Welcome to the Jungle
Alexis Figueroa is willing to do the unthinkable to get a celebrity’s autograph. In this episode, we follow him as he attempts to get the one autograph that got away, that of an aging rocker he’s been after for more than a decade. Will Alexis get the memento he’s looking for, or will his best-laid plans fail him once more?
You can read a Spanish transcript of the episode, it’s useful if you’re learning the language with this podcast.
Or you can also read an English translation.
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Translation by Patrick Moseley
[Daniel Alarcón, host]: Welcome to Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
We’re all fans of someone or something, but I doubt any of you are as fanatic as Alexis Figueroa.
There are two things you should know about him before we continue. First: He’s a Puerto Rican man living in Chicago. Second: if you want to learn a few Puerto Rican Spanglish curse words, well, this is the episode for you. Because Alexis knows all of them. And he uses them. All the time.
Our producer, Luis Trelles, brings us this story from Chicago.
[Luis Trelles, producer]: It’s 5 in the morning and I’m on a deserted street corner near the lake that dominates the geography of this city.
Even though it’s November, 2017 and winter hasn’t even officially started yet, it’s below 20° Fahrenheit. That’s about -6° Celsius.
I’m from the Caribbean. I hate this cold with every fiber of my being. I’m about to abort this mission and go back in the building where I’m staying, when a family-sized minivan —the kind suburban moms drive to cart their kids around— stops beside me.
Hey, how’s it going?
[Alexis Figueroa]: What’s up, cabra?
[Luis]: Alexis came to pick me up. Every time he sees me, he greets me the same way. “What’s up, cabra?”. And not just me, Alexis calls everyone “cabra.” I don’t know anyone else who uses that word to refer to other people. But Alexis is special.
How are you?
[Alexis]: Hey, cabrón, tired. Close the door!
[Luis] I was getting in his car to follow him on his journey. Alexis had come up with an elaborate plan to get the autograph of one of his idols from when he was a teenager.
(SOUNDBITE FROM THE SONG “WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE” BY GUNS ‘N ROSES)
[Axl Rose]: You know where you are?
[Luis]: Axl Rose. The lead singer of Gun ‘N Roses, the hard rock band.
This was the plan: Alexis was going to park by a highway exit and then he was going to wait until the band’s bus appeared, because he knew they were traveling from St. Louis to Chicago to perform in concert.
[Alexis]: It’s a 5 hour trip. But if there’s isn’t a lot of traffic, since it’s early in the morning there’s no traffic, besides trucks, they’re going to make great time. So they may get here an hour early, but they’re going to get here at 7…
[Luis]: None if this seems absurd to Alexis. In fact, he was ready: He even had an accomplice, Ryan Loveless, a 24 year old guy from Colombia who also wanted an autograph.
[Ryan Loveless]: So they left at 3 am. Hmm.… They’ll be here at 7…
[Luis] And they did all kinds of calculations together to guess what time the bus would make it into the city.
And what time is it right now?
[Alexis]: Right now it’s 5:50.
[Luis] And what do we do in the meantime?
[Alexis]: Nos comemos un mojón. We just wait around looking at birds, telling scary stories, talking about…whatever. Because at this time of day there’s not even anyone to people watch. There’s nobody out in this cold.
[Luis]: And that was precisely what we did.
But when is Guns ‘N Roses going to come by?
[Alexis]: Any minute now. We’re waiting to see the bus. Any minute now, yeah…
[Luis]: We waited…
It’s getting late…
[Alexis]: The wait is killing me…
[Luis]: For hours…
[Alexis]: Can these cabrones get here already? Puñeta! I starving…
[Luis]: But the bus never appeared.
Two hours later, they moved on to plan B.
Ryan had gotten the name of Guns ‘N Roses’ producer, so their plan was to call all of the luxury hotels in the city to see if they could find out where the band was staying.
And as luck would have it, the first hotel they called told them, yes, the producer was staying there.
[Alexis]: And we’re going to wait for them so as soon as they park the bus, we’ve got them. I mean, we’ll already be there waiting.
