January 19th — A Memorable Day

Saturday, January 19, 2013 will probably go down in the history of our family. Whether it is actually spoken of again is yet to be determined.

My daughter is a freshman at Butler. For purposes of the story and to protect her reputation, let’s call her “Caroline.” She’s having a wonderful experience there, socially and academically, even if her Verizon phone service on campus is frustrating at times with connections that aren’t made and messages that aren’t delivered or responded to. “C’mon. How bad can it be? You’re just whining,” I have told her several times. It’s a small thing and if you’re going to have something go wrong your freshman year in college, having “poor phone service” be it should be viewed as a blessing.

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The GameDay Bus at Hinkle.

There was never a doubt that we would travel down to visit her and take in a few games over the course of the season. When the schedule was released, I spied the Gonzaga game as one to see. When ESPN announced that they’d bring the College Game Day bus to Hinkle for the first time for that game, it sealed the deal. ON the first day that they were available, tickets were bought and hotel rooms were booked.

We grabbed our tickets and our gear and headed down on Friday afternoon, arriving in Indianapolis just before dinner. Having done the Broad Ripple neighborhood thing for each of our earlier visits, we headed downtown. We parked and walked around on a busy night in the city and found ourselves in front of St. Elmo, a legendary Indianapolis place that I’d last been to about 15 years ago. (It is interesting to note that the real St. Elmo was known as the “patron saint of abdominal pain,” making it among the most interesting choices for a restaurant name that I’ve ever heard.) My wife (for narrative purposes, let’s call her “Midge”) has a couple of friends from Indy and was interested in seeing it, so we trotted in. It was about 7pm and the restaurant was busy. I inquired at the counter and heard that it was a two-hour wait. Under normal circumstances that might not have been too bad, but I had a hungry college student with me as well as our 16-yr old food vacuum with us—let’s call him “John.” So two hours wasn’t going to work out. We kept wandering and made plans to stop in around 5PM on Saturday and try our luck.  Tip-off for the game wasn’t until 9PM on Saturday, so even if we had to wait a couple of hours, it could still work. In the meantime, we had a perfectly awful mean at a place I shouldn’t name following a 30 minute wait.

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Digger, put your shirt back on!

Saturday, Game Day.

The ESPN College GameDay show starts at 10AM Eastern and runs two hours (it switches from ESPN U to ESPN after one hour). The doors to Hinkle were scheduled to open at 8AM. Having planned to be a part of the event for over two months, I didn’t want to miss it. When I heard “Caroline” talking about friends that were going to camp out in line and that she was going to head over at 6AM, I became concerned that our showing up in line as the doors opened might be a problem. I readied “Midge” and “John” for a 6:30 wake-up and out the door by 7:00.

As usual, my genetic link to my mother, a world-class worrier, betrayed me. When we arrived in line at a little after 7, I was the first non-student in line. There were only about 100 kids in line ahead of me. (Now my concern went from “we may not get a good seat” to “the University may get embarrassed on national TV if more people don’t show up.”)

I sent “Midge” and “John” over to a nearby Starbucks for coffee and what Starbucks refers to as “food.” They returned later with tales of getting lost (lost? It’s a 6 block trip?), red lights run, police in the rear view mirror and other weird, 7AM-in-a-city-not-your-own moments.

The doors finally opened and we entered one of college basketball’s cathedrals, and grabbed good seats to begin the two-hour wait for show time. The crowd streamed in at first, then slowed to a trickle. “Caroline” sent a message that she and her friends had failed on the 6AM thing and that they might come over later. Might? I am not above guilt-tripping a kid. “You should really come. This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and a huge day for your school,” I said, though probably without as much attention to punctuation and spelling as that retelling conveys.

As 10AM approached and the atmosphere in the building became electric, I noticed that a kid across the aisle from me in the student section was sitting down. He was wearing one of those drinking helmets, with the can holders over each ear and a straw that connects them to the wearer’s mouth. On closer examination, he was not merely sleeping. He was out. People were trying to rouse him. The Butler University mascot, Hink, tried to wake him. Nothing. Finally as we get to show time, he lives. Apparently woozy, but thankfully conscious.

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C’mon, kid! You’re about to be on ESPN!

