By on July 21, 2010

This is a continuation: part one is here.

After leaving the studio in St. Louis Saturday night, I found myself with the luxury of having absolutely nothing to do until one o’clock the following day. My guitars were locked up, I’d left my laptop at home, and I didn’t have so much as a magazine to read. This was not by accident. Sometimes it’s important to have no plans, to deliberately encounter what I think of as a “null state”.

The Transit Connect and I wandered past Forest Park, where just a few blocks separate gated-off private streets and boarded-up low-income housing. The white panel van is welcome everywhere; it is universally recognized as a vehicle driven by the service class. I waved at a security guard who silently swung a huge wrought-iron barrier out of the way and let me into his deliberately isolated neighborhood. Twenty minutes later, two vicious-looking men in a street full of broken-down cars and idle observers stopped their hand-waving disagreement to let me through. I am nobody in particular. I am here to fix, install, adjust, clean.

The invisibility conferred upon me by this little van made me think of all the times I had felt invisible in my youth, cleaning tables in restaurants, working on construction sites, bagging groceries. I realized that I could stop and sleep anywhere, that this van could come to a halt in an industrial-center parking lot or out in front of the largest home in St. Louis. This was freedom: I am nobody, and I have nothing to do.

From I-170 I saw a parking lot full of Sprinters, overlooking a manufactured lake. It looked calm and quiet, so I pulled in to an empty spot between of the big vans. I rolled the windows down a bit, folded up a pair of jeans to serve as a pillow, and before I could try to relax and fall asleep, I fell asleep. Nine hours later, I woke to the drumming of morning rain on the sheet-steel roof. A few of the Sprinters around me had left. I took a few pictures next to one that remained, just to show just how small the TC really is.

With a few hours to kill, I rolled the Ford down to the Gateway Arch. Although it’s a tiny van, it still doesn’t fit in most parking garages. I had a long walk to the Arch.

In the post-Patriot-Act America, it is necessary to stand in a long line, remove one’s belt, and grovel before security personnel just to enter the area beneath the Arch. Paying ten dollars secured me a ride in a very Tomorrowland-esque little capsule to the top, 630 feet above the river. I thought for a while about the America that would build a stainless-steel arch for no particular reason, and the America that would make you remove your belt to get close to it. They are not the same. I grew up in the former and I cannot stand the latter.

Time to go to the studio, where I had a chance to see inside the old tape machines. The motors that spin the old full-size reels are serious business:

I forgot to mention that there had been a bit of a controversial “Best Of Show” award at ElectraFest the day before. Here’s the nominated lineup:

One of those things is not like the others. The guitar on the far left is an 1982 X145 20th Anniversary Edition, known derisively as a “sparklecaster” by vintage guitar fans. It belongs to me. I didn’t nominate it, and I didn’t vote for it, but it was popular with the people watching ElectraFest over the Internet and it won Best of Show, in a vote that was, ahem, controversial. Color me sparkly-pleased. I also won the raffle and received the 1980 X130 Phoenix:

So I’d arrived with twelve guitars, but I’d be leaving with thirteen. It seemed impossible that the weekend could get any better. I hadn’t reckoned, however, on the sheer pleasure of playing a five-hour jam session with a group of immensely talented musicians. I played guitar briefly for a rendition of Freddie King’s old song “Hideaway”, and I led the group through some of my usual Wednesday lunch-set stuff (“Misty”, “The Nearness Of You”) but in general I played my Phoenix X640 bass because playing guitar in this group was roughly similar to stepping in as point guard for the Celtics.

For the amusement of Andy, the drummer, and myself, we ran through a quick learn-by-doing run of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name”. Yes, it was recorded, but I am not eager to share it, if only because I had to stop halfway through and look up the rest of the song on my Droid. Maybe Steve, the studio engineer, can clean it up…

When Steve announced that it was already past six-thirty and time to shut the studio down, I couldn’t believe how quickly the time had gone. It occurred to me that my fourteen-year-old self, given a chance to look into the future, wouldn’t have been surprised at all to see me playing an Electra in a state-of-the-art studio with a top-notch drummer, but that fourteen-year-old Jack didn’t yet realize that the collision between dreams and reality is often like a motorcyclist running full-speed into a tractor-trailer. I kept telling myself, “This is where Liz Phair stood.” And then I fought the urge to lick the ground. Luckily for me, Maroon 5 came in after Liz Phair, and, well, I’m not as much of a fan of theirs, so thus endeth the dreams of floor-licking.