[Luis]: We went to the Peninsula Chicago, one of the city’s classic hotels. But when we got there…
[Alexis]: They’re already there.
[Ryan]: Ah, shit.
[Luis]: There were gigantic Guns ‘N Roses tour buses already parked in front of the hotel.
They’re already there?
[Alexis]: Fail…yeah. We failed.
[Luis]: Alexis knew from the moment he saw the buses that their plan to wait for Axl Rose’ tour bus had failed miserably. We had lost a lot a time and Alexis was worried the members of the band had already gone inside the hotel and he had lost his opportunity to get their autographs.
And the worst part was this wasn’t the first time this had happened. Alexis had been trying to get Axl’s autograph for more than a year. And this time I was determined to follow him unti he got it.
I’ve known Alexis for years and he’s always been the same: a chubby guy normally dressed in “sports clothes,” sweatpants and a t-shirt… He’d fit right in as an extra on one of those gansgter shows.
And as long as I’ve known him, he’s been a collector. It’s something he got from his dad, who collected stamps.
[Alexis]: He had a solid philately collection. And well since I always helped him, I know a lot about… I knew a lot a countries, about…about all of them because I saw and placed them. We would spend hours doing that.
[Luis]: And that’s how he got into making his own collections. Like comics, for example. Or coins. He would go with his old man to the bank and he would get 20 bucks in pennies and look for the ones that had imperfections or defects. And those were the ones he kept. The special ones.
He was bit by the autograph bug later, when he was ten, when his dad gave him a shoe box full of baseball cards.
People outside of the US and the Caribbean may not understand this, but for some baseball fans, collecting these cards with the player’s picture on the front is practically a sacred tradition. They’re talismans that bring kids like Alexis closer to their favorite players. It’s like the Panini albums for the World Cup.
And well, in that first box of baseball cards…
[Alexis]: There was a 1968 Mickey Mantle card. It was in really bad shape; toda jodía. Hecha mierda.
(SOUNDBITE FROM A US BASEBALL GAME)
[Luis]: Mickey Mantle. A superstar player for the New York Yankees who played in the Major Leagues in the 50s and 60s. One of the greats.
[Alexis]: [Laughs] The guy was a hairy beast.
[Luis]: It was like finding a Pele card during his glory days. And to top it off it was valuable. At the time, in the 80s, that card was worth $100, as much as they had paid for that whole box which had hundreds of cards.
Alexis was hooked, we wanted to collect all the cards he could.
Then his dad started taking him to games in the Puerto Rican Winter League, where professional players from the US went to play when the Major Leagues ended.
(SOUNDBITE FROM A BASEBALL GAME IN PUERTO RICO IN THE 80S)
[Announcer]: The gap. Right center. It’s a clean hit over to second. Ramón Ravilés is still in deep right center, until the veteran third-baseman come to the cutoff…Easy!
[Luis]: At the time, baseball games had the air of a provincial fiesta patronal. Everyone knew each other and big professional stars would mingle with the crowd, even during the game, between plays.
Alexis’ dad brought him to the ballpark in San Juan every day and he took advantage of the opportunity to get as many cards signed as he could.
[Alexis]: Besides, in the 80s, at the time, nobody… I mean, the players signed autographs, it was like they enjoyed it, it was…like they felt a duty: they had to go out and sign. And they were really nice guys, all of them.
[Luis]: By the time he was a teenager, Alexis already had all of the autographs of his idols in baseball.
[Alexis]: After doing baseball…when I was 15, it was like I had some downtime, because I already had everyone. And it was like: “Oh, what am I going to do now?”.
[Luis]: So he moved on to rock stars and famous actors.
[Alexis]: A lot of movies are filmed in Puerto Rico and I started do movies. And there are concerts. Not a lot, because at the time there weren’t a lot of concerts, but when there were rock concerts, I went.
