Expressway: A kind stranger and the real Jersey boy
On a recent Friday night, I drove to the NYCB Theatre at Westbury with my "Jersey Boys" Playbill and a sign reading "looking for 1 ticket."
I was hoping to land a last-minute ticket to see the real Jersey boy, Frankie Valli, with the Four Seasons. I put $20 in one pocket and $10 in another.
A gentleman approached and offered to sell me a ticket for $30, but I felt through my stuffed pockets and could not find the $10 bill. I had to pass on the ticket and sat on a bench, thinking it was not meant to be.
Then, about 10 minutes before showtime, a man approached and asked whether I still needed a ticket. I said yes, and he handed me one marked "comp," for complimentary.
I didn't know it then, but the man was sports executive and author Ray Negron. He did not ask for money, and would not accept it. He went into the theater to join his wife, Theresa, and a friend.
I went in right behind him. The seats were amazing! We sat just a few rows from the front. Judging by the gray hair in the audience, at 26, I was one of the youngest people in the audience.
I spent part of the evening audience-watching and found humor in the people trying to discreetly take videos and pictures with their cellphones. Of course, since the room was dark, everyone could see the glowing phone screens and cameras.
Before the show, I learned that Theresa owns Bunger Surf Shop in Babylon and is a good friend of my sixth-grade teacher, who shops there. What a small world!
It would get even smaller.
As the final song began, I left to catch Valli at the stage door to sign my Playbill. After about 30 minutes, Ray and Theresa exited through the stage door! Theresa asked whether I had been there long. "Why didn't you stay after the show and come backstage with us?" she asked.
It turns out that Ray knows Valli. Theresa took my Playbill and went back inside to get Valli's autograph.
In our conversations, I discovered Ray works for the New York Yankees. I told him a college professor of mine knew someone from the Yankees. When I was looking for advice on life and job-hunting, the professor gave me a book written by his Yankees friend called, "Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers." I confess that I hadn't read it at the time.
Ray said he was both the book's author and a friend of my college professor. I learned later that Ray's story is well known around the Yankees. When Ray was a teenager, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner caught him spray-painting the outside of Yankee Stadium. The Boss gave Ray a job as a batboy to put him on the right track. Ray now does community relations for the team.
A few minutes later, Theresa returned with my autographed Playbill, which read, "To Brian, All The Best, Frankie Valli."
I thanked them all again and hung around to thank Valli. About 15 minutes later, he came out and signed a few more items for fans before security people guided him into a car.
Driving home, I stopped at a service station in West Islip. While pumping gas I heard the Four Seasons song "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" from a bar across the street. I thought to myself, "Oh, what a night, indeed."
Reader Brian Stoll lives in West Islip.