Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ticket Brokers and eBay Bastards

Bear with me, this is a long one! So much anger, so little time…

Convenience may be the mother of invention, but greed is the mother of all human evils. Over the years, ticket prices for live events have become astronomical. In the 1970s, concert tickets used to be under $10. Today they are in the hundreds, and that’s face value!

In the olden days, to purchase tickets, you would visit the venue’s box office during normal business hours, or on a Saturday. If you really, really wanted them, you’d camp out the night before. Eventually you could purchase tickets by phone using a credit card, or at remote locations, as well as the box office. A small fee per ticket or per order was charged for this convenience. Eventually the ticket mafia was formed and took over all phone ticket sales, as well as all the satellite locations. Yous got to use our machines now, capiche? On the East Coast, the first ticket mafia was Ticketron. Eventually the head of Ticketron was whacked and a bigger, even more evil ticket mafia came in and took over the country. That evil, unregulated cash whore was none other than TicketMaster.

Today, nearly all ticket transactions are done online through TicketMaster, who charges ever-increasing and ridiculous “convenience” charges. If you work for TicketMaster, that makes you a cash whore too. There is nothing redeeming about your company. Please quit. Perhaps you can move to Virginia or the Carolinas and grow tobacco, convincing yourself someone’s gonna do it, why not you?

And if convenience charges aren’t bad enough, ticket brokers and eBay entrepreneurs have now guaranteed that nearly every live event where tickets are sold electronically (concert, play, musical, opera, even sporting events except for maybe single-A minor league baseball) will be sold out within a matter of minutes, often seconds. Of course they are available online within an hour at ticket broker sites and eBay at fair market prices (twice the price or more), eventually quadruple or greater as the date of the event draws nearer.

Tickets have become commodities, and fans the traders (more like victims).

I believe in free enterprise, but not when it prices so many people out of the market. If you can afford $300 tickets, good for you. Most can’t. There has to be a way for people to purchase tickets to events at face value, without a phone bank, mainframe and staffers. Typing in obfuscated (look it up) words at TicketMaster’s site clearly isn’t working.

The only satisfaction I find from this nightmare is when a broker or eBay entrepreneur is stuck with overpriced tickets that they cannot sell and they take a big loss. Serves your greedy ass right. You’re not an entrepreneur or financial genius; you’re an extortionist.

So here’s an idea. My volunteer staffers and I will start booking all available appointments at the local open MRI facilities. When someone calls for an appointment, the receptionist can transfer the call to Medical Appointment Brokers (my new business venture). When we get the call, we’ll just screen on occupation, side businesses and the money-for-nothing factor. If you’re not a broker or eBay scalper, no worries. You get whatever is available for free (no convenience or facility charge). Otherwise, what do you need an MRI for? Concussion? Aneurysm? Tumor? Well, our pricing structure is based on how badly you need the appointment, and if you deserve to live.

Same idea for heart trouble. When MAB gets a demon-spawn ticket broker on the phone, the one-sided conversation would go something like this: “Heart trouble, huh? Boy, that could be serious. Well, as the receptionist told you, all available appointments have been taken, but I’d be happy to broker an appointment for you. For $150 you can see an intern… No, that’s a high school intern. He’s got his magnifying glass and Chemistry set. And he’s a mathlete! For $600, you can see a nurse. Registered?, sure [handgun owner maybe] For $1795 you can see a first-year resident. For $6800 you can see a cardiologist. Board certified? Yeah, that’ll be $12,765. Lab tests? Hold on. I was reading from the red book. Those are prices for standard services. That only includes a stethoscope and a tongue depressor, with a free prostate exam. If you want an EKG or X-Rays, you’re talking premium services. That’s the blue book. Hold on…”

You get the idea.

Remember the day when people would camp out all night and buy up to their eight-ticket limit? People would respect the line. You could make a food or beer run for your new comrades, and leave your lawnchair and sleeping bag in safe hands while strangers held your spot. I was OK with those days, because they were diehard fans buying for themselves and their friends. The most they would ask for is gas money or a sandwich. My friend Frank suggested box offices should hold some actual tickets that people have to purchase in person so it’s possible to get tickets at face value, just like the good old days, even if it’s the day before the event. This may work for a while, but I imagine the brokers will soon have runners (much like drug dealers do), scooping up all the on-site tickets.

