Of all the experiences that I have gone through in my life, this story I am about to tell is perhaps my most daring, certainly my most foolish. Now that I am retired, I have been waiting for the day when I could share this extraordinary event to my fans and friends.

In the last part of the eighties, I took a work assignment from a local Mexican construction firm in Houston, Texas and was hired to manage the inventory of hardware such as nails, power equipment, braces, etc. out of a trailer in Annapolis, Maryland. Also, since I was a board draftsman, I was familiar with drafting and reading blueprints and schematics.

In the early summer of 1988, I left to Maryland as part of a start up crew in a Ford F250. The owner of the company rented a nice apartment for us where I bunked in with four other individuals. We joked around and really had a great time together. The guys also helped me improve my Spanish and I helped them learn English. They also taught me about construction.

On the first day of the job, the slabs for a retirement facility were already set and I helped my friend Roy pop down the chalk lines of the walls that were soon to be built, which took a week to do. As the days went on, all the crews started coming in. The forklift operator brought in the two by fours and roofing materials and placed them near the area where the walls were going up. I would watch all the activity as I doled out the nails and kept an inventory spreadsheet on a brand new IBM computer. After the walls came the sheetrock.

There was so much energy around the building project and I became friends with everyone. We worked from sun up to sun down and were all exhausted by the time we got back to the apartment. I watched my friends from south of the border cook some interesting food, which did not all appeal to me. I often chose a hamburger from Hardees and the local fast food places instead. After work, I would go to the Annapolis wharf and check out the sites. I love history and there was so much of it around me in that historical area.

 One morning, while driving the guys to work, we passed a roadkill deer when one of them suggested that we pick up the carcass for a meal. Fresh meat! After work (twelve hours later), they insisted that I stop by the deer then they proceeded to tie it to the trunk since in Mexico, they were used to taking any opportunity to obtain free meat. We drove back to the apartment. In the parking lot, they skinned the deer then cut off choice pieces of meat. They boiled it but the stinky odor was very strong so I napped outside on the patio. One of the guys woke me up to a plate of tortillas, potatoes, and meat. I took one bite and wanted to puke! YUCK!! In turn, they each took a bite from their own plates then ended up throwing the putrid mess away.

Soon, we were constructing the third level and I began assisting the roofers by bringing them 4x8 foot sheets of plywood on my shoulder and back. I would literally run on top of the high trusses that were spread several feet apart and give them to a guy with the nail gun. I was in the best shape of my life! But there was much danger too. If I fell, I would probably have died or broken many bones. Thankfully, I have always had good sense of balance and dexterity even from childhood.

The construction site was huge consisting of about 800 units. Midway through the project, a buddy and I drove back to Houston to pick up more supplies and my car. I had a Pontiac Ventura with a honeycomb grill. (I really loved that car!) I also offered a job to my brother DJ and returned with a supply of a most wonderful herb from Oaxaca for the crew. Because I was the only guy who had a car, I would often take the guys on excursions.

On our trip back to Maryland, my buddy, DJ and I went through Mississippi and passed a KKK bus filled with members of the clan in their finest cloth gowns headed for a meeting somewhere. We sunk real low in our seats as we passed by because, I guess, of all the nervousness and the thought of the clan getting a hold of us and stringing us up from a hangman's tree. We were scared shitless!! I sped onward to get away from them and less than a mile ahead, I had a blowout! I pulled my car to the road side and quickly maneuvered behind some tall bushes. We got out of the car and were ready to run if necessary when they passed by. We sure were relieved when they didn't see us. Afterward, we fixed the flat and continued on to Maryland.

The weeks went by and on Sundays, I would drive some of the guys a few miles away to Washington D.C. where we would explore the Smithsonian, the National Zoo, view the monuments and points of interest. We must have gone to D.C. six different times and still did not see all the museums since there was so much there! On other weekends, I would drive to Baltimore or visit Mount Vernon.

As the end our assignment approached, I drove in to D.C. by myself. I passed Andrews Air Force base and couldn't help but stop and take some pictures. At the time, I had a 1970 Nikon F camera with Nikkor telephoto lenses. It was a beauty of a camera and was big, bulky and could be taken apart at the push of several buttons.

I pulled over and drove next to a hanger and parking lot never noticing a no trespassing sign that was posted there. I proceeded to walk onto the tarmac. Before me stood these huge B1 Bombers and fighter jets. I was in awe! I crouched down taking my pictures when suddenly I saw two soldiers with machine guns and German Shepherd dogs running toward me. I froze. They grabbed me and asked me what the hell I was doing and told me that I was trespassing. They then escorted me into a building and I was interrogated for four hours by the FBI, Secret Service, CIA and others. I felt so stupid. They took my camera away from me and developed the film. I told each and everyone of the men that what I did was the dumbest thing that I have ever done and that I was not a spy!

The feds went through my entire history and called my father, who was a retired lifetime military officer. Since I was embarrassed about the whole predicament, I implored them not to call my dad but they did anyway. He told them that I was foolish and that no, I was not a spy, just an IDIOT. I really didn't realize how serious my situation was. A little later, they escorted me to my car in the parking lot. They already went through my car but one of the officers asked me to reach under the driver's seat and pull out a bag. Uh Oh! I pulled out a plastic baggie and open it up for them to see. Inside, I had stashed two ounces of herb from Oaxaca. It was the most beautiful sinsemilla that you have ever seen...way before today's hydro. Now I was in deep shit!

They immediately took me back inside the interrogation room to drill me about the baggie. If prosecuted, I would have been going to a federal penitentiary in Bugtussle, Mississippi (or somewhere worse) then throw away the key. I really felt ashamed. They finally let me go but said I must return to face a judge to decide my fate.

