Hello to all,
Ok, I’m the first to admit it. We’ve been working too much lately. Maybe we were ready for something spontaneous. Something fun.
Last Saturday we attended Jeff (our director of finance & operations) & Molli’s wedding in Two Rivers, WI. Of course, most of the people from our company who live in the Midwest were there to join in the festivities.
You know you’re working too much when your entire staff gathers round and “encourages” you to take some time off and do something fun.
Clay (one of our project leads) and Gina Rehm were there, and Gina, seizing upon the theme of doing something fun, came up with the idea of checking out the Packers/Bears game the following day. I didn’t realize the Pack was at home, much less playing Da Bears. Green Bay, being about 25 minutes from Two Rivers, was definitely within striking distance. Hmmm.
After an appropriate amount of “suggesting” by assorted members of the staff, Steph and I decided to change our flight plans and drive up with Clay and Gina and see if we could come up with some tickets, and failing that, hang out in the parking lot along with the world renowned masters of tailgating, the Packer fans of Green Bay.
The wedding reception had the typical effects of friends’ wedding receptions, so we all got a later start than we’d hoped, but we made it up to the Stadium by around 11am for the 3:15pm game. Our relatively early arrival garnered us a parking spot fairly close in to the stadium’s East side. The lot was already half filled with all manner of vehicles, each adorned with flagpoles and signs and surrounded by grills, tables, boom-boxes, TV’s and every type of Packer paraphernalia you can imagine.
Once we got parked, Clay and I set out for the West side of the stadium, where one of our clients, Nancy Fictum, had assured us we’d find people selling tickets.
Nancy is highly regarded by our company for two reasons. First, she brings home-baked goodies for our teams whenever we have meetings at her site. Second, Nancy and her husband, Mike, have two season tickets in the end zone at Lambeau Field, thus making them among the select 60,000 or so of the luckiest people on the planet, at least to every other Packer fan in the world. You see, the stadium has been sold out for decades, and every seat is a season ticket. There’s currently a waiting list of over 50,000 names to get a season ticket. The tickets can only be handed down within a family, but even with that restriction, there’s a relative handful that come available every year. At the current rate, they’ll work through the backlog sometime in 3021. So, as you can see, she belongs to a very select fraternity, one that we were confident would have the secret we needed, i.e. where to buy four tickets on game day.
But not just any game day. A Bear’s game day. The day when thousands of die hard (these days, there is no other kind…) Bears fans stream North to the land of frozen tundra, most carrying signs reading “I Need Tickets.” Tickets that can only be purchased from the Packer faithful. Adoring worshipers that bleed green and gold. Lombardi acolytes that all sport one common sticker. A sticker that reads “The Bears Still Suck.”
Obviously, the competition would be fierce. Prices would be high. Supply would be low. And letting it slip that I’m a Bears fan would probably not help.
But first, we had to find the sellers.
At the wedding, Nancy had assured us that as they entered the stadium for every home game, there were always fans along the West side of the stadium selling tickets. We figured this would be easy. Work our way to the West side, score some tickets, cruise inside, and the four of us would enjoy our first ever visit to the shrine of Pro Football, Lambeau Field. The axis upon which Titletown turns. The epicenter of Packerdom. The center of the Green and Gold universe, as it were. We were suitably humble.
We were also armed, as Nancy even gave us her home number, just in case we needed directions, a place to park, or the Packers Fan Guild Secret Hand Signals that would show that we were OK to sell tickets to, even if we weren’t wearing a cheese head, tattooed with a life size Vince Lombardi head on our chests, had any major body part painted in Green or Gold, wearing a Green or Gold wig/mask/helmet/hat/foundation garment or decorated with a “The Bears Still Suck” sticker. Yet.
Upon rounding the South end of the stadium, we were greeted by a mostly empty West parking lot. There were a few vehicles, some grills, some ladies working the Packers Wives Food Drive donation stands and a lot of wandering Bears fans carrying signs that all read “I Need Tickets.”
We were undaunted. Quickly prioritizing our activities, we set out for beer.
We knew that tickets were all well and good, but a parking lot vigil outside the stadium, watching the game over someone’s shoulder on a TV mounted in the back of a pickup, with no beer, would truly be a sad, tragic Sunday afternoon.
First, we hit the K-Mart to get a cooler. The upside: they still had a cooler with wheels. The downside: they were sold out of stadium cushions.
The cooler was a necessity to survive the potential scenario in which we might get shut out of tickets. The stadium cushions were a necessity to ensure that my marriage survived the afternoon. You see, Lambeau Field has no seats. It only has bleachers. 60,000 human spaces worth of bleachers. With no seatbacks. My loving wife, Steph, a.k.a. “the trooper,” was sick, so we all felt that some way to increase her comfort on the bleachers over the long afternoon would be a small down payment for her enduring a live football game that did not involve her beloved Redskins or Chargers while her head felt like it was going to explode with every roar of the crowd or drunken bellow from the discerning Packer fan behind her.
Clay took a half mile walk to the grocery store to purchase the beer while I secured some more supplies from K-Mart and emptied a few more ATMs in the neighborhood.
We had already heard lurid tales of the asking prices in the actual, “legal” ticket scalping area, over on the East side of the stadium, between the Packer hall of fame and the Don Hutson center. “They’re asking ONE HUNDRED FIFTY DOLLARS A TICKET!,” one Bears fan exclaimed. “Why, I’ll watch it in a bar before I’ll pay that,” he proclaimed. “And besides,” he added, “most of the fun is out here in the parking lot, anyway!”
