Saturday, April 17, 2010

Admitting One's Obsession Over Ticket Stubs

Last Monday, I went to the Cubs' home opener at Wrigley Field. To the best of my ever dissipating recollection, it was the first time I had attended an Opening Day of any major league team, despite being a lifelong Cubs fan and also a longtime fan of the White Sox.

My friend Paolo graciously treated me to the game, it was lots of fun hanging out with him, we had enjoyable conversations throughout the game with the fans on both sides of us, the ballpark food tasted good and though a bit overcast and not real warm, the weather was much better than it could have been. We got all the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day including full-team introductions, and I took lots of pictures for a Photo Essay that you can see here. As for the game itself, the Cubs hit three home runs, jumped out to an 8-1 lead, and despite some shaky moments, held on to win 9-5.

It was a great day, good game and thoroughly enjoyable experience. Except for one thing:

I didn't really have a ticket.

I know how that sounds and sure, I wrote it that way for a wee bit of drama, but it's not that I wasn't really in the ballpark or that I snuck in or that writing this blog has earned me a press pass or that I have signed up to be a ballpark vendor once again.

But in my mind, what I said isn't a lie. Although I did have an official means of entry to Wrigley Field on April 9, 2010, I didn't "really have a ticket." Instead what I had is what you see at right; a black & white printout of something approximating what a ticket might look like.

I know this might sound silly, especially to members of the Millennial generation, who not only spend an average of  nearly 4 hours per week texting (see report), but have likely never used a printed phone book, rarely see actual newspapers (except perhaps for the RedEye) and doubtlessly never knew the thrill of bringing home Pink Floyd's The Wall (or any other record) as a double-LP, complete with cover art, accompanying graphics, lyrics and liner notes. 

Things change, I get it. 

And while I still get and enjoy physical newspapers, magazines, books, CDs and DVDs, I understand, appreciate and often utilize the convenience of their electronic equivalents. And though somewhat wistful about film photography, I went completely digital years ago and can't deny how much it has saved me in money & time (for film and processing) and space (for photo storage).

But when it comes to tickets--which according to Wikipedia's rather sparse entry have been used for event admission dating back to ancient Greece--I have an emotional attachment to the good, old fashioned, printed-on-small-rectangular-cardstock variety. Not coincidentally, I have saved and scrapbooked nearly every ticket stub from just about every ballgame, concert, play and other ticketed event (except for movies) I have attended dating back to my teenage years.

This ticket collection comprises well over 1,000 tickets saved in five binders, with a binder now being sufficiently filled every 2-3 years.

Taking my obsession even further, when I attend a free or general admission performance for which no actual ticket is given, I usually create my own ticket to scrapbook.

So suffice it to say that although Ticketmaster--about whom I could write oodles conveying considerable appreciation and even greater disdain, but won't here--has been offering their TicketFast print-at-home option for several years now, I have never chosen it over receiving regular "hard" tickets by standard mail. And hopefully never will have to.

Although I appreciate the convenience TicketFast--now replicated by Ticketmaster's few competitors--can offer to those without any sentimental attachment to hard tickets, I also avoid the option because, confoundingly, it adds an extra $2.50 per order on top of all of Ticketmaster's other usury fees. I imagine it costs Ticketmaster less to email me an image than the manpower, ticket paper, envelope and postage involved in mailing me the tickets, so why do they charge more for this option?

Anyway, as I was explaining, the ticket I had for the Cubs opener was of the print-at-home variety. And as Paolo bought them aftermarket from someone over the Internet who mailed him two pieces of paper printed in black & white, the seemingly "next best option" of printing the pseudo ticket in color and scrapbooking it wasn't a possibility either.

Ironically, Paolo is the one person I know who not only attends more events than I do, but is just as insistent about getting--and fastidious about saving--actual tickets.

With his likely 1,500-2,000 ticket stubs preserved in boxes and arranged, at least in part, "autobiographically" (a la John Cusack's record collection in High Fidelity), Paolo eloquently expresses his affinity for hard tickets.

"A ticket is something real, tangible, a physical bookmark of what I've done and where I've been. I save all my stubs and periodically look through them, which is like a time machine. Each ticket transports me back to the show or game it was from and prompts me to remember who I went with."