I returned to work the next day then soon finished the construction job. I returned home to Houston and faced my father. He wasn't very proud of me but he forgave me. I soon returned to Washington D.C. to face trial where a judge read me a long passage then slapped me with a misdemeanor sentence and a year of probation for trespassing. He never did mention the pot! Apparently, the three soldiers who took me to my car split the herb and never reported it!! I was a free man.

I know, some of you who are reading this today are thinking, that this story can't be true but I have to insist that it did indeed happen 27 years ago! I am now older and wiser and have waited for the right time and place to tell my story (especially since the country's marijuana laws are changing). I am no criminal...crazy maybe, stupid yes... but I never hurt anyone but myself. In the end, the feds let me go and told me to never set foot on Andrews Air Force base again. I haven't and never will! Boy did I learn a good lesson there and then.

In reflection, I know I was wrong. I thought that I was invincible and impervious to the law. I have always taken chances good and bad but they are a part of my history and memories. I saw those wonderful B1 bombers and huge fighter jets of the Reagan era and later found out that President Gorbachev was in town to meet with President Reagan...and I photographed his Russian jet!! The authorities never gave my film back but I did have some cool pictures of those incredible planes at Andrews. Now take heed that when you visit a government area and they post a no trespassing sign, I would advise you to not enter. It is not worth it. They had me against a wall taking my picture from every angle and for a split second they could have bashed my brains out with their rifles. I was really scared that day!!! Stupid too. I think the worst part of this incident was facing my father since I let him down. We all make mistakes though...forgive me Dad.

Thanks for reading my true story. I can't wait to share my next amazing story with my fans and friends. Until then, keep the faith and stay out of trouble.

Cal

As a baby boomer, I have been blessed to experience the initial sounds of the first wave of rock and rollers. I was there when Ray Charles and Elvis began their journey to the land of great music. Decca, Polydor, EMI, Chess Records, Staxx and others were recording the jazz greats and guitar gods.

 

In my childhood homes, my father played a variety of records from all the great country guitar players to the soul of Memphis. It was like magic to my ears and my dad loved them all! Buddy Holly's ballads, Little Richard's high pitched screams, and Chuck Berry's jingles were leading the way to a new sound on the music scene.

 

I began my own musical sojourn one night in 1961 when Elvis came for a brief stay at a Bremerhaven, Germany hotel my father was managing while in the US Army. (How cool is that?!) We lived close by when I was just a seven year old kid, when my father directed my two brothers and me to watch four Liverpudlian lads on a local television station. The Beatles were playing live nearby at the Kaiserkeller in Hamburg. We kids watched as early rock and roll alchemy was being formed right before our eyes!

 

During those heady times, I was being influenced by the now called legends and the sounds of that era. I chewed on the sinews of famous melodies, the masterpieces and remarkable sounds that now surpass the test of time. We all have our favorites that periodically invade our radios, phones, and our dreams.

 

Lately, I have become concerned because as I grow older many of my musical influences are dying off. I am 62 and really missing the good old days of listening for our favorite songs on the radio and inviting friends over for an old-fashioned album listening party (complete with high fidelity pops and hisses). We were all much younger when I became aware that all the great recording technology was in its infancy. All the great musicians were creating and writing the how-to manuals of rock and roll.

 

One by one and than there's none...

 

I am missing those times when my ears were tuned in. We didn't have a cell phone or computers but we bought Fenders and Marshalls to emulate our heroes along with all the mesmerizing foot switches and pedals to dance on. My father bought a Teac recorder and would often create personal compilations of his record collection to listen to. He loved salsa music so we would listen to Tito Puenta and Xavier Chugat and would often dance with him and mom in the livingroom when he spun those beloved tunes. At other times, I would hear Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, and Miles Davis soaking the airways as they pioneered through my early years.

 

As I grew, my own tastes and musicianship evolved as well. Along with the Beatles and the sixties, I learned from geniuses like Bob Dylan, the Stones, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Eric Clapton, Rick Derringer, Dave Clark Five, The Kinks, Glen Campbell, and even good ole Johnny Cash. There were so many favorites that I could fill a book with their names and influencing compositions. The greatest baby boomers are leaving us one by one so I want to say to all of you who are still living, thank you for leaving your legacy in fine recordings for the future to enjoy.

As seasoned musicians, we don't play live music very much anymore, but play the recordings we will always do. Many of us are always grateful for that past time and every present moment we have when we play our guitar or instrument of choice. Contemplating on the phenomenal time frame we came from, we realize now that we led the way and preserved real rock and roll for eternal times.

 

I have hope for the future in music and know that future generations will eventually go back to the original template that was created in the golden era of true rock and roll, thus adding their names to history.

 

Them days...

Mardi Gras season is once again upon us so I would like to share a few memories of New Orleans as I remember them.

 

I live in the south, which some consider the middle of the country, so I only have a six hour drive by car to New Orleans. The place is happening and is the very best party you can ever join in just about any time of the year. I have been going there for years and each time is memorable.

 

A couple of years ago, I took my wife Eileen and her mother Barbara for The Big Easy's new years eve celebrations. We didn't know what to expect so we started walking down Bourbon Street to the laughs and sounds of hundreds of people in the streets. We went with the flow and grabbed at doubloons and colored necklaces thrown around by happy people. To our delight, we stumble onto a one person act where a man was sitting in a box with his baby face sticking out in a crib like contraption but when you really looked at him...he appeared to be a baby with a man-sized head and a cigarette in his mouth! Mama told him that it's bad for babies to smoke and he kept up the rapport and told her, "I'm sorry, Mama," and put out the cigarette. So funny!

I was sporting two beautiful redheads and they were looking mighty sweet in their exotic attire and colorful feather boas. I couldn't keep the fellas off of them! We all were dancing in the street and had so much fun and laughter. My then 67 year old mother-in-law was asked by several younger guys to dance (which she loves to do and can out-dance anyone I know) but they couldn't keep up with her! At one time two fellas were trying to cart her off with them but we reined her in and kept a bit closer together through the Bourbon Street craziness.