[Luis]: And he never stopped getting autographs. Today he has more than 60 thousand: from artists, athletes, politicians… All of them famous, of course. At his home in Chicago he showed me hundreds of records and DVDs that he had had signed:
[Alexis]: John Travolta, Bette Midler…La hostia, this is my favorite: Robert De Niro. Anthony Hopkins in “Silence of the Lambs”…
[Luis]: He has autographs from four US presidents and the last four governors of Puerto Rico. They signed books, pictures, pieces of paper, anything they could put a signature on.
I should say that I’ve never gotten an autograph in my life, but Alexis has some that even I would like to have.
[Alexis]: Radiohead…one of the hardest bands to get autographs from.
[Luis]: Alexis considers himself an extreme collector. The most important thing for him is to get the autographs himself, whenever he can. And so, the most important autographs are the ones he still hasn’t been able to get. Mostly all of his idols from his youth. And his most important idol was, of course… Axl Rose, of Guns n’ Roses
[Alexis]: Because I’m a fan and I grew up listening to… “Appetite for Destruction”. It was the first cassette I bought with my own chavos. And le di paleta paleta y paleta y paleta.
[Luis]: Chavos: meaning money. When it came out in the 80s, Alexis bought it with his own money. And “le dio tanta paleta“, or he listened to it so much, it damaged the tape.
[Alexis]: And I bought another one. Because that cassette was out of control.
[Luis]: And since he started hunting for autographs when he was living in Puerto Rico, an island that Guns ‘N Roses never went to, getting one of the band members’ autographs was impossible.
Until 2006, when Guns ‘N Roses played their first concert in San Juan. And obviously, Alexis was there.
(SOUNDBITE FROM VIDEO OF THE CONCERT)
[Luis]: He was an adult by then, a professional in advertising. But he had never stopped collecting autographs. And that concert was a unique opportunity to get the signatures he wanted most.
And he was close. So close that he literally ran into Axl after the concert.
Alexis was waiting for him by the back door to the stadium. He was the only person there and Axl came running out.
[Alexis]: He came out, papo, running like this, he didn’t even know where he was. He ran past me and even hit me with his shoulder, running like crazy.
[Luis]: Needless to say, Alexis didn’t get his autograph.
In 2016, now in Chicago, he had his second chance: another concert. The legendary band was on another tour.
And he failed yet again.
But Alexis isn’t one to give up easy. The third time’s a charm. Let’s hope.
I was there to document it, but it hadn’t gotten off to a good start. The plan to intercept Axl’s bus had failed. And it gave me the feeling that Alexis was never going to get that autograph.
But there is one thing you need to understand. Even failure is fun for Alexis.
We had woken up at 5 in the morning and had waited for two hours for a bus that didn’t come. The members of the band were most likely already asleep in the hotel. I was ready to go back to bed too.
But not Alexis.
[Luis]: Once we got the Peninsula Chicago, Alexis insisted on getting out of his minivan to inspect the parked buses. He was even hoping that Axl would be inside of them…
[Alexis]: They should be in the bus waiting to get out. I hope. If not, we’re fucked.
[Luis]: And of course, as soon as we got out of the minivan it started pouring freezing rain.
Either way, it’s not looking good.
[Alexis]: Yeah, because the rain today is nasty.
[Luis]: Alexis didn’t want to get back in the car. He wanted to be near the buses, so he could get close to the band when they got out. So we decided to wait near the front of the hotel, under the awning of a cafe which barely kept us out of the rain.
And the freezing rain became a storm.
It’s really coming down.
[Alexis]: It’s a hurricane, cabrón! María’s made it here.
Waiting is shitty. Waiting in the rain is shittier. Waiting in the rain when it’s cold is even shittier.
[Luis]: I couldn’t feel my toes anymore because they were so frozen when Alexis finally threw in the towel. It was around 10 am. The buses were still parked, like nothing had happened. We never figured out if the group had been asleep inside the bus, if they had gone in the hotel or what…
What happened? Was that it?
[Alexis]: Ah, yeah, it’s crazy, I’m not about… I’m tired. I don’t want to do so much waiting.
[Luis]: He tells me that, yes, he is tired and doesn’t want to wait so much. It was a tactical retreat. Once we were back in his car, Alexis explained that he wasn’t going to give up.
