On the Line

An excerpt from the novel Only Way Free

by Christian Crumlish

One time I remember waiting outside one of those record stores with the ticket franchise in it, before ten o'clock on a Sunday morning, down in Alameda, where I used to think I had a pretty good thing going with this little out of the way record store, but lately there's been more and more people there in the morning, and if you ever want to get your tickets at the same time that some major show with rabid fans like a Led Zeppelin reunion or a temporarily unretired diva then you're guaranteed row Z tickets just because of being diluted by all those other fans. While you're cooling your heels waiting in your little line, no matter how close you are to the front -- except maybe if you're actually first -- all over the Bay Area or the goddam country even people are pulling off those tickets, not to mention the ones the employees illegally run off for themselves before opening the doors at 10:03.

One time I was lucky in a way because they came out at quarter of ten to tell us that the tickets for my show (Dylan at BCT) were going on sale at 11, so the big headbanger lineup could fight it out for places on the 10 o'cock line and I just had to wait an extra hour with the other connoisseurs like myself. Funny thing is, I was dropping by my car regularly to duck down and smoke my pipe, but when 11 finally rolled around and they wanted us to line up inside, I realized I had left my wallet on the passenger seat. I freaked but I ran to my car and got my wallet and ran back into the store flushed fluttered and apologetic. The other guy who had been waiting with me all along (and was a scalper) was already ordering, but I took the second place. Ended up in the tenth row way over to the right. Seats actually weren't bad, but those first or second row seats should have been mine. There are worse things, though, like the BCT balcony.

Anyway, this time there was no special set aside time. There was this one biker type dude (but not really) who was kinda beefy and slightly gray in the beard, curly hair and balding, sorta intellectual glasses clashing with the rest of his image, standing there hands on hips in front of the closed doorways. That scaley scalper guy was there too, wearing the leather jacket he wore (posing as a rock fan? well he did actually seem to care about some music; I suppose this is one way some people get into the music business) and squinting out of a sort of flattened face, something wrong in that guy. And maybe one or two others. They immediately all hit me with the party line, which seems wrapped around the biker guy's paranoid fears that he's going to get shut out. Apparently he spent the night in the car, unmindful of the new lottery system designed to discourage camping out. Now, if over ten people are on line at 10 o'clock, each person on line is given a numbered ticket, and then one number is called. that person becomes the first in line and everyone else follows in the same order as before, wrapping from the last person to the first, as Jesus instructed us.

This guy was seriously afraid of the lottery, precarious as it made his first-on-line position. We all swore allegiance to the idea that he "deserved" to be first on line by virtue of his camping out. Later as he told me his whole life story practically (it wasn't even 9 yet), he let me know that his tickets were being paid for by his friends whose money he was holding for the purpose of making this ticket buy. He was being bribed to get up early on Sunday and wait in line, but he looked like he could use the work.

Problem was, they (the biker and the scalper guy, number two naturally) were asking that if the line got too big, a quorum of us "just walk away" right at ten, and then return after the lottery was preempted. I grunted, not fully assenting to this but not willing to oppose the majority yet.

Meanwhile more people came, some more Dead fans and a bunch of Beastie Boy fans. Most of the (older) Dead crowd had never heard of the Beasties. As usual I could pass between groups and found the rapmetal fans more interesting to talk to. Some of them were from the tattoo subculture and several of them were drawing in little books as was I. This young black guy was taken by the biker/scalper axis as a metalwhatever fan but his WSP baseball cap gave him away to me as a younger 'head. the rap show was general admission so the argument was pressed again on the young'uns to "walk away" just before the lottery. They also -- I could see now that I was on the sidelines -- felt they had to say yes or at least not refuse but they seemed to care less about the rationale and I was not convinced they'd go for it.

At some point there was talk of offering to buy up to the maximum number of tickets on behalf of people later in line. This was shot down for two reasons: It was unfair to people in between, as it slowed down your ticketing, and it could reduce your chances for the best possible seat, as sometimes a single seat or a pair will still be available many rows in front of the first set of four.)

Now began a litany of handwringing, as the biker guy whined about how unfair the new lottery was and with vulgar language decried the arbitrary system. How ironic it was that he was first in line now and that this practically guaranteed he would not be first in the end. When the employees approached after 9:30, the biker guy accosted them with the idea that they should just skip the lottery. The young balding earringed trying-to-be-cool in-a-record-store in-an-office-park manager practically rolled his eyes. To me it was obvious that this was not the way to woo this guy. Was it a class thing? Maybe. The biker type (that's really a misnomer) was gruff, klutzy in his thinking, quick to take offense, somewhat easily mollified.

This biker (not a biker, really) told me he had recently gotten out of jail, an old never dealt with ticket in Nevada, a last minute car trip, a moving violation, maybe DUI -- I forget -- and jail. He acted like he knew it was his own fault. He didn't really make excuses, but he sounded like someone that bad things happened to.

By now it was clear that no one was walking away and more people kept coming as the moment approached. We all remembered who was in front of us and who was behind. I bummed a cigarette from the guy numbered after me. He was buying tickets for the goth show, the Beastie Boys, and the Dead. The record store manager and his assistants came out something like a Renaissance prince and his retinue, handing out the tickets from a roll. We lined up in the order we'd each partially memorized. There were 29 of us.

The number picked was that of the very last person on line. Everyone gasped. What were the odds of that? I quickly grasped how good this was. Now instead of fourth I was fifth. Big deal. The biker was complaining now that this was the worst possible outcome. I tried to sidle up to him to suggest that this was very nearly the best outcome. He was second, not so far to fall really. Number 29 came to the front. He had literally walked up just as we were starting to line up. Isn't America great? He was middle-aged, dorky. Had short '70s-type jogging shorts with piping on them, a cheesy polo shirt, free gas station baseball cap, salt and pepper mustache, horn rimmed glasses. He was overly tall, like a stork. He didn't deserve to be first did he?

Turns out he was in fact on line for the Dead. One ticket, in fact. This made the notbiker nearly apoplectic. While this lame-o was buying his one ticket, thousands of dead tickets would be spitting out of computers all over the state. he'd lose his precious chance at good seats. (The seating area in the venue was relatively small by latterday Dead show standards.) This was an outrage. Then, the manager let in the first two, No. 29 and the nonbiker.

Nos. 3 and 4 tried to keep tabs on what was going on inside. Apparently the notbiker -- I found out just then his name was Dave -- was haranguing the poor weekend deadhead, saying he should take Dave's money and buy him his tickets. Of course he refused.

In the end I got decent tickets, not great. Dave got banned from ever buying tickets at that record store. And I still see the scalper almost every time I make that Sunday morning drive through the tunnel to that office park in Alameda.

Copyright © 1996
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