 

We continued making our way through the French Quarter and were dazzled at all the music and excitement. There were cat calls from above us for the girls to show off their boobs for doubloons. We did not comply but received our fair share of necklaces just the same. We would hear incredible musicians, watch fascinating magic and street acts, see painters create mini masterpieces, and my two happy campers had huge smiles and their laughter was heard all the way to Big Bend in West Texas.

We made time to pop into Harrah's French Quarter casino. I have never seen anything like it! I've never been to Vegas and gambling in Texas is illegal so I never got to go. We walked through a Roman like Parthenon and were put at ease with a humming mantra of slot machines. They also had a rotunda honoring New Orleans jazz greats as well. After losing a few bucks, the smoke filled air got to us so we departed and visited the art galleries along Decatur Street.

 

Eileen was in her element with her camera and we waited patiently for every shot. You can't rush art.

 

Later, we became hungry so we waited in line for some fine Cajun food at The Gumbo Shop on St. Peter Street behind Jackson Square. They make a praline sundae dessert that is to die for. It's basically vanilla ice cream with a pecan and coffee infused caramel sauce drizzled on top. My wife almost licked the bowl!

 

After a wonderful culinary experience, we headed to the Mississippi River to partake in a magical New Orleans style midnight! The sky lit up with bombs in the air during an awesome fireworks show while zydeco music played all around us. It was kind of weird to look up at the Jax Logo on top of Jackson Square's building. Displayed on top was the ugliest baby statue since Chucky. I don't get it. They have this giant baby with a new year's banner with a horrendous face. Apparently, the Crescent City has been using it for years. Anyway, we hugged and kissed at the stroke of midnight and held onto each other for warmth.

 

It was all a great adventure for me and my two lovely ladies.

 

TIP: We stayed in a Motel 6 at 4200 Old Gentilly Road outside of the French Quarter that was under ninety dollars for three. It was roomier and nicer than we expected!

 

 --------------------------

 

 I have many memories of New Orleans since the 1970s and I would like to share a few highlights. I consider it the party capital of the United States. The Big Easy should be on your bucket list of places to see.

 

-- One time, I woke up with my face in the urine scented mud after a crazy Bourbon Street night on vermin infested Pirate's Alley. My friends and I had an all-nighter of drinking and fun. It was horrible! I must have passed out.

 

-- When hunger hit in the French Quarter, our go to meal was the Taki-Outi with their delicious chicken strip on a stick (or sausage or turkey).

 

-- We ate breakfast at the old Magnolia Bar and Grill on Decatur Street (now called Belle's Diner). The cooks wore ties with their white shirts and made you feel so special with their charm. Their breakfast of pancakes, bacon, eggs and coffee was so good but really it was the ambiance of the place that had a distinguished feel about it. Eating there was a celebration and man those cats could sing!

 

-- Riding the historic trolley cars throughout New Orleans' Garden District was an experience from a past era. The trolley would drive by many beautiful mansions and one of a kind shops so you could really get a feel of how it was a hundred years ago. Everything is so old and you just have to stop to take pictures. I love to talk with the locals to strike up a conversation. It's fun!

 

-- The big cemeteries are one of The Big Easy's treasures! It's crazy but there is wonderful carved art everywhere in these old, historic places. The above ground tombs are so old that they contain the disintegrated bones of several family members and maybe even a fresh body. Eerie...but cool!

-- In the 1970s, I took my sister Barbara, my cousin Tina, her friend Rosa, and a slew of other friends to Mardi Gras. We hooked up with my dear friend Jeanette in Gonzales, Louisiana who was the perfect hostess since she was from Louisiana and was big on history. Jeanette took us to the local cotton plantations and beautiful vistas of the Mississippi River. I especially loved how the moss hung to the old cypress trees. Jeanette also cooked up a fine meal of shrimp gumbo, jambalaya with Cajun rice, and pecan pie. We were in a soul kitchen in the heart of Delta country. Thanks Jeanette!!! Afterward, we all headed to New Orleans and had a ball eating, drinking, and having fun with the hundreds of others crowded on the streets. We picked a spot to watch the parade floats go by sponsored by their respective sororities. There were balloons in the air and doubloons flying everywhere! All you had to do was wait a moment and a necklace would hit you. You could also throw them back to other people since you had so many. It was so much fun! The highlight of that trip was watching this creepy Chester the Molester pervert open up his trenchcoat and rub himself on unsuspecting people. I saw him first then told a couple of my male friends to watch this guy in action. We laughed and laughed as he went along the hundreds of people who were watching the parade. As the girls would reach up to grab a thrown necklace, ol' Chester would mosey on over and hump the unsuspecting girl. He must have been caught a million times but he still did it. So I warned my sister and the girls to watchout. When he came to us, I can't remember who confronted him with a hard elbow, he backed off and fell backwards painfully on the ground exposing himself to all of us. All the girls wanted to kick his ass, but us guys laughed so hard.

 

-- It was Fat Tuesday, the last day of Mardi Gras. My friends and I went to the Superdome to catch a big music concert. As my friend Richard and I were walking around the dome, we walked alongside the entourage of Dr. John the Night Tripper. He had just completed his show and he and his band of gypsies were ready to head into the dressing rooms. Richard and I acted like we were part of his posse and glided right into a big rotunda like waiting area. We sat down and marvelled at all the activity. On the doors of the performing artists of the evening were star shaped signs touting 'Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Dr. John, Jimmie Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds' and others. We were tickled pink to be there. It was exciting!