After a quick load-out into the Transit Connect, during which I was desperately hoping some woman I knew would call so I could nonchalantly say, “Oh, I’m just at the studio, having the guys load the guitars into the van,” it was time to point my nose at Powell, Ohio and head back. I completed the drive in just over six hours, enjoying the road, listening to Robert Cray through the “Ford Work Solutions” head unit, smiling the whole way. I hope the ElectraFest phenomenon stays strong long enough for me to bring my son in ten years’ time or so. Until then, I’ll continue to ride shotgun with my inner child on the long road back to St. Louis Music.

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29 Comments on “One Thousand Miles, Thirteen Guitars, and One Night In A Transit Connect: Coda...”

  • avatar

    “I thought for a while about the America that would build a stainless-steel arch for no particular reason, and the America that would make you remove your belt to get close to it. They are not the same. I grew up in the former and I cannot stand the latter.”

    I am Canadian, but I have watched what you say happen, and I found this one of the most poignant and honest ways to explain it. Well written (yet again) sir.

    • 0 avatar

      Once again, in a car blog where we argue about Nissan’s sales strategy, the seats in a Mercedes, and other trivial stuff, Jack nails something so much deeper and more poignant then we ever came to this site, on this day, expecting.

    • 0 avatar

      I can only agree… so that’s what I shall do

    • 0 avatar

      Cue Zack de la Rocha – “Eff you, I won’t do what you tell me.” Killing in the Name = the perfect song for a day whereupon one had to subject himself to frisking just to get near a public monument, and the inevitable reflection on why it is we’ve been forced into coming to that state of affairs.

    • 0 avatar

      Great write-up Jack.

      Sad to say your observations about society and the arch are dead-on.

      btw: “just to show just how small the TC really is.” or, to show just how huge the Sprinter really is … when I was a boy, I used to think that european full-size vans like Transit were for pussies because they seemed so small when put next to a “real” van like the Econoline … now, TC’s big brother, the Transit, is bigger and more useful than the Econoline it will soon replace.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 there is nothing else to say…

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t live in the US, but this country has changed so much in 10 years that I feel the same as him.

      Great article Mr. Baruth

    • 0 avatar

      “I used to think that european full-size vans like Transit were for pussies because they seemed so small when put next to a “real” van like the Econoline … now, TC’s big brother, the Transit, is bigger and more useful than the Econoline it will soon replace.”

      Mr. Walter. Although I’m not going to discuss that the Transit is more useful than the Econoline (for example bigger interior volume and lower fuel consumption), something hasn’t changed since you were a boy. European commercial vehicles ARE STILL for pussies.

  • avatar

    Play Freebird!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • avatar

    I trust Liz Phair didn’t record her latest travesty of an album in that studio, or the air probably still would have been thick with the feeling of disappointment. (Assuming she’s not just playing some elaborate and brilliant Spinal Tapesque hoax.)

    Great two-part story, Jack. I’d love to hear that Killing in the Name of track just to hear how the Tom Morello impression went, not to mention that I just plain love that song.

    I’ve been thinking a Transit Connect might be the perfect ride for my next two month long cross-country journey. This story helped cement that impression – as a sleeper sleeper, as it were, it would cut down on the hotel costs vs. the Harley route I’ve used before.

  • avatar

    I liked the shot of the Studer A820. I have fond memories from when I was kid of cleaning the heads on one of those machines before the start of a session. Just a teenage kid on summer break with a couple of q-tips and a bottle of isopentanol alcohol. We got 20+ years of service out of that machine and the A827, and both machines are still in service now at another studio.

    • 0 avatar

      Those who complain about the cost of car maintenance never worked with open reel analog. Back in the day, I was tempted to send my ReVox B77 to Studer in Nashville for an overhaul. They wanted $1000.00 for the service (the machine cost about 2K new), and it would have taken a month to get it back.

  • avatar

    Wow. I’d never thought I’d see the innards of a tape machine again. Let alone on a car blog. I used to service and maintain the Studer and Otari decks at the studio I used to work at. They’re a lot like cars, they all have their quirks, each machine is different and most require as much maintenance as a Jag or a Maserati. My current studio is all digital except for the 1/2 Ampex mix-down deck which rarely gets used. So, I rarely have to crack something open around here anymore, except the mixing console every now and then.

    • 0 avatar

      I did the same when young(er) ahem…

      Love the smell of a Studer in the morning… Smells like… Analog!!

