|A Science Fiction Fanzine||Winter 2008|
Chall pal Gary Robe reported on being kidnapped in Challenger #26. Thank heaven he now
tells us of a marvelous adventure – and a musical one.
Illo by Charlie Williams
Most of the time I love my job, but there are some times that stand out as better than others. I am a chemist working for Eastman Chemical Company at the corporate research center in Kingsport, Tennessee. Just in case obscure Tennessee geography isn’t your hobby that is way up in the far northeast corner of the state. The area is known as Tri-Cities due to the confluence of NASCAR famous Bristol, Johnson City, the home of East Tennessee State University, and Kingsport, which can best be described as a mill town. I describe Kingsport as a great place to live; it is quiet at night for sleeping and it has roads that lead elsewhere. Kingsport is what you might call centrally isolated. It is right in the middle of many interesting places, it’s just not close to any of them. In any event, my job usually protects me from developing cabin fever. I speak fluent Spanish so part of my job is to provide tech service and development support for Latin America for my area of expertise which happens to be adhesives and coatings. I get to travel extensively in the region which means I have a nearly inexhaustible supply of travel stories to pass off as party conversation. Some of those can be scary like the time I got kidnapped in Peru. Others can be as over-the-top as what happened to me during my trip to Mexico in June 2007.
Sometimes an unlikely chain of events puts you in the right place at the right time. This particular sequence started at 4:30 am EDT on Monday June 4 as I rolled out of bed to prepare to catch the 6 am flight from Tri-Cities Non-ternational Airport to Atlanta. I had just returned from a week-long backcountry wilderness hiking and camping trip to Cumberland Island, Georgia with my son’s Boy Scout troop. At least the red-eye flight is reliable since there is usually at least one airplane that has ended its previous day at Tri-Cities. The only notable thing about the flight from Atlanta to Mexico is that I don't remember it. I had a window seat and I conked out asleep as the plane pulled away from the terminal. My next conscious thought was the jolt of landing in Mexico City.
My layover between Cumberland Island and Mexico was so short because I had no control on the timing of either trip. Our reservation for Cumberland Island for May 27 through June 2nd had been made six months prior to our stay. The only time the meeting room was available in the Club de Industriales in Mexico City for me to give a seminar on nerdy aspects of adhesive formulation was on the evening of Monday the 4th.
I arrived in Mexico City at about 1 pm CDT. The lecture started at 6 and lasted until 8. After that there was a cocktail reception that I didn't get to enjoy much because of the line of questioners I had at the conclusion of the speech. The Eastman salesman for Mexico City, Carlos Cota, then herded a group of important customers over to me for private consultations. I didn’t get all the questions answered until nearly 10 pm. By that time I had been on my feet and talking continuously for four hours.
My good friend and esteemed colleague Marisol Cosio rescued me by asking if I wanted to go grab a drink and something to eat in order to separate me from the last batch of inquisitors. Marisol and I have had a lot of fun working together over the years after I taught her how to sell solvents using the Eastman Solvent Selector Chart. She is now responsible for marketing communications in Mexico so she had the job of handling the logistics for the seminar. I felt since the two of us had done all the work in putting on the show Eastman owed us a drink or two. She suggested that we go to the Celtic Pub across the street from the Club de Industriales. Simple decisions can sometimes be more important that they seem at the moment you make them.
At the bar Marisol and I ordered beers and a light meal. We were having a nice conversation between ourselves and some others patrons when a guy walked up to the bartender to order another round. Marisol's eyes suddenly got big and she pointed to the guy standing behind me. "I know you," she exclaimed, "You are Izzy! You play for Guns 'n Roses!"
"Yep, you're right!" he said. "We're in town for a show tomorrow so we're out with the gang seeing a bit of Mexico City tonight."
"I know!" replied Marisol, "I've got tickets to the show! I'm gonna be there!"
Before you ask and get all excited, Axl Rose and Slash were not out on the town with the rest of the band. They had played a gig in Guadalajara the night before and were going on stage in Mexico City on the following night and Axl was resting, so I didn't actually get to meet him. Slash has left Guns ‘n Roses to go solo but I met his replacement. What I did get to do was party the night away with Guns 'n Roses to the point I was given an Official Band Nickname before dawn that morning.
On hearing Marisol’s excited conversation with Izzy, Duff, the bass player and several of the roadies had come over to the bar to make sure they weren’t getting in trouble with groupies. Marisol is an attractive young lady so as soon as the band realized that we weren't going to go all Wayne's World on them, they started to chat with us. After a few minutes the band members started to ask Marisol where her seats were for the concert.
"Oh, they are way in back." Marisol shrugged, "I'm inside the place, that's all I care about."
"That won't do at all!" replied Dan, one of the crew members, "Let me give you my cell phone number. All you have to do is text a message to me and we'll have you backstage."
A flurry of cell numbers were exchanged as Dan and others convinced Marisol she would be very welcome backstage during the show. We continued to talk for a while. We asked them about the tour and they asked us about what we did in Mexico. After about an hour Dan said that they wanted to see more of the city. He produced a list of proposed bars to hit for Marisol to look over.
Marisol bit her lip and looked over the list. "You don't want to go there!" she pointed. "This place will be crowded and noisy if that's what you like. This place is really cool but it won't be open on Monday. These are all OK, but the best place I know isn’t on this list."