[Alexis]: If all else fails, the day of the concert we come and wait for him before… before he comes out to go to the concert, because he has to pass by us to get to the bus. It’s unusual for him to sign on his way to the concert but he’s changed, he’s become a little…nicer.
[Luis]: I want to make something clear, for the record. We had gotten up long before dawn and then waited a total of about 6 hours for an autograph that Alexis didn’t get.
I was feeling frustrated. I admit it. It seems like a pretty natural reaction to me.
But not to Alexis. You have to understand he does this pretty frequently. When he told me he was an extreme collector, he wasn’t exaggerating. Beyond being a hobby, his obsession with autographs seemed to me like a very particular form of psychological self-flagellation. I couldn’t understand why an adult man was able to put so much work, so much time, and so much effort into getting these signatures. Maybe if he saw it as an investment, like a way to make money.
But no. This isn’t a business for Alexis. It’s quite the opposite.
[Alexis]: But I don’t sell them. People always offer to buy thing from me. The dealers.
[Luis]: The dealers, in other words, people who acquire and re-sell celebrity autographs.
[Alexis]: I get the autograph and they offer me money then and there, so they can sell it for three-times as much. I never sell anything.
[Luis]: Alexis doesn’t like putting a price on his collection, but on more than one occasion he mentioned that he probably has more than $200,000 in autographs.
I couldn’t believe it. That’s a lot of money. Enough to buy a nice apartment in Puerto Rico or start your own small business. But Alexis doesn’t sell his autographs.
The big question, Alexis: why? Why do you do it?
[Alexis]: Because. It doesn’t have…it doesn’t have a reason to be. It’s really stupid if you think about it. It’s totally stupid. But it’s a stupid thing I like and it takes my mind off life, off of the day to day, my house. It takes me away from my problems. If I’m having a bad day, I go get an autograph. Even if I don’t get one, I have a good time.
[Luis]: Maybe that’s when I started to get it. Some people do yoga. Others get together with friends and play poker. Others like trying out new recipes to see what they can do in their own kitchen.
People need to relieve the tension of daily life, to look for a release valve, it’s something we all look for. And something that seems relaxing and pleasant to one person can seem unpleasant or even incomprehensible to someone else.
Since he moved to Chicago, his hobby has turned into something more important. It hadn’t always been like this. Before he moved, Alexis had a successful art gallery in Puerto Rico, but in 2012 his wife got a job in Chicago. She works in advertising and had been contacted by and important ad agency…
[Alexis]: And she tells me “Mano, my dream, the way I make my living, was always to make it somewhere else…to work somewhere else. For someone from a big agency to call me and they called me”. And…and as her husband, my job is, well…to take care of my family and make sure everyone is happy.
[Luis]: So, Alexis, his wife and their two young children moved to Chicago.
The family arrived in the city in January of 2013, in the middle of a very harsh winter.
The news reported that in the city zoo…
[Alexis]: They were going to bring the polar bear inside because it was cold. That’s how you know how cold it was.
[Luis]: And that was the welcome they got from the city.
Alexis became a full-time dad. And I think he likes it. Even though he has very particular opinions about it.
[Alexis]: You just have to do what you can. Play it by ear and try the best you can. But it’s hard. And you don’t get a check every week, papá. You’re fucking working 20 hours straight with the kids.
Meanwhile I… at the end of the day I see both of them alive and feel like I did a good job.
[Luis]: And in order to try to find some sense of normality in this new reality, Alexis went back to his old habit of hunting for autographs.
[Daniel]: When we return: Alexis makes his way in a new city. And later, he has an encounter with Guns ‘N Roses, but not how he expected. We’ll be right back.
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[Joshua Johnson, host of 1A ]: Hi there! I’m Joshua Johnson, the host of 1A. There are a lot of places to debate today issues if you don’t mind getting attacked for speaking your mind or asking a simple question. But 1A is different. You’ll find the 1A podcast on the NPR One app or wherever you listen to podcasts.
