In the millennial year of 2000, I snagged one of the premier jobs in Seattle, Washington, if not on the entire planet. I was hired to be part of Experience Music Project’s enthusiastic and wildly creative staff. The pop culture museum home is Seattle Center, the former site of the Century 21 Exposition, otherwise known as the 1962 World’s Fair.
Among several years-worth of special days, I remember one very special day: we had been welcoming visitors for about two months, having opened in June. I was stationed in my favorite EMP spot, the area known as Sound Lab. In Sound Lab, guests could learn a new instrument, hone their “chops”, learn a new lick, warble away in a vocal booth, practice on our virtual scratching turntable, or jam in small, private, sound-proofed rooms. — I spent a good deal of time not just in, but in front of jam rooms. Guests were given ten minutes to jam to their hearts’ content. We VCR’s would position ourselves in front of the heavy doors, in order to assist jammers in exiting the room, prepare for the next set of jammers, and escort them into the room – when it was ready.
Why, one time, while standing in front of a jam room, I visited with The Doors’ incredibly gifted keyboard player, the late Ray Manzerek, for eight minutes. Yes, I know it was eight minutes. That’s how much time was left on the digital clock above the door, when my co-worker Mark (thank you Mark!) brought Ray over and introduced the two of us to each other. What a visit that was! Ray was cordial, articulate, interesting – and he dripped coolness. I felt as if I’d made a friend during those golden eight minutes.
But this story is not about Ray Manzarek, per se. On this particular day in Sound Lab, my co-worker, Raychel, a wonderful, bright young woman, and I were surprised and delighted to spy the one and only Carlos Santana, one of Terra Firma’s most outstanding guitarists, walk into our space, accompanied by what appeared to be the entire EMP Security detail.
Firmly in charge of the entire procession was “Johnny”, the head of EMP Security. Apparently, Johnny wasn’t sure just what Raychel and my duties consisted of. He seemed not to know that we VSR’s were duty-bound to care for the jam rooms, straightening them up, cleaning them, freshening the air, tuning the guitars, adjusting the drums, reporting breakage. We did all that, and we took great pride in doing so.
We wanted every guest to enjoy a peak experience. Whether they were a schoolboy or girl, an elderly person, a business professional, a budding musician, or a great rock star like Carlos Santana – we saw to it that each guest received the best we had to offer, including a jam room that was clean and ready to use.
So we were very concerned when Johnny started to escort Mr. Santana into Jam Room #1, just as soon as its last occupant exited. We somehow shoehorned ourselves into the room first, hurriedly closing the door behind us. We began sweating bullets, because we were met with total disarray. – I must say that I, and also Raychel, who stood about five feet tall, but had a big personality and was loaded with self-confidence — had seen it all. VSR’s have encountered a parent changing a baby’s diaper in a jam room; and yes: once a couple was discovered making love in a jam room! – I’m so happy to say, I was not there on that occasion. However, I was there when Carlos Santana came visiting, and as I mentioned, his room was not ready!
The room smelled so strongly of body odor. You’ve heard people compare an unpleasant odor to that of dirty gym socks? Well, this jam room smelled like an entire NBA team-worth of dirty gym socks! Normally, we’d follow procedure and fetch a trusty can of Ozium spray. But Johnny was knocking on the door! We had no time to prepare the room.
Raychel and I took our jobs seriously, plus we had a great deal of respect for Carlos Santana. We were concerned that his experience wouldn’t be what we wanted it to be. The guitars were not in their wall mounts; they were out of tune (I was able to determine that by quickly running my finger across the strings, hearing the discordant results). There were no EMP-logo picks on the amps where they belonged. And again, room reeked!
Suddenly, the door opened. We tried to signal Johnny that the room wasn’t ready. But everybody — Johnny, his guards, and Carlos Santana, all surged forward, and into the little room. What could we do? Raychel and I turned on our brightest smiles, and I began speaking: “Mr. Santana, welcome to Sound Lab! We’re so honored to have you join us. I apologize for the condition of the room. Everyone is so excited to have you here. – We didn’t quite get things ready. — Umm, the guitars aren’t in tune….” Then Raychel laughed, shined her beautiful smile on Carlos, and said, “Of course, you won’t have any trouble with that!” And everyone laughed. I think her comment served to break the tension. I mean, I’m sure Carlos could see it on our faces. I think he was much more in tune with what we were trying to do for him, than the Security folks were. After all, he is a musician!
The maestro picked up a Fender Strat from the floor, turned up the amp, pulled a pick out of his pocket, and proceeded to let fly some of his patented, soaring licks. His amazing sounds wove their way out the open door and into the main Sound Lab space. Everyone was suddenly in awe. After playing for us for a few moments, Mr. Santana gazed around the room, wearing not only his trademark Nepalese cap, but also his own big smile, and simply said, “This is cool!”