The fans queuing in front of Tower Records on this sunny Sunday morning have yet to learn that they will not be getting tickets to the two U2 shows in San Jose April 9 and 10.
If you plotted them on a continuum of who is about to get screwed most in today's international ticket buy, these people would be at the far left end of the spectrum -- the complete rubes. A line of them began forming by 7 a.m. on Market Street in San Francisco's Castro District. Dozens of large, white, distinctly Irish-looking men coalesced out of the dawn. These were not the pierced Castro denizens in fitted jeans Tower Records clerk Elisa Horsman normally sees.
Horsman made sure to drink moderately the night before, rise early, and show up on time for the biggest ticket sale in the two years she has worked at Tower. People have been coming in for days asking about today's sale -- what tickets would cost, which seats are best -- and she arrives by 9:45 to prep the store for its 10:00 opening.
A fifty-foot-long line of thirtysomething males already snakes down the block. Dozens of would-be-concertgoers bounce in place, mumbling to one another and staring at the skinny, indie-rock-styled clerk in her early twenties. Horsman pounds on the door for her manager to let her in as she deflects the crowd's anxious questions.
"When are you going to open up?"
"When do the tickets go on sale?"
"You're not going to let us in early?"
Horsman can't recall when the line has ever been this unruly. All across the Bay Area, it's much the same. Area ticket clerks say the three most popular locations for buying tickets in person -- Oakland's Paramount Theatre, the Emeryville Tower Records, and its sister store here in the Castro -- all feature long, grumpy lines. People punch their cell phones, calling girlfriends and boyfriends at remote Ticketmaster centers in Richmond and Concord. Some friends travel as far away as Davis to beat the crowds.
"Have they opened the store yet?" one girl asks her friend on the phone. "I know, I know! Not here either! Not till ten!"
The crowd's anxiety increases as fans trade stories of the botched fan-club presale on the prior Tuesday. "Tuesday, Bloody Tuesday," people are calling it. Specially reserved seats for members of U2's Propaganda fan club blew out online in minutes. Two million hits a second flooded Ticketmaster's servers. Scalpers immediately sold fan-club tickets at triple their face value. Rumors suggest that scalpers bought hundreds of fan-club memberships under different names to resell the coveted general admission floor seats.
At 9:50 a.m. on Market Street, fifty pairs of eyes stare through tinted storefront glass at Horsman as she boots up the dedicated Ticketmaster computer. She is the Ticketmaster guru, in charge of training new clerks on a machine most employees simply fear. A mouseless computer with an arcane visual interface and tons of jargon, it takes at least four hours, plus follow-up training, to become proficient. So most of them just punt the job to Horsman.
"Things are already running slowly," she worries. With just minutes left until tickets go on sale, she cannot log on to Ticketmaster's main computers.
Horsman knows this is the most hotly anticipated concert of 2005. U2 tours maybe once every five years, and fans aren't sure how long the band will keep doing so. As far as the sickly American concert industry is concerned, U2 is the only remaining superband -- the only band that can sell out every massive stadium it intends to play moments after announcing its tour dates.
Shows like this aren't just popular with members of the fan club. They're pure gold for the scalpers, too, and the clerk notices a few regulars in line with their typical seating lists and charts. Older and less enthusiastic than other customers, and usually waiting alone, these patrons are all business.
The store manager unlocks the front door at 10:00 and the first fans shuffle toward Horsman. Ticketmaster limits floor seats to two tickets per order, at $150 per ticket. Upper-deck seats go for $50 apiece and can be bought in blocks of eight, she tells them. The customers ask for the floor, and after a system delay of a few minutes, Horsman can't believe what she pulls up.
Nothing. The entire floor is gone.
The fans ask for the upper deck, anything. Horsman hits the "tab" and "enter" buttons, trying to pull down whatever she can from the slow computer. Nothing happens.
She manages to lock in a pair of tickets behind the stage. These fans will have to look at Bono's ass for two hours. She tries once again to do better, but it's all she's getting.
The customers buy the crap tickets anyway, taking them as the next person walks up. It's ten minutes into the sale and Horsman has managed to serve only one customer.
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