[Guy Raz, host of Ted Radio Hour]: What is unique about the human experience? And what do we all have in common? I’m Guy Raz, every week on Ted Radio Hour, we go on a journey through the big ideas and motions and discoveries that fill all of us with wonder. Find it on NPR One or wherever you get your podcast.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Chicago isn’t San Juan. Not just because of the cold, which frankly is jarring for anyone from the Caribbean. But also because the selection of cultural events for a collector like Alexis was like making it to the big leagues.
[Luis]: It wasn’t easy, but with time Alexis began to see possibilities in Chicago that he had never had in Puerto Rico. It’s a big city. All kinds of artist and athletes come through.
[Alexis]: Here you can go get a signature every day. So, well, mano, after spending all say with the kids, as soon as my wife gets home, mano, I need a break. So I go get a signature. I started doing it every day again.
[Luis]: Opportunities were so abundant that Alexis makes a detailed list of all the concerts and daily appearances throughout the city. And he showed it to me…
The calendar was full for the next 6 months.
Read the dates and who you have there.
[Alexis]: Dream Theatre…
(SOUNDBITE FROM THE SONG “TAKE THE TIME”, DREAM THEATER)
[Luis]: A progressive Heavy Metal band…
[Alexis]: Tomorrow it’s Bootsy Collins.
(SOUNDBITE FROM THE SSON= XX)
[Luis]: The legendary funk bassist…
[Alexis]: Sunday is Alan Alda.
(SOUNDBITE VIDEO OF ALAN ALDA)
[Luis]: A comedic actor from the 70s.
[Alexis]: The 5th is Wayne Newton.
(SOUNDBITE FROM THE SONG XX)
[Luis]: Singer known internationally for the kitsch that exudes from his Vegas shows.
[Alexis]: Herb Alpert is the 6th and 7th.
[Luis]: A Smooth jazz trumpeter…
And in the middle of that, the main event: Guns ‘N Roses.
[Luis]: I mean, Alexis is an autograph machine. A hairy beast as he would say. He never stops…
Just to be clear, that same afternoon, after having woken up before dawn and failing in his attempt to get Axl Rose’ signature, Alexis went out hunting again.
He had a new mission: get the autograph of the legendary funk bassist: Bootsy Collins.
If you know James Brown’s music or Parliament Funkadelic, you’ve heard Bootsy.
So, on the way to get his autograph, Alexis explained to me that for him, Bootsy Collins…
[Alexis]: Is a legend who I thought was dead. It’s crazy. Unbelievable.
[Luis]: But no, he’s still alive! And that day he was going to be at an event designed for fans like him: to sign albums and let people take their picture with Bootsy. In English it’s called a “meet and greet.”
When we got to the event, there was a line around the block: more than 300 people. Almost all of them with records under their arms. And of course, the one with the most albums was Alexis. He had so many that the other fans in line gathered around him to see the records he brought.
It was the first time I was able to see the world of collectors in action. How they talk and how they approach one another. How they compare records and objects that are worthless to anyone else, but not to them. It was actually nice to realize that Alexis belonged to a world. He’s not alone. Other people share his obsession. And understand it
[Fan]: So, which ones?
[Alexis]: I brought them all… [Laughs] I brought everything.
[Fan]: Those are all the ones you have?
[Luis]: He had brought 6 vinyl albums. A lot more than the other people in line. For Alexis, one autograph isn’t enough. He always wants more. And he’s willing to do nearly anything to get them. This time he recruited me to get additional signatures because it was an event where you could only get one signature per person.
And that’s how I ended up in line with him to ask Bootsy for a signature.
Oh, I can see him. Now I can feel the anticipation… [Laughs] Bootsy is…
[Alexis]: In a good mood.
[Luis]: And he’s like…like you would expect Bootsy to be…
[Alexis]: Dressed like it’s the 70s. His hat, his glasses, full of bling…
[Luis]: With his tall, psychedelic hat, star-shaped glasses, three-inch platform boots, Bootsy looked like he just stepped out of “Alice in Wonderland”…but the 70s funk version.
