This past weekend, I traveled to the humble Borough of Haddonfield, NJ to help my friend Issac and his parents, Tim and Kate, move into their new house. They moved up from St. Pete a few months ago, rented a house to get a feel for the area, and just bought a home there. All their stuff had to be moved about a mile and a half and I was the only one with superhuman moving skills available to help. Actually, I’m always happy to help on a project like this – mainly because I’ve moved so much in my life that I know how rotten it is to move yourself – especially awkward pieces of furniture on stairs.
Anyway, I agreed to help on the “condition” that Tim would have to endure a Jimmy Buffett concert with me, which happened to be taking place on the Sunday in nearby Atlantic City, NJ. I guess Tim should have been more thorough in checking to be sure there were no Buffett concerts nearby! As it happens, there is another one coming up soon in Camden, NJ which is next-door (almost) to Haddonfield – so I suppose he did try.
We got the moving done pretty quickly on Friday and Saturday, and after a comedy of errors (that’s a whole other post) on Sunday we got the moving truck returned and in the afternoon, headed to Atlantic City – a place neither of us had previously been. After trying to avoid paying $20 to park, we acquiesed and gave Donald Trump an Andy to park in the Trump Plaza garage. We walked through the casino, but there was no gambling; there was serious business to attend to, as we didn’t have any tickets.
After searching the internets earlier in the day, I concluded that the best plan would be to just buy tickets from a scalper outside the venue. I have never been to a concert where there weren’t people trying to unload tickets before they became worthless in a few hours. Usually, I am too jittery to try it, because I want to ensure I have a good seat well in advance of the show. There have been at least 3 occasions when I have bought tickets from ticket brokers (the ones with brick-and-mortar buildings) on the afternoon of the show and gotten a single front-row seat for $100. This time, it was a last-minute plan and we knew that even if we didn’t get to see Buffett, at least we would get to see Atlantic City and still probably have a decent time (well, Tim probably would get to breath a huge sigh of relief).
As we walked through the casino, I began to worry that we wouldn’t get tickets. Perhaps there wouldn’t be tickets available since the venue was kind of small. What if there was a larger-than-average demand? What if scalping was illegal in Atlantic City (ha!) and strictly enforced and there was no one around trying to sell tickets? Outside on the boardwalk, my fears were quickly allieved when we saw numerous people flagrantly selling tickets in full view of policemen, who were doing nothing.
The door behind us had barely closed when this mousy, dishelved guy asked us if we needed tickets. Since I like to think I’m a decent negotiator, rather than saying what I wanted to say, which was “ohmygodyesyespleaseyesgiveus2ticketsnowI’llpayanything”, I looked at him coldly, paused a moment, and said, “Maybe. What do you have?” He showed me 2 tickets. They weren’t even in the same section. When I pointed this out, he said, “oooooohhhhhh you wanted 2 tickets together?” I said yes, he said he didn’t have any, so we moved on. Mean time, this guy was yapping at us from behind as we walked away.
Almost immediately, a guy in a Tommy Bahama shirt (i.e. typical Buffett concert attire) came over to us, trying very hard to seem like a fan who had too many tickets but was obviously a professional scalper, came up and walked beside us. He said, “listen, I have 2 tickets I need to get rid of, but keep walking with me because I don’t want those guys to see.” So we walked a bit, then he showed me 2 tickets together in a reasonable section about halfway from the stage. I was interested. I asked how much. “Well, the face value is $156 each” I was formulating how much to offer when the mousy guy from before ran up excitedly and broke up our negotiation.
“I got 2 together now!” he said breathlessly. He shoved them into my hand while I was still talking to Tommy Bahama. I whipped out a diagram of the venue that I had drawn from a map on the internet before we left the house (no printers hooked up at the new house yet). The 2 tickets mousy-guy was offering were much better, and they were for the same face value ($156 each). I also had picked up that mousy-guy seemed pretty hard up, so I offered him $100 for the pair. He seemed offended. At the same time, Tommy Bahama quietly walked away, either because he knew I would never pay him what he wanted for his seats, or he knew mousy-guy was probably going to close the deal. Mousy-guy says he needs $400 for the seats, because the show is sold out and these are great seats. I start to walk away and tell him I’m not interested.
