For quite a while, a friend of my dad's and mine, and myself have been trying to get together on a musical project. He has invited me to the Mecha club in Broderick (The bad part of West Sac, you know, as opposed to those good parts it's so well known for) to listen to his band gig as well as many rehearsals. For one reason or another it hadn't worked out. We tentatively planned for yesterday, but something came up. When our conversation today started to take the familiar tone of "let's do it another time", I put my foot down and said we had to get together today. "Ok, I'll pick you up in twenty minutes," he said. And the day began.
This man, Junior Vela, is one of the sweetest guys anyone could ever meet. He picked me up and said, "man, we play like pretty much everything, from James brown to like Selena. All kinds of crazy stuff." And he laughed his familiar laugh. Whether to himself or me I hadn't figured out. If you've ever seen Cheech and Chong, this operation could have been a scene from one of their movies. Without the weed.
"Where are we going?" I asked him.
"Oh man, like 10th and...uh...and...D or something. Why? You in a hurry?"
"Huh? Oh no man, just wondering what part of town we're headed to."
"We gotta go by Clark's and he's gonna follow us to Dave's. Clark played guitar for Sly and the Family Stone. He knew your dad."
"This guy played with Sly? Man, he must be something."
"Ya man. Me and your dad knew Sly and them well (I knew their trumpet player Cynthia used to call the house all the time, but I assumed it was because my dad had super mack game and she just wanted some of that Bobby Boogaloo). All kinds of people. But Clark is playing drums with us."
So we get to Clarks pad, which is an apartment, and it's clear that he squandered that 'Sly' cheese he must have made back in the day. Nothing wrong with the place, but it's not the pad Mark Whalberg had in Rock Star. We drive to Dave's in the Meth capitol of the Milky Way galaxy-North Highlands. Along the way, I noticed while trying to keep track of Clark that he is nowhere to be found in the rear view. Junior says, "man, he's way back there. I know he's complaining about my driving. Slow poke." Junior sped up.
Anyway, we get to Dave's, where Junior tattoos some secret code on the garage door. He tells me, "This is his old lady's house." Didn't seem strange to me. Until Dave comes out and declares, "this is my wife's house, but she lets me rehearse here." Oooohhh. It's his old lady's house, but they aren't together. And she lets him practice there anyway. Nice of her. So we're in the Meth capitol of the western hemisphere with the guitar player from Sly, who refuses to play guitar, Junior who plays the guitar like he's ringing a bell, but can't read and is only minutely capable of identifying the chords he's playing, a bassist who has an old lady that he doesn't live with but allows him to use the garage, and me, a meathead looking dude with a Raider's beanie on and hasn't shaved in two weeks. A motley crew to be sure, but as it turns out-A sweet one.
Without going over every song, let's just say it was an eclectic mix of the nostalgic, contemporary, American and Latin music. Dave consults a binder that's thick enough to be the maintenance manual for a '72 Buick and begins, "I could fall in love by Selena," followed by "that Santana tune, black Magic woman" and "La Bamba" as well as "Let's get it started...by Pink", and many others. And it sounded good.
|Finger cymbal, for when I'm not playing keys|
"Alright man, ya. It would be better if they were cans of Menudo, but tomato sauce is good too."
He said it with a straight face, and if I had to guess, he was being at least a little bit serious. I stopped and died briefly. Then I looked for a fridge to put the remark on. There was none. I looked around for some shared laughter from the gang, but apparently this was par for the course. The rhythm of the cymbal/tomato paste cans was good, and I think everyone would agree that Menudo would be better. No biggie.
Clark was getting restless and Dave announced that it was time to wrap it up. We went through 22 songs in an hour and some change. I learned a little over half of their set list and apparently rehearsed them satisfactorily. No problem. We left, but not before some drawn out goodbyes from Clark, Junior, and myself. There was some reminiscing about my dad. The flattery is always welcome.
On the way back from the middle of Meth-hood Junior and myself settled in for the ride. I called a friend of mine, Chuey, to see if he still wanted some help putting the headers on his truck. He did. I asked Junior if he could drop me off at Chuey's. His home, while not the capitol of any noteworthy controlled substances, was at least sovereign territory, like an embassy for a potpourri of mood enhancers. Somewhere around Florin and Stockton.
Chuey is blind. Not a little bit. Not even a lot. But completely blind. And I was gonna help him put headers on his truck. No biggie there. This wouldn't be the first time Chuey had a bit of a mix up involving himself, cars, and himself in the driver's seat of a car. Chuey was a television star. His portfolio includes an appearance on Cops, where upon being pulled over, his friends who were passengers/copilots at the time re-thought their positions and ran. This left Chuey behind the wheel of a car, by himself, to deal with the cops. He told our revered police officers, "man I'm blind. I didn't do nothing."
Chuey was born blind in one eye, but could see in the other. In an act of wanton street violence, he was shot in his other eye, rendering him completely blind. Since his total loss of sight, he has come to know the King. It would appear too that he has sorted out some of those rough areas of his life. And has left the driving to those who can see. But that doesn't stop him from buying and tricking out trucks.
I get to his place and there are children of varying ages and disparate levels of kinship terrorizing the place. And a brother in law named Gordo. Freaking sweet. Gordo has a project of his own, namely, replacing window trim that one of Chueys two Pit Bulls/Satan Dog had chewed to the point of needing to be replaced. After allowing the truck-which had been recently driven-to cool off, we started on our own project.
I had assumed that the term "we" was strictly in the proverbial sense, and that when Chuey said we were going to fix the car, it meant "me" was going to fix the car. As I was gathering tools to work on the car, Chuey told me, "hey man, I'm gonna need a long extension to get at those bolts." I assumed, again, that this simply meant that when I got around to that portion of the project, I would need a long extension. I set the 9/16 socket, ratchet, and extension on the radiator and went back to the tool box for more tools.
I got back to the car and got started on removing the bolts for the exhaust manifold. About halfway through, I hear Chuey from under the car, "man, the other side is gonna be a little messier". What the hell? Dude unbolted the exhaust pipes from the manifold in the time it took me to get some more tools. And he goes, "you can use that ratchet if you want for a minute, I'm gonna go check on Gordo". I guess you are.
So, we worked on the car. Obviously, there were many things he couldn't do because of his disability. But when the sun went down-and I needed a light-he didn't. He had no trouble going into the back yard and retrieving one from the shed. I was again very impressed.
I hesitate to be overly complimentary to him so I won't sound patronizing. But I am impressed. I'm impressed not only by his very capable adaptation to life without sight, but also his attitude. Rather than getting bitter about losing his other eye, Chuey has grown. His confidence in the King and acceptance of the fact that his own actions are to blame for losing his right eye are impressive. He is a loving father and husband, fully capable of those duties and beyond exceptional in being a man.
My foray into Mexican-American culture was wholly gratifying today. I say that in jest as it didn't occur to me that that's what it was until writing about it. The fact remains; today I found out that Menudo cans are far superior to tomato sauce cans and that even if it's impossible to view super sweet cameos on cops, the lessons learned in life are more valuable than gold. And it is the way we deal with the things that happen to us along the way that yield glory, not the things in themselves. Channel 19!