He signed our records. And I have to admit, it’s exciting. Minutes before, Alexis had to explain to me who the heck Bootsy was. But when he was finally in front of me, I couldn’t control myself:
Hi, I’m a big fan, man. This is… This is amazing!
I said I was his number one fan.
I had never gotten an autograph from a famous person in my life. And I was ready to go celebrate at the nearest bar.
To my surprise, Alexis didn’t feel the same way. When it was his turn to go up to Bootsy, he covered his face with the hood of his jacket as much as he could, like he was trying to hide. He didn’t even talk to him.
His reaction surprised me. I thought someone like him hunted for autographs because he liked meeting famous people. But Alexis left so fast I had to go running after him.
I was saying, where’s Alexis? What’s going on?
[Alexis]: I had to go so they couldn’t get a good look at us.
[Luis]: And then he did something I’ll never understand.
[Alexis]: Now let’s got to the other one. We’re going to get in line. We’re going to get in line again. [Laughs].
[Luis]: He went right back to the end of the line and stood in line again. That’s why he had gone so fast. He didn’t want Bootsy or any of the event organizers to recognize him, so he could get more autographs.
The next day, Alexis and I went back to the Peninsula Chicago, where Axl was staying.
After our success with Bootsy, I was already starting to see why he liked this. And I was starting to obsess too, not over Axl’s signature, but Alexis’ persistence. I wanted to understand why he would submit himself to the cold and rejection with so much tenacity…
And while we were waiting outside of the hotel Alexis told me about the worst part about being an autograph hunter: The dealers, the people who hunt for signatures to resell them.
[Alexis]: And they get really nasty and they push and get in the way and elbow you. They’re really nasty. The truth is that… they’re like animals. And those are the kinds of people the artists hate and avoid.
[Luis]: The dealers end up driving the artists away. The fans and collectors, like Alexis, are the ones who end up paying the price.
[Alexis]: They take us all for bad guys. “No, mano, if you’re going to be like that I’m not signing anything” and they leave. And we all end up without signatures.
[Luis]: I still hadn’t seen this. That day there were no dealers waiting outside of the hotel, there weren’t even other fans. It was just Alexis with a few Guns ‘N Roses albums under his arm. And for the first time in this long and tedious process he got lucky.
A shiny black SUV drove up to us on the sidewalk. The tinted window rolled down. Inside there was a chauffeur who evidently was interested in the albums Alexis had under his arms because he was looking at them intently. Alexis asked me to stay behind and he went up to the chauffeur. I recorded them from a distance.
[Alexis]: Yeah, I’ll be back at 6-ish- Hope to see you here.
[Chauffeur]: Tonight or tomorrow?
[Alexis]: Tonight and tomorrow and the next day. Every day until I get this fucker.
[Luis]: A few minutes later the car left and Alexis explained that the chauffeur worked for Slash, the band’s guitarist, and he had given him information about when and how they were leaving the hotel that night. It was everything he needed to make a new plan.
[Alexis]: And try to get Slash at least on one of my CDs. One is good. And Slash is choice. He’s a good guy and a good signature. He likes it. He’s pro-fan. I hope he’s in a good mood.
[Luis]: An extreme collector like Alexis depends on being in the right place at just the right moment. That’s how he managed to come across a famous guitarist’s chauffeur, almost by accident. But what’s more important is tenacity. It’s a commitment that only people of his own ilk can understand.
But that commitment: where does it come from? I imagine it’s different for everyone.
It was clear to me that Alexis’s habit of going out and getting autographs had become more frequent since Alexis moved to Chicago. And that in recent months Alexis was doing it with renewed vigor. The signatures didn’t seem as important to him, it was more about the process of going out and searching for them, one after another, as if there was something in that transaction that he was missing. Something he had lost and he was trying to find again.
Alexis had told me that it was his way of dealing with the pressures of daily life: his release valve. But I expected that there was something else.
It wasn’t easy to get to that. Even though I’ve known him for years, Alexis isn’t a guy who opens up easily. You’ve already heard him. He’s a guy with a lot of conviction, he’s always looking for a new angle, some advantage to get his next signature, but he does it with a sense of humor. He laughs easily, even at himself.