He follows and starts to say “but, but, but…”
I look at him and say “$150.”
He says “$200.”
I say “$160.”
He says “c’mon, man!” I just look at him.
He says “$180.”
I pull out my wallet and count out $170 and hand it to him (I still have the tickets in my hand). I say, “that’s $170.” He starts greedily counting the money. The significance of what I said to him almost doesn’t hit him. Then he says, “but we had a deal at $180!” I say, “I never agreed to that. Are we good?” He just walked away.
I was thrilled! I just scored great seats that before today could have sold for $200 (or more) each for about half of what they cost originally (by the time you add TicketBastard’s service fees, convenience charge, mailing reimbursement and other screw-you charges that are not part of the face value). And it took all of about 5 minutes. We had plenty of time to walk around, get a bite to eat, then it would be off to bliss for my second Buffett concert of the year!
So, we walked around, found a bite to eat (not good), talked about our impressions of Atlantic City (not as bad as we had imagined) but mostly I just anticipated the awesomeness to come and reflected on my superior negotiating skills. I also thought mousy-guy wasn’t much of a challenge, and thought that maybe if I had offered him a lot less, he might have taken it. But, his begruding acceptance of my money did seem genuine. As it got closer to concert time, there were still plenty of tickets on offer, including some from people who clearly were legitimate fans whose friends had probably flaked out on them. I would have liked to have bought from one of them, because I would have felt better about helping one of them out and not encouraging people like mousy-guy to keep doing what they do. They really are lower than pond scum.
As the appointed hour approached, we waded through the mass of humanity flooding into the auditorium, go through the pat-down/bag search, and up to the gates. When I saw the ticket-takers with their hand-held devices that scan the bar codes on the tickets, I thought briefly about the possibility that our tickets might have problems. But I didn’t really worry; my ticket scanned with no problem and I was in! I looked behind me to see Tim coming through, and then the ticket-taker grabbed him and said, “hold on!”. She evidently didn’t get a good scan on his ticket. She scanned it again, the machine made the pleasant “bloop” sound and off we went to our seats.
We contemplated beer but didn’t feel like standing in line. We marveled at the beautiful interior of the venue, the Boardwalk Hall. We made our way around to our seats…since we entered through the back and our seats were close to the front, it was quite a long walk – a rather satisfying walk! We found our seats with no help from the ushers and waited. About 15 minutes after we sat down, the show started.
Now, there are many, many great Buffett songs. There are also some not so great ones. Unfortunately, a couple of my least favorite songs are concert staples. One of those was the very first song. A slow way to start off the show, but at least he got it out of the way early.
We talked to some of the people on our row and learned that they had “comp’ed” tickets – these were tickets given to them by a salesperson, vendor or client (maybe they work for Corona beer or a radio station, etc). None of them seemed too excited to be at the show, and a bunch of people kept making us stand up so they could get out of the row for whatever reason (beer, bathroom, nachos, smoke break, boredom, etc). The guy next to me was constantly bitching about every person going up and down the row, which compounded the problem.
About 30 minutes into the show, I noticed that Tim (who was closer to the aisle) was talking to someone. I saw him pull out his ticket. Two people had showed up who thought we were in their seats. “Uh-oh” I thought. But it happens frequently that people are in the right row/seat but wrong section – they were probably confused. Nope, it turned out that we were in the wrong section. We needed to go over one section, so we did. No big deal, just a little embarrassed that we had read the section signs wrong.
Of course, when we got to the correct section, there were people in our seats. At first we thought perhaps they had moved down from a higher seat or maybe they were in the wrong section, too (hey, it could happen to anybody!). Nope, it turned out that their tickets were the same as ours. I wonder who is in the wrong here? An usher was helping us and told us to go to customer service. I didn’t really want to, because there were several empty seats around, and I felt like if we could just get the usher to stop paying attention to us, we could just quietly sit down somewhere.
Unfortunately, she called over another guy, a supervisor evidently. He took the tickets from us, asked me where I got the tickets, and asked the couple in our seats where they had gotten theirs. The couple said they had picked them up at will call. Then the supervisor told us to follow him. We did. It seemed like we were going to the principal’s office. As we went out the door, I took one last whistful look at the stage, certain that we would have to leave.
