Burgers, buggies, and the blues

Jamming with my friend Mike Byrne at The Cracker.

Jamming with my friend Mike Byrne at The Cracker.

Los Vatos performed for the crowd. That's Tavo on drums, Rick on bass, and Mike on guitar.

Los Vatos performed for the crowd. That’s Tavo on drums, Rick on bass, and Mike on guitar.

Cara dancing with our friend Rosie.

Cara dancing with our friend Rosie

This bruiser is more than I could handle.

This bruiser is more than I could handle.

I'd like this one just for getting around. Many people use these for errands or just plain fun.

I’d like this one just for getting around. Many people use these for errands or just plain fun.

I don't know if I could even be a passenger in this one.

I don’t know if I could even be a passenger in this one.

These vehicles are built for rugged terrain.

These vehicles are built for rugged terrain.

Pure muscle.

Pure muscle.

I can't imagine driving one of these through the bouncing desert trails.

I can’t imagine driving one of these through the bouncing desert trails.

Like most everybody else my age, I first picked up a guitar back in the ‘60s, when we all had this romanticized thing about being troubadours singing songs of love lost, won, or on the edge.

I’ve had an on-again-off-again thing with the guitar ever since, more off than on, except for the last half-dozen years when I found some friends who also like to make a little friendly noise. My wife, Cara, is really to blame, you see, encouraging me to play more than less, whether in a group setting or alone at home, deep into the night.

There’s a certain thing about holding a guitar that is almost as warm and soothing as holding the one you love. Almost.

I met a guy in town who is the best guitarist on The Baja, a guy named Mike Byrne, who can play the soft and gentle acoustic stuff or get down and dirty with some gut-busting blues.

We met Mike and his family less than a month ago at a Christmas dinner put on by The Parrot’s Cracker, our home-away-from-home, a cool little cantina that Cara and I have attached ourselves to for a little socializing. It’s owned by Robbie and Dawnette, who make the place incredibly inviting and comfortable to newcomers to the area like us. It’s a good place to go to step away or recover from the keyboard, which weighs a little heavy sometimes while putting together my next book. Cara is real good at realizing when I need a break to recharge.

We went to see Mike perform one night and most of the crowd was outside, so he moved out to the patio sing to them. It was pretty informal and verycomfortabled. We got to talking and, eventually, started passing the guitar back and forth.

“We’re starting this acoustic jam thing on Tuesday night. Come out and play,” he said.


Tuesday night rolled around and Mike brought along the drummer/percussionist from his band Vatos Locos, and a friend, Tom O’Neill, a pretty fair player and singer himself.

We played more than four hours, doing all the oldies and just having fun. It’s always more fun when there is no pressure. You do a paying gig, and there’s all sorts of stuff going on. I cannot imagine what it must be like up in the big leagues for the bands trying reach a certain level of acclaim or hold on to they’re fragile spot in the fickle public’s mind. A freeform jam? No pressure, no worries, just fun. Apparently the people who were there liked it because as we moved through town the following days, people said they heard that it was pretty cool and planned on coming out next Tuesday. That would be nice. It’s always great to play to a crowd and there is nothing like seeing them warm to the music.

I hadn’t played with other musicians since late October and felt a little rusty. It’s different, you know, when you sit down with some other players than when you are just sitting on the couch and strumming. Add some other voices, some percussion, and some tasty lead guitar, and it all comes together nicely. Plus, there was just this overwhelming cool feeling of playing music in a little Mexican cantina with the smell of the ocean in the air on a dark, moonlit night. It felt almost poetic in some aspect. Or, maybe clichéd, I don’t know. But, it was a blast.

We did a lot of the good old songs, from Poco to The Stones; Cat Stevens to Traffic; The Doors to The Beatles. We did Dylan, the Eagles, Willie Nelson, you name it. Some of it was a bit eclectic, most all it the stuff that touched our hearts many years ago.

It was wonderful.

Saturday, we wandered back over to The Cracker where they hosted an event they called Burgers and Buggies.

San Felipe is a big part of the racing scene here on The Baja. The offroaders race regularly between Ensenada and here over some incredibly rugged terrain. There are several classes of vehicles, some large, some small, but all mighty impressive. I know I am far too old to try to sit behind the wheel of one of these offroaders. My back would last maybe 30 miles, my knee probably even less after bouncing around the hard desert floor, shifting up and down through the gears, and fighting the steering wheel.

The Ensenada to San Felipe races are 250 miles and, depending on the class of vehicle, can take many hours to finish. The race machines are mean-looking chunks of tires, motor, and ultra-heavy suspension to keep the driver from losing his or her kidneys along the way. The inside of these things are sparse and hostile, particularly the smaller VW buggies they put together with massive roll cages, little uncomfortable seats, and a dashboard with just the basic gauges. This ain’t NASCAR, this ain’t Indy, this ain’t the Grand Prix circuit. This is a rugged man or woman and machine versus Nature. It’s no surprise that sometimes, Nature wins.

There were about a dozen of these vehicles on display at The Cracker Saturday.

Robbie was cooking burgers on the grill, Dawnette was serving up Jello shots, and Mike and his band were cranking tunes under a warm sun.

We were lucky because the temps had broken and, actually, hit the high 70s, about eight degrees warmer than usual for this time of year, and there was no wind.

There were hundreds of folks milling about, checking out the vehicles, listening to the music, enjoying a drink with friends. It was definitely the social event of the month.

The actual race is next week. We plan to go to the finish line and watch the drivers as they complete their runs.

We’ve got at least one of the race teams staying in the complex where we live and can hear them working on their vehicle, a pretty nasty-looking piece. It sounded like they were fine-tuning the motor earlier today.

We still don’t have regular TV service, tapping into this thing called USTVnow, which is a free service for expats who wish to keep in touch with the States. We watch it now and then when the Internet is hot enough to carry the bandwidth.

When it isn’t that’s alright, too.

See, we have other things to do.


One thought on “Burgers, buggies, and the blues

  1. Quite a family we have down here, isn’t it? You either love it here or hate it. I love this little paradise. Paradise comes in many forms; here it is a small obscure fishing village on the Sea of Cortez. It isn’t glamorous or glitzy, but it has amazing heart and people, if you take the time to find that, and that is what really matters anyhow.

    I really enjoyed the jam last Tuesday. I was singing along with you guys. 🙂

    Glad you two joined our little family!


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