck was with me. Within minutes of dropping Larry off at the airport, I spot a Kragen store and buy their last Subaru clutch cable. With Geoff's help, the clutch cable gets put in and I'm back on the road to Mexico within an hour or two.
I stop in San Diego to pick up Jon Erickson who's going to make the trip to Mexico with me. Jon's a good person to have on a road trip, as he's a man of many talents: Audio gear designer (Fulcrum summing buss), vintage audio gear racking specialist, a monster bass player who's taking lessons with Carol Kaye (Look for a Tape Op interview with her soon) and has played with Bart Davenport and the Loved Ones, and engineer/producer (Bart, The Moore Brothers, etc.), but more importantly, Jon once worked as an auto mechanic. "So do you know Subaru's pretty well?" I asked him. His girlfriend Jane looked a bit worried as we pulled out of their driveway in the Suby.
We crossed the border uneventfully but almost get in a major wreck when we almost missed the turn-off for Ensenada. The plan was to meet up with three more guys down in Mexico, Monsterlab Audio mastering engineer and occasional Tape Op contributor Eric Broyhill, Hangar intern extraordinaire, Brandon Oreno, and our friend Hosh McCray who's one of those guys who's way too musically talented for his own good. This is why I had so many surfboards on the car.
We get to the hotel that Eric was raving about being so great and cheap, and Jon and I both kind of look at each other dubiously. Good thing Larry's not here to complain about the hotel. This place makes everywhere else we stayed on this trip look like the Fairmont Grand and was twice as many pesos as Eric had told us it was. The bartender was friendly and they did have a pool table, but other than that, the place looked like a set for one of those horror films set in a desert. I'd previously told friends that you can't get a bad meal in Mexico. I stand corrected. The place was right on the beach, but it had to be one of the most dirty, featureless beaches I've seen with a funky –not in a good way- marina at one end. Development in Northern Baja is pretty extensive and I can't say very much of it comes off as very well thought out. Prices seem much higher since the last time I was through as well, a sign that maybe NAFTA is working or there are too many gringos like me, I'm not sure which.
I'd talked to Eric on the phone a few hours before we got to the hotel, and he told me, "Don't leave the hotel, wait for us and we'll meet you there and go get some dinner." Eric's usually pretty reliable, so by midnight when they hadn't shown up I was wondering if they'd met some girls, got the car stuck in some sand, gotten arrested or Eric had killed himself flying this kite like paraglider thing he flings himself off cliffs with.
He's always trying to get me to try it, but after he tells me about the numerous people he knows who've been killed on the things, I think I'll stick to my small wave, big board surfing.
When Eric, Hosh and Brandon roll in around 1 AM, Eric is bleeding profusely and they are the drunkest I've ever seen anyone who's not passed out on the porch of my studio puking. Eric tackles Jon, who he's never met, and throws him onto the floor. We never really get a coherent story out of them, but there are some very interesting vignettes that don't quite fit together. The next day, nobody can remember anything, and Eric spends the next day hungover and then catches a cold for the rest of trip and sleeps a lot. No stamina.
Every trip I've ever made to Mexico has been a blast but the first night is always a bit off. This is a good omen for the rest of the trip.
Jon and I can't take the scenery or lack thereof at the divey cantina, and book a room at the La Fonda Hotel just up the road.
This place is great, exactly what a Mexican vacation should be like: a cheap room, with lots of character and a big porch overlooking the ocean. All five of us squeeze into the room, which also has a kitchen and one of those Mexican chimney fireplace thingies. Way too nice for five guys, but what the hell, that sucker Larry Crane is footing the bill.
We look for surf, but it's way too big and blown out everywhere. We drive by some sand dunes where they rent ATV's and Jon insists we stop. We pull up with beers and the guy renting the ATV's is not amused. "No cervezas," he says frowning at us and unsure if he's gonna rent to us. Good thing Eric's back at the hotel passed out. He finally decides to take our money and we spend the next hour blasting around the once pristine sand dunes on the loud, two stroke ATVs doing our part to help the Mexican vehicle emissions reach the required levels. I'm a bit of tree hugger type, and while I don't plan on buying an ATV, it was pretty damn fun.
We get lunch at a Mariscos (seafood) stand overlooking the ocean. Cold Pacificos and some great ceviché (raw fish 'cooked' in citrus juice) were just right. I was beginning to settle into the Mexico vibe and pace.
I had hit a rock in a dirt lot when we were looking for surf yesterday and knocked some part of the exhaust system near the front of the Suby loose. The car went from bad to worse. It sounded like a Harley, but had all the power of a minibike. We looked around for more surf, but everything was still too big or blown out. We spent some time trying to find some exhaust pipe tape, but my Spanish sucked in the small auto parts stores. I can order food and beer pretty good, but that's about it.
I had hoped to drive to a pointbreak I'd heard was good, about three hours south of Ensenada and camp there for a few nights. But, factoring in the condition of the Suby, and the isolated dirt roads that lead there, we decided to stay put. Besides, Eric was still mostly passed out and the rest of us were settling into a slower paced Mexican vibe. Why bother to drive another three hours to another beach when we had a perfectly nice beach on our doorstep?