Since meeting two years ago, Paolo and I have attended numerous events of all varieties together, and no matter who's done the purchasing, we've always gotten hard tickets. But in availing himself of tickets for the long sold out Cubs opener being offered online for just $30 each, Paolo was at the mercy of the seller, a guy based in San Francisco no less. While I would've assumed the guy could have e-mailed Paolo the print-at-home message from, so we could have at least printed them in color, he simply mailed Paolo two B/W prints. (Ironically, the only time I ever prefer virtual tickets is to get "electronic delivery" when buying on StubHub, rather than pay exorbitant shipping costs. But even with virtual tickets, the guy chose to mail them to Paolo, rather than e-mail.)

Given my delight at being at the game and gratitude for Paolo's generosity, I couldn't really grouse too much, but we did commiserate about the lack of actual tickets to add to our collections. Which for me dates back to the first concert I attended without my parents:

Sammy Hagar at the UIC Pavilion on March 12, 1983. 

For the record, I think the first concert I ever attended was Pablo Cruise on the Main Stage at ChicagoFest on August 1, 1980, with my whole family. I don't have a ticket stub, but I doubt one even existed as I believe the main stage headliner was included in admission to the festival.

On June 17, 1981, I saw my first concert by choice, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at the Rosemont Horizon (now officially Allstate Arena). This was a "free show" sponsored by The Loop (WLUP), but tickets were distributed so you knew where to sit. My dad went with me, which I'll never forget, but alas I did not keep the ticket stub.

But for Sammy Hagar, the first concert I went to with a friend, I cared enough to save the stub, as I have for over 450 concerts since. Ironically, a couple of my most cherished concert stubs are among the few on which the ink has almost completely faded away.

The one at left, from the only time I saw Nirvana--on October 25, 1993, a show I still recall as one of the best I've ever seen, despite Kurt complaining about how much the Aragon's sound system sucked, not playing Smells Like Teen Spirit and calling it "the shittiest show on the tour" in a post-show interview with Rolling Stone's David Fricke--isn't completely illegible.

But much worse is the one at right, from one of the 38 times I've seen Bruce Springsteen, but the first time I traveled to New York or New Jersey to see him. Somewhat amazingly, I bought a ticket for the June 17, 2000 Madison Square Garden show over the phone from my home in the Chicago suburbs, when it and 9 other shows of the stand went on sale, and wound up in the 10th row, dead center. The experience of being that close, in MSG all all places, is still palpable in my memory, which in this case is holding up better than the ticket ink.

Although I had been to several Cubs games and a handful of White Sox games prior to 1983, I never saved the stubs prior to doing so for concerts. So this Cubs ticket from July 27, 1983--just $3.00 for a bleacher seat!--is the earliest in my collection.
I also have a White Sox ticket from 1983--their Winning Ugly season--and among 4 Cubs stubs (plus a hand-written one for a game I attended but lost the proof) from 1984 is one reminding me that on July 17, I sat in a 7th row box seat before going to my first Springsteen concert that evening.

Unlike Paolo, I haven't been to any World Series games--or Super Bowls, World Cups or Olympics for that matter--but know that when it comes to  playoff games, the tickets themselves are pretty cryptic for they are almost always printed and sold before the actual date or opposing team is known.

So although this is one of my most cherished-yet-depressing ticket stubs, it doesn't really tell you that it is for the infamous Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, played on October 14 and often referred to as the Bartman game.

Similarly, Paolo's most treasured stub reveals only that it is for the St. Louis Cardinals World Series Home Game #2 in 2004, with the fact that his beloved Red Sox won their first championship in 86 years on October 27 etched merely in his memory.

This ticket stub is also special for less than obvious reasons. No, it's not that I dated the girl pictured on it, and while eternally grateful that my friends Jordan & Erin invited me to a bone-chillingly cold White Sox game on April 18, 2007, the ticket's significance goes far beyond those I attended with.

For on that frigid night, against the Texas Rangers, Mark Buehrle pitched his first no-hitter and the only professional no-hitter I've ever seen in person.

Regrettably, I was not at Buehrle's perfect game, which took place on a Thursday afternoon last July against Tampa Bay, but I was at the Sox-Rays game the night before.

I've also been to at least one game at 37 major league baseball stadiums, present and past, and have a ticket stub from each of them, except for San Francisco's Candlestick Park, where I attended another very cold game with Jordan & Erin in July 1992. I think it was July 8. I'm not sure why I don't have the stub, but I guess I wasn't quite as anal about saving sports stubs during my time living in Los Angeles between 1990-92, as I also don't have a stub from a Bulls-Clippers game I attended in November 1991, nor all the stubs from Dodgers-Cubs games I went to in LA.

