Category Archives: professional musicians show

Navidad – Going To Mexico


Our recent annual Posadas Parties gig in downtown Los Angeles ended quietly on December 24th.  As we were setting up several employees asked if the evening would end earlier than the other nights, and Yes, we said. We used less equipment and smaller speakers, and shortened the times between events, so that we ended about 9:15 instead of at 10 p.m.

Some of our equipment, waiting to be stored – up two flights of stairs – the life of a musician!
We trudged up and down stairs and put away our equipment in the storage room. We said our goodbyes to the dancers, the puppeteer and the employees, and drove to our motel for our last night.
In the morning we packed up our equipment and clothing, and went to a local pawn shop to purchase a drum machine we had spotted similar to the one we like to use for recording. We then drove to a cousin’s house near Covina where we enjoyed a wonderful meal with ham as a main dish (thank you, Sylvia!. In spite of all the excellent meats available in Mexico, ham and turkey are two things that just are not of the same quality. I am not embarrassed to say that I had several many servings of ham. I had an extremely enjoyable conversation with Sylvia and her lovely daughter while the daughter made guacamole as Christmas gifts for her friends. They were so attentive I probably talked way too much. I do miss having women friends to talk to, and I probably totally dominated the table talk.
As the afternoon wore on I began to cast glances at the clock and fret a little about leaving on time. Our car was due back at the rental agency in San Diego at 9 p.m., and I hazarded a guess that it would be perhaps a three-hour drive. We left about 6:45 after our goodbyes. While I kept driving at a steady pace for about three hours, Chon napped off and on.
We were on an unfamiliar freeway, and it just didn’t feel like exactly the right direction. When I began seeing signs for San Diego, but not for the airport, I called my sister, who was on the receiving end of a snow-and-ice storm in Arkansas. She speedily looked for directions to the airport (she is really, really good at using the computer), and told me if I saw highway 163 I should take it. As her words came through the phone we were just arriving at the off-ramp, and we zoomed onto it. Her directions were perfect and in a short time we were near the airport; we gassed up the car, checked it in and re-packed our things.
I may not have mentioned that one part of our luggage was a large box (The Box) with digital recording equipment we had purchased in Los Angeles. Chon packed it with clothing for additional protection. It had carrying handles, but it was quite heavy and rather awkward. In addition I was carrying a bag we bought at a thrift shop because it had wheels for ease of movement.
Although we had taken the Volaris shuttle from the Tijuana airport to the San Diego airport, we weren’t exactly sure how to catch it back to the Tijuana airport. Although I was fairly sure of the location, I hadn’t really thought about the lateness of our return, and wondered if it would come. An extremely rude taxi driver tried to convince us that my directions were wrong. We showed up, though, at the Amtrak station, and I got directions for the shuttle stop right outside the door. It would arrive, the attendant told us, at 11 p.m. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 1:10 a.m., and we were beginning to feel pinched for time. That is to say, this is when both of us were feeling that pinch; I had felt concerned since, say, about 5 p.m. There was one other person besides us at the shuttle stop, a young man who told us HIS flight was leaving at 11:45.
Our luggage under street lights, outside the Metro Station in San Diego, CA. See The Box?
We looked at each other wordlessly. IF the shuttle arrived at the scheduled time, and IF it took zero minutes to officially cross the border, it still would just not be possible for him to make his flight because of the 20-or-so-minute drive to the border. He suspected it, and we knew it. He asked if we would like to share a taxi. There was one parked a half-block away, and before Chon went to ask if it was available, I asked him to make sure the driver wasn’t a complete A. He wasn’t, and it was available. He wanted $50 to drive us to the border, and the other passenger offered to pay half.  That made OUR taxi ride cheaper than taking the shuttle! We got a strong young guy to help carry The Box, and HE got at least a chance to make his flight.
We raced to the border, the cab driver probably in a hurry to harvest more work on this busy Christmas night. The cabbie had lied, however, when he told us that it wasn’t far for us to walk to cross the border; “less than a block”, he said. We tumbled out of the cab and unloaded our gear and began to walk on the new pedestrian path across the border. My bag, the one with wheels, would begin to rock wildly if I walked speedily or held the handle too high, so I brought up the rear.
We sweated our way along the well-lit, smooth sidewalk that led to a small brilliantly lit room where a sleepy-eyed female border agent asked us where we were coming from, and going to. Chon told her that the three of us were a band, and we were making a regular border crossing to play at a party. She waved us past her with a bored smile.
And then we walked, and walked. And walked some more. The sidewalk became a bridge. With many switchbacks. Chon and the young guy made several changes of sides of The Box because their hands hurt. Several times we passed a middle-aged gringo (and he passed us), and one of those times he asked us, panting, if we wanted to share a taxi. Yes, we did. As we finally arrived, panting, at the taxi parking area, we beckoned to him to hurry so he could ride with us. The taxi driver quoted a $20 price (yes, $5 apiece) and amazingly, loaded The Box and some other luggage into the truck and tied the trunk lid down. The four of us piled in, and passed around our smaller bags so that we could fit.
We started off for the airport, and every time we drove across a pot-hole the trunk lid would bang and the gringo with us would mutter “bad shocks”. We made it to the airport in record time, and the young guy and Chon picked up The Box again and carried it to the luggage scanner. We made it through that first hurdle and I had my visa checked. The young guy began to slink away, and Chon called him back to haul The Box to our check-in line, where he promptly and efficiently disappeared. Who could blame him? He DID make his flight, though.
And WE pushed The Box through the lines to the check-in, where we paid for the extra weight. Then we headed with our backpacks to the security check, where we were told that we could not carry our (brand-new, extra-heavy-duty, expensive) instrument cords in our carry-on luggage. (What???? No electrical cables in carry-on? That is not something I have seen listed as being prohibited by the airlines.) I waited while Chon ran back to the check-in counter where the airline workers told him to leave his backpack with them.  As this was simply not an option (great NEW backpack designed for computer, with a fine drum machine inside), he talked them into leaving only the cables with them, and returned cum backpack to the security check-in, and then, finally, we were through, and the rest was easy.
The Volaris flight took off and arrived on time (congratulations, Volaris!), and when we arrived I had my first opportunity (??) to help carry The Box. After only a few seconds I was so relieved that I hadn’t been the one drafted to lug it all the way across the immigration trails!
A friend picked us up at the airport, and as we headed for the highway to take us home, there were hundreds and hundreds of urracas, boat-tailed grackles, in enormous parvadas , flocks, flying overhead.
We got home about 40 minutes later, unloaded our things and went to sleep for four hours.

