ULTRA AUDIO -- Archived Article

January 1, 2004

It's CES Time Again

I’ve never been to a Consumer Electronics Show. I’d thought about going from time to time with my friend Steve, who runs an Internet-based vintage audio dealership and has attended CES pretty regularly for the last half-dozen years or so. I’ve never taken much notice of when he leaves for the show, but I’m keenly aware of his return. Invariably, he calls to fill me in on the trip, regaling me with stories of good and bad sound, cutting-edge products, interesting people sightings, and the occasional and unavoidable odd experience that’s bound to arise over the course of any four-day visit to Las Vegas. Steve takes copious notes of it all, and collects all manner of booklet information, price lists, and personal and business cards. He always comes back more enthusiastic about audio than when he left.

Thinking about CES, I find myself thinking a good deal less about Steve -- with whom, this time, I’ll be heading out to Vegas -- than about my father. I grew up in Brooklyn, as my dad did. He was quite an athlete in his day, and for a time was a minor-league baseball player in the Dodgers organization -- a catcher. Naturally, from the age of about five, I was a pitcher. By the time I was 12, I had developed quite a curveball and was all the rage in Little League, and my success was one of the few things that brought a smile to my father’s face. By that time, he had been stricken with cancer, his hip had been replaced more than once, his athletic career had come to a screeching halt, and his senses of self-worth and social value had been gravely diminished. I was pleased to have been able to make him smile, if only for a little while.

Indeed, the smiles were short-lived; my baseball career didn’t flourish much beyond my Little League years, and by the time I reached high school I was already a junk-ball pitcher. I had no fastball to speak of, and no future in the sport for me or my father to look forward to. I wondered if I’d ever be able to make him smile again.

Although his will to live strengthened as his health deteriorated, we grew apart, as fathers and sons often do, as sons work hard to deny that they see themselves in their fathers. But through it all, we shared one passion: cars. Neither of us could afford to own a decent one, but we could dream. We shared that dream every year at the car show in New York, which was held in the old Coliseum at Columbus Circle, at the southwest corner of Central Park.

We loved the car show. We took copious notes, and collected booklets of every car we would never own. We ogled the pretty models, and fantasized a world in which they were available to us: one in which our availability to them would be considerably less obvious than it was, and a joyful discovery for them.

We were both strangely drawn to the "concept cars." We had our eyes on the future, though we knew we would not share it together for very long.

My father died some time ago, and each year I take my two sons to the car show, now held in New York’s cavernous Jacob Javits Convention Center. My sons and I ogle the models and find ourselves drawn to the concept cars. We imagine a shared future of spectacular cars capable of nearly magical feats. We don’t take notes; we take photos. And I think about my dad.

In a week or so I’ll be heading off to the CES for the first time, with my friend Steve. And though I’ll be taking copious notes, checking out the sounds good and bad, meeting people whose work I’ve read but whom I’ve never seen, and being exposed to the cutting edge in sound, I’ll also be looking around to see how many fathers (and mothers) are attending CES with their children. If the industry is to survive, the love for music and its reproduction must become a bond between parents and children, like a love of art or of baseball. Mostly, I’ll be thinking of my dad, my children, and my place in the world.

...Jules Coleman

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