But I could tell that what was going on with the autographs was serious.
It took me a while to get to the bottom of it. I think I asked him why he did it a thousand different ways when finally he answered, I mean, when he finally answered from his heart it was like turning on a faucet.
[Alexis]: It’s…nothing, we moved in 2013. And in 2016, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Which is a death sentence. Basically. It was… Is is —not was— very difficult, cabrón.
[Luis]: The news was devastating.
[Alexis]: It’s really tough here, at a distance, knowing that with every day that goes by, I’m losing him… And knowing that my dad has a one-year expiration date.
[Luis]: That was the worst part of all of it: being away from Puerto Rico and his family.
[Alexis]: I regret having left. Not being there for him, for my mom, for my siblings, to help. It’s really tough. And…losing your best friend…is hard [Cries].
[Luis]: Alexis’ father died on April 8th, 2017. Alexis went back to Puerto Rico for the funeral and later decided to find a buyer for his dad’s baseball card collection. It was a valuable collection and Alexis felt like he had to sell it and share the money with his mother and siblings.
Getting rid of all of those cards was one of the hardest moments of his life.
[Alexis]: But I sold them…I mean, it broke my heart but it needed to happen. Like an exercise in…in letting go and…
[Luis]: And he’s still struggling to say goodbye to his dad and trying to keep him alive somehow. Getting autographs is his way of processing his grief.
[Alexis]: But yeah, this is something I do, I always have my father with me. Yeah, because I always remember when I was little and went with him…always. It’s as if he were in the car waiting for me.
[Luis]: The night of the concert was the last night I went out with Alexis. At 11 pm I called him and he answered with the same attitude as usual:
[Alexis]: Come down, cabrón, and walk to the corner.
[Luis]: Ok, cool.
[Alexis]: Come on, cabrón, I’m pulling up now. Bye.
[Luis]: And we went to the United Center, the huge venue were Guns ‘N Roses was performing.
Alexis knew that the band would move on to the next city that same night… He didn’t seem optimistic about getting to see them.
[Alexis]: Basically the odds that they are going to sign are negative. Zero percent. That’s it…we’re here so you can see them leave and see the buses pull out.
[Luis]: He was right, we needed some kind of closure, even if it was just seeing the group drive away in a bus.
When we got to the venue, Alexis parked on a street behind the building. He’s an expert at finding the spaces the audience doesn’t see: the back doors, the loading zone the artists enter and leave from.
We walked up the barrier. In the distance we saw the band’s buses and the equipment trucks.
And this time we weren’t alone. At the barrier there were five fans who had just gotten out of the concert.
[Boy]: The show was fucking insane, it’s my 4th time seeing them…
[Luis]: Even though he has a deep voice, he was still a kid. Sixteen years old at most. And he told me that he and his friends had seen the show four times, in the last four cities where Guns ‘N Roses had played.
[Boy]: The same show. It’s still as good as it was the first time so…
[Luis]: They were there for the same reason as Alexis and I.
And then the group showed up or at least a few members. Slash, the guitarist, and some other musicians came with their instrument bags. They were 15 meters away. And Alexis…
[Alexis]: Slash, would you hook me up, please!
[Luis]: Alexis went into action as soon as he saw him. They grabbed a hold of the barriers and shouted to Slash to please give them an autograph. Just one…
[Alexis]: Slash! Just one, please, man! Only one…
[Luis]: But Slash didn’t give any sign of noticing. He went straight for the bus. The doors opened to let him in and then they closed again.
And he disappeared.
[Luis]: Fail… Alexis was angry. So was I. We went back to the car and we were sure we weren’t going to get anything.
But then something unexpected happened. The doors to the bus opened again and we could see a silhouette in the doorway. A mass of curly hair and a top hat: it was Slash, getting off the bus.
It was all Alexis needed to get him running out of the car.
[Alexis]: He’s coming to sign, cabrón!
[Luis]: And I went with him.