  

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POSADAS 2010

Ex-pat goes back to California after nearly two months in our house in Mexico:

We are professional musicians, and every year for the last 23 years we have done a special show in one of Los Angeles’ oldest restaurants, La Golondrina, on Olvera Street.


We left Guanajuato on a Monday.  We had changed our flight date from Friday because we needed to be there overlooking the construction. We had  also thought that more of our things were arriving from Nogales, and the workers were about to start digging for the foundation of the new room.  Chon wanted to be there to make sure they really started, partly because a niece, Irene, had been criticizing  them and us every time she passed by. We weren’t sure if they would keep working.

The flight was the early one we usually take when we leave the airport called El Bajio in Leon, and we arrived in Tijuana about 8:30 a.m.  We tried a new bus company to get to LA.  There are several that specialize, it seems, in taking people across the border (nearly all Hispanic, although once there were ten or twelve Italians traveling on our bus).  The bus stops at the border and discharges all the passengers, then we get picked up again after going through customs.  This company, Coneccion Magica, had nice new buses, and the trip was unremarkable except for the fact that the bus stopped at their own loading spot only about ten minutes from the airport, then stopped again to fill up the gas tank before taking us to the border.  After arriving in LA we walked about half a mile to an AVIS office and rented a gray Ford Focus.

We drove to our house in Lake Elizabeth, congratulating ourselves on the fact that the car rental would be much less than staying in a hotel.  We couldn’t get the mattress down from above the garage, so we made a bed on the living room floor with blankets and and pillows that were still there.  It hasn’t been very uncomfortable sleeping there, warmed with an electric radiator-type heater.

