Monday, December 18, 2006

"I'm saving my ticket for then...."

Shortly after I was hired, the record store became an official Ticketron outlet. Ticketron was the first computerized ticket selling service, which gave fans the option of buying their concert and game tickets in advance without having to stand in line on the day of the event. In the beginning, Ticketron charged a flat one dollar service charge per ticket, and even at the height of their ascent in the mid-80’s their service fees were never much more than a few bucks; a far cry from the evil TicketBastard empire, which effectively swallowed up its happy hippy cousin in 1991 and, with no market competition, commenced a heavy-handed price gouging that persists to this very day.

The system was installed on a slow weekday—probably a Wednesday or Thursday. The Ticketron guy had just finished the installation when Reynolds, Tom, Shelly and I turned up for training. Philbert, Jenny and The Murphdiver were already there, as were The Sav and Bev.

Because our ticket booth was minuscule, we were divided up into two groups, with the group already there getting first crack at the machine. The rest of us stood around refolding t-shirts and polishing jewelry—anything to appear busy while The Sav looked on.

Now The Sav was a bonafide technophobe. He’d already proven to be something of a Luddite when we’d gotten new electronic credit card terminals installed at the cash registers a few weeks previous. He refused to use them, opting instead for the tried and trusted manual imprinter. His rationale was that the dotted line for customer signatures was too small. He was also convinced that compact discs were a flash in the pan, but had changed his tune by 1990 when he recognized the money making potential of the little shiny buggers.

And money was the reason he’d opened the door for Ticketron into his store. The store would receive .25c per ticket, and The Sav’s palms were already itching for that first million. Never mind that the store was already earning a buck a ticket from the pre-printed tickets for shows at McGuffy’s House of Draft and Gilly’s. The Sav was, well, savvy enough to know that those clubs had a fairly limited audience, whereas Ticketron would bring in a wide range of shoppers—sports fans, circus goers, and live theatre aficionados, as well as a much larger assortment of concerts for our customer base. He could hardly contain his greedy excitement.

Not that the lure of easy money instantly warmed him to the intimidating machine. He was absolutely terrified of it, and made a big show of waiting on customers, scurrying about the store in an exaggerated display of overburden, and dashing off to the back office whenever there was a lull in the action so that he wouldn’t have to sit through the training lesson. It was months before he actually sold his first pair of tickets, opting instead to have one of us on the clock at all times so that he wouldn’t have to deal with it. Once, when he had to work by himself because someone had called in sick, he had to turn ticket customers away, telling them that the machine was broken. You just can’t make this shit up.

Even by the computer standards of 1986, the Ticketron terminal was simplistic and easy to learn. (Unless you were The Sav, natch) The monochrome screen displayed a series of boxes, and all the user had to do was key in the event code and the number of tickets needed. One keystroke later and the available seating appeared on screen, listed from best (closest to stage or field) to worst (farthest away and/or obstructed view). The store was given a large three-ring binder filled with laminated venue maps, so that customers could look at the seating charts and decide whether or not they wanted the tickets. Each week the corporate headquarters in Hackensack, New Jersey would mail us a packet with all the upcoming new shows in it, complete with the on-sale date, date of show, venue and event code. It was easy, exciting, and within two months of installation was giving the store an extra few grand a month in revenue.

With the terminal came a few unforeseeable problems, most of which had to do with how to handle the big shows. At first The Sav was content to let fans camp out in the parking lot the night before big shows went on sale, because for the most part the punters were respectful of property, cleaned up after themselves and there was generally a feeling of bonhomie and jovial camaraderie among the fans.

This all changed after the Molly Hatchet incident.

It wasn’t like the show was going to sell out—it was Molly Hatchet, fercrissakes. Plus it was at Hara Arena, a general admission venue. We never thought anyone would be foolish enough to camp out for a general admission show that had no danger of selling out. But then again, we never factored in the stupidity of the average Hatchet fan.

When we closed the shop for the night, the lot was empty. We had no reason to suspect that sometime in the night, the bearded buggers would stagger out of their seedy bars and descend en masse upon our parking lot for a big ole hairy biker party.

Tom and Philbert were scheduled to work the next morning, and when they pulled into the parking lot it was like a real life version of Mad Max, only grimier. The Sav always arrived early to open up, but had wisely waited in his van for reinforcements. The three of them slowly picked their way through the dirty denim, stepping carefully over the red-eyed, drunken fraternity and their stringy-haired ole ladies sprawled out all over the sidewalk. Most were so completely gone that they had forgotten all about the tickets. Broken whiskey bottles glistened in the early morning sunlight, jagged gems among pirates.

Sometime in the night, it was soon discovered, the gang had set fire to one of our trash barrels and the other one had been used as a makeshift toilet. Not that these folks were capable of actually hitting their mark, if you catch my drift. After the ticket fervor died down poor Tom drew the short straw and had to hose away a veritable shit storm. He was not a happy boy.

And thus was invented the Line Number. The glory days of camping out for a concert ticket at our store were over.

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