"Wow," said Dan and Izzy, “you really know this city!"
"Well, I do live here," retorted Marisol.
"Great! You guys want to come with us then?" offered Dan.
At this point I am thinking about bowing and shouting "We are not worthy! We are not worthy!" I also felt the angel and devil perched on my shoulders whispering in my ear. “How many times in your life will you get invited to go bar hopping across Mexico City with Guns ‘n Roses?” asked the red guy with the pitchfork. “You’ve been up 20 hours and you have to work tomorrow!” retorted the white guy with the feathers. What I said was, "What are we waiting for?"
Mind you I was dressed in a full business suit, and carrying my laptop like a total nerd. Marisol was wearing a nice black dress, and the band was dressed like off-duty rock 'n rollers, so we were a diverse bunch to say the least! We got into their bus and Marisol directed the driver to a bar across town in the Zona Rosa. While in the van we learned that Izzy's real name is Anthony. Everyone in the band has nicknames. Dan's last name is Ruff, so his nickname is Dandruff. The tour manager's name is Gary and there are several other Garys in the crew so his nickname is OBG for Original Black Gary.
We bounced around several bars only to find that the cool places were either closed on Monday or so full that even whispering "These guys are Guns 'n Roses" in the doorman's ear couldn't get us in. Most places were crowded and noisy so there wasn't much conversation. We finally did end up in a small bar in a basement that was quiet and pleasant and not full. At this point the fact that I was from Tennessee came up and the topic of the conversation turned to whiskey.
Izzy told me that he drinks a bottle of Maker's Mark before a concert in order to get himself in the spirit.
"I know something about Makers Mark that you don't know." I confidently told him.
Izzy said, "That'd be pretty hard because I know a lot about it. I've even visited the distillery in Kentucky to watch it being made!"
"Yes," I retorted, "but I know the recipe for making the sealing wax on the bottle!"
"No way!" said the group.
"Yes way!" I said "That wax is actually a modified hot melt adhesive and I helped to develop the formula. The guy who makes it is a retired Eastman salesman, Tom Hammond, who took his retirement money and installed a hot-melt mixer in his garage. No adhesive company wanted to crap up their vats with the pigment, so Tom mixes it up at his house in Lexington, loads it into the back of his pickup, hauls it over to Loretto, sells it for 10 bucks a pound, and pockets three quarters of a mil every year for his trouble. How about that for a retirement plan?"
"And. You. Can. Make. This. Stuff?" they asked with big eyes.
"Sure, you want some?" I said, knowing the answer.
Dandruff took my business card so that when they get off tour he can contact me for a sample. Izzy wants to take it and decorate his guitar with it.
And that, my friends, is how I earned a nickname with Guns 'n Roses. Henceforth I am known as GG or simply G2 which stands for Genius Gary. If all goes well soon my work will be displayed on the Izzy's guitar.
By this time it was about 1:30 and the bar scene in the Zona Rosa was winding down so the band decided to return to the Camino Real Hotel to continue our movable drink in the all-night bar there. We end up talking about stuff in general until 4 am. I feel pretty good that stories of the goings-on at SF conventions were wild enough to impress a band Rock 'n Roller's on a world tour!
I had a lot of fun talking to the guy who does the pyrotechnics for the shows. There is a lot of technology that goes into making big, loud, bright, sparkly explosions on a stage that don't endanger anyone – much. There are also an unsurprising number of wheels that need to be greased in order to get the permits. It cost about $25,000 just to stage the pyrotechnics for the Mexico City show alone.
At 4 am we all decided it was time to pumpkinify. I needed to get up the next morning at 8 to get to the office at 9 so I could meet with Carlos for the drive to Puebla to visit a customer. The band saw us to a taxi and waved us goodbye. Marisol promised to contact them that night to get the backstage pass.
Once we were in the taxi Marisol and I turned to each other and squealed in unison, "WE ARE SOOOOOO COOL! Are we cool or what? We aren't just cool, we are the shit!” Yeah, we didn't go ga-ga or anything! We were just as cool as they were! Oh, man, I can't believe that really happened! Is it really after 4 in the morning? I don't care! That went up to 11! How many times do you run into Guns 'n Roses in a bar in Mexico City and end up bar-hopping until 4 am? I'm trying to imagine about how much cooler you could be than that and the answer is – none!" The conversation continued in a similar vein all the way back to the Polanco neighborhood where Marisol’s car was parked and where I was staying in the Nikko hotel.
The next night Marisol did go right backstage just as promised. She did get to meet Axl and had cell phone video of the concert taken about 20 feet away to prove it. They all asked where G2 was, but at the point I got back to the Nikko, at about 4:30 that evening, I was going on 25 hours with the only sleep being the flight from Atlanta to Mexico City. I had traveled all the way to Puebla that day and back – 90 miles each way. I was just too tired to consider going to a Guns ‘n Roses concert that wasn't going to start until at least midnight.
A week later I related this story to some friends at the end of a Scout troop meeting. One of the boys turned to my son Isaac and said, "How does it feel that you're going to have to live the rest of your life knowing that your dad is cooler than you?"
Yeah, baby! We're the shit!