Monday, January 17, 2011

Speeding Tickets (i.e. PerANciL yeRTmeRy)

When I ponder the qualities needed to be a good spectator of a cultural event, I tend to think of an interest in the event, a tolerance for being in close quarters with people not previously known to you, and an ability to be in said large crowds without emitting significant odor. However, the cultural community, being somewhat elitist by nature, has even more stringent criteria than I do: They require us not only to be sweet-smelling, non-claustrophobic, interested patrons, but ones who also possess a ticket for the event in question.

However, it is not enough to merely possess a ticket to attend a cultural event. If it were so easy, any well-adjusted deoderized bumpkin could attend. No, obtaining the ticket has become such a complex process, requiring previously unexpected levels of dexterity, hand-eye coordination, and reflexes. Not to mention riches.

Remember how all Charlie had to do was consume Willy Wonka chocolate bars to get his Golden Ticket? In today's society, poor Charlie wouldn't even score an SRO for a Florida Marlins home game.  

If you wanted to obtain event tickets back in the day--not quite as far back as Charlie's draconian ticket-acquisition methods--it was actually an advantage not to be skilled at anything at all. In fact, it was the unemployed among us who scored front-row seats to U2 and REM concerts in those pre-Internet days, because all it took to get prime tickets was the ability to stay in a line for a long period of time. It was considered a mark of pride to be able to credibly claim that you waited in line for hours, even days, for an event. Extra points were earned for documented inclement weather conditions. More credit if the police were involved in calming the crowds waiting for event tickets. And an A+ if you were interviewed on the local news, waving your tickets for the camera, detailing the new friends you made and challenges finding a bathroom. That was Reality TV at its finest.

I cannot claim to have ever endured such harsh conditions for tickets. Having been a savvy adolescent, I used my father's company letterhead to open a corporate account at Out of Town Tickets in Harvard Square, and was able to reserve tickets in advance of them going on sale. They didn't seem to care that a 14 year old was purporting to run a corporation in need of client tickets. Nor was it considered a red flag years before when a 7 year old ordered 14 Donny & Marie albums to join the Columbia Record Club. When there is money to be made, corporations are blissfully nonjudgemental.

Sadly, the wily conniving of a smart-ass kid is no longer an advantage in today's ticket-buying society. In order to procure tickets to nearly any event, you need to learn the inner-workings of a secret society of sorts. There are pre-sale codes, which seem to be reserved for the types of people who like to be on a lot of listserves. I know this because I am on two listserves and the only way I have ever heard of these pre-sales was from people posting codes from other listserves on the the listserve I am on. I think there may be entire listserves devoted to identifying listserves that provide pre-sale codes.

For those less fortunate, like me, who have not reserved tickets before the masses, there is the dreaded "Tickets Go On Sale At..." moment. In the era of pre-school applications and Ebay, I suppose we should all be accustomed to having to be ruthlessly competitive for virtually everything, or else how would we measure its value? So we clear schedules, synchronize watches, refill coffee mugs, and breathlessly wait until the 59th minute and 59th second of the previous hour have expired. That is when the frenzy begins. Do not make the mistake of attempting to purchase tickets online seconds before the appointed moment--you will get an error code and have to go back to square one. The website you are on will invariably link you to the evil Ticketmaster, whose shocking monopoly on ticket sales and brazenly exorbitant fees have managed to evade the Sherman Antitrust Act. You have very little say in selecting your seats, instead relying on the company's computer program to identify the "Best Seats Available" in a 50,000-seat venue. If you would compromise a closer row for an aisle seat, for example, you are out of luck in communicating that.

Once you select the number of seats you are seeking, the fun really begins. In order to verify that the potential ticket-buyer is not a "Bot" intent on filling all the seats in the stadium, the site requires that you pass a "security check" of mangled text so distorted that a sober mind could not possible discern the majority of the characters. In a recent attempt to secure tickets to, of all things, a Milwaukee Brewers-Colorado Rockies Spring Training game, I attempted to key in the following phrases: "PerANciL yeRTmeRy," "illoVoyA cortHers,""diSbUn SubLyvst,"and "FranKilkE penCharn." Why four phrases? Because, despite opting to "choose another" because I couldn't identify half the characters of my given phrase, I mis-keyed the next three before finally getting one right. Perhaps not coincidentally, by the time I had my code accepted, there were only second-tier seats available. After the whole ordeal, I was happy to have any seats, let alone bad ones, and appreciated the respite available during Ticketmaster's ensuing two-minute warning before my seats would be given to someone else.

While making small-talk with a Luddite co-worker, I mentioned my frustration at not being able to hand-select a block of seven seats for a baseball game I knew there were many available seats for. My coworker was not familiar with the Ticketmaster computer system, and, as it turns out, was also not a big patron of the arts. That, however, did not prevent her from suggesting I go to a Ticketmaster office and buy the tickets in person; she had once done this and was impressed with the various charts and seating plans the salesperson displayed. Once the look of horror faded from my face, I decided to give it a try. The Ticketmaster was located at a major department store, so I could always shop too. I found the office, waited for the sales person to finish flailing seating charts (that looked remarkably similar to the seating charts available online) at the person he was helping. When it was my turn, I explained what I was looking for to the sales person who, in turn, logged onto the very same Ticketmaster website that I had access to in the comfort of my own home.  


  1. Oh gosh, luckily there's not much I'm desperate to go to because I don't know what a listserve is and have never seen a presale code. Possibly I don't want to hang out with crowds of people I've never met before . . . or maybe I just have no interests?
    Once, when I was actually working a couple of decades ago Bruce Springsteen came to town- oh my- I sent my mum to queue up for hours for the tickets!!! She did, and bought about 10 and we ALL went. We did lose her somewhere in the crowd but it was the BEST EVER concert I've been too standing for hours at the showgrounds and then jumping around to Bruce for hours too. . .

  2. Josie--We all need mothers like yours! Sadly, my kids definitely can't count on me to be that kind of mom to them... if they want to go to a concert, they are on their own! After years of hauling them to the Wiggles, Yo Gabba Gabba, and Nick Jr. shows (maybe the presale codes are targeted at competitive moms?), I don't think I can go to a stadium again without reliving the trauma of someone's toddler rummaging through my purse or entire families dressed as Feathersword (sorry for the Wiggles references, Josie... but I hear they are among the wealthiest people down under!). Cheers! Best, Karen

  3. sadly, I have a phobia about buying tickets online...I am a willing participant once a decade or so, but someone else (usually Wretch or my sister vix) goes online to buy tickets...and so I have had the distinct honor of attending a Nascar event at Talladega twice, and been to two Keith Urban concerts, even though I don't follow either one as a fan.
    ...and I actually experienced real pain at the last Keith Urban concert when Carrie Underwood jacked her mic up to the highest decibel...luckily I had kleenex I stuffed in my ears so I could hear the music...that was when I told vix no more Keith Urban for me... :D

  4. Hi, Cath! I have to tell you that the my parents made us jam cotton balls in our ears for the very first concert I ever went to--Billy Joel (you know how loud those pianos can get :) ). I am seeing a trend in the comments of savvy posters who let family members do the ticket-buying dirty work... love that strategy! I may need to adopt some new family members! Take care! Karen