 

-- Last but not least, during the late 1970s, me and my Houston friends went to Mardi Gras to see Saturday Night Live's original cast, The Not Ready for Primetime Players!!! (SNL Mardi Gras Special) I saw Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, John Belushi and the rest of their team. They filmed their individual skits throughout the French Quarter so as you walked about from Jackson Square to Bourbon Street, you could watch them film their scenes. The best part of that experience was watching John Belushi snatch a beer can out of my friend Richard McKinney's hand, tilt it up to swallow the remains, then slam it to flatten it on his forehead. He then cracked a bull whip to the music from Rawhide when Dan Aykroyd couldn't crack it! Just like in the Blues Brothers movie, we got an early look at John and the bull whip skit. So cool!

In 1968, before the Dallas Cowboys became America's football team, they were the professional team for the state of Texas and under the leadership of coach Tom Landry, they were good, really good. Dandy Don Meredith was the quarterback in charge and he got his nose busted several times during games but kept on making touchdowns. Back then, the Cowboys made the playoffs but didn't go very far since they were a mediocre team. In 1969, Roger Staubach was drafted and he brought them to the promised land. Fans were then hooked!

 

When my father retired from the Army years ago, my family ended up in Fort Hood, Texas then moved to Houston. During the early seventies, we started watching football games on TV and I remember my mother slowly becoming a Dallas fan. How could you not?! Since the Houston Oilers had such dismal plays, Texas needed a winner. So we all (as a family) got hooked on the success of the Dallas Cowboys. They developed Hall of Fame players throughout those years and we got spoiled with the pride of Texas' football darlings. Eventually, my sister and her friends became huge fans along with the guys and my mom. We were all on board.

 

Strangely, my Houston friends hated this team, which I'll never understand. It doesn't matter where the team is from in Texas, my family supports and cheers them on especially when they meet the playoffs. My mother, Maura, feels the same way...cheering for our Texas teams! She is now in a nursing home and is in her last years of life but still gets excited when football season is here. Quarterback Tony Romo is her latest football hero. She loves that man and he can do no wrong in her 83 year old eyes! She also refers to the team as “My” Cowboys with such joy in her face.

I still remember my mom in 1995 when they won their latest Super Bowl Championship. She was sooooooooo happy but she always still yelled at the TV with the rest of the fans when a play was not up to her standards. She would jump up and high five anyone around when the boys scored. Mom's energy and sheer jubilation for the game outshone anyone I know. I've never seen a bigger fan! (The Dallas Cowboys made that time joyful even though she lost her baby boy, Edward, a few months before.) So if you are privileged to meet my mom during football season, you will usually see that her room and bulletin board is covered with Cowboys logos and memorabilia. She has been the matriarch of my family and is one of the oldest Cowboys fans in the world!!!! Unfortunately, she has never seen her team or met a Cowboy in person. I hope she hangs on for many more football seasons to come!

 

Now, my niece Michelle and her friends are huge fans like mom was. They are leading the crusade by having tailgate parties and seeing the games in person wherever they are playing as often as possible. Thank God for the Dallas Cowboys in helping my family stick together through both fumbles and touchdowns.

 

Love you Mom!

 

Cal

NOTE: We are also Houston Texans fans but the letdowns every year are tough. Come on Texans!!

In the fall of 1968, my friend Ricky and I were enjoying his birthday gift from his grandmother, a brand new olive green Shelby Cobra. We had Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild blaring from the car's radio as we roared out of Killeen for Waco, Texas. We were two adventurous fifteen year old lads having fun! I remember the look of Ricky's smile and laughter like it was just yesterday. Since he was so young (and may not have had a driver's license), we mainly took the back roads and I even got to drive that hot car.

 

Ricky and I had a jam band and we would often go to the Fort Hood Army base to rent sound studio time, which was free to military personnel. As an Army brat, I was privileged to obtain this service as well as renting all kinds of musical instruments for free. We would practice in Ricky's garage after school and had fun playing teen club parties.

 

We listened to all types of music and learned the chords of popular artists like Steve Miller. Living in the USA had just come out and I really dug the cadence of the song. The pop sound at the time was changing and American musicians were getting more respect since the British Invasion took over the world so creatively. The L.A. based band, Spirit was leading the way with their dramatic and unique artistic flare so when they were going to perform in Waco, Ricky and I had to see them. It was my very first concert!

The show was held at the old convention center and Spirit was there with other bands (which I do not remember). We were the only people in the audience who didn't light up. Seeing my hero, Randy California, sing back up and play his lead guitar put me in a state of pandemonium and a natural high. I was mesmerized by his guitar talent and the quality of his songs. After a instrumental intro, out of the wings came lead singer Jay Ferguson and the music really kicked into high gear when suddenly, he falls off the stage. For a few moments the music stopped then up hobbling and limping onto the stage, Jay began singing. They played three more songs then Jay called it quits since he was too hurt by the fall. Randy stepped up to sing and played his ass off. Wow! I was so impressed with the music these guys were playing...LIVE!! Spirit became my favorite band even today and were influential in my songwriting abilities. I have been listening to Mechanical World, Fresh Garbage, I Got a Line On You, 1984, Mr. Skin...you have the world at your finger tips. I will listen to Randy California's guitar licks 'till I die!

 

In the late seventies, Spirit played at Liberty Hall in Houston. I got the word out to my circle of friends and about eight of us loaded up into two vehicles. Back then before the internet, you bought concert tickets at the door so you would arrive early for best seating then have your hand stamped so you could go in and out of the venue as you pleased. After we secured our seats, I motioned to my friend Eric Hayes to follow me outside for a smoke. (Eric was a friend who I met early in my travels to Ecuador. During this time, he was in Texas to find a job in Austin as a motorcycle mechanic.) As we were about to light up, out of a back door pops my hero Randy California! He also came out to smoke and asked us about Houston. We must have talked for about ten minutes then Eric passed him some punta rojo from Columbia. Randy then changed the subject to Peru, Ecuador and Columbia. He wanted to visit those countries someday.