The ticket stub at right is not only in French, it is from a game of a team that no longer exists, the Montreal Expos. Perhaps not monumental, but looking at it now also reminds me that I almost didn't get to Montreal because of a blackout across much of Canada. I had to fly into Burlington, Vermont and take a bus up, getting there in time to miss just one song of a Radiohead concert for which I had a ticket. See, these things tell stories, even beyond themselves.

So great is my attachment to ticket stubs, and the ingrained memories, that I usually make my own tickets if the event I attended didn't have any because it was free (such as the Stevie Wonder concert at Taste of Chicago, left) or used a ticketless cover charge as means of entry (as with New York's famed Village Vanguard, below).
Several of Chicago's smaller theaters don't always distribute hard tickets, instead accepting online or phone reservations, then giving out a show program for proof of entry. And I once had to submit my show ticket at a downtown parking garage in order to get the discounted parking rate; I haven't parked there since.

Speaking of theater tickets, my all-time favorite show is The Producers, which I first saw in its pre-Broadway Chicago run in February 2001. I know no one cares but me, but my ticket stub is proof that I saw the 14th ever public performance of a musical that has now been done umpteen thousand times. As my Producers Ticket Montage attests, I also saw the show on Broadway, in Los Angeles, London, on tour and at the regional theatre-level.

With another of my hobbies--though now largely dormant--being autograph collecting, I have been able to put the two together at times, getting signatures of some of my favorite artists on ticket stubs of events I attended.

I have upwards of 20 signed stubs, from personal favorites like Buddy Guy, Paul Westerberg and Liz Phair (left), but also from big stars like Billy Crystal and Denzel Washington (above), who I asked upon Broadway stage door exits.

Recently, my 10-year-old niece was in a local children's production of Alice in Wonderland and I had her sign the ticket stub afterwards, which has found its place into my ticket album.

Certainly, I realize this ticket obsession has much to do with personal sentimentality, which understandably in some regards--economics, environmental concerns and the thwarting of scalpers--is being usurped by automation and pragmatism.

Paolo told me that his sister, who is a season ticket holder for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, doesn't even receive any actual tickets. Instead, she gets a credit card-sized pass that is scanned upon entry to each game. While this may be more practical in that she doesn't have to keep track of tickets to 10 games, but rather just carry a small card, not only does it do away with the notion of sacrosanct ticket stubs, but I imagine allowing friends or clients to attend certain games in her stead is a lot more complicated than it used to be.

Similarly, the last time I saw Springsteen, in November 2009 in Milwaukee, I was able to purchase through Ticketmaster one of the best seats I've ever had for him. But I had no option but to accept a Paperless Ticket. Instead of receiving a paper ticket for this event, at the arena I had to present my credit card and a photo ID, upon which I got the small printout at left.

As undoubtedly happens with any in-demand performer, The Boss' last tour was dogged by ticket fiascos, with Ticketmaster funneling purchasers to its resale subsidiary in a blatant bait & switch ploy, and the scammers behind the recently indicted Wiseguy Tickets were able to buy half of the choicest seats for Springsteen shows at Giants Stadium.

So I applaud both Bruce and Milwaukee's Bradley Center for trying to ensure as many real fans as possible were able to purchase tickets--especially the prime ones--for the face value price. But as such a fan, who had steadfastly saved my stubs from 37 previous Springsteen shows, wasn't I at least entitled to something showing the venue name?

Knowing that the thing above wasn't going to look right in my ticket scrapbook, I asked some folks after the show if maybe someone wasn't so attached to their hard ticket. One nice guy did give me his, which is now secure in my album, but it obviously doesn't represent the seat in which I sat.

Needless to say, I hope Ticketmaster, TicketsNow and all the rest never completely eradicate the option of getting hard tickets. For while I may be a kook, I'm not the only one.

Right now, this unused ticket from a Beatles show at Sox Park in 1965 is selling for $591 on eBay. There is also an Elvis Presley ticket stub listed at $1,795.

I haven't ever bought, or otherwise acquired, ticket stubs for events I didn't actually attend,
though I did save the one at left despite not getting into the game. But that's because the ticket for which I paid $80 to see Michael Jordan's last game in New York, in March 2003, turned out to be a fake.

Fortunately, that's the only time that's happened.