The first day was perfect fall-into-winter weather, but then a large tropical storm hit that has soaked the entire southland. At night the wind tears at the house and it’s a little scary when you are awake.  A window was broken when we arrived, and we temporarily repaired it by cutting a sheet of foam insulation to fit the window so the cracked glass didn’t fall completely out. We also had an adventure getting the water heater lit: the propane tank was completely empty.  We finally borrowed a large propane tank from a local mobile home manager – a long-haired guy who said “I don’t even know you guys, but I’m going to loan you my own tank.  It has nine gallons of propane in it right now, and when you bring it back we’ll see how much it takes to fill it again, and you can pay me for what you used.”  Pretty cool, man, but after Chon hooked it up outside we still couldn’t get the water heater lit.  A cold bath later, I went and talked to the man again.  He said we had to bleed the air out of the pipe before lighting it, and was very stern with me, telling me to really pay attention to his instructions.  We followed them, and now we have hot water.

And there was the deja vu factor – we had left some things in the garage, and it turned out to be much, much more than I had realized.  So we have ended up unloading Foxy, our big  Ford box truck, and bringing things down from the attic space in the garage.  It’s a lot of work, and rather depressing at the same time.

Since we have officially moved  to Mexico I am more aware of how many unnecessary belongings we took with us.  And there are more of them here, so we have the same decisions to make – toss it, deliver it to a thrift shop, or take it with us. We are both unofficial collectors of eclectic things, and most of the things we liked before, we still like.  It’s difficult.

Chon is entirely focused on searching for two bags that he has been missing since we drove to Nogales – a bag with a large collection of guitar picks, hand-selected over the years, and a bag of jewelry – watches, rings, chains, and more importantly, a small digital recorder with probably 180 original songs on it.  We have discussed this loss endlessly, with heavy-duty speculation as to what has happened to the two bags. it’s all speculation, and trying to remember what happened the last hour or so (news flash!! Chon just found two, TWO recorders!! that were not in the famous two bags, after all) of that final day of packing, when we were exhausted.  We just don’t know what happened to the bags.

*
Our gig at La Golondrina is going well, even though attendance is low this year, matching the economy.  The first night there were only twenty guests.  The second night the entire restaurant was reserved for a family that has been attending for at least twenty years.  There were over 50 children, and the place was packed.  It was the Kilroy family and friends. This year Bob Baker is not performing, and I miss him, although he has sent a very talented young puppeteer, Eric.  I love the marionettes.  I have old, happy meomories of Bob Baker – when I was about twelve, I think, I saw the Bob Baker Marionnettes in a Community Concerts performance at MJC.  It was the story of Hansel and Gretel, and I was thrilled.  I remember the performance lighing was dark blue most of the time, and I remember the odd way the puppets moved, with that floating walking movement that they make.  I seem to remember a grid where the puppeteers stood or lay down above the stage to work the puppets. Bob told me that it was his first big gig, and that he was very young when he got the contract.  We have worked with him now at La Golondrina for about 23 years.  He does pretty much the same show every year, which the return audience looks forward to. For the performance he uses recordings of familiar songs. There is a chicken who sings opera and lays an egg, a tap-dancing cat with a hat and cane, Santa Baby with Chon’s favorite puppet, a tall pink cat with a Santa hat, high heels, and a feather boa; there is a tall couple in red that tangos to Leroy Anderson’s Jealousy; there is also Mamacita, Donde Esta Santo Claus?, and El Jarabe Tapatio, a Mexican folkloric dance. 

I like to tell the audience that they know it was a good performance if your face hurts from smiling.  Last night the audience was tiny (maybe 6 kids total), and the performance was very, very good. Three little girls dashed out onto the dance floor, after their original fear of the marionettes, and were twirling around, dancing with the puppets. For me it was magical!  I never tire of the show.

Here’s Bob before a show:

                         
And it’s always fun to see kids reacting to the puppets – their reactions range from fear and delight (little kids) to feigned boredom (big kids).  The performance at La Golondrina takes place on the dance floor.  We invite the kids to come and sit around the edges of the area, and the marionettes get close to them.

The tiniest non-shy children usually wriggle out of their parents’ or grandparents’s arms and run towards the puppets.  The ones who follow the rules, usually the next -bigger ones, sit still and often hold out their arms in a beseeching manner.  Sometimes a child will get distracted for a moment and then be startled by a marionette right in their face.  The teenage kids try mightily to look bored, but almost always end up smiling and throwing sidelong glances at each other to see how their siblings, or friends are reacting.