 Randy was in a happy mood and had a cool Afro. He thanked us for the buzz then walked into the hall. We followed, took our seats, then told our other friends our story who did not believe us at first.

 

That night was really special and all of us got a treat with a performance of Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. I can't think of another American band ever to have such originality and Spirit was the personification of the great seventies bands. It's too bad that great bands break up. At one time, Randy almost formed a band with Jimi Hendrix! They were friends so Jimi gave Randy Wolfe his new last name as 'California'. If you were fortunate to have seen these guys live, you indeed saw the best. Randy California, Ed Cassidy, Mark Andes, John Locke, and Jay Ferguson will live in infamy.

 

If Randy California was alive today (he died in 1997), I would like to think that he would remember me and my stories. Just think...I got to meet Randy and had a smoke with him!!!

 

Thank you for reading my story. You can read other original tales from my life experiences at www.calvinballimusic.com.

 

Cal

NOTE: The attached photo rights belong to their respective owners.

I remember when...In the 1950's and 60's, technology was evolving in South America, but not as quickly as in The United States. They were way behind and even getting messages to the remote jungles of the Oriente and all of the Amazon delta took years to do. Pilots of small planes would try to communicate with the indigenous Indians by dropping small bags of food and toys and messages to the awestruck but frightened Natives. These were stories that I had read in National Geographic, Look, and other publications. Even going into the 1970's (and possibly even today), there were certain Indian people of the Ecuadorian jungles who still practiced shrinking heads and cannibalism rituals. The most famous of these are the Aucas and Jivaros.

 

In the fifties Jim and Elisabeth Elliott and several of their missionary friends attempted to connect with these people and convert them to Christianity and stop their barbaric and inhumane behaviors. Jim and two of his buddies would fly in a small Cessna and travel in a tight circle, drop a basket on a dime, and opened a line of communication with these headhunters. The Indian would take out the package and would leave a bone or offering to the “bird God from the sky.” Jim would pull the rope back up then return to their post. This went on for several times, but the guys needed to find a place to land nearby and speak with these people and film their native lifestyle. Several attempts were made in the following weeks to find a suitable site and soon they found a strip of smooth sand along a riverbed and landed. The men connected with these people and studied there ways briefly, only to be speared to death. This reverberated around the world and promoted a generation of Christian missionaries to the jungles of the Amazon. Jim's story and the headhunters of the Oriente was made into a movie called “The End of the Spear” which attracted a lot of attention in 2006.

 

Years later in 1966, I was a 13 year old Army brat in Quito, Ecuador. Near our house on the slopes of an Andean volcano, Pichincha is a playground for the young Indiana Jones kid I was. Eucalyptus forests gave way to tropical highlands and lush jungles. The land of the Jivaros wasn't very far away from our home and my father would keep us kids up to date of the world around us. We had heard the Jim Elliot story and others from my parents and my dad became a collector of Ecuadorean art such as wooden sculptures, wooden frames, paintings, Indian artifacts, ponchos, precious stones, and shrunken heads (which my mother refused to have in the house and he had to return them...Ha). I remember all the cool things he would show me and my brothers.

 

My father worked at Quito's U.S. embassy. As an official of the government, we were offered an opportunity to represent Americans abroad. My dad had a cool Buick Electra boated from his home town of Galveston, Texas so we drove around with class. Our Quito house was beautiful with high walls around the estate, which had glass shards to cut anyone who tried to climb over them. (I know that I'm getting away from my story but keep reading...) The U.S. embassy would assign maid service to the American families serving there. Since ours was a large family with five children, we were assigned two maids. Over time, we went through several women but one stayed on throughout our three year stint. Her name was Alicia. She lived in the attached room in the back and would leave Friday afternoons to stay with her missionary husband who had a church in the city.

 

Alicia's husband was working the Auca and Jivaro territory since he had good relations with the people offering a Christian hand, food, and skills. Often he would collect their relics and Alicia would sell them to my dad. One day she gave my dad a spear made by an Auca warrior and a news clipping of the story behind the weapon. It was made from the hardest wood of the Amazon, was black, and over six feet long. The point tapered into a serrated edge that ran about eight to twelve inches into a smooth shaft. Along the end of the serrated sides was twisted bamboo adorned with colorful feathers of parrots, hummingbirds, and other birds. We also received other interesting items from him including precious stones.

 

The news clipping of the spear was horrifying!!

 

During the mid sixties, these famous Aucas and Jivaros were furious enemies. A river separated their lands from each other and one day a group of Jivaro women crossed the river to collect yucca roots and plants to feed their families. A party of Aucas saw them and speared the women to death. Alicia's husband was nearby and came rushing to the scene. He captured a photo of the two women who were speared as they attempted to flee and met death on a canoe. The Aucas got away before they could collect their spears. This picture and story was captured in all the Ecuadorian newspapers. That is how Alicia got the spear and the news article for my dad, which tells the story of how these women died. (This is nearby where Jim Elliott and his friends were speared to death in the late fifties.)

 

Have I got your attention? It gets better.

 

My family kept that spear for many, many years. It was put on the wall in my dad's garage and was forgotten but later, for some reason, I moved back with my parents and slept in that room where the spear was kept. On two separate occasions, I came to fear that room. While I tried to sleep one night I turned over and laid on my stomach. I heard something and looked around. Suddenly I felt a weight on me. I couldn't breath. An evil spirit was choking me and pinning me to my bed. I could not free myself from this evil. It lasted for around twenty seconds and I could hear an evil voice in my ears that sounded of an old Auca woman laughing and saying something to the effect of “let me go!” I was finally freed and scared out of my mind. I looked up at the spear and suspected that was the reason I had this frightening experience.

 

Several days later, it happened again! I knew then that the spear was haunted so I told my older brother who was living in Minnesota about the horrifying incidents. He also had the same thing happen to him! I had to rid myself of this evil in our house.