But Paolo explained to me how one of his most cherished ticket stubs is for a concert he was too young to attend. It was for The Who, with The Clash opening, at Shea Stadium in New York in October 1982. His sister, who instilled in Paolo all sorts of good musical tastes, went to it and subsequently gave Paolo her ticket.

The stub at right isn't it, but is one I can buy on eBay for $13. Mmmm.

And lest you think I'm the only psychotic making my own tickets, I came across this website that exists to allow people to create their own professional-looking tickets and stubs, not to use or sell, but simply for safekeeping purposes. (I used it to make the fake ticket at the top of this post.)

So how did I get this way? I'm not entirely certain, but I do know that I was introduced to the world with my very own ticket.

That's right, when I was born, my parents knew someone who made birth announcements that looked like event tickets (and yes, hard as it is to believe if you see me now, but I was only 4 lbs., 5 oz. at birth). And I certainly hope nobody who received one has thrown it away.

Which brings me back to the Cubs' opener. I really wanted a real ticket, but the people to my left were an older couple from Baton Rouge, in Chicago from the first-time, and keeping score. So I knew even if they had hard tickets, they probably weren't giving them up. But Paolo, and less so I, had been chatting the whole game with a guy to his right, who was there with his Mom.

I asked if he had an attachment to his ticket, and not surprisingly as he seemed a pretty knowledgeable fan, he did. I was out of luck. But a few minutes later, he gave me his Mom's ticket, saying she didn't care about saving it. And Paolo, once again graciously, let me have it.

So here it is, to be printed and saved. In living color. Like any ticket should.


Unknown said...

Wow…I just found this blog post and it spoke to me lol. I'm 24 and I am (almost) at the same level of obsession as you. I only never have printed a ticket to an event I didn't have a ticket for, I just silently cry that I have no ticket to cherish of the event lol.

My stuff doesn't go back as far as yours cause I was just being born when you started collecting but it dates back to when I was about 12 or 13('97/'98) when I started keeping movie tickets lol. I have about 5 pages full (no spaces) of tickets from the last decade and more and that's just for the movies. I also of course save tickets from anywhere that requires admission and gives a ticket (sporting events, Broadway shows, concerts etc.) It's just something that I love to do that started a long time ago that I just can't stop.

One of the tickets that I think cemented this hobby of mine was after 9/11...I have a child’s ticket that I got when I went to the top of the WTC observation deck...I was like 12 years old…yet I kept that thing just cause it was a ticket and I wanted to always have it, no other reason, cause I lived right next to Manhattan and saw the towers my whole life everyday. And I still have that ticket 10 years after 9/11 and 14 years after I was at the top one summer day.

Like you I hope 'hard' tickets never go away...they serve a purpose and can be cherished keepsakes. I avoid buying tickets from places like stubhub cause I want real tickets, not a piece of printer paper, to my Yankee game.

Unknown said...

I run a blog called Puts stories to stubs. I think you'd be a great contributor. Check it out and get back to me -

Fan us on Facebook

Thanks Matt

Stacey said...

I found your blog after searching for "Bartman game ticket stub", because I have one. It is so awesome that you're even more of a ticket collector than I am- mine go back to high school too and I just turned 40.

I live in Chicago too, so I wonder if we've been to some of the same shows and/or games.

Dave said...

Thanks for sharing your mutually afflicted obsession. I may be a little worse than you in the fact that I matte and frame each of mine with a photo from the concert and cover the walls of my man cave with them. I only have about 70 - 80 and am missing approximately 5.

There is a cool web site I use callled It's a great place to share concerts that you attended with others that may have attended the same show. I'm on there as Dave

Thanks again for sharing.

Anonymous said...

The problem with Ticketmaster stubs fading seems to me to lie in the fact that no actual ink is used. The paper seems to be heat-affected (as anyone who has attempted to laminate them in a machine will sorely attest). It looks like they run the paper through a printer that uses LIGHT to 'burn' the text into the stock. Hence there is no way to preserve them. There is no ink to fade away or to flake off so no form of lamination will surfice. I have not as of yet been able to keep them from fading. Even a darkened room.
Thanks, Ticketmaster for your care and concern! It tells us just where your head is at.

Anonymous said...

A pet peeve of mine is ticket takers who will do not give the ticket stub back to the customer.
This has happened to me more than once. They always say they are supposed to keep the ticket.
Also some times they will give the give the wrong end of the ticket back.
I guess they think the customer will pass it on to someone who will use it to get in free.