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

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Indeed, tried-and-true scalping methods such as "knowing a guy" or bribing a store clerk with $100 to print out some tickets for you -- which is known as "icing" in the industry -- are definitely easier.

Johnson says he doesn't participate in bribery or insider trading, and at 11:00 a.m. it doesn't appear to matter. Five months of planning have paid dividends. The lines outside Ticketmaster locations are hopeless, the phones are jammed, and his runners aren't getting much from the Internet anymore. There's nothing left to buy. All that's left is selling and trading to boost markup. He'll do it through a nascent international market of Web sites, the top of the list being eBay and Craigslist. Tickets are already going for $1,000 a seat in some sections.

Industry observers believe that on average 10 percent of event tickets are scalped every year, with rates climbing as high as 20 or 30 percent at performances with the popularity of a U2 concert. In the case of the band's forthcoming two-night stand in San Jose, that means as many as 10,000 out of 34,000 tickets may ultimately be scalped.

There just aren't enough superbands, Johnson laments.

After a wait of twenty minutes, the Sledge finds what he is looking for online. He gets in, enters his payment information, and scores two upper-deck seats for $100 plus service fees. Combined with two lucky tickets he scored on Tuesday, Bloody Tuesday -- plus the pull of his fellow bandmembers -- it'll be enough for the whole band and friends to go.

"I used my star power," he jokes. "No, it was just luck and perseverance. I think a lot of people got put off by the server errors, getting hung up on the word page. I knew if I kept hitting page refresh and typing in the word, I'd punch through."

The Sledge isn't surprised to learn that he was competing with scalper bots for a place online. "Wherever they try to put up a barrier, someone is going to be one step ahead of them, trying to crack it," he says.

Will he scalp his extra tickets on eBay, as an entire cottage industry's worth of ticket speculators has already started doing?

"I've decided against it," he says. "It would be just horrible ticket karma, considering my affiliation with the band. If I do get rid of them, it'll be for face value on Craigslist or eBay."

The only thing now left for the Sledge to do is plan a special performance of Zoostation the night of the concert.

Meanwhile, back at Tower Records, people start peeling off toward home, flashing terrible looks at Horsman, especially since a scalper we'll call Max walked in. A local regular who specializes in Warfield and Fillmore tickets, Max is an elderly African-American gentleman who has cultivated a relationship with Horsman over the months. On days like this, she expects to see him along with other regular ticket buyers.

"How bad is it?" he asks Horsman.

"It's bad," she says.

"You're not letting that guy cut in front, are you?" blurts a fan in line.

"No," responds Horsman, who looks back toward her monitor. Max doesn't even bother going to the end of the line. He walks off, while Horsman tries to pull six individual seats from throughout the HP Pavilion and sell them together in a package. "You won't be able to sit together, but at least you'll get in," she tells the customer.

The system continues to drag, and a new message pops up on the screen: "The machine's internal temperature is reaching a critical level."

Horsman has never seen this message before. She keeps pecking at her keyboard and searching for individual tickets behind the stage, or wherever.

"If I were you, I'd go to a cybercafe and try to log on there," she shouts toward the back of the line. More people groan and walk off, dejected.

By 11:05 a.m., Horsman smells smoke. Her computer overheats and shuts itself down. Truthfully, she's kind of glad it's over. Tickets are just sold out: more than 30,000 in 45 minutes. Fans never even had a shot at floor seats.

"This was horrible," she tells another clerk.

But aside from the hassle, it's been no real skin off her back. She feels her customers' pain, but also has to concede, "All the employees here hate U2."


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