It’s tougher than you think to be an enthusiastic prop for 120 minutes. I started getting messages from friends asking whether I was at Butler or if it was possible that I was on television. Yes, it was. My cousin sent me a screen grab, that I have dubbed “Mark is not impressed.” One of the challenges about being in the audience, is that you can’t really watch the show. I’m a fan of the show and as such, I wanted to watch the show. I was having much more fun than it seems. There was no “little red light” on the Steadicam–which is really a  60-pound harness with an elaborate arm that allows the operator to move around as much as he wants, without the jibbidy-jibbidy movements that go along with it–so we didn’t know when we were being filmed, and, since some of the crowd shots were not “live”, but taped and dropped in by the guys in the truck, we didn’t see ourselves on the monitors, either. You can tell by complete lack of any “I’m on national television” hysteria by anyone in the shot that no one knew they were on. This was one case where the “idiot magnet” aspect of a TV camera had no effect. The camera man had stood there so long, that we started discussing the camera, whose legacy goes back to the filming of Rocky and the “running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art” scene. But I digress…

The GameDay guys do 2 hours of live TV without cue cards! Impressive!

The GameDay guys do 2 hours of live TV without cue cards! Impressive!

The show wrapped up and after we got some food, we headed to “Caroline’s” dorm, where we met up with her friends, one of whom had a guest in town who was looking for an extra ticket for the sold-out game. We happened to have one, since our eldest daughter was unable to join us for the weekend.

“What seat numbers do we have? Let’s be smart about which one we give her, since she probably won’t sit with us,” I asked.

“We have 4, 5, 6, and 7,” “Midge” says.

“Let’s give her seat 7,” I replied.

With that “Midge” opened the envelope and peeled the ticket for Row DD, Seat 7 off for her.

After a quick trip to the hotel to clean up, we headed back downtown to St. Elmo. “Midge” and “John” jumped out in front of the restaurant to get our name in while I parked the car. As I’m coming down in the elevator, I get a text message from “John.”

“Four hour wait. Go to Harry & Izzy’s next door.”

I think to myself, “Four hours? At 5PM? That doesn’t seem right. I’ll stop in and see for myself.”

So across Illinois Street I go and into St. Elmo, where the entry area isn’t nearly as filled as it had been the night before at 7PM. I asked one of the three young women behind the desk how long it might be for a table for three. “We’ll sit anywhere, even at those seats at the counter in front of the window,” I tell one of them.

After a look at the computer, she says, “Yeah, we have one for you right now. Go down to the end of the bar and see the hostess and she’ll seat you.”

I have often said, “you never get anything you don’t ask for,” but that phrase hasn’t worked out quite that well for me, well, ever.

“Are you sh***ing me?” I think. I quickly start sending messages to “Midge” and “John” to get them back over to where I was. Seconds pass, then minutes. With each tick of the clock I became more fearful that the hostess would find some error and tell me that she was wrong and that no such table existed. Finally, they walked through the door, bemused and befuddled, right past the hostess that a few minutes ago had told them it was a 240 minute wait. They had already been seated at the other place and were looking at menus when they got up and walked out. A first for “Midge.”

After a little bit of a wait at the hostess stand, we’re led back into a room that had about 10 tables—six of which were empty. They filled up in no time. We were exceptionally lucky and had a very nice meal. As I remembered it the food and the service were great. “John” had a 14-oz bone-in filet that he devoured with a baked potato and about 5 Arnold Palmers. His mother forced a few green beans on him, too.

Aware that the game was a sellout, I was thinking about where I was going to park for the better part of the fifteen minutes it took to get from the restaurant to 49th Street. As we got close, we saw people offering spots for $40. The last game we attended—a preseason affair—we parked on the street a couple blocks from Hinkle. It was clear that wasn’t happening on Saturday. As I passed the arena, I saw a guy holding a sign for $5 parking. Fantastic. We got a good spot, made sure that we could get in and out (I’m not sure exactly why I thought to check that, but I did), and off we went to join the throng.

Upon entering the vestibule at the gate, “Midge” starts to go through her purse-the-size-of-a-3-day-pack to get the tickets. She quickly pulled it out and looked in the envelope to find….nothing. Nothing but advertising materials for Ticketmaster. No tickets. She looked through it again. I looked through it. Nothing. The mind reeled. I went back to the car to see if they’d fallen out of the pockets of her giant coat that she’s lost the belt to twice. Nothing.

