Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Heartbroken: A near-miss Tom Petty experience

On any other day, the news about Tom Petty would have hit me like a punch in the gut. By yesterday afternoon, however, I was already doubled over by the Las Vegas shooting. The initial conflicting reports on Petty's status left me more dazed and confused than anything. Sadly, his death was eventually confirmed, sealing Oct. 2 as a day to live in infamy. With so many mass shootings in an America unwilling to do anything to risk irking gun fanatics, the calendar is quickly filling with haunting anniversaries.

Amidst the flurry of Las Vegas tweets, I saw a number from Petty fans, sharing remembrances or links to favorite songs. I have more of a near-miss story to share, about his 40th Anniversary tour this summer. My son, 7, became quite the Tom Petty fan this spring, tapping into my CD collection from Into the Great Wide Open all the way back to Damn the Torpedoes. We listened and listened, in the house and car. And when my wife let slip that Tom Petty was coming to town (or near enough), he went insane. We tried to put him off by telling him the show was sold out (it wasn't), and he melted down. Being suckers, we went online and bought tickets, on the lawn at CMAC in Canandaigua.

Never having been to CMAC previously, we were unfamiliar with how lawn seating works. Online, it appeared the seats were sold in sections, leading us to believe we'd have a certain area of the turf saved for us. Which was perfect because we didn't necessarily want to sit through the opening act, Peter Wolf. Nothing against Peter Wolf, but that's a long time for a 7-year-old to sit still. By the time we made the 45-minute drive, there was no parking to be had. Not in the CMAC lot, anyway. We wound up shelling out $20 to park on the lawn of a dumpy motel across the street. We joined the stream of concert goers, lawn chairs slung over our shoulders, and found the general admission (a.k.a. free-for-all) entrance. And immediately knew we were screwed. There were thousands of people there already, enjoying Peter Wolf, perhaps even catching a glimpse of him from certain spots. We tried a couple of locations, eventually settling in a place where we couldn't see much, but at least had some room to breath.

And sulk. Which 7-year-olds who can't see the stage do very well. As the minutes went by, it became apparent we were in a no-win situation. We could stay to hear the concert and deal with the tears. Or we could abort the mission, and eat the cost of the tickets (~$300 for 3, including the usual fees and surcharges). As Peter Wolf took his bow, we started the slow march for the exit. By the time Tom Petty took the stage, we were halfway home.

My son blames Tom Petty, who was certainly not responsible for our experience. But because it was "his fault" we suddenly stopped listening to his CDs. No more "You Got Lucky," no more "Refugee," no more "Learning to Fly." Now suddenly I have a reason to listen to them all again. I wish I didn't.

Tom Petty was a constant in a world of variables. I remember hearing his music on the radio when I was not much older than my son, seeing his videos on MTV, back when they played videos. He seemed to get more popular the older he got, absolutely exploding in the '90s. Even when I stopped paying attention, he kept on cranking out hits, there waiting for us to find when we went into pre-concert prep mode. And now he's gone, and we'll never have a chance at a makeup date. All we'll have is our story of the night we almost saw him, and a stack of damn good CDs.

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