Despite the dark foreboding of these grim prices, we soldiered on.
In a flash of good fortune, we secured seat cushions at a gas station.
Thus ensuring my marital bliss for at least one more afternoon, we dropped the cooler and cushions with Gina and Steph and waded against the human tide flowing into the stadium parking lot. Like salmon returning to spawn we clawed our way against the torrent of humanity. Finally we broke through to the curb, and we stared across the street to The Valley Of the Piranhas.
A small knot of ticket scalpers awaited us. You could tell them by the badges they wore, their aura of total awareness and their casual but sharp demeanor. They reminded me of the locals around a poker table when the tourists walk in.
Our plan was to ascertain the prices, then settle in for the 90 minute wait for kickoff and enjoy the slide in prices as game time approached.
“I need Four Together!” I proclaimed as we walked up.
“I’ve got Four, 35 yard line,” one particularly hard looking type proclaimed.
“How much,” I countered, in my best ‘I spent 12 years on the mean streets of Chicago and you’ve got nothing on me’ voice.
“Two Twenty Five,” he replied. I sought no quarter. He gave none.
“Too much, I’ll wait,” I replied, looking him straight in the eye. You cannot show fear. They can smell the fear.
“Four here,” another piped up. “End zone, Buck Fifty Five.”
“Who’s got Four?” I replied, my eyes locked with this new contender, my reply reflecting my disdain for his offering.
“Four here. Skybox,” a young one, standing on the curb chimed in. “Two Seventy Five,” he added, with less than the usual ring of certainty and bravado.
“Too much,” I said simply.
“I need Four Together,” I broadcast again.
There was no reply.
The rest of the scalpers were down to singles and doubles, and even they were getting thin.
Clay and I exchanged a glance. Perhaps those guys parked near us with the three couches, the large grill and 35” TV would let us hang out with them for the afternoon. We were confident they’d let the girls sit there, anyway...
Just then, the scalpers moved as one. There was a disturbance in the force.
Two bicycle cops had pulled up alongside the kid on the curb. Clay had somehow found a way to get immediately next to the kid’s shoulder. One cop in front, one cop behind, Clay alongside, if not an accomplice, then at a minimum a material witness.
A conversation ensued. I caught broken phrases. Nothing more than a few sentence fragments. A noun here and there, occasionally a verb, a rare adjective.
The nouns began to resonate.
Then the verbs. Always powerful.
And at last, the key adjective:
I found a way to work myself over to Clay’s port beam.
The kid was swaying. Obviously not a pro, he was flustered, looking for a way out, sweating his very freedom.
“… and if you sell for more than face value, or if you leave this area and do it, I have to take you and the purchaser” the cop was repeating.
There was blood in the water.
The Piranha began to circle for the kill. At the center of this universe were the two cops, the kid, Clay and myself. Around us a vortex began to form of steely eyed scalpers. Their motion became hypnotic, like the dance of the Cobra. Nature was taking her course, you could smell the eminent end of this pretender in the air. He was going to be culled from the herd.
“But, but, I have to be careful about who I let up there,” the kid sputtered.
The nostrils of the six closest scalpers flared. This would go down as the greatest kill of the season, perhaps of all time. “The Day We Got Skyboxes For Face Value.” You could almost hear the legend begin to form in the minds of the circling carnivores. In the late season games, when the artic air frosted their eyebrows and they gathered around the 55 gallon drums burning scrap wood, this tale of conquest would warm them better than the shots of brandy they shared. “Catered food, booze & beer. The desert cart. Incredible view. All for FACE VALUE,” one would shout. “A $30,000 suite, and no waiting for the bathrooms, even for the girls, for FACE VALUE!” another would respond. “We took that kid down, for FACE VALUE,” they would laugh, the clouds from their breath expanding up into the dark winter sky, swirling into the blackness with the sparks and smoke.
They could feel it coming. It was inevitable.
The cops had the kid on the ropes. He was going down for the count.
The piranhas’ teeth began to bare. The words, smooth, caring and comforting flowed out like hot maple syrup over pancakes on a cold winter morning.
“I’ll take those off of your hands.”
“How many do you need to get rid of?”
“We know how to do this, we’ll keep you out of trouble…”
The scalpers alternated between knowing glances to their pack-mates and puppy-dog-eyed looks of sincerity to the kid.
His eyes were glazed. He radiated fear, then panic, then slid into the smooth acceptance of the inevitable. Like settling into the warmth of drowning, he wrapped his arms around his fate, dropped his shoulders and began to scan the faces to select his executioner. Who would he decide was worthy of his sacrifice?
The scalpers voices rose, becoming a cacophony of offers, assurances and financial assault.
It was then that I moved in next to him.
“I’ve got four people here on a corporate event,” I opened. “These are good, corporate types. There are no concerns about their behavior, I can assure you.”
The kid looked at me like I was Marlin Perkins riding in on a Land Rover, reaching to pull his Wildebeest body away from the snapping jaws of the circling hyenas.
“Really, corporate types?” he asked.
“Yes, good solid people up here on a corporate event,” I replied.
His eyes tried to focus. He drew in half a breath, short and quick.
“I’ll give you face for four.” I went for the close.
The cops were less than two feet away, monitoring every word.
The kid looked into my eyes, they were direct pipelines into his tortured soul. He started to glance at the cops, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. He looked back. Our eyes met again.
I nodded slightly, never losing his eyes. “It will be OK,” was my silent message.
He handed over four.
I gave him the cash.
Face value. $56. Each.
Exit, stage left.
Timing, as they say, is everything…
PS - Bears 27, Packers 24