When we arrived in an office, two young women (college age?) behind the counter looked at the tickets, shamed us for having bought them from a scalper, and the supervisor asked what should be done (not sure who outranked who). I was a bit confused, and decided that since we hadn’t been drinking, weren’t wearing coconut bras and had been nice, perhaps since we had been nice and cooperative, they might let us stay. I asked if the tickets were counterfeit. They said no. I said then what was wrong? Perhaps TicketMaster (I didn’t use my usual name for them – for the first time in years) had made a mistake? That comment seemed to have struck a nerve, as I’m sure it had happened before. They went back to the fact that we bought the tickets from a scalper, and scalpers can’t be trusted. We were told that the genuine owners of the tickets had probably lost the original tickets and gotten them reprinted from TicketMaster. I said, as nicely as I could, “Well, the fact is that most of the tickets end up in the hands of scalpers in the first place, so what is one to do? There seem to be quite a few empty seats in there, and we bought those tickets, which are not counterfeit, in good faith. Is there anything you can do?” Tim also said some helpful words along the same lines.
After a brief pause, one of the girls behind the counter said, “Alright. I have two here (she had quite a few). But you can’t sit in the same section. Let this be a lesson to you boys (she was trying to be funny, I think)”. The supervisor says, “you know what should be happening here, right?” We both said, as soon as the tickets were in our hands, “yeah, we should probably be going home right now” They nodded and grinned; we thanked them profusely, and they let us go.
The new seats were in the back, but down low and not high. The theater wasn’t huge, so we could see fine. We were both very happy that we had talked our way out of what could have been a very disappointing situation. I guess Tim was having an ok time by now, because in that office he seemed like he would have been disappointed, too, if they had made us leave. He even participated during “Fins”!
We quickly decided that we liked our new seats better. The people around us were much friendlier and seemed to be true fans. The guy next to me knew all the words to the songs, even the more obscure ones (although he didn’t seem to know “Makin’ Music for Money”).
The show was a long one and clocked in at over 2 1/2 hours with a 15 minute intermission. Here is the set list. The drama began during “Pencil Thin Mustache” and we were in our new seats while they were finishing up “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”.
The ticket drama was a bit stressful when it occurred, but it ended up ok. I must have had some karma points saved up. Later, Tim and I talked a lot (of course) about how it could have happened. It is certainly possible that the original purchasers of the tickets had lost their tickets, had them stolen, or they never arrived in the mail, and somehow got TicketBastard to replace the tickets. However, with the barcode security system of the tickets, either ourselves or the other couple should not have been able to get in. We wondered if it is a venue or TicketBastard insider who knows how to work the system with duplicates. People often go to great lengths to make a buck, so who knows how mousy-guy obtained these tickets. But, the truth is that most of the legitimate tickets really do end up in the hands of scalpers. I firmly believe that TicketBastard and the concert venues are complicit in all of this.
This blog has several entries regarding mine and others’ efforts to get reasonable seats to shows. There are plenty of stories on the internet about the various methods employed by scalpers so that they can maximize the number of tickets that they can get to every concert, sporting event, etc that they can. Simply search on the internet for “concert tickets” and you’ll find hundreds of sites where you can buy tickets. There are thousands of entries on e-Bay. E-Bay and ticket exchange sites have allowed enterprising teenagers in Kalamazoo to scalp tickets all over the world. Whenever tickets to a concert go on sale, a fan is competing against all of them, their tricks and back-door methods, as well as all the other fans out there trying to get tickets. When reading about the tricks the scalpers use, it becomes clear that many of the best seats never even go on sale to the public through TicketBastard. There is too much money to be made.
So, little miss “let this be a lesson to you boys” can go sit on a tack. I may take extra precautions next time (perhaps make the scalper let me take his picture with the tickets I am buying), however it seems unlikely I will simply settle for nosebleed seats at face value, plus TicketBastard’s convenience and other “screw you” charges.
I thoroughly enjoyed the show and the trip. While I would have preferred not to have had to deal with the ticket drama, at least we were left with stories we could tell.
< The author lives in a suburb of Dallas, TX with his family while his mind wanders the globe. For further reading about the subject of this essay, please click here.