My daughter and I had birthdays in the week just gone, and my wife used her hard-earned overtime pay to take our family to the Big Apple to celebrate. We’d never visited NYC before so the excitement levels were high!
It just so happened that in the same week my musician hero, Vince Clarke (of Yazoo/Depeche Mode/The Assembly/Erasure fame), would be hosting his bi-weekly “The Synthesizer Show” from MakerParkRadio in Staten Island, along with his synthy sidekick Reed Hays (of Reed and Caroline fame) .
So it only made sense to visit these two gents whilst I was in town, and say “Hello!” in person 🙂 It was a punt, but totally worth it if I could meet them.
Our plan for Thursday was to visit the “9/11 Memorial” in the morning, head over to Staten Island, get some lunch, then wander down to MakerParkRadio. Wifey and I lived in the USA back in the late ’90s, and moved back to the UK mere months before 9/11 happened back in 2001, so we were particularly moved by the exhibit. After a very sombre morning, we trudged down to the terminal to get the ferry across, albeit fighting through the hoards to actually board said ferry. Disembarking was less fraught, but still had a good amount of jostling.
We took the Google ‘walking’ route to get from St. George’s Terminal to MakerParkRadio. It was a 30 minute walk down Bay St, but we had to stop for lunch first: it turns out that unfed teenagers don’t function so well. We stopped to refuel at 120 Bay Cafe, a fairly trendy looking place that almost looked out of place in the area. I calculated that we’d have to wolf down our food within 15 mins, which would leave us enough time to get to the radio station before Vince and Reed wrapped up their show and went home. We must all have been ravenous, because no plate was left empty. As we left the cafe, I nabbed a red crayon from the table (sorry Trish, I hope my tip covers it!).
As we continued our walk, my Spidey senses started kicking in. I grew up in an unsavoury neighbourhood as a teenager, and the surroundings took me right back. We proceeded like we were people on a mission, and not like lost tourists. I got everyone to cross the road, so there were fewer crossings that forced us to stop and wait. About 20 mins later we turned into Canal St – about 800m from the radio station, when I flicked on the GPS to check we were in the right vicinity.
A minute later, we reached 450 Front St – the address on MakerParkRadio’s web site. And my heart sank.
Because all I could see was a shuttered garage door for an Auto Body Car Repair shop, with “450” spray painted onto the shutter. I thought I had made a mistake, and that we’d have to turn around and walk back to the ferry – a complete waste of several hours. I walked a little further around the corner, and still saw nothing obvious as I looked down the road. Daughter and I walked down a few more metres, and she said “There it is! MakerParkRadio!”. I look up at the sign, and as I turned around to look back at her, I found myself looking directly into a window with Reed and Vince looking back out. I felt a sudden rush when I realised that I got it right! My watch showed 3:46pm. Phew!
OK, so now I need to attract their attention, without appearing to be a nut job. I whip out my small 3×5 notebook, support it on my thigh, and write “Hello 🙂 ” using the red crayon that I nicked earlier, then hold it against the window so that Reed can read it. His facial expression was like “OK, there’s a strange person saying ‘Hello’ using the medium of crayon”, but he waves at me anyway.
I bring the pad back to my thigh to write the next cryptic message: “My internet’s a bit flaky today”. I wonder if he’ll make the connection? You see, about 90 mins earlier I connected to the radio show’s chat room from my mobile phone, and typed “My internet’s a bit flaky today” (true story – my mobile reception was utterly shite). Reed mouths a sad “Aah! 🙁 ” through the window. Except he’s still looking at me like I’m a weirdo – he hasn’t made the connection. Vince is also eyeing me suspiciously.
My next crayon message goes up against the window: “You kinda know me”. Now Reed and Vince are looking more perplexed, and I can see them trying to work out who I am. So now it’s time for my last card; I write my name and hold it against the window.
Reed’s face was priceless: his expression went from “Who the f*** is this guy?” to “Holy crap! It’s Neutrino Sky!!”, and my daughter starts laughing.