At this point, I was thinking that  there were only three places the tickets might have been: at the hotel in the clothes she had worn earlier in the day; in “Caroline’s” room, where she peeled one off for the friend of a friend; or lost. I knew that I could get to the hotel in about 15 minutes, but I would need to get going quickly if that were to happen and still make the tip-off. It was already 7:15. I thought that if I could get “John” to hook up with “Caroline,” who was already inside Hinkle, to get her room key, he could check there while I covered the hotel.

I type out a message to him. No response.

I call both “John” and “Midge.” Nothing.

Over and over. No replies. Then I start to get “message delivery failures.”

I think, “Oh sweet mother of God. THIS is what “Caroline” was complaining about! How am I going to manage this without being able to communicate with anyone? We’re doomed!” I have a vague recollection of some obscenities being thrown into that thought, too.

Somehow I managed to get one message through to “John” about going to the dorm room. Then got a call from a 317 number that I didn’t recognize. It was “Midge” who had borrowed a phone from someone who “John” later described as a “hobo,” a word that I was surprised he knew. I was able to tell her that I was heading to the hotel. She had talked to people at the gate and apparently figuring something out wasn’t out of the question if we had some proof that we at one point had the tickets.

After setting the 2013 Indiana land speed record, I arrived at the hotel. By this time, I was so upset that I decided that if we were unable to get into the game, I wouldn’t want to stay overnight and we’d drive straight home. So as I was looking for the tickets, I was also packing up the room. Finding nothing—the pants she wore earlier in the day lacked pockets (and therefore failed one of the principal functions of “pants” in my book, but whatever)—I loaded up the car and set back off for Hinkle, tying my earlier speed record in the process.

As I approached the Hinkle parking lot, another dread seeps into my head. “Where to park NOW?” It’s now about 20 minutes before tip and what little parking there was 20 minutes ago is long gone. I decide to take my St. Elmo good luck one step further.

I rolled down my window and explained my predicament to a BUPD officer.

“I’m here from Chicago with my family and my wife has misplaced the tickets and I need to either talk to the ticket people about getting in or pick my family up, but I can’t reach them on the phone. Is there some place I can put this thing for while I get this worked out?”

“Sure. Put it right there between these squad cars,” said the officer.

“Are you sh***ing me?” I think (again). Wow. Ok. Yes. This is happening.

Back to the gate to find “Midge,” still visibly upset at our circumstance but even more upset that now there’s no sign of  “John.” She had no idea that he’d hooked up with “Caroline” and headed toward the dorm, which was a little over half a mile away from the arena.

Running. Sprinting. In non-athletic shoes. Less than thirty minutes after polishing off a 14-oz. steak, baked potato and a few green beans, not to mention the non-energy drinks. I called him and actually got through the first time (turns out Hinkle is among the places where cell service goes to die—the further you are away from the building, the better the service).

After a quick discussion with the gate attendants, telling them our story and showing them the Ticketmaster email traffic, they inexplicably agree to let us in, with a warning that they’re aware of counterfeit tickets for the game, so there might be people in the seats we bought. I hugged the woman at the gate. (I’m sorry for entering your personal space, ma’am. It was an emotional moment.)

So…we had inexplicably talked our way into the biggest game of the year. “Ok. This is still! happening,” I think.

Having scouted the arena before buying the tickets, I had a really good idea where our assigned seats were. When we arrived at the assigned spot, the bleachers that constituted seats 1-5 were wide open. After a little scooching over, some more room was made and the three of us actually got to sit down right at the opening tip.

Whew. Unbelievable. We had made it.

A couple arrived for seats 2 and 3 and I moved over a little bit more, and then another guy showed up for seat 1, and at that point, there wasn’t any further over we could move. I suspect that he got about half a seat.

At the first TV time-out, I stood up to stretch a little and was startled by a guy yelling obscenities behind me. As I turned around, I realize that he was actually yelling at me! He had come from somewhere else in the section in defense of the three people on my right. He was quite exercised that he had purchased those seats and that I hadn’t moved over far enough to let them sit in the well-spaced seats that Hinkle has. (Butler should take lessons from The Big House at the University of Michigan and paint those numbers closer together. It may mean that they have to get thinner fans, but they’ll sell the tickets, trust me.) After telling him that we’re in our assigned seats and we’ve moved over as far as we can, he repeatedly threatened to “get the cops over here if you don’t move over.” This went on for longer than I wanted it to (an understatement, since I wanted it to have never started), when a guy in the row behind us invited the yeller to in fact, go get the cops because “there’s nothing else