Thursday, December 27, 2007

Martin Guitar Factory

It was great to see Rich. Except for the white patches in his beard, he looked a lot like he did 20 years ago. OK, so he didn't have the beard, either, back then but, unlike your humble correspondent, he still has as much hair on top of his head as he did back then.

He also has a wife, two kids, a dog and a nice house in a good neighborhood, or at least what looked like a good neighborhood judging by the size of the houses and the amount of electricity their inhabitants were willing to expend to light their Christmas displays. I was impressed.

When it was time for me to go, Rich gave me directions to get from his house to the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Northeast Extension. He even drew a map, which I tried to explain was unnecessary because my laptop has GPS and I could follow my maps, but it seemed important to him to spell it out for me so the gracious thing for me to do was to nod my head gratefully as he drew.

But I was venturing into the unknown in a way. I was driving to another high school classmate's home near Easton, Pa. Jamie is the one who Googled me down and e-mailed me out of the blue last month. When I say "out of the blue" I mean that the last contact I had with her before she popped into my Inbox was in high school. Back then we didn't have e-mail. That's how long ago that was.

Rich had mentioned the alumni swim meet in an e-mail exchange we had back in October but Jamie's note also included the entry form and a more direct plea for my appearance. Back in high school a personal invitation from Jamie would have shot me to the moon. I had a terrible crush on her at one point. When I finally mustered the courage to make a fumbling attempt to ask her out, she deftly -- but pretty gently -- swatted it aside and I eventually got over it. Several years later I heard she had married her high school sweetheart and moved to New Jersey.

That's the last I thought I'd ever hear.

Even now I expected to read about the 2.5 kids, the large house with the white picket fence and all the rest of what Americans are supposed to do with their lives after high school. Only she was single again, had no children of her own and had moved to Easton, in part, to live near her sister and her two nephews.

In a later e-mails we traded, she offered use of her guest room and made it plain that hosting me would not be a hassle and, in fact, she would appreciate the company. For that matter, so would I. So instead of to a hotel located closer to our high school, I was winding my way north to Easton, wondering what it would be like to see her after all this time.

When I got to her place I got to wonder a little more. I knocked on the screen door and waited. No answer. I opened the screen door and rapped on the inner door. That got results. The man in the neighboring unit of their duplex opened his door. I smiled and waved. He smiled and waved in reply before receding back into his house and I waited some more. Finally Jamie opened her door.

We had been corresponding and we spoke on the phone a couple of times so the reunion was not as strange as it could have been. But I thought it was trusting of her to open her home to someone with whom she'd had so little contact. Maybe the delay came when she realized the same thing!

We stayed up talking until about 12:30 a.m., which is way past my usual bed time, and went to our respective rooms with tentative plans to visit the Martin Guitar Company factory in Nazareth the next day. When I knew I would be staying at Jamie's, I checked and saw that the Martin factory was less than ten miles from her house. As a proud owner of a Martin myself, I looked forward to making the pilgrimage to their source.

Martin guitars are world famous and its guitars are played by just about everybody who is anybody among acoustic guitar players. They are also played by nobodies like me who are willing to spend the pretty penny it costs to own one. Even in my unskilled hands, the Martin has a wonderful feel and sound to it. I was glad I bought mine even before I saw how they were made and met some of the people who work at the factory.

Martin usually offers tours of its factory, where it still produces its guitars right here in the U.S. of A., but tours had ended for the holidays. It museum was open, though, and we got to see displays detailing the factory's history, old guitars as well as vintage and special edition guitars made in honor of many of Martin's famous players.

Jamie and I got there as the employee party was going on. That's what the people gathered around the two guitarists are doing.

The museum also has what it calls the "Pickin' Parlor," where you can ask to play some vintage Martin guitars. The people at Martin were exceedingly kind and it made me even gladder to know that I had bought one of their guitars.

One of them even gave me some guitar picks. (I offered to pay for them but she said no.) Jamie was willing to indulge me so I played her a few songs. I was nervous at first! First because I don't normally play for any audience other than my cat. Second because many of my songs are ones a guy would sing to his girlfriend and I didn't want to give Jamie the wrong idea. I was a house guest. She shouldn't have to worry that I was looking for an opening to put the moves on her. That's why the pictures she took of me playing don't include me looking at her.

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