The solution? Once again make it illegal (and I don’t know when it actually became legal) to scalp tickets in person, online or through the USPS. If it isn’t so easy for companies to legally scalp at enormous profits, maybe it will diminish. eBay has to fall back in line too. Once people are prevented from ripping other people off just because they got to the tickets first, we can go back to crushing TicketMaster and its ilk. You want to charge me $5 for the lot (not per ticket) for booking my tickets, fine. Anything else is bullshit.

I recently purchased two tickets to see Jerry Seinfeld in Baltimore as a present for my wife’s birthday. Face value, they were $75 each. Then another $15 each for convenience. I got the tickets by winning the fastest fingers contest at the second the tickets went on sale. The event was sold out in less than four minutes. I could have purchased four tickets, and knew I could sell the other two for at least double what I paid, probably higher. But I didn’t. Why not? It’s such a smart, entrepreneurial move. You know it’s a hot commodity, and will sell quickly, at a great inflated value on eBay. Why not? Because I have a soul and a conscience, and I’m not a hypocrite, at least in this one instance.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Oprah’s Moonlighting for $705,000/Hour

Oprah Winfrey has signed a three-year contract with XM Satellite Radio worth $55 million. She has personally committed to only 30 minutes of air time per week (and that’s with Gayle King).

And you know damn well a year doesn’t mean 52 weeks in celebrity contracts, but let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. 52 weeks per year x 3 years = 156 weeks. With only 30 minutes a week, that’s 78 total Oprah broadcast hours. $55,000,000/78 hours = $705,128.21/hour.

Now I know this deal also includes Oprah’s friends, like Bob Greene, Dr. Oz, Gayle King and the rest of the gang, so it’s not really her personal hourly rate – it’s what Harpo Inc. is taking in. And it will have more than 30 minutes of programming per week; probably several hours each day, with rebroadcasts all day long. But if Harpo Inc.’s distribution of funds is like the rest of corporate America, it’s mostly going into the executive’s pockets, Ms. O’s, and not the rest of the friends.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Oprah. I remember when she came to Baltimore in the 1970s on a local magazine program called People Are Talking. She’s quite charming and very generous with her money, and maybe some, most or all of this $55 million is going to charity. But I do have to question the egO. So many one-named stars: Oprah, Cher, Regis, the Donald. Don’t you just want to say: “Hey, get Over yourselves!”

In the Frequently Asked Questions About Oprah on (is it OK that I didn’t capitalize her name here in this one instance?), the answer to FAQ 4 of 5 (Where was Oprah born?), you get the following diatribe: “Oprah has left an indelible mark on the face of television. Coming from humble beginnings in rural Mississippi, she has risen to become one of the most powerful figures in the world. Get the facts about her career, her company, her achievements and her mission here.” Jesus! “Mississippi” would have sufficed. “Kosciusko, Mississippi” if you want to be specific.

And then there’s O, The Oprah Magazine. I’m Ok with her being in print, and she is an icon and a brand and all that, but do you think she might put someone else on the cover besides herself just once? Is that asking too much? Would circulation numbers really plummet? Would readers across America just die? To me, it’s a little Over the top. OK, way Over the top.

Does the grass scream when you cut it?

My first attempt at a philosophical question at the age of 12. Why? Probably because I didn’t feel like cutting the lawn. When I was 12, we had no ride mower and a really, really big yard. Sure I got some killer biceps for a 12-year-old but at what cost? Admittedly, this one is way out there, but what the hell.

At 42, I ask the question again: Does the grass scream when you cut it? Partly philosophical; mostly a dig against vegans. Not because I have a problem with people who respect animal life and prefer to eat healthy. People with that sort of discipline have my utmost admiration. If it’s part of your faith, I mean no offense. If you’re all preachy or judgmental, we got a problem. I embrace the food chain. It’s a part of life. If you can stick with one branch of it, that’s wonderful. I cannot.

And why the term vegan? A vegetarian eats no meat (beef, pork, poultry, seafood), so that leaves mostly fruits and vegetables – seems pretty straightforward. A strict vegetarian consumes no dairy or egg products either, and often uses no animal products or byproducts (like leather). Again, kudos to you fine people. So then a vegan must be an über strict vegetarian. I think it’s really a strict vegetarian, only it sounds cooler, or maybe a little cultish. It definitely gets a quick reaction.

