Four young teen boys in the 1960 Ford Galaxy were beginning to panic as they navigated down I-95 to Miami. They kept getting pulled over by State Troopers. A taillight out was out. It was past sundown now and they had already received one warning.
“Get that light fixed at the next station” they had been told. The tall, mid-40-something, starched and ironed, stiff, brown-shirted, crew-cut trooper had cut them some slack, but who would ever know why.
They pulled into a gas station. Back then, some gas stations had mechanics in addition to gas. The mechanic said there must be a blown fuse, but heck if he could find the fuse panel.
“Can’t help you, dudes.”
Once the wheels left the station, the driver flipped a switch and adjusted a knob or two, and noise that they called “rock” began to pulse through the windows of the old car, into the dirty upholstery, bouncing off the floorboards. The stereo system was worth more than the car. It played cassettes.
Back on I-95, that Galaxy toiled on. It was his grandmother’s car and it was old — really old — or at least it felt that way.
“I thought I told you to get that fuse fixed,” glared the same trooper. The Galaxy was overheating on the side of the road as the boys fidgeted and looked at the ground, fixing their gaze anywhere but at those dark glasses that shielded angry eyes.
“You’re going to get back into your car and I’m going to follow you to the next gas station, and if I catch you back on this road again and your light hasn’t been fixed, you boys are going to jail this time. Do we understand each other?”
Then his engine started, and the blue light came on as we pulled back out on to the interstate. When we pulled into that next gas station, the trooper didn’t even stop and just gunned his black and tan cruiser back onto the road.
Just as the sun was rising, we feared we were to spend the night in jail if we got back on that road without a new fuse. But we were on a mission, and we had someplace to be, and we were rapidly getting further and further away from being able to make our destination on time. And that just couldn’t happen.
Had it been today, one of us would have pulled out a phone and been talking to someone’s dad, but cell phones were still at least a dozen or more years away. Our “cell phone” back in the day was a quarter and a pay phone.
The old man at the station walked up. He wore a greasy blue jump suit with the name “Bob” stenciled above the pocket.
“You fellers need something?”
After giving us a disparaging look when we told him we couldn’t find the fuse, he opened the car door and began searching up under the dash. After about five minutes, he stood up, scratched his head and then his stubby unshaven face, and announced that, “Dang if I can find any fuse. Maybe this thang don’t got one. Let me go get Buddy.”
Buddy was the mechanic›s boss, middle aged, almost clean, white T-shirt, anxious and bothered to have been asked by Bob to do something. As Bob faded away into the background, Buddy marched straight to the now cold Galaxy and went straight to the hood, opened it, and disappeared into the engine space for what seemed like a long time. He bumped his head on the hood standing up with a jerk, then scowled and went into the garage and came back with a gurney – the kind you lay down on with wheels so one can roll under things like old Galaxy’s looking for fuses. At last he emerged and announced “Damn car ain’t got no fuse and I’m done. Now, you boys git. Tired of wasting my time. Git back on the road before I call the law.”
“Mister, if we get back on I-95 we’re going to jail.”
“Did you hear me?”
“Buddy,” I heard someone say, “Buddy, let me go get him and see if he can find it.”
“If I can’t find it it aint there.”
Buddy walked off.
A few minutes later, out of the dark we spotted a skinny kid in jeans walking toward us. Couldn’t have been any older than we were. But he ignored us and went over and spoke with Bob. Then he looked over at the Galaxy.
“Who is that?” I asked.
“It’s the owner’s son,” Bob replied. “If he can’t find it, no one can.”
I turned and looked at the skinny kid as he seemed to wade into the engine of the Galaxy. He never looked under the car, never looked under the dash — just went straight to the engine and leaned way in, so far that his arm and half his skinny body seemed to disappear into the mass of oily steel and wire.
“No way,“ I thought to myself. “We are so toast.”
He twisted his body and reached even farther into the engine then rapidly withdrew his hand, holding — OK, fuses. He then proceeded to explain that in this model year, the fuses in the Galaxies were located ….” Bob rushed up to him and slapped him on the back.
“I knew you could find it.”
A few minutes later, the kid, and that is how I will remember him forever — “the kid” — took one last look at the Galaxy, then glanced at us. Then, with just the hint of a smile on his face, shook his head and walked off.
As we barreled down I-95 toward Miami Beach with the player’s tunes blasting “We’re not going to take it,” I couldn’t help but smile and shake my head at what I had just witnessed. The kid was the absolute end of the food chain. The pecking order had reached the end of the line, and the kid — the grease monkey who had been building and taking engines apart since he was probably 6, the one, the closer, the guy the coach nods to at the bottom of the ninth with bases loaded and ahead by one — got the call and delivered.
We made it to the coliseum while the warm-up band was still playing. Then, we watched The Who perform every song off “Live a Leeds,” all of “Who’s Next” and all of “Tommy.”
“We’re not going to take it.”
“Nobody knows what it’s like to be the sad man, to be the bad man, behind blue eyes.”
We watched Keith Moon fall off his drum stool, backwards. Loon-Moon they called him. He lit up every stage he ever played on.
Roger Daltry threw that microphone around and whirled it over and over through the air as he belted out “ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.”
And Pete Townshend wound up like a straight-armed pitcher and whirled his arms at his guitar over and over, as cords crashed through everything that was in their way. The band didn’t just play. They raged and we watched. Then they lay us down.
“See me, Feel me, touch me, Feel me.
“Listening to you I get the music,
Gazing at you I get the heat,
Following you, I climb the mountain….”
That was 49 years ago. Last night, I watched 76 year old Townsend do it again. Nothing had changed. Same rage. Same threat. Same madness. Same rebel. Same angry guitar. Same promise.
After the opening set, Townsend took the mike and breathed heavily and sighed.
“We played as many songs for you from Tommy as we could without breaking my heart.”
And I know he did. You could tell. It was one of those moments of clarity and courage that is so rare today.
And I know that it probably wasn’t so, but the magic of that promise he shared, for some reason, made me think of that skinny grease monkey from a lifetime ago and his mastery of an old Galaxy on an interstate in the middle of the night and of a crew-cut state trooper who for some reason, wasn’t out to conquer or punish, and of four kids hell-bent on arriving at the concert in time to see this British band.
And what do you suppose that the name of that grease monkey was? Well, Tommy?
“Ever since I was a young boy
I’ve played the silver ball
From Soho down to Brighton
I must have played them all
But I aint’ seen nothing like him
In any amusement hall
That deaf dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pin ball.”
Thank you, Pete.
And thank you Tommy, wherever you are.