Chris Mayo 1981 – 2011

Thanks for the car chat, Chris.

One of the great things about my job test-driving cars is that it’s introduced me to a lot of colorful people I never would have met otherwise, people I frequently get a bang out of.  Chris Mayo was one of those guys.

I was in a Westchester basement recording studio last summer wearing a guitar and headphones when I heard someone outside the house yell at the top of their lungs, “WHOSE BENTLEY GT IS THAT???”

I thought I was blocking someone’s car in the driveway, or worse, that maybe someone had hit the Bentley I had driven from NYC to the studio, and I felt the color drain from my face.

“It’s mine!” I bellowed up the stairs.

A tall hunk of furniture appeared at the door a few seconds later, as excited as if he’d seen his favorite baseball team score a run.  It was Christopher Mayo, with a big question mark above his head.

Chris’ younger brother Greg, who owns the studio and who was engineering my recording session, introduced us and explained to Chris that I was an auto reviewer, not a rock star or mogul, and that the GT was the car du jour. I was in the middle of a take but I saw Chris was absolutely bonkers with curiosity, so I explained to him how I got the job (perseverence) how many test cars I’ve had (over 500) and what kind (all of them.)

That whole summer, as I made my recording, I’d roll up to the Mayo’s house in a test car and Chris would appear, as if by magic, as soon as I opened the driver’s door to get out. One question would follow each answer even before I was done talking.  He wanted to know every last detail—torque, horsepower, price, history, feel, smell, looks, you name it.   As enthusiastic and occasionally in-your-face as Chris could be when I showed up, I actually looked forward to seeing how happy it made him to talk about cars.

Chris was also a musician and hung around some of my recording sessions, but I had to invite him to leave after a while because I was self-conscious and was trying to get work done.   It’s wasn’t easy for a 5’8, 175-lb guy like me to tell a 6-foot-plus, 200-plus pound guy to leave a room in his own house, but Chris understood and didn’t take it personally.  I was secretly flattered that he actually gave a damn about listening to my recording sessions because Chris was the son of Bob Mayo, who played keyboards with Foreigner and Peter Frampton and many others before his own untimely passing at the age of 53. The gold records Bob Mayo earned for Foreigner’s “4” and “Frampton Comes Alive” hung prominently on the studio walls.

Last week,  in the dark, Chris lost control of his 1994 Firebird, left the road, hit a rock embankment and his car flipped.  He was thrown from the vehicle, and he didn’t make it. He was 29 years old.

The news hit me like a kick to the gut.  I got physically nauseous, nauseous over the violent, sudden way he left this life and what that must have been like for Chris and the police and EMTs who tried to save his life, nauseous after reading he wasn’t wearing a seat belt, and nauseous thinking of his mother and brother and how they will need unbelievable amounts of strength and courage to live however normally they can after this devastating loss. It is impossible to believe this young man with so much energy is simply gone.  His sudden passing is a stark, plain reminder of the impermanence of everything and everyone – me, you, the clothes on our backs and the body carrying us through our lives until one day the body is no more and we are free to move onto the next phase of existence.

But Chris had one of those gifts not many people have, and I knew it just from the six or so times I saw him while he walked this earth. He was truly alive when he was alive.  He was big, he was loud, he said what was on his mind, and you always knew when he was in the room.  He was passionate about a lot of things, so much so that the mere sight of a car parked in his driveway could make him bellow, “Whose Bentley GT is that?” loud enough to be heard in the basement of the house.  He made an impression on people and he made an impression on me.

We’ll all be talking about him for many years to come.

Christopher Mayo, 1981 – 2011

– Josh Max, Auto Gigolo