So a large part of the vegan diet is fruit, vegetable or legume. It’s also a respect for life and sparing animals from pain. But how do we really know that plants don’t feel any pain, or have a consciousness? No central nervous system is one argument. But all living things may not need nerves to feel. Or perhaps plants have nerves, just not as we (animals) know them. And there has been evidence that plants react to stress (e.g. trees bending towards the river when a forest fire begins to spread, well before the flames arrive). My point is just because you cannot see or hear a response from the grass, doesn’t mean there isn’t one when you run over it with twin mulching blades.

But, Mike. Grass grows back! Well a starfish will regenerate a severed limb, but I don’t quite imagine it enjoys the experience. My thumbnails will grow back, but I prefer them attached.

Maybe it’s really the pronunciation of the word vegan. It’s commonly pronounced vē∙gun, which is nails on a chalkboard for me. It’s just a derivative of vegetarian, so call it vĕ∙jun and maybe I won’t be so preachy myself. I know you’re expecting a closer that has something to do with steak, or stake. No meat jokes today.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Why I love American Idol

Besides a total guilty pleasure, and the fact it’s reality TV, which is too low brow for most, it’s just right for me. It’s a show people will admit to landing on when flipping through stations. I’m not proud; I schedule it. It’s pure entertainment.

The age range for contestants is 16 to 28; that means most aren’t very mature and there’s lots of drama. Put a camera in front of someone who’s just gotten shot down (often deservedly so) and they dig the hole deeper. Exit speeches from no-talent egomaniacs are great fun. Brilliant!

The auditions take place in major cities across the US. Tens of thousands of hopefuls show up, most on a whim. When you see the interviews, you’ll hear “this is my life’s dream.” Come on: life’s dream? You heard about this two days ago, you’ve never sung a lick in front of anyone, you’re most likely tone deaf, but you’re so self-obsessed you convince yourself that you can be on TV just because you’re you. I say this because I’m totally self-obsessed, and I’ve headed to auditions in New York on a total whim, completely unprepared but convinced there was something special about me that the casting director, or intern, would see in me. They didn't. Yet.

People love to hate Simon Cowell. I love Simon Cowell. He can be mean (which I find entertaining), but usually he’s just honest and direct. If you really aren’t very good, and you don’t find out from anyone with an objective opinion (meaning, not your mom) before you head to the auditions, you get what’s coming to you. And I laugh. Hard.

However, there are also people with true talent. And they have found the courage to finally pursue something big. Waiting for hours in the heat or the rain just for a shot. Face it, most people in their late teens or early 20s are still unsure of themselves. Even with a voice and an ear for music, they've convinced themselves it's impractical. It takes courage to get up in front of people. And getting in front of three celebrity judges, wearing a wireless mic, surrounded by TV cameras, singing a cappella has got to be frightening.

But I root for those with talent, and a shot at something huge. As the show progresses and they weed out the wanna-bes, I really get hooked. I get caught up in the contestants’ lives, and pull for most of them. Some of them are narcissists (who often get put in their place) and others are pure and genuine. The human interest stories abound (music teachers, single parents, former foster children, small-town folks). Once the show gets down to the final 12, they’ve all got a great chance at continuing with a music career regardless of the contest outcome, and they get to work with huge songwriters like Elton John or Barry Manilow. It's nice to see someone do a major song justice, with the songwriter watching along with several million viewers.

At 42, I’m hoping for a Senior American Idol, but I won’t hold my breath. Off you go.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

No One Wants To Hear About Your Kids. Really.

I have a new rule. You don’t talk about your kids and I won’t talk about mine. Why? Because nobody cares about them, not like you do. No one wants to hear about how your kid is doing in school, or sports, or dance class, or Mensa, or the precociousness and judgment training every single, bloody day. Your kids are awesome but even they would be embarrassed by how much you talk about them. Giving them more than what you had is admirablel; living vicariously through them is just sad.

I think the ranting trigger for me is seeing all of those bumper stickers: "My kid is an honor roll student at the school they attend based on their zip+4 and local laws, not by choice." Hey, what if my kid needs tutoring? How do you think they feel when they read that? You're not thinking about them. I know sometimes we put the stickers on our cars because they beg us to, and who can look at a seven-year-old and not just melt and plaster the car with their accolades? But there are plenty of parents who plant the stickers like flags because they really believe their kid is more special than the other kids, and the world should know it. They're competitive - and for what reason? These are the same parents on the sidelines of the kids' sports fields that ruin it for everyone else because they are just way too into it. The type of parents who push their way to the front of a line so their kid can experience whatever event is occurring, ahead of the other kids, without waiting their turn, pretending not to know the semi-straight line of youngsters is meant to be followed, and they usually block the sight line of a dozen toddlers - a lot like aggressive drivers feel the need to be first in all driving situations.