 

About a week later, I wrapped the spear in a cloth along with its story (leaving out the evil spirits part) and drove to The Greenspoint Wyndham Hotel (an upscale hotel near Houston). I looked around the underground parking facility and finally came upon a fancy expensive Mercedes Benz. I took the spear and laid it gently near the driver's side then drove away. I was rid of the evil and never heard that bruja (sorceress) voice again. Thank God!

 

In hindsight and thinking about it now, I wish I would have donated the spear to the Fine Arts Museum. It could have been a wonderful addition to their South America exhibit and a cool spooky story. I need to tell you all that the voice was terrifying. I have lived a safe and fortunate life that many may never experience, but I'm here to tell you, there is evil and the devil lives. Jesus is my Savior and will always be the beacon of light that gets me through each day.

 

Thanks for reading my story! Stay tuned for more true adventures to come!

 

Keep the faith,

 

Cal

I love my mom. It is for my love of food that I owe her my life. It was she who fed me but most importantly, she introduced me to her vast knowledge of spices, fruits, and vegetables.

 

The many daily chores I saw my mother accomplish while I was a youngster was memorable since she had attended to six children, one big child (my dad), and herself. Can you imagine the work she had to do? Amazing! That will be another story for later but today I want to reflect on the wonderful foods that she made for her family.

My mother, Maura Luna, came from a family of master cooks that had a strong family tradition of Texan and Mexican blends of cooking...some may call it Tex Mex with a Luna twist. My mother learned many recipes from her mother, which were passed down through generations.

 

As the wife of an American soldier, Mom was blessed with an opportunity to travel overseas to be with her husband as well as taking her children along. The US government provided perks such as housing and medical care. As my dad worked up the military ranks, they also provided local servants to help out with everyday maintenance such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, and lawn care. My earliest memories of food began when we were stationed in Japan when I was 6 years old in the late 1950s. My mother had a mama-san (a Japanese house mother) who helped take care of us kids and cooked for us. She mostly made noodles and oriental soup variations but my father, who grew up with huevos rancheros (Spanish style eggs) soon put his foot down on the noodle dishes. He thought that she and his new family, even in Japan, should learn my mother's style of cooking.

 

It was my mom's flour tortillas that started my food lover's journey that influenced the rest of my life. She learned this simple and cheap skill from her mother and I grew up watching her almost daily make homemade tortillas. On a clean counter top she threw together some flour, salt, lard, and warm water to create a smooth, white dough. She would then pinch off a bit at a time to roll into balls, flatten them out by hand, then use a rolling pin to make perfectly round tortillas. Next, she would cook them on a hot griddle, turning them over to slightly brown both sides, then place them in a cloth layered basket to keep in the heat. Of course, the smell was so heavenly that we hungry kids would sneak a bite until she put a stop to it. There is nothing more wonderful than a hot, homemade tortilla smothered with butter and Mom's love.

Mom also made a mean huevos rancheros for breakfast. She would start out by making fresh a pico de gallo that was to die for by grinding garlic and herbs together in a molcajete (a stone bowl or mortar and a pestle to grind spices). In a hot skillet with olive oil, she would toss in fresh cut tomatoes and onions, the ground herb sauce, salt and pepper, then set it aside. Of course, the bacon was ready and waiting by this time and the grease was ready for perfectly fried eggs. My mother knew the exact time to turn over an egg, not too runny but not too hard. (I too follow my mother's example about over easy eggs. It's an art form.) For the children, she made scrambled eggs.

 

Mom would always have a big bowl of cooked pinto beans in the fridge. On her hot griddle with bacon grease, she added the cold beans to make fresh frijoles refritos (refried beans). Mom would then plate the eggs, bacon, and beans then pour pico de gallo on top. Tortillas were served on the side to sop up the sauce. Breakfast perfection! Huevos rancheros with flour tortillas is still my all time favorite dish. Breakfast at Mi Tierra restaurant in San Antonio is my second favorite.

 

My mother was every bit the Betty Crocker mom of the fifties and sixties. She dressed the part, had the in style hair do, and owned the latest kitchen gadgets as well as wearing an apron. Her desire to expose her family to worldly and innovative recipes was fulfilled through cookbooks and the local cooking styles of the countries we were stationed in. Oh yes, she experimented on our stomachs but her tried and true rice with chicken is my second favorite 'Mom' dish. She would make the best Spanish rice by frying the grains first, briefly frying chicken portions, then steaming them all together to perfection. When served with pinto beans and flour tortillas, it tasted soooooo good.

 

For breakfast, she made both oatmeal and porridge. We loved her rice atole (Mexican rice pudding) with cinnamon. Almost every night after dinner she would fry up some flour and other ingredients to make tasty bunuelos. With cocoa or coffee, they were a cheap and easy dessert for us kids. One of my favorite desserts was her infamous apple dumplings. She would roll out some dough and stuff each pocket with apple, spices, and sugar juice then top them with cinnamon, butter and raisins before baking. These were a huge hit with my family! We lived for her apple dumplings.

 

Mom would also make an assortment of cookies, pies (pumpkin, pecan, cherry, and my favorite lemon meringue) and cakes (I especially loved her German chocolate) from scratch but the best part of all her cooking was the love she put into each dish. She really made a great effort to bestow everything she had to give her very best. Not all of it was delicious but I consider it a culinary journey...we all survived. I loved my mother's cooking and have attempted to recreate some of it for my own family.

 

NOTE: This story is dedicated to Maura Luna Balli on her 83rd Birthday on November 29th. Happy Birthday Mom!

