Roboscalper 

The real reason you couldn't score U2 tickets? Turns out some of the buyers at Ticketmaster.com weren't human.

Page 2 of 7

Irishmen call her names in thick accents under their breath. Some people threaten her. She keeps her head down and focuses on the unresponsive computer as people in the angry crowd stomp their feet, look at their watches, call friends on cell phones, and bitch like burned addicts.

"I should've called in sick," she thinks.


Meanwhile, Michael Horne, also known as the Sledge, is at home in Oakland in his pajamas. He plays guitar in Northern California's most popular U2 tribute band, Zoostation.

The Sledge doesn't simply love U2. He makes money off the band as a successful knock-off brand. Business has picked up with the latest U2 album and forthcoming tour, and shows clutter his weekend calendar. In less than two months from today's ticket-line clusterfuck, Zoostation will headline this year's San Francisco St. Patrick's Day parade.

The Sledge has the good sense to know that waiting in line for tickets is for complete rubes. You're competing against scalpers and fans at 3,300 other Ticketmaster locations, not to mention thousands more calling in on Ticketmaster's nineteen international phone lines.

That's why he has decided to try his luck online at Ticketmaster.com via his new home DSL hookup. Normally, the Sledge sleeps in on Sunday mornings after a long show the night before, but the band didn't play last night, so at 10:10 a.m. he is wide awake and intent on scoring a few seats.

Aside from sporting the Edge's pasty-faced skin and goatee, little about the pajama-clad man or his surroundings would indicate that the Sledge is such an ardent fan of U2. He keeps his guitar and other memorabilia locked up downstairs, and wears the Edge's signature skull cap only onstage.

The Sledge sits in his living room sipping coffee, cradling a wireless laptop, and typing in odd, garbled words that appear in a picture on the Ticketmaster Web site. His computer displays a scratched-up assortment of letters that appear to spell the word "bungle."

"Bungle," the Sledge types, and then hits the "enter" key.

But no dice; instead of returning with tickets, the Web site serves up a server error instead. As the employee of a computer company by day, the Sledge knows enough to hit his browser's "refresh" button instead of restarting the process from scratch. Another distressed word appears.

"Gekko," he types, once again followed by "enter." Another server error.

"Frugel." Nothing.

"Marsen." Nada.

Ticketmaster says that making customers retype the word in the picture helps it ensure that users are who they say they are. But today it seems to be keeping everyone out. Horne's wife is in another room doing the same thing.

"Anything yet?" he asks, as he keeps typing.

"Guttle."

"Barfish."

"Thinky."

"Nope," his wife shouts.

Suddenly, the Sledge's screen refreshes, then he's in. He shouts to his wife and tries to click his way toward the prize.

But now the computer screen says the wait is ten minutes. The Sledge just stares. He buys tickets online all the time and the system has never been this slow.

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