Everyone's kids are special. And they all deserve accolades, and praise, and warmth. Just take it down a notch, and skip the trophies just for playing, because when they grow up and have to go out into the world, maybe everyone won't treat them like they're super-special, or entitled, and they might feel a little resentful. Yes, and maybe they'll find therapy helpful and decide to write a blog, but it's better than "Mommy, Dearest", don't you think?

So talk about your kid when they really deserve a bumper sticker, like:

  • Your son won the lottery and paid off your house. He actually wired the money from a three-day rum fest in Barbados after marrying Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens, Heather Graham and a monkey all in a civil cermony before local authorities caught on, and he only got two of them annulled by Monday.
  • Your daughter designed a comfort-fitting chastity belt, and is paying her way through college with 113 scholarships she was awarded for having the best essays on 113 different subjects, and none of them were about soccer.
  • Your middle-schooler pantsed three kids on the honor roll this week, just because they had it coming.
  • Your baby has the missing ingredient for the AIDS vaccine in her tears, the cure for all forms of cancer in her saliva, and non-narcotic happy juice in her sweat glands that also fades wrinkles. Oh, and she hates beets.

Otherwise, get a hobby and keep the stories to every other day. Problems? Everyone’s got them. Meds? They all take them, some even with prescriptions. Sex? Doesn’t ever happen; kids just say it’s happening on all those questionnaires they’re handed to feel cool. (Humor me on this one. I have to cling to something to get me through the teen years and I'm just not ready to be a grand-pappy).

Hey, you wanna know what my daughter said at breakfast? Didn’t think so.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Instead of “I’m an American,” shouldn’t it be “We’re Americans?”

Just shift the perspective from me to we. Seriously! Boasting about being an American is easy and is totally overdone. But if you aren’t thinking about your fellow countrymen (and women), why say it at all?

By the way, every time I’m cut off when driving, I guarantee there’s an American flag sticker on the back of the offender’s vehicle – this is not what they mean whey they say risking your life for your fellow Americans. These people don’t feel patriotism. They don’t look out for their neighbor; their compatriot. In fact, they go around their neighbor to get just a little further ahead down the road because apparently they’re more American, more important, in more of a hurry, or just more selfish.

The whole idea of nationalism is a sense of community or common consciousness, not bragging rights. Try not to forget that when you’re singing the only Lee Greenwood song that you know.

And unless your ancestors are Native Americans, you’re an immigrant fuck like the rest of us. So lighten up when you meet a foreigner you xenophobic NIMBY because you’re one too, maybe just a few generations removed. And you don’t get to shut the gate behind you just because your whole family’s here now.

Yeah, this opinion will garner all kinds of fans. Hey, my opinion. Feel free to disagree. It’s your right, American or otherwise.

Breaking Up with Friends

Do you have friends with whom you just don’t have anything in common anymore? You know who I mean. Someone who rehashes the same stories every single time you see them because there hasn’t been anything new to talk about since they canceled Cheers. Someone who still teases you about your most embarrassing moment that happened when you were 15. “Dude! Remember that time when you thought you were the only one home. And your sister forgot her keys. And Gina Delrenato came back with her. And you hadn’t locked the door. And you had your mom’s Air Supply album blasting… Hey, everybody. Come here. You gotta hear this!”

What’s up with that? Who would want to constantly be reminded of the worst moment of their adolescent life? Thirty years later?

We need a way to break up with friends. I don’t mean a girlfriend, boyfriend or significant other. I mean a same-gender, nothing-left-in-common, constant-reminder-of-why-you-hated-high school albatross. We need a way to tell these people: Friend, you need to move on. Why do you still call me? I tolerated you in high school. I didn’t even like you; it was more like pity. You are a time warp. You’re looking for someone to hang with at the mall and I’ve got surgery in the morning. You’re still an exemption on your parents’ 1040, and it has no impact on your own taxes. I just don’t think we can see each other anymore. I break with thee. Get a life. A real life.