In 1980, my friend Mike Buzzo had a party at his Treasure Island home in Lake McQueeney, Texas where the infamous Guadalupe River winds down from New Braunfels. It also forms a lake near Seguin, home of the giant pecan monument. The area is full of pecan and hardwood trees, rolling hills, and is one of the most picturesque regions of Texas. Treasure Island is occupied by many affluent people who own million dollar estates including senators, lawyers, and legislators. The island is beautiful and the lake water is blue green.

 

Mike Buzzo's parents bought the land many moons ago before it was all grown up with oppulent homes. His father, Papa Dan, was a highly decorated WWII Prisoner of War and jungle river guide in Ecuador (Dan Buzzo's Obituary). Mike's grandma, who lived with them, was one of the original Daughters of the Republic of Texas (www.drtinfo.org). Misfortune happened on the property when Mike's mother died of a snake bite. This was shortly before I met Mike in Ecuador.

 

The house was huge and was situated near the entrance of the Treasure Island bridge. It had many rooms and a fishing pier. As you can imagine, the house was decorated with many artifacts, souvenirs, and historical findings from around the world. It was a museum and I loved talking to Mike's grandma “MeMa” to hear her stories of early Texas. She was so smart and knew her history. She even knew about my own Balli family tree and the history of Padre Island www.balli.org). She was such a nice lady and tolerated the noise of Mike's many lake side parties. While the Buzzo's were off to the amazon, MeMa and Lori, Mike's sister would take care of the lake house.

 

One day I asked Michael if I could bring some friends down there for a party and he said sure! So I gathered up my Houston musician friends and we traveled to Lake McQueeney to jam. At the party, some of us went with Mike on a ski boat to watch him do some barefooting. (Years earlier when the Buzzo's lived in Iran, Mike got to entertain the Shah by showing off his barefooting skills.) At the time, Mike was one of Texas' best barefooters and was known throughout the Seguin area. Treasure Island had many champion skiers and Mike was one of the best.

 

As the party was going on and many of us were swimming and having a good time, a Cessna airplane flew low over our heads and disappeared over the tree tops. Mike hollered to all of us that his friend Barry made it and would land at the Seguin airport so a couple friends went to the airport to pick him up. Meanwhile, me and my musician buddies entertained the crowd with our loud music and had a blast!

 

About an hour later we took a break and had some good barbeque to take care of our hungry bellies. Some good eatin. By then, Barry had arrived and asked if anyone wanted a ride in his airplane. I couldn't believe that no one wanted a ride, so after eating I told him that I would. So I drove him to the airport in my 1977 Toyota Celica. We arrived and prepped the Cessna 150 for take off.

 

Barry is an airplane mechanic and had borrowed this plane from a friend at Hooks Airport in Tomball, Texas (north of Houston) for the party. We boarded then with a roar of the single engine, we made it into the air. We followed the Guadalupe River toward New Braunfels and zig-zagged our way over the river to the delight of those on their inner tubes and water rafts. From the air you could see the beautiful contours of the Texas Hill Country. It was breathtaking!!!

 

We flew over New Braunfels then turned around to Treasure Island buzzing only a few feet above the river's treetops. When we flew higher, Barry gave me the controls. It was so much fun turning left and then right looking at the river below. Finally, we arrived at the party and roared real low past the party whose outstretched hands pointed to us with delight. We turned the plane around to repeat the action as we lifted into the horizon...only this time, the propeller sputters out. I was still waving to my friends below then turned toward Barry and his eyes are as big as tennis balls! I was thinking that he was pulling a fast one but he yelled to me to look for an opening in the trees, all the while pulling the throttle to restart the engine. I spied a dirt road ahead and motioned to him, “Over there!”

 

During our silence, we were dropping fast and barely made it over the trees. In the distance, we could see a car moving fast towards us kicking up a cloud of dust behind it. The driver saw our predicament, slowed to a stop, then backed up very fast to get out of our way. As we landed on a narrow dirt road, the left wing hit a sign and we spun around to land near a gully with a ten foot drop. I immediately jumped out and kissed the ground giving my thanks to God. I was in a state of shock! I got up and Barry was almost in tears looking at damage to the wing.

 

By that time, the car pulled up in a heap of dust then out stepped a big rich older cowboy and his trophy wife. They were driving a huge white 1959 Cadillac with a big Texas longhorn on the grill. He asked if we were OK in his big Lyndon B. Johnson voice and said he saw our crazy landing and knew we were in trouble. As we all inspected the plane, we noticed that about a foot of the left wing was sheared right off and the fuel bladder was exposed!!! The cowboy offered Barry some duct tape and helped to mend the wing. Meanwhile, Barry gleefully hollered as his head was dug in the cowling, “It's a foul plug Cal! Let's take off so I can fly this baby home!” I yelled back to him, “I'm not getting in that plane!” “Awww...c'mon Cal, she'll be OK!” Ol' Tex's trophy wife then told me to hop into the car so they could drive me back to the airport to get my Celica. I accepted, of course!!!

 

The group of us maneuvered the plane around for a take off and Barry got the motor running then headed up, barely over the treetops. The kind couple then took me to the airport.

 

Boy did I have a story to tell my worried friends who were very scared and thought they would see a fire and smoke over the horizon. I told them my unbelievable story and to this day, I never heard from Barry again. I like to think he made it back to Hooks Airport and kept his job. But I guess I will never know.

 

Thanks for reading my true stories and come back soon for my next one.

 

Calvin Luna Balli

 

NOTE: I have an all points bulletin out for my old friend, Michael Buzzo. I haven't seen him in over six years and I just want to see my friend again. If anyone hears from or about him, please contact me! I pray that he is alive out there somewhere and he should know how to reach me. I dedicate this story to him since he is one of the most interesting people I have ever met.

In 1927, Double Day and Company published a book by cowboy painter Charles M. Russell called Trails Plowed Under, Stories of the Old West. His publisher insisted that the world needed to hear his wonderful and often humorous tales Charlie loved to tell to his many friends. He became a master storyteller and would often tell anyone, who would buy him a drink at the local bar, experiences of his days as a cowboy.