      Great writing and yes those motors were serious and precise stuff.
      Best regards.

  • avatar

    Great read……

    It’s amazing how many car folk are also musicians. Got to be a connection somewhere….

  • avatar

    I don’t notice the connection between car folk and musicians in my personal experience (at least, not at higher rate than would be normal).

    However, I do find it amazing how “car folk” will invariably lament the loss of the “America they grew up in” versus the America today that they of course, simply “cannot stand.”

    Got to be a connection somewhere…

  • avatar

    On The Road With Jack Baruth. Very nice series, cars and guitars. Seeing more of the Transit Connects around here and they always seem smaller than I’d thought they’d be.

    “In the post-Patriot-Act America”. Should be post 9/11 America.

    • 0 avatar

      “In the post-Patriot-Act America”. Should be post 9/11 America.

      Actually, you’re both wrong. It should read, “In Patriot Act America…”

      “Post-Patriot Act America” implies that the Patriot Act is no longer in effect, and its time has passed. That’s certainly not the case. I’m sure this was just a semantic error on Jack’s part.

      However, If your correction of Jack is to say that 9/11 is the reason for having to remove your belt and shoes, then you’re wrong. The Patriot Act institutionalized these paranoid, liberty-eroding, time-wasting exercises as a reaction to the events on 9/11/2001; 9/11 itself did not do that.

  • avatar

    Thanks for writing that. The tape machines bring back memories. I worked may way through college as an audio engineer and am a little sad that no one will really see 2″ tape reels spinning at 30 inches-per-second as a band lays down a track again.

    I also got back into music a few years ago. I had gotten a corporate job but was struggling to recover from an injury and was then laid off. To get through it and keep me focused, I decided to learn a new instrument–I was mainly a sax/woodwind player before–and begin playing again, so I bought a guitar. Doing that really helped me through the few years of pain that followed.

    • 0 avatar

      Not true! Just spent tonight tracking the first few songs of my new album… Studer 2″ 16 track (though at 15ips, which still sounds amazing, especially the drum overheads).

      I love when music and cars intersect. My requirement for any vehicle is that it can haul my ’58 Leslie 45 and the rest of my gear comfortably with room for at least one passenger. Lately, that’s left fewer and fewer cars to look at when my trusty rear-drive straight-6 Volvo V90 eventually gives up (I don’t even want to think about that right now).

      Elements are appealing, but the Transit Connect has been catching my interest even more lately.

      Appreciate the series, Jack.

    • 0 avatar

      Very cool. I thought all the 2″ tape manufacturers had closed that part of the business.

      What about a Legacy GT wagon? I’ve never owned a Subaru, but the last gen turbo Legacys look tempting. There’s the Mazdaspeed 3 or wagon version (sorry, “hatch”) of the regular 3, but I don’t know how much they really hold, and they seem to be rusting in my region.

  • avatar

    Probably not the best place to ask but I have an Akai GX-747 I restored and I can’t seem to figure out a place to sale it. Any ideas? Ebay and Craigslist has failed me thus far.

    • 0 avatar

      If they have “failed you” it is likely that you are asking too much. An Akai 747 is a quarter track consumer deck. Not made for pro work (not that pros have much use for analog–but some do), so you are dealing mostly with nostalgic hobbyists. I’m guessing you could get 2-4 hundred for it depending. The problem with open reel is that it’s tough to buy one that doesn’t need major service, even if it’s advertised as “like new.” Buyers are generally wary.

  • avatar

    I still have an X130 Phoenix….exactly like the one pictured…..the first guitar I ever bought new (I do get my money’s worth out of cars & guitars)…..hope you enjoy your aquisition as much as I have mine. Still plays great…..actually prefer the versatility, feel, and sound to my 83 Les Paul custom.

    Cars & guitars……what more can one ask for =)

  • avatar

    Thanks, Jack for pointing out to those who’ve grown to accept unlawful and unwarranted searches as “necessary” to their security that it wasn’t always so.

    You mentioned that the Transit will not fit in a normal parking space; I’m puzzled by this comment as they don’t seem to occupy a footprint much larger than a MB R-class or Highlander-sized SUV. My perception wrong?

  • avatar

    Jack, let me know if you’re ever in SE PA and need a bass player to sit in. Me and my 4001 will be there.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Copy that; by the same token, if you’re in Central Ohio I have a few different basses for you to play (US Fender P-Bass, Godin Freeway active, and some Electras)

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