Friday, July 15, 2011


Last of a random series of recollections about a recent trip to New York City, Boston, MA and the wilds of the Maine’s “Down East” coast.

“ONE OL’ GAL who sits at my table seems kinda glum. Never smiles.” Mom was preparing me for lunch at the independent living home. She’d moved in – joined the community – only two weeks prior. “It’s all about attitude, I try to tell her.”

“What’s her name?” I ask.

“You know? I don’t remember. Her last name is the same as a small town back in Texas.”

I’d missed the big move. It seems the east coast holiday celebrating our 25th had been on the books for, well, 25 years. Mom’s transition came with significantly shorter notice.

“SO WHAT PLAYS did you see?” The glum woman seemed not at all glum. She became quite animated when I told her we’d seen two shows on Broadway. “And what theaters?” There was a bit of electricity in her blue eyes.

I recalled that “Phantom of the Opera” played at the Majestic, but I drew a blank on where we saw “Catch Me If You Can,” as well as who played what roll.

Mom’s tablemate continued to press. “Didn’t Norbert Butz get the Tony last week?”

“Why, yes.” [Best actor: musical for his role in “Catch Me…”]

“And Tom Wopat. He’s in that one. He used to be on TV.”

I NEVER ANTICIPATED actually seeing a Broadway show on Broadway. Raised on Rogers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Lowe – as opposed to the evils of the Beatles, the Stones or any of a number of other British invaders. I could sing along with, play the tuba part for, and direct most of the songs from most of the musicals of the 50s and 60s. Mom was so proud. And she was assured that I would never experiment with sex or drugs because there would be no rock and roll.

In high school, I hung with the members of the concert band. Some of the guys went on to teach music. Some to perform. The rest of us just went on.

Once I tried out for the lead in the Music Man, but I experienced trouble getting my chops around the syncopation in Professor Hill’s soliloquy about the pool table.  End of career.

AS THE CONVERSATION continued, Mrs. X shared of her love of Broadway. She’d made many trips back. She knew the Majestic and suggested that wasn’t “Catch Me” playing at the Neil Simon? It was. She’d been to the Neil Simon before the name had changed. And the Majestic. And several others.

“You know what?” she said, fixing her blue eyes on mine. “My son opened in ‘A Chorus Line’ back in 1975.”


More electricity.

ROCKY CRAWFORD sat a row or two behind me in 9th grade English and played clarinet in the band. After graduation, he more or less left town; dropped out of sight. Someone said he’d moved south and picked up a gig dancing on the old Carol Burnett Show. None of us quite believed this, although I do remember watching the Tom Hansen Dancers and thinking I might have recognized Rocky.

Using the magic of the Internet I looked up my old classmate. It turns out I had seen him on TV. And from the small screen he went on to Broadway. Not much else was listed in his bio. Again, he dropped out of sight.

AFTER LUNCH, mom had shared the directory of residents with me. I looked for a last name that was the same as a small town in Texas. I’ll need to ask Mrs. Crawford [the small town in Texas and surname have been changed for this piece] how my high school classmate is doing next time I stop in for lunch.

On second thought, maybe not. The delight in her eyes tells me Rocky is doing just fine.


AT THE LAST MINUTE, we picked up tickets to see the Pops at Symphony Hall in Boston. The program included tributes to Richard Rogers and George Gershwin. From our seats in the first balcony, I recalled the late Arthur Fielder’s aplomb as he conducted this orchestra. Keith Lockhart brings a different, lyric style, but the results are perfection. 101 musicians performing as one. Perfection.

An old gentleman and an old lady crept down the balcony steps just prior to curtain. She had to use the back of each end seat to steady herself as she moved. At intermission, the old gentleman took her hand. Laboriously they climbed the steps. They reentered at the end of intermission in much the same manner as before, with her using each seat back to stabilize her cautious steps.

At the end of the concert, after the orchestra romped through their signature encore – Stars and Stripes Forever (this has to be the group Souza had in mind when he wrote the piece) – the audience buzzed as it cleared. The old man had made it up the small number of steps and had disappeared, but the woman struggled. I stepped forward and offered my hand, which she took.

She looked up at me. “Wasn’t that just wonderful?” She squeezed my hand. “You know, we’ve known Keith since he was a small boy growing up next to us in Poughkeepsie thirty-eight years ago.”

I smiled and shook my head. “No, I didn’t know that.”

She squeezed my hand again and walked with me to the top of the stair. It felt like a second encore, just for me.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Thanks to friends Kenneth and Leslie Lake who "showed us the ropes" as we visited Broadway and attended the musicals. Special thanks to Ken for not singing along during the shows.

  2. JEH comments (on Facebook): As in other installments, this one brought tears to my eyes. I love the connection with the 'old folks'...but then I would, wouldn't I, as I have chosen to be with them daily myself. I'm glad you could see those twinkles in their eyes.