So Reed comes to the entrance, steps into the sunlight, and I say “Hello” as we shake hands. Tom Ferrie also comes out (the chap who runs MakerParkRadio). “Ah, the resident Technical Support” I say in recognition, and Reed introduces us. I go on to tell Reed that we’re on holiday for the week, and it would be remiss of me to come all the way to NYC and not meet them.
Reed invites us in, introduces me to Vince, and I introduce Vince to my family, whereupon he shakes their hands individually. I spend the next few minutes gushing, and Vince and Reed respond graciously.
“Thank you, that’s very kind” Vince says. I’m thinking “Dude, are you kidding me?!!”
“No Vince”, I retort. “I should be thanking you both for all your incredible work over the years, and sharing it with the world!”
We continue making polite conversation over the next few minutes, when Tom asked how we got to the station:
“We walked”, I replied.
“All the way? Along Front St?” Tom interrogated.
“No, we came down Bay St” I answer.
Vince, Reed, and Tom looked at each other, and at that instant they reaffirmed my suspicion: we had walked through some pretty shady areas on our route. Later on in the day, when we got back to our hotel in Manhattan, Google Safety Maps confirmed that we had walked through the ‘hood’.
We spend the next minutes talking about the security scares in Manhattan during the week, where I live in the UK, and how Yellow Cab drivers are nutters. I ask Vince how he and Reed get from the ferry to the station:
“I live in Brooklyn and I pick up Reed on the way.”
“What, you drive in New York??!!” I ask incredulously. Vince gives me a look. Then replies “No, we ‘re driven here. We have a driver.” Yep, I felt like a dickhead. What sane multi-millionaire would elect to drive in a city like this?
“We might get the ferry, if the weather’s nice” he adds.
I also revealed that my real profession is a software designer, and that VST plugins is a sideline venture. I gushed how “The Two Ring Circus” got me hooked (with wifey piping up “He’s been listening to you for as long as I’ve known him, since 16!”. That’s not entirely true – I was hooked on “Only You” way before that…). I asked the chaps to sign my copy of Electronic Sound: The Space Edition (of course). “I just happen to keep one of these in my bag, in case I run into you guys!” I claimed, and Reed grinned.
The chaps needed to wrap up the show, so I spend the next 5 minutes talking with Tom. Tom was great: he showed us around behind the scenes, and told us about how the radio station started (he and his wife Kristin conceived the idea several years ago).
I asked Tom how he convinced Vince to present a show on his station. It turns out that Vince was introduced to Tom via a mutual friend, and Vince came down to the studio, took a look around, and was sold on the idea. Earlier, while I was talking with Reed and Vince, Tom was talking to wifey and the kids about the MakerSpace, and gave them a little tour of the different studio areas behind the scenes. But Tom was patient enough to repeat the mini tour for me personally, while the synth duo finished the live show. He also told me about their ideas for forthcoming episodes of The Synthesizer Show, but I won’t spoil the surprise 🙂 .
With Vince now wrapping up with Tom and readying himself to leave, I took the opportunity to talk to Reed about any new projects, and what he was generally up to post-tour. He said that he and Vince were tinkering with a synth at the back of Vince’s home studio, but mostly Reed was still ‘coming down’ from the high of the tour.
“Vince told me things would get pretty crazy during the tour” Reed said, mimicking fans screaming and waving their hands. “It was really good thinking on his part, to do ‘The Synthesizer Show’ while we were touring.” “I guess it anchors you at certain points during the tour schedule”, I added. “Yeah, absolutely” he replied.
Our chat continued into the topics of life in Manhattan, Theremins, Telsa capacitors and Russian flea markets. I confessed that analogue synths were too expensive a hobby for me (I rubbed my fingers for the universal description of cash), and Reed and I simultaneously looked at wifey. “What are you looking at me for? He can do what he likes with his money!” she cried.
