I don’t expect you to understand what would compel a 43-year-old man to drive halfway across the country on a moment’s notice to watch a two-and-a-half-hour, one-man show.
It might actually be kind of weird if you did.
But that’s what I did. And I’ll never forget—or regret—any of it.
On Thursday at 5:59 p.m., I received perhaps the greatest text message in my cell phone history: “You won Lucky Seats to Springsteen on Broadway.”
The next part of the message, though, was the kicker: “The show is Friday, Aug. 20 at 8 p.m. Check your email for details.”
I didn’t need to check the email. I knew the details. Of course I did. I had been dutifully entering the Lucky Seat lottery since Bruce Springsteen re-opened his Broadway show back in June.
My best buddy Mike, a physician in Phoenix, won the lottery in the show’s first go-around in 2018. He promptly hopped on a red-eye and was in New York by dawn with his wife.
It was, he said, without a doubt worth it.
My brain was on overload and my ADHD was coming in handy. My first stop: Google Maps. The damage: Nearly 14 hours, depending on traffic. The show was to start in 27 hours.
I had 13 hours to kill! No problem, right? I was going. I knew right then I was going.
I am not a sage. I do not regularly give out life advice (mostly because people are smart enough not to ask me), and I’ve made lots of mistakes.
But one credo I’ve always lived by, and has served me well: You’ll never remember being tired the next day. If there is an opportunity in front of you, and it’s feasible, take it. You won’t regret it.
Next stop: Finding a taker for the second ticket.
My first choice, and not just because I’m contractually obligated, was to my wife of 21 years, Angie. She is a Bruce fan in that she puts up with my obsession. She has accompanied me to a handful of the 20 Bruce shows I’ve attended, all before our three kids arrived.
Angie had to reschedule kayak trips, find child and, most importantly dog care (thanks grandparents) in a very short span. I had to find someone to coach cross country and I had to call Turner coach Derek Diehl to tell him that, despite what I told him hours earlier, I would NOT be covering Turner at East Troy.
When I told him the reason he gave out a triumphant yell that made me like him at least 30% more than I did before the call (which was already quite a bit).
I went to the office, where, between phone calls and google-mapping and hotel-researching, I distractedly helped put the paper together.
At 10 p.m. or so, I was out of the office. By 10:30 p.m., or four-and-a-half hours after I learned I had won the lottery, we were on the road.
At 8:30 a.m., Angie woke up. We had around three hours left, and I was feeling it. Driving safely for long distances is perhaps my only superpower. It came in handy.
We switched places, and I quickly fell asleep. I awoke to her on the phone with her sister, thinking we must be close.
It was 45 minutes later, and she wondered why I was awake. I knew then I wasn’t getting back to sleep.
We went through the Lincoln Tunnel from the great state of New Jersey into NYC and planned the best way to spend the eight hours we had until the concert.
Those eight hours involved 13,000 steps, a pedicab tour of Central Park, three of the best tacos I’ve ever had, and a self-guided tour of Times Square.
New York City is a wild place. I heard several different languages, saw several different skin tones, saw people letting their freak flags fly, saw someone dressed in the most raggedy Minnie Mouse costume I’ve ever seen, trying to coerce people into photos to make a buck.
It was all very inspiring. A true melting pot, and the best of what America can look like.
We checked into our hotel (The Belvedere, a mere half-mile from the theatre), quickly got ready for the show, grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed in. One sign of the times (and a first for me): We had to show proof of vaccination to enter the venue, along with being masked up.
They could have asked me to enter in a beekeeper suit and I wouldn’t have balked.
The lottery that I won came with a few caveats. The first, of course, was the 24 hours or so of notice you are given. Ideal for people in the Northeast. Not so much for Cheeseheads. The other is that you don’t actually get the tickets for free. You have to pay the princely sum of $80 per seat (they go for well over $300 on secondary markets), they might not be together, and they could be obstructed.
I cared, literally, about none of this. I’m happy to report that, in a 1,700 seat venue, there were no obvious obstructions. Angie and I were tucked into the mezzanine level, in the last row, all the way in the corner. It didn’t matter. The seats were perfect.
Bruce emerged from the shadows at exactly 8:05 p.m. I’ve seen him perform solo on two occasions, but the more familiar setting is with his beloved E Street Band by his side. He rocks the audience for three-plus hours, and I typically leave the venue sweaty, hoarse, exhausted and renewed all at once.
This was different. It was just him, entertaining for two-and-a half stories, more one-man-show than concert.
The tales he told alternated between touching and hilarious, often within the same story. He wistfully recalled his simple days as a child, recounted his difficult relationship with his father, and told of the beautiful soul of his mother, now in year 10 of a brutal battle with Alzheimer’s.
I did a lot of two things at this show: I laughed and I cried. After the second song, a beautiful rendition of My Hometown, Angie whispered ‘Oh, I liked that one.’ I could only nod back. She said ‘So, you’re pretty much just gonna cry the whole time?’ I nodded again. She understood.
I discovered Springsteen in high school and was immediately hooked. The intensity of both his lyrics and his sound appealed to a 16-year old, just as it does 27 years later. The stripped-down version of Thunder Road, my favorite song, that serves as an invitation from Bruce to his muse to scrap this loser town and take a ride with him as they pursue the freedom of the open road and endless possibilities.
Following a monologue in which he went mused about the presence he feels of the people he’s lost in the physical form, he ended the show with a stirring rendition of a song from his latest album, “I’ll See You in My Dreams.”
There was no high-fiving in the lobby as people filed out. I heard one guy say to his friend, simply, “I don’t even know what to say.” My thoughts exactly. It was an intense emotional experience, further heightened by the lack of sleep and incredible journey to get there.
It was perfect.
We walked around to the front of the theatre, where we were immediately stopped by a large security guard, quickly putting up barricades. Soon, a 5-foot-8, 71-year old emerged from the theatre, a black Suburban awaiting his arrival.
He stood there for a few moments, waving and bowing to his adoring fans surrounding the barricades. As people got their last-second photos in, he made his way to the SUV, piled in and headed out.
A round trip of 1800 miles and around 28 hours. A city that never slept, and a dude from Wisconsin that barely did, either.
We headed out about 1 p.m. the next day after a morning of walking, biking and visiting the Sept. 11 memorial.
The trip was worth every penny, every mile and every last bit of lost sleep. I would say I’ll see you in my dreams. But I just lived one.