A tale from Chicago

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Next week is the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF) and we'll be there is room 9013 playing music and saying hi to everyone that happens to come by. I am looking forward to meeting many of you if you have the time to drop by. The show reminds me of a story that happened to me many years ago.

It was summer in the early 80's and we were displaying at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Chicago. My good friend and founder of Infinity, Arnie Nudell, had loaned me a pair of the Infinity IRS for our room; the same loudspeaker pair we now have in Music Room One. These massive 1.2 ton behemoths were the talk of the show and we had a constant line out our door waiting for the next demonstration. It was fun, and we got a lot of great people in to see our equipment and the speakers.

In those days we were a pretty small company and we typically had only one or two of us that attended these shows. In this case it was only two: me and my mechanical engineer, Bill Abplanalp (who still designs all our chassis). To setup the IRS we had hired a couple of Teamster thugs who could maneuver the big woofers in place and help carry the packing crates away, but when it came time to tear down we figured we'd just bribe a couple more of them when they brought the packing crates back to the room. You'd be amazed what a one hundred dollar bill would buy you back then in Chicago.

Waiting for packing crates at the end of a trade show is a legendary ritual anyone familiar with shows will attest to. If you're lucky, you get yours early, unlucky and you're last in line. Our luck wasn't running very well that night, but we knew they'd come eventually. It was still early evening and we had everything else ready to go, so Bill and I sat around the room drinking a couple of beers when our friends Matt, George and Sandy, the owners of Polk Audio, walked in to see if Bill and I wanted to join them for an hour's worth of blues in downtown Chicago.

Since we were waiting for our crates anyway, we said "sure" and off we went to find a cab. I can't remember where the club we were being taken to is located but when the Polk boys told the cab driver, he turned to us and said "you're kidding, right?" George replied "No, let's get going, these guys want to see some real blues".

The cab driver said "I won't drive my cab into that area and you guys are nuts to even go there. I'll drop you off as close as I am comfortable with." George said "OK, let's go".

Bill and I looked at each other in horror. Where were these big city Baltimore guys taking us? We were just California bumpkins looking for some good music.

Off we went and true to his word we were dropped off in what looked to me like a war zone. It was pretty scary to be honest but George, Matt and Sandy assured us we'd be ok. We walked a few blocks, found the club which was close to a building where half a car protruded from the front wall. It was like something out of a movie. In we walked and every eye in the entire club turned and looked at us as if we were from Mars. Even the band stopped playing for a moment, then went about their routine.

We sat down, got a couple of beers and started to listen. Unbelievably good music came from the stage, music I had never heard before and we were transfixed on this great music, blending into the crowd and clapping our hands, tapping our feet. It was musical heaven with a constant stream of different musicians hopping up on stage to replace a band member, the entire group changing hands every song or two. I'd never seen anything like it and felt truly lucky to be there.

After a couple of hours Bill and I really needed to head back and finish waiting for our packing crates but the Polk boys wanted to stay so we ventured out on our own. Oops. No cabs. We'd forgotten. We walked back to where were dropped off only to discover we were still in the war zone without any hope of escape. In fact, we had no clue where we were, how to get to where we were going, or what to do. Remember, in the 80's few of us had cell phones and I wasn't one of them. We certainly didn't have Google maps nor did I want to ask any of the combatants in the war zone for directions. We simply headed out on the biggest street we could find and started walking.

We knew the hotel was near the lake and on Michigan ave. but that was about all. We must have wandered for a couple of hours until we were approached by a young lady of the night who said "You boys look like you'd be fun. I'll do both of you for $20." Yikes! We politely begged off and then Bill had an idea. "Would you take $20 to help us get back to our hotel?"

$20 broker but finally back at the hotel, it was now midnight. The crates had been delivered and the Teamsters had gone home. We were left on our own to pack up 1.2 tons of loudspeakers by ourselves, fill out shipping labels and catch a cab to the airport at 6am, dropping off the Oracle turntable we borrowed along the way.

That may have been the worst night of my life as we stayed up to finish the job, lifting 375 pound woofers into crates with just the two of us. The Oracle turntable box didn't get returned so I had to hold it on my lap as the cab veered around small neighborhood streets trying to find the home of the distributor to return it.

We finally go the the airport just in time only to be told they had overbooked the flight and we'd have to wait - this information delivered to us as we stood in the aisle of the plane with our seat assignments in hand. Bill told the flight attendant "I am not leaving this plane, nor is my friend. We're tired, we want to go home and you'll need to call security if you want us off". Thank goodness this was before 9/11.

Someone volunteered to give up our assigned seats, we both fell asleep immediately dreaming of the great blues we heard in a night neither of us will ever forget.

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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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