We drove into Ensenada and settled into a pattern we'd repeat for the next two days: Go to Ensenada, find a bar that seemed kind of goofy, have a few beers and shots of Tequila, and then hit the fish market on the way out of town.
The fish market was incredible! It's an open-air market with about 75 different stalls where the fisherman sold the fish they'd caught earlier that day. Every kind of fish you could imagine including a whole shark! We left the shark though as it's bad surfing karma to eat sharks and bought the biggest swordfish steak I've ever seen – about the size of a basketball and an inch thick - and four marlin steaks. Cost: $6.50 US dollars.
The fresh fish and handmade tortillas that you can only seem to find in Mexico made a great dinner.
That night Hosh walks down the street to a market and gets bit in the leg by a dog. I seem weeks later and the wound which at first looked pretty minor is still swollen and ugly looking.
Jon Erickson had had enough of the Subaru and us, and took a bus back home. He's never answered any of the calls or e-mails I've left him since. I hope he's okay and doesn't want to ever see me again, as opposed to still being lost somewhere in Baja.
After a home cooked breakfast of chorizo, eggs and potatoes, we finally got a chance to surf some sloppy whitewash outside of our room. It was fun to finally get back in the ocean. Eric was still in bed though. Have you ever cooked chorizo? You squish this blob of meat like substance out of the casing into the pan. It's kind of tough and you wonder if you'll be able to squish it down enough to make some bite size pieces. You pause to read the ingredients. Don't do this if the thought of eating odd leftover animal parts gives you pause. By the time you've finished reading the label, you notice that the blobs have melted and the pan is now filled with a dark red liquid grease and about one tablespoon of actual meat looking things floating around in it. Sure was yummy though…
That day's excursion to Ensenada brought back more swordfish and two lobsters.
Eric finally gets out of bed and decides to head into Tijuana for some fun. I'm happily married however and this doesn't sound that fun to me. Brandon drives him. Hosh is broke so he stays with me and we drink beer and light fireworks on the beach. The good kind that are illegal in most of the USA.
After more chorizo it's time to leave Mexico.
I cross some line that says 'DO NOT CROSS LINE' at the border crossing and the customs guy is screaming at me to back up but I can't hear him so good over the Subaru. When it's my turn to cross he gives me a dirty look and asks me what all the stuff is that's piled up in the back of the car. "Camping gear?" I reply. He waves me through. I guess he figured I was too stupid to be a drug smuggler.
We stop and look for surf a bunch, and after hours of L.A. traffic, we finally end up on some super fun waves at Sunset Cliffs between Malibu and Santa Monica. That night we have dinner in Malibu with Tape Op photographer Jeff Gros, and find out that some of our friend's bands, Revolution Smile and Quitter, are playing the Roxy that night. We talk Brandon into driving us, and I'm back on Sunset strip. Total goofball scene if you ask me. But, it's always fun to show up at gigs where your friends are playing in strange towns where they don't expect to see you and show some support. Both bands rocked and we had a good time buying overpriced drinks. I had my first ever $10 beer, which is just like a $4 beer, but it costs $10. I couldn't bring myself to leave the heroin chic styled bar maid a tip although I did kinda feel sorry for her. Nobody's gonna leave tips when the beer is ten bucks.
We're on our way to Ventura, one of my favorite places in SoCal. We stop by a fun little surf break between Santa Barbara and Montecito and everybody has a fun few hours surfing.
Then we hit the skatepark in Santa Barbara. This is one of my favorite skateparks and it doesn't hurt that it's right on the beach. An action packed day. We head back to Ventura and set up camp at a campsite just outside of town. This is kind of a NAMM tradition for me. It's so nice to leave the cold, gray, dreary NorCal weather behind and camp on a beach in shorts and sandals. It turns out that Wave Lab head honcho and TapeOpCon coordinator Craig Schumacher is in town mastering a record with J.J. Golden. On the way to visit Craig and J.J., I found a muffler store that was still open and the nice guy who owned it, Pedro, welded my exhaust manifold for me. The Suby was running great now!
We all met with Craig and J.J. and had dinner. If you're ever in Ventura, I highly recommend a restaurant that's simply called "A Pretty Good Thai and Peruvian Restaurant." Don't confuse it with those other Thai and Peruvian restaurants that are only good or maybe even bad. Any way, it's right on Main Street and the Peruvian menu is unusual and more than good, it's excellent.
J.J. had to leave, but we talked Craig into coming back to our campsite and hang out at our campfire. Eric Boyer, one of Blue Microphone's main honchos, lives in Ventura and we coerced him into coming to our campsite too. We had an important post NAMM de-briefing and discussed the upcoming TapeOpCon in New Orleans. We also did some research into the melting point of beer bottles.
And Larry thinks all I do is goof off…
We wake up to a cloudy, drizzling sky and blown out surf. It's time to head back. It was another very productive NAMM show, but in the words of Elton John, "I miss my home, I miss my wife" or something like that. The Suby ran great and I made it home in time to have dinner with Maria.
Look for our TapeOpCon and Summer NAMM reports next. I hear there's good surf in Florida and North Carolina and Andy Hong's talking about going to Cuba. Hmm, maybe Larry's on to something with this government agent thing.