The conversation then moves onto the MakerSpace itself. “Yeah, it’s great, isn’t it? My friend Caroline is into crafts, and sometimes makes jewellery” Reed tells us. As for his own craft skills, he described how he made his son’s Halloween costume one year using Styrofoam. “OK, so who had more fun? Your son wearing the costume, or you making it?” I ask. Reed admits he had more fun than his son; apparently, a costume ‘bridge’ is difficult to turn around in…
I ask if Vince and Reed would mind having a few pictures taken outside, and they happily agree. Both wifey and Tom transform into professional photographers, directing us to turn into the sun so the lighting is better. Wifey tells Vince and I not to look like gangsters. I turn my head to Vince and ask “Have you ever been called a gangster before?” “Yep” he replied. Reed, meanwhile is stood off to the side. “Reed, why are you stood over there? Come over here!” I plead. So Reed steps across, and we form an unlikely trio. Wifey comments how Vince has perfected the photo stance, while Reed and I stand there looking like we’re watching a street show.
When we’re all done, Vince asks what our plans are. “Food and drink. Drink.” wifey replies. “Good plan!” says Vince, and claps me on the shoulder (clearly his gym sessions are paying off – ouch!). I give them both my heartfelt thanks, and shake hands goodbye.
And just as the family and I were getting ready to leave, Tom throws in another surprise: he would drive us back to St Georges Terminal to get the ferry back home. After my earlier hunch, I was grateful for his offer and readily agreed. He didn’t say it, but I believe he didn’t want us to make the scary walk back to the ferry. But first he would grab more swag for us! My daughter is a bit of a magpie, and her eyes lit up at the prospect of adding more stuff to her wall art (comically referred to as ‘wall debris’). In a twist of events, Tom asks if he can take a picture of us in front of his studio. So we happily oblige, given that we’re about to be taxied back in the safe confines of his ‘small car’ (Tom, you need to come over to the UK to understand what a ‘small car’ really means. Your car is not small!).
On the drive back, I asked Tom about how his station is funded. He told us that he and his wife Kristin (mostly Kristin) work very hard, applying for various grants. It’s really important for them to uphold the conditions of the grant, so they have a decent chance of re-applying and receiving more money in subsequent years. Funding the radio show is really hard work, but there are solid plans to expand.
Once back at the terminal, Tom delivered us just yards from the entrance with literally minutes to spare. We shook hands goodbye and I wished him the best. And then we merged with the droves streaming in the same direction, all bound for the journey back to Manhattan.
Back on the ferry I reflected on the last 30 minutes; I was in a bit of a daze – it seemed so surreal. Suffice to say, I was WELL AND TRULY MADE UP!
Later that evening the family and I hold a retrospective:
“Tom was telling us how he helped out at the 9/11 disaster, ferrying people over to New Jersey. I told him we visited the memorial earlier in the day” wifey tells me.
“Wow! That must have been something.” I turn to the children, and ask “So how was it, meeting real life bona fide music artists?”
“Good.” replies Son in his monotone fashion. “Are they famous? Are they millionaires?” he inquires, without modulating his voice.
“Yep, Vince has been famous for decades” I reply.
Son’s eyes widen as he asks “Is he on Wikipedia?”
And that’s how the youth of today identify success: bags of cash and a Wikipedia page.
“Oh yeah! Just one more thing!” I exclaim with a serious expression, like I’ve just remembered something important.
“What?!” wifey asks with urgency.
“I just met Vince Clarke and Reed Hays” I reply, as my face cracks into a wide grin 😀
- Vince Clarke (aka “The Man With The Incredibly Firm Handshake/The Well Dressed One”)
- Reed Hays (aka “The Lovely Music Man”)
- Tom Ferrie (aka “Ryan Reynolds”)
- Me (aka “The Opportunist/Stalker”)
- Wifey (aka “Photographer #1”)
- Daughter (aka “Photographer #2/The Magpie”)
- Son (aka “The Nonplussed One”)
* as described by wifey and children
** I may have paraphrased some of the conversations 😉
Finally: if you listen to The Synthesizer Show (or any show, for that matter) on MakerParkRadio, please please please donate something. Tom and Kristin are providing a massive service not just to the local community, but to the listeners around the world. Help them out and donate.