One of my favorite stories was called The Ghost Horse. It was about the life of a pinto pony named Paint who for five years lived with the Crow Indians running with the buffalo herds. One night a war party from the north led by a fellow named Bad Wound raided the Crow and stole Paint. This Piegan tribe left the Belly River (in Montana) then rode through the night with their prized horses with ten riders. The next morning, the group noticed there was one riderless pony among their herd. Apparently, the warrior who stole paint was shot and dropped somewhere on the ride home.

When the Piegan arrived the next morning to their village, Bad Wound felt blood stains on Paint's mane and immediately knew it was bad medicine. So he shot the poor pinto and left him for dead, only to see him arise the next morning feeding with the herds. Bad Wound realized that he had only stunned the horse and he knew it was very strange medicine so traded Paint off. The pony went to several owners before eventually Charlie picked him up with a trade. The painter named him Monte and they lived together as best friends for the next 25 years.

In 2011, my wife and I went to Great Falls, Montana to see Charlie and Nancy Russell's museum and house on forth street. I was so impressed with the cowboy storyteller that then and there I decided to write a tribute album to this colorful artist. After a wonderful tour of his painting studio, I was browsing the gift shop's counter and bought the above mentioned book for sale. As I read the historical and humorous stories, I laughed a lot and couldn't keep my mind off the wonderment of the old West that no longer exists. Charlie's down to earth writing and illustrations made the book tough to put down and I refer to Trails Plowed Under, Stories of the Old West (as well as his other publications) often.

I had to write a song about this colorful true story. In my interpretation, I called the Indian chief War Wound since I knew I couldn't use Charlie's words verbatim. I had to create an eerie sound of wind and use ghostly chords with the synthesizer. As I was painting my sound canvas I wanted to give a feel as if Charlie was riding Monte from the hills to the plains (also notice the beating of horse hooves throughout the song). As I imagined the fragrance of flowers on the open range, I wanted to convey some of what the painter might have experienced. At the end, the song changes to a sense of the heavenly presence of a ghost horse grazing in the clouds...yes that is my wife at the very end making the sound of Monte. Charlie would be proud of bringing his Indian pony story to the 21st century and beyond. He truly loved his horse Monte and wanted the world to know that too.

I was inspired to write the instrumentals for Ghost Horse a couple of years earlier by the loss of my friends and brother. I knew right away that the ghostly air of the piece was befitting to a memorial song for Monte when it finally came time to put together my Charles M. Russell tribute album. It already had the perfect music and soul I was looking for! As I began to write the lyrics, I was filled with much emotion and knew Charlie really loved his horse...as you can tell I sang my heart out. I still cry when I sing this song.

To this day, my wife insists that this is her favorite song that I ever wrote. I have written many songs but I am so proud to have done this. So, for you Charlie, I tried to do you justice in making this song yours. I had his spirit and Monte in my mind when I wrote the words...He runs through the hills with the wind in his mane, My pinto, My old friend...

Be sure to check out my Ghost Horse lyric video here.

The pony picture is called Crow War Pony–1 by Brady Willette. If you would like to see more of his beautiful artwork and photography, please visit his website at www.willettefineart.com

Eye of the Tornado

by Calvin Luna Balli

12/26/2014

 

In 1970, my dad eventually retired from his long military career then decided to make Houston, Texas his home. (Before that, our family was living in Fort Hood for the past two and a half years while my dad was in Vietnam.) With his GI Bill, he bought a new 3 bedroom home on the north side near Airline Road, Beltway 8, and Interstate 45. We kids attended Aldine Sr. High and enjoyed a wonderful growing up experience since our extended family was also in the same general area.

 

Our new neighborhood, Greenridge North was still building homes along the many empty roads and lots being sold daily. Our house was the last home built on our street with a view of a prairie where jackrabbits and many night critters lived. Also, we were so far north of Houston that you could see all the stars at night.

 

As the neighborhood grew, we met new people and the family across the street became our friends. I do not remember their names but the father was a manager of a clothing store and his wife was tending to their 1 year old son. I even jammed at his strip center with a couple guys I knew on some early originals I was working on. We were blazing away with two twin Fender deluxe amps with an Echoplex and even brought in a little business for the fella.

 

My father tried a few jobs after the service but in 1970 thru 1974, he managed a Stop n Go convenience store near our home. After going to school for the day, I could estimate the time when my parents got home and would often open the garage door from the inside for them as they drove up the driveway. Dad would bring in his car then I would close the garage door as was an established routine.

 

One evening near 5:45 pm, the weather turned bad and the wind picked up so I went to the garage and timed it just right for my father to drive in. I lifted the garage door open and noticed a strong pulling sensation as I raised it up above my head. Just then, I stared into my father's terrified eyes as he motioned for me to get down quickly. My parents were still in the car so he immediately threw his arms over my mom's body. I suddenly looked up into the sky and for a nanosecond, glimpsed the eye of a tornado!!!! I could see the ominous debris field spiraling up into the heavens for a quarter of a mile. The tornado jumped over our house after blasting off the roof of our neighbor's behind us, then struck our friend's house, in front of us, twisting and turning like a cobra.

 

I could see a bolt of lighting come out of the tornado as it hit an antenna on a nearby chimney. It hopped and twisted its way into a torrential rain for the next 5 minutes. My father then told me to go see if the neighbor lady and her child were OK. In the blinding rain, I ran across the street and burst my way through the front door to find our neighbor and her child huddled unhurt in the bathroom. Their roof was peeled off but the rain was slowly letting up.

 

I interviewed for local TV reporters and walked away from them among the debris field since the storm left a quarter mile path of destruction during its rampage. I have seen some incredible stuff but this incident was once in a lifetime. I know that God was with me that day!

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