Today I purchased tickets online for a couple of touring acts soon to be appearing at the House of Blues. For me, this is still an infrequent life event… When I was younger, concert tickets were somehow simultaneously a true splurge and something that I would budget carefully for; now it’s a question of whether or not I’ll have the time to go to the show or if I’m able to make plans that far in advance (life’s just more complicated). And these days I tend to go to see local bands playing in bars or nightclubs instead of going to see big shows — it’s the more flexible option, especially when one lives in New Orleans.
It surprised me that today’s transaction was oddly anti-climactic and distinctly lacking. It made me think about how things change over time and how, occasionally, experiences can be short-changed in favor of efficiency.
I realized that I actually sort of miss the ritual of days past, when one would stand in line at dawn at Tower Records or wherever on a Saturday morning, waiting for the tickets to go on sale. It was never boring! (I can’t say the same about how we purchase tickets now, obsessively refreshing the browser’s window repeatedly as we wait.)
For me, buying tickets in the days before the Internet meant getting up way-too-early, dressing for comfort and the weather, buying a large cup of convenience store coffee, visit the cash machine, then going to wait in line and making friends with the people ahead of and behind me as needed — sometimes I’d even be lucky enough to be the first person in line!
(Frequently I’d get an extra cup of coffee so that I could make an “instant friend” to hold my place for a few minutes’ time during the hours of waiting if needed. Or I’d take coffee orders and make a run to the nearest open place as more people arrived.)
More often than not, whoever was in front of me would agree to purchase an extra ticket for me (that’s why having cash mattered), running our two requests as one transaction (which could be crucial when a much-anticipated show could sell out in mere minutes), or I’d do the same for the people behind me if I was first in line — we’d help each other on the spot. The camaraderie and courtesy became infectious.
(Best spontaneous line party experience? Waiting to get tickets for any Cheap Trick show — singing, fun, and laughter were guaranteed!)
Purchasing tickets was also a more democratic experience in those days. There weren’t pre-sale codes only available to a select few or special access early-bird opportunities for “preferred customers.” Your success in procuring a ticket to the desired event was based solely on either showing up early enough to get a good spot in line or being lucky to get through to Ticketmaster if you opted to order by phone instead. The only advantage one could exercise depended upon cooperation — not which flavor of credit card happened to be in one’s wallet or if one had access to an iThing-only app.
(And if I’d chosen instead to buy my tickets today at the venue’s window? I would’ve had to wait an additional two hours after the time when tickets went on sale online for that opportunity — there’d have been no one working the window until noon.)
All of that said, it’s not the process I miss as much as the experience of interacting with the other people who were there because they also enjoyed the same band/artist: the low-level humming excitement, the concert stories shared, how people would smile as they walked away from the ticket window, and sometimes how a few of us would converge upon a diner for breakfast after as new friendships were formed.
Now it’s automated, isolated, solitary, and perfunctory… a chore instead of an adventure. Check that off of today’s “Things To Do” list and move on.
(Even if we still had to queue up, it’d probably not be the same kind of experience — because everyone would likely be paying more attention to their smartphones or stay resolutely plugged into their iPods instead of noticing and conversing with the people around them. Until someone needed to go find a restroom… there’s still no app for that!)
One of my best days ever started with my waiting in line to buy a ticket for a show at the same just-opened House of Blues in New Orleans almost 20 years ago. I’d bounced out of bed and dressed expressly for comfort — yoga pants, a long-sleeved cropped waffle shirt, sandals. My hair was morning-disheveled in a good way and I was fresh-faced, having paused only long enough to wash the sleep from my eyes and brush my teeth before rocketing out of the house. I was passing the time reading a Tom Robbins novel and drinking my coffee, chatting with the people around me intermittently. I was happy, still slightly sleepy, un-self-conscious, and cheerfully excited.
A guy I’d seen around the French Quarter every now and again for a couple of years had been hired as part of the security staff for the venue — he was there that morning to keep the line orderly. We didn’t have many friends in common, nor did we frequent the same bars or hangouts; I’d admired him in passing and mostly from a distance (although we had, in fact, spoken briefly a few times). It seemed to be a one-sided interest and I was okay with that. But that morning, while we were in the same place for a few hours at the same time and for the same reason, he noticed me.
I’d been reading and, for whatever reason, I glanced up and saw him looking at me. I smiled reflexively. He looked startled as if he’d been physically shocked for a second or two, sort of jumped back a bit as if he’d been hit by something, dropped his walkie-talkie and picked it up, and finally grinned sheepishly. Then he walked over and introduced himself, said “hello,” and showed me the new crack in the walkie-talkie’s display screen.
I remember thinking, “What took you so long?”
(Although I was very much involved with someone else at that time, it was the beginning of a friendship that I still appreciate and a stolen moment in my life that I’ll never forget. In an alternate universe, I’ve no doubt that it would have been the start of one hell of a love affair.)
I strongly suspect that there’s zero chance of something similar ever happening while purchasing tickets via the ether and pixels — this convenience robs us of such opportunities to connect with each other. I have yet to hear of anyone having a shot at falling in love, if only just a little bit, while hitting refresh and waiting to complete a transaction.
There’s a world of difference between the magic of the Internet and that of making simple human connections. I’m grateful for the memories of what I experienced during those hours spent waiting with strangers who shared a common interest — it was never “lost time.”