[Luis]: Accompanied by his bodyguard, Slash went up to the boys who were waiting for him and started signing CDs, t-shirts and concert tickets behind the barrier.
Alexis was the last person in line and he was getting impatient.
[Alexis]: Aw, man, thanks for coming over, bro…
[Luis]: But when Alexis’ turn came, Slash looked him up and down and stopped.
[Slash]: I don’t trust you.
[Luis]: She said he didn’t trust him and refused to sign for him.
[Bodyguard]: You’re an eBayer.
[Luis]: The bodyguard accused him of being a dealer who was going to resell the autograph on eBay.
[Alexis]: I’m not an eBayer…
[Luis]: Alexis said he wasn’t
[Bodyguard]: You got a ticket?
[Luis]: But when he told him to show his concert ticket…
[Bodyguard]: You got a ticket to the show?!
[Luis]: Alex didn’t have anything to show him because he hadn’t gone to the concert…
[Alexis]: No, no…
[Bodyguard]: You don’t have a ticket to the show?
[Luis]: For Slash that was the nail in the coffin.
[Slash]: I don’t trust you, dude. You reek of eBay.
[Luis]: And he ended up telling him he reeked. Of an eBay dealer.
It was a low blow for Alexis. They were accusing him of being the thing he hated most about the autograph world. And he didn’t know what to say.
Slash was about to leave, and that was the moment I decided to break all of the rules of journalism and I put myself in the story:
Hey Slash, this guy… this guy is for real.
I was supposed to just document Alexis, without influencing events. But I had spent too much time with him in the past few days and I didn’t want him to go home empty handed.
No, seriously, man, he’s not reselling.
[Alexis]: I don’t sell anything man, I swear to God, bro.
[Luis]: And that’s why I told Slash that Alexis was a genuine guy, who didn’t resell autographs.
Look, I’ve been following him around for three days. He’s my friend. This really means a lot to him. Seriously.
That he was just a fan who wanted an autograph.
[Slash]: Alright, let me see this. So what’s your name?
[Alexis]: Alexis, Alexis…
[Luis]: He signed for him.
But not without telling him that he didn’t want to seethe CD he was signing on eBay first.
[Slash]: If I see this…
[Alexis]: No, dude, I swear to God, I’m a fan. I swear. I’m a real fan.
[Luis]: And then he left.
[Alexis]: Thank you so much. Have a good trip, men.
[Luis]: He signed it for you?
[Alexis]: Yeah, it’s all signed, with a dedication. But see what I mean?
[Luis]: A few minutes later, back in Alexis’ car, I could finally see why he does it: the cold, the hours spent waiting, the rejection from so many celebrities…It’s hard to explain. That sensation of having a scribbled-on CD in your hand and thinking that you have accomplished something great, something that for Alexis is going to last the rest of his life.
[Alexis]: At least he signed it, cabrón. We didn’t lose… We didn’t lose the whole thing.
[Luis]: But I can see the excitement in all this shit.
[Alexis]: It’s a trip. His bus is already gone.
[Luis]: We waited a while for Axl but we never saw him. We didn’t really need to any more. It was 3am when we went back to our houses, and even though we hadn’t gotten the autograph that Alexis wanted, we got something else. That moment when Alexis managed to convince one of his idols as a teenager to give him an autograph.
And that was enough.
[Daniel]: Just as Alexis is an autograph collector, many of us treasure something: a letter, a family portrait, a toy, a dress. Send us an audio message on WhatsApp and tell us the story of an object that you would run to rescue in a disaster. We may share your story at the end of the next episode. Our WhatsApp number is +57 322 950 21 92.
Luis Trelles is a reporter and producer for Radio Ambulante. He lives in New York. This story was edited by Camila Segura and me. Mixing and sound design are by Andrés Aspiri.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Jorge Caraballo, Patrick Moseley, Laura Pérez, Ana Prieto, Barbara Sawhill, Ryan Sweikert, David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa, Luis Fernando Vargas and Silvia Viñas. Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is produced and mixed on Hindenburg PRO.
Learn more about Radio Ambulante and this story on our website: radioambulante.org. Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.