It’s interesting to observe the families that attend year after year.  The first couple of years we were there it would surprise me to snotice familiar faces gradually.  now I remember some of them when they arrive.  We call the names of the children as they take their turn at the pinata.  I remember some of the names: white-blonde Mia, her cousin Harper, Antonio, Conor, and Freddy.  I suppose it’s that the names aren’t common these days.

One evening I watched a large family.  There was a grandmother and grandpa, both around my age – no, a little younger.  They have three  married daughters and eight grandchildren.  The mothers were not as attractive as their parents, and one of them completely ignored me when I approached her and her sister, who were visiting rather intensely.  I asked “Who are the mommies?” because the children were dressed exquisitely and I wanted to congratulate them.  One woman said “We are,” and the other one just kept right on talking.  I said how wonderful the children looked, but I doubt that either one heard me.  And the children DID look great.  There were six little girls, aged about 5 to 9.  They all wore red velvet dresses. The dresses weren’t exactly the same; some had ruffles around the bottom edge, some were pinafores, but each dress and each little girl looked great.  There were two little boys, too, wearing dress pants, white shirts and ties.  The women weren’t as attractive as either their mother or father,   But their husbands were rather doll-like and cute.  The mothers did all the organization and took many pictures and talked intensely. 

More posada guests:
One night there was a wonderfully nerdy boy (I use the term with full appreciation of the word).  He must have been 10 or 11 years old.  He had blondish hair.  He was wearing glasses, and a t-shirt and sweatpants with tennis shoes.  That separated him from most of the other kids right there, because they usually come Dressed Up to please their parents.  This kid was very earnest, and began visiting with me right away, even trying to talk to me while I was playing and singing.  Perhaps he thought I could add another skill to my musicianship.  He wanted to tell me that I was “doing a great job”.  Later on, when he was lined up for his turn to whack the pinata, he noticed that we asked each child his/her name and announced it on the microphone when they were taking their turn at the pinata; he caught my attention, and said, importantly and confidentially at the same time, “By the way, my name is Sean.”  When it was his turn about four kids later, his glasses were nowhere to be seen – I assume he took them off so they wouldn’t be in danger of being broken.

Another boy, another night, named Charlie, was just so – confidently boyish.  He loved the music, and would dance unabashedly to any type of rhythm.  He must have been about 8.  He hadn’t yet reached that time when he will be embarrassed to dance with his mother or other kids, pick up a small child, laugh at the marionettes.

While we are working there they give us a meal every night (an especially good thing this year since we are camping out here at our house with no stove or fridge!).  Years ago the food wasn’t nearly as good there as it is now, and we sometimes tired of it.  But now, Chon usually orders Enchiladas Suizas, chicken enchiladas with green sauce and sour cream, and I change around – Chicken Salad with a great vinaigrette (with a touch of chile!) or Tortilla Soup, or Beef Soup, or Tacos de Machaca (shredded beef).  It’s all quite good.  We have known most of the staff there for many years and it (almost ) seems like a family.  Well, better, really, because everyone is on their best professional, friendly behavior.  There is usually quite a bit of catching-up to do, hearing who had a baby, or who moved, or started taking new English classes, and the like.

Tonight is the sixth posada dinner show.  There are ten nights altogether.  And last night I came down with something nasty – I have a very sore throat.  I was so happy not to be sick this year…

Well, the final night, Christmas Eve, my voice was pretty much gone.  I sang the Christmas carols anyway, sort of.  Chon set the sound so my mic was very hot, and the voice I heaqd sounded a little like me.  Chon did much of the talking that I usually do, and we made it through the night together. 

Here’s a photo of part of our performance set-up.

A few comments about Chon’s skills: he is a very skilled musician.  He doesn’t like to say he is gifted – he says that he has worked hard to be at the level he is now.  Anyway, he is also very, very good at managing sound, something most people just take for granted.  At La Golondrina, first of all, he must consider the space itself.  The restauarant is all hard surfaces – wood and concrete floors, and brick walls.  Chon is given cassettes and CD’s and CD player by the dance group and Bob Baker for the puppet show.  They either have not been well-recorded, or are being played by a not-so-high-quality CD player.  Chon changes the equalization for each act, and often in the middle of a song to make each performance sound better.  He also does this for us, adjusting the sound and volume of my keyboard and our voices – all without missing a note, while we are performing!