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Tom Blake

By Tom Blake

Two months ago, our next-door neighbors in Monarch Beach—Jake and Kresta Racker— invited Greta and me and our across-the-street neighbors, Alex and Colleen Torres, for a socially distanced happy hour in the Rackers’ backyard.

It was a spur-of-the-moment pleasant break for all of us after being isolated from people for months.

The Rackers, along with their son, Ethan, moved in nearly five years ago. They are ideal neighbors, friendly, fun, and considerate—but we had never socialized.

The happy hour conversation turned to Johnny Cash. Whenever the subject of Johnny Cash comes up, I always add my two-cents worth, having worked with Johnny for two years in the 1970s. I also co-produced an album with him.

Jake said he saw Johnny Cash in concert only once. Jake remembered that he and his buddy Quinn from Utah saw Johnny perform at the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s.

A ticket stub from the Feb. 25, 1996 Johnny Cash House of Blues appearance. Photo: Courtesy of Jake Racker

I had a vague recollection of seeing Johnny perform at the House of Blues, but I wasn’t sure when it was.

After the happy hour gathering, I didn’t think much more about when I had seen Johnny at the House of Blues, until Oct. 16, when Jake sent me a text.

His text included a picture of a ticket stub from the Feb. 25, 1996 Johnny Cash House of Blues appearance, which his buddy Quinn had found in a drawer and sent to him.

I started to wonder: had I been at that same show? If I had, I probably would have written about it. At that time, I had been a newspaper columnist for less than two years, writing about “Middle Aged and Dating Again” for community newspapers owned by the Orange County Register.

I had a box of old columns in the garage. I found a manila envelope from 1996. I started leafing through the articles and was thrilled to find the 89th column I had written, dated March 14, 1996 and titled, “Dream of a date includes an evening enjoying the music of Johnny Cash.” (Today’s column is number 4,143—give or take a hundred).

So, I had been to the same concert that Jake and Quinn had been to nearly a quarter-century before. The article stated that it was the 31st Johnny Cash concert I had attended.

Accompanying a ticket stub from a Johnny Cash concert at the House of Blues on Feb. 25, 1996 is a newspaper clipping of Tom Blake’s column on the show. Photo: Courtesy of Jake Racker

I printed out a copy and placed it on Jake’s front-door mat. He emailed a copy to Quinn in Utah. An hour later, Jake stopped by and said the article helped him and Quinn “fill in the details” they had forgotten about the concert—facts such as The Freewheelers had been the opening band and that Red Hot Chili Peppers also had performed.

The Racker family has lived next door for five years. It took Jake and me that long to discover we had both enjoyed the same special night at the House of Blues 24 years before.

Jake and Kresta framed the article and the ticket stub and presented it to Greta and me as a remembrance.

The world is, indeed, small—even in the neighbors’ backyard.

Tom Blake is a retired Dana Point business owner and resident who has authored books on middle-aged dating. See his website at To comment:

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