Wednesday, October 05, 2005

"We're Really Cruisin' Now!"

Driving around in a Volvo this week reminded me of a funny story of the time I got to see Gerry Mulligan in Chicago...

My protege at the time, a bari player with the nickname of C-Rod, was as much into Mulligan as I was, and, as often was the case, Gerry never quite made it to Dallas. But we found out that he was playing in Chicago at something called the Ravinia Festival. When we realized that each of us had a best friend living in Chicago (in neighboring suburbs, it turned out), we hatched a plot: We would split a "Friends Fly Free" pass (a big promotion for Southwest Airlines at the time), go to Chicago and visit our respective friends, and then meet up for Mulligan at Ravinia.

The trip actually happened, and we ended up riding out with my friend's then-girlfriend and his boss's then-wife, who took the four of us out to the northern suburbs in her Volvo. C-Rod and I were nervous because the trip started out late and we got stuck in tons of rush-hour traffic. Gerry was splitting the bill with Wynton Marsalis, and we were sure that Wynton would be the headliner since he was quite popular at the time. It got closer and closer to starting time, and the traffic stayed bad.

Finally, we got through the last big line for a tollbooth (for almost every highway in Chicago is a tollway, it seems); finally, the road ahead was clear. Our driver, J., then hit the gas pedal, and the needle shot up to...55. The speed limit. Oh no, not just the speed limit! We'll never get there. J. then turned to us, grinning, and said, "We're really cruisin' now!" C-Rod and I smiled weakly from the back seat; we knew there was no way we'd get there on time. (To this day, whenever I'm stuck behind a slow Volvo, the first thing out of my mouth is probably "we're really cruisin' now.")

Except we did. The whole night ended up being a convergence of happy accidents. All the close-in parking areas were blocked off--some even guarded by cops. Finally, after seeing that we would have to drive a while, J. did a U-turn and drove back up to one of the guarded gates. "Excuse me, officer," she said, "but we have two saxophonists who came all the way from Texas to see Gerry Mulligan; is there any way I can go in and drop them off?" The officer replied, "There are no parking places, ma'am; are you just wanting to go in and come right back out?" J. assured them that she would...except that when we pulled in there, another officer directed her to park. Heh, we were in! Us, 1; The System, 0. We were even happier to note that, as we got to our lawn seats (with no real view of the stage), they announced the opening act: Wynton. Yesss!! Obviously the young lion had deferred to his elder for this one.

It got even better when we saw a familiar tall, skinny guy with a white beard wearing a tux, walking up to the snack bar. It was him--Mulligan! I turned to C-Rod: "Wanna go meet him?" He looked scared as could be, but joined me in approaching our musical hero. I did all the talking: "We're two bari players who came all the way from Texas just to hear you tonight. I'm Kevin and this is Chris, and it's really a pleasure to meet you." Gerry looked somewhat bemused upon hearing of our trip, and he asked us what kind of horns we played. C-Rod uttered the only three syllables he would say during the whole conversation: "" We exchanged pleasantries for another moment, and that was that. Mulligan, in the flesh.

The night closed out even better, as we stood by the back of the pavilion area to catch the end of Wynton. An older couple, definitely part of the wine-and-cheese set, were leaving for the night and spied us by the exit. We must have looked like underprivileged waifs, because the man said, "we're going home for the night; would you like to use our seats?" and handed us two tickets. We saw the rest of the show from about halfway back.

We would see Mulligan again before he died (during a visit to UNT where he did a clinic at school and a concert with the One O'Clock at the Meyerson), but I'll never forget that first night, when our pilgrimage paid off.

Sneakin' a peek: I had a long lunch hour today (as in more than an hour, even), so I just had to drop in on the grand opening of Dillard's at Firewheel (yes, I was so impatient that I couldn't wait two more days when the rest of the center will open). The big surprise was that I actually made a transaction there; when a pair of blue jeans is on sale for twenty bucks and fits great, you go for it (or I did, anyway). It was quite impressive to notice how big the place is up close; it's hard to tell that when it's set so far off from the main roads. Even though the middle part (the "Main Street" portion between Dilllard's and Foley's) won't open until Friday, I got a good peek at it out of the south entrance of Dillard's. All I can say is...This. Place. Is. So. Cool. I'm not likely to make the ribbon-cutting on Friday morning, but I'll be there as soon as I can.

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