Rusty Phillips left Orange County to explore Europe with his band Tex Twil. After nine months and a whole bunch of drama, the lead singer returned to Orange County without a band. But if it's any consolation, Phillips did pick up a hot little souvenir in Milan: a Volare Airlines flight attendant.
"I wanted to get the hell out of OC and see what Europe had to offer," Phillips says of his Eurotour.
The band left on a balmy morning in April 2000. Their plan was to conquer the hip bar scene in such cities as Innsbruck, Prague and Dresden.
First stop: Barcelona. "When we got to Spain, we gave ourselves three days to get our shit together and live upon our wits," Phillips says.
They shacked up in Spain's version of a bed and breakfast and scared up gigs from city to city, becoming regular fixtures at bars in Milan and Berlin.
"We liked playing the small bars of Europe because they truly understood where we were coming from," Phillips says. "It was depressing to play here in Orange County; they never really got it. Girls just wanted me to take off my shirt, dance and belt out a song. That was fun and all, but it was also bullshit."
One of his favorite nightspots was the Blue Note, a dive bar in Hamburg where DJs would spin everything from the Small Faces to Johnny Cash. "That just doesn't happen here," Phillips says.
While in Milan, Tex Twil were booked regularly at a trendy caf called Les Tratois. The band became such a hit they rented an apartment and hustled the Milan scene for months. "I didn't miss a damn thing back home," Phillips says. "We were too involved with another culture to feel any sort of need to go back. Of course, there were drawbacks. It was hot, the pay phones never worked, and Italy was really dirty.
"When we were in Milan, we ate cold food every day except for when we played at the caf, where they served us dinner," Phillips adds.
Two months later, the band had worn out its welcome. His band mates headed back to Hamburg, but Phillips decided he needed to get some sun. He hopped on a plane bound for the island of Sardinia.
On a Volare Airlines flight packed with screaming tourists and drunk, smelly men, Phillips met a young flight attendant with a thick Italian accent and fell hard. "She was a bit of a tease, but very friendly. Of course, our Euro fame had allotted us a decent following of youthful types, but this girl looked as though she had stepped from the reels of a 1968 Air Italia training film."
She gave him a pair of those little plastic wings, and he gave her his e-mail address. "No one uses the telephone in Europe," he explained.
Nina Baggio says she knew Rusty was an American the moment he boarded her plane. "Although he looked rather interesting, I could tell he was an American boy because Italians carry themselves differently," she says. "Still, I liked him. He was very charming, and I e-mailed him right away so we could go to Venizia"—that's Venice for the rest of us.
"She totally ignored me in Venice," Phillips complains, "and I found out she had a boyfriend, Guiseppe."
"Yeah, but I didn't love Guiseppe," Baggio interjects. "I was bored."
After an altercation in her hometown of Verona with Guiseppe ("He called me troia, which means bitch, and then he left," Baggio says), she was finally free to roam Europe with Phillips. They later returned to Verona, where they rode Nina's horse, Stella, and went swimming on the beaches of Capri. "She didn't let me meet her parents," Phillips says. "I think she was afraid they would react badly to my being an American."
After many cities and gigs and beaches, it was time for Phillips to come home—and for Baggio to decide whether to join him in Orange County. Phillips gave her some room to make a decision. He left for Hamburg, where he recorded some music and broke up with his band mates for good. Tex Twil had left the haus.
Nina ultimately decided to sell Stella and jet off to America to be with Phillips. She arrived at John Wayne Airport in January with a three-month travel visa. "I had never been to Orange County—or the United States for that matter," she says. "I didn't know what to expect."
Baggio shacked up with Rusty at the Phillips family home in Corona del Mar. Rusty and Nina spent every waking hour together. She cooked, he recorded music, she sang backup, they went grocery shopping.
But to Baggio, Orange County is far from the place where wine costs a quarter and Vespas are a kind of mass transit. Though Phillips tried to keep the fire burning, the culture shock drove them apart. By March, Baggio had pretty much had it with OC. "The supermarkets are stupid, and the people are assholes," she says. "I like it, but I just don't understand things like Fashion Island and Trader Joe's."
She asked Phillips to join her in Las Vegas, where she was meeting friends visiting from Italy. He told her to go alone. And he added one other thing: after Vegas, just stay on the plane all the way to Italy.
Blown away by Phillips' ultimatum, Baggio quickly—and loudly—packed her bags. Just before evacuating the premises, she made one last vow: if she went to Vegas alone, she would indeed return to Italy. Phillips didn't bat an eye. He hasn't seen her since.
Weeks later, all alone on his living-room sofa, Phillips takes a sip of tea and puts the whirlwind romance in perspective.
"I always let her do what she pleased," he says gently. "Italians are very dramatic."
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