Somewhere between Niagara Falls and Toronto, we heard the tantalizing news on the car radio: "The Rolling Stones are gearing up for a club show in the city tonight."
Then, an instant later, the reality check left us shattered: It's too late, the Toronto DJ said, eight hours before the surprise show. The club's a mob scene, and the chosen ones have been chosen, corralled in a fenced-off area until the doors open. Don't even bother, you'll never get in.
My wife looked at me, shuddering at the prospect of spending a precious vacation day trying in vain to get in. She frowned and shook her head. "He's right," she said. "We'll never get in. We're too late."
But she knew there was no hope for me this time.
For she had seen my basement Keith Richards imitations again and again -- all limbs, flailing and chopping at a cheap Fender Stratocaster copy. At our wedding, she danced as her new spouse sang "Honky Tonk Woman" with the band, and endured other versions by the now (mercifully) disbanded "Cruel and Unusual" -- two other Sun reporters and me -- a group whose name strongly hints at its entertainment capabilities.
She had done her best to seem genuinely interested with each retelling of how Keith Richards and Mick Jagger marveled at the angst of old bluesmen and then did their best to pay homage.
She had heard the set lists from the last three tours. She had sat with me through a monsoon at RFK Stadium in Washington and a chilly fall night at Shea Stadium in New York to see Jagger prowl a 100-yard-wide stage, his image projected, larger than life, on 50-foot video screens flanking the band.
It was never meant to be this way, of course. Rock 'n' roll's supposed to be played in bars and grungy, sweaty clubs in the wrong part of town.
But for as long as we could remember, anyway, the Rolling Stones existed only larger than life, on my big brother's albums, old and tattered even decades ago, on CDs and pay-per-view and videos and oversized screens in oversized football stadiums in Philadelphia and Washington and New York.
Best we could hope for was a spot in the field somewhere near the 10-yard line -- if we would pay $150, that is. We did, again this tour, figuring it gets no better than this. And, well, this really could be the last time for the band that outlasted them all, the British Invasion contemporaries of the Beatles, now led by a 51-year-old grandfather who exercises obsessively and has long since traded his Jack Daniel's for bottled water and bananas backstage.
* When we got to the SkyDome Hotel in Toronto, I began plotting and picked up the phone. Surely, back home, readers -- and their trusted surrogates, editors -- would be at least as interested in this bit of rock 'n' roll history as the latest school board controversy, wouldn't they?
They were. Good luck trying to get in, one said, before hanging up.
I dialed the phone frantically, on the off chance of finding a reporter at one of the three local dailies -- at a desk, instead of the club -- who knew somebody important or maybe knew somebody who knew somebody important.
Elizabeth Renzetti, pop music critic for the Globe and Mail, gave me the name and number of the Stones' publicist for the tour. She held out little hope. Good luck, she said, before hanging up.
The Stones publicist, Jim Monaco at Concert Productions International, wasted no words: "You're not making this up, right? I mean, you are who you say you are?"
Yeah. I stammered.
"If you could guarantee me you'll print a story, I'll get you credentials."
I sweated and babbled. He chuckled. Look for the CPI people outside the club, he told me.
* For a long time, nobody could find the CPI people outside RPM, grungy, sweaty club in the wrong part of town, a hardscrabble industrial section on Lake Ontario.
And you could hear the reporters sighing, all down the line. The story that mattered to them long before the others they covered in their lives seemed to be slipping away. A radio station blared "Time Waits for No One" onto the street from huge speakers at metalhead volume -- among nine straight hours of Stones fare.
From inside, if you listened closely, you could hear strains of Mick blowing "Little Red Rooster" on a harp during a sound check. His wife, Jerry Hall, made her way inside, mugging briefly for cameras. Dan Aykroyd followed, along with a few photographers.
Countless motorists stopped, stunned by a roadside sign, vintage Ritchie Highway mattress-sale variety, except for the words: "ROLLING STONES. LIVE TONIGHT. 8:30 P.M. REG. COVER $5."
But no CPI people, no satisfaction.
Finally, a woman appeared by the fence with a check list. She asked for credentials,checked the names and handed us white stickers that said "PRESS."
"Don't forget your drink tickets," she said, giving each reporter two tickets good for a media-only bar.