Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: Single
Definitive Version: Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 2003. Eddie Vedder sings the final lines at the all-star gala and completely changes the tone of the song.
In August 2003, I decided to go to Torch Lake for a long weekend just because I could. When you’re your own boss, you set your work schedule however you see fit. I arranged to stay with Doug and Theresa one night. Then the next day, I’d head up to Torch Lake.
The day I left—a brilliant sunny day—I worked out and did a few small chores before leaving and got away a little later than I intended. I needed gas, but I wanted to get going. The Happy Honda could go miles even when the needle hit E, and I figured I had enough gas to get to Toledo before I’d have to fill up.
However, at the last second, I decided to just stop and get gas at my usual station in Lakewood after all. Now I wouldn’t need to stop till I got to Flint. That proved to be an amazingly fortuitous decision.
I detoured west of Toledo rather than go straight up I-75 due to the construction that was encountered during a trip to Detroit in June. Other than that, nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary, except that perhaps traffic was a bit lighter around Toledo. I chalked that up to the time of the day: It was mid-afternoon now, about 4.
I got to Flint in good shape. Doug wasn’t home from work yet, and Theresa let me in, asking if I had heard the news. What news? I went into the living room and saw the TV tuned to CNN.
The blackout, the story said, started in upstate New York and quickly rolled west along the Great Lakes, engulfing Cleveland, Toledo and Detroit before then affecting pretty much the entire northeastern seaboard. Flint, obviously, was unaffected, except that because Detroit was, the reports were not to drink the water without boiling it first. I called Dad and Laura up at Torch, and they said they had no problems whatsoever.
Holy crap! When did this start? Not long after I left Cleveland, and the fortuitousness of my early decision became obvious. Gas pumps operate on electricity. If I hadn’t gassed up in Lakewood before I left, I would have been stuck in Toledo with no gas and no way to refill until the power was turned back on. But, because I didn’t wait, I was ahead of the blackout.
It was odd to not have drinking water in the middle of the night that night, but otherwise, it was no big deal. The next day I was at Torch, and it was though nothing was wrong. The issue, of course, was how long would power be out in Cleveland and most specifically Lakewood. There was no sense going home if I couldn’t do anything.
By Monday, the day I would have left anyway, everything apparently was back to normal, so I went home on schedule. But I changed up the drive a bit, because I wanted to stop at a store in the northwest Detroit suburbs. I forget what I wanted to buy. I think it was a particular bottle of wine Laura had recommended, but I’m not sure. I’m fairly sure it was something kitchen-related and I had surfed the Internet to see whether it was something I could pick up along the way.
But what made the shopping destination stand out was the location—Birmingham. In fact, the address was perilously close to West Bloomfield and where Melanie used to live. I was fairly certain the toxic waste from our nuclear meltdown surely had to be cleaned up by now. I, thus, embraced the chance to take a bit of a walk down memory lane—not all the memories were bad.
I even decided to take the route there just as I would have back in 1988, which was a pretty long way out of my way. When I cut east on Rt. 14 off U.S. 23 in Ann Arbor and saw the traffic sign leading to Farmington Hills, that really took me back to the same feelings I had in 1988. The realization made me smile.
I can’t remember now whether I found for what I was shopping, but the trip wasn’t a waste. I didn’t go past Melanie’s house—that would have been too long of a digression from my path—but I did go past a few other places where we had dinner or stopped for ice cream or to shop.
However, I definitely remember that I was listening to Live at the Albert Hall. Scott had burned me a copy (for archival purposes), and I specifically had this song on while I was in Detroit. I hadn’t been a big fan of this song before then, but it hit me like a ton of bricks—particularly, as I mentioned at the top, the final lines. It seemed perfect as 15-year-old memories and thoughts washed over me: Nothing is everything; everything is nothing.
Speaking of meltdowns, when I got home, the power was on, but it had been out long enough in my apartment for the freezer to defrost completely. My produce bin was full of water with floating lettuce decaying in the flood. My freezer and the produce bin were a total loss. Oh well, it certainly could have been worse.