Fire and Smoke


At one point in the seventies we had a practice space in an out building that was behind an Optical Office on Mission Street in the city. We would rehearse there a few times a week and on the weekends, so it became a sort of clubhouse for our friends and us.

One night as we were in the middle of the song “Fire” Nelson, who was our drummer at that time suddenly jumped up from the drum kit yelling Fire! Fire! and gesturing wildly towards the window. We all stopped and turned to look out the window and to our utter amazement the nearby paint factory warehouse was indeed in flames!

Amidst the sounds of popping and cracking coming from over there and with the wail of sirens fast approaching from the distance we sprung into action. Minutes seemed like hours as we hauled amplifiers, drums and speakers piece meal out to the front one by one into the rear of the Optical Office.

As things almost always do, it didn’t turn out to be so bad after all. The Fire Department arrived in time and everything and all the equipment were OK, but what a scare.

There was another time we got a scare of a different sort though; and in those days we were pretty heavy into smoking weed. Every now and then we’d all buy some at the same time, so we had a friend named Blue who would come by with his little suitcase and do some business with us, if you know what I mean.

Imagine this; the pungent aroma of the smell of us lighting up and bags of weed here and there as we practiced and purchased at the same time. All of a sudden we noticed a silver flash from the front window that accompanied a loud rap upon the door, and we realized immediately that it was a police badge!

After the initial Oh Shit! moment we all leapt into action with blinding speed and in an instant bags of weed were flying behind the amps and Blue shut his little suitcase and threw it behind the PA speakers. But the smell of the smoke was still permeating the air, and we were almost frozen with fear of what would happen next.

 I opened the door and stepped out as discreetly as was possible trying to keep keep the door as closed as I could, as there were two policemen standing right there. And then all of a sudden Marciano came out right behind me and greeted one of the policemen!

It turned out that this policeman happened to be an old classmate of him and Joe, and Marciano started talking with him and kind of kept them at bay and they never even came inside at all. They were there to ask us to turn down the volume because a neighbor called them to complain that were playing too loud.

The collective sigh of relief when Marciano came back in after talking to the policemen doesn’t even begin to describe the moment after they’d gone.

That place almost became like a home away from home, and everybody that we knew seemed to stop by to hang out, listen to us practice or just because. Even the old man who ran the small Mexican restaurant nearby got to know us pretty well.

And even to this day whenever I hear the Ohio Players song “Fire” I’m transported right back to that night and I can see those bright orange flames menacing the night.

That, along with Marciano knowing the policeman and him thinking fast to save the day for us with all that weed we had in there, and with the air filled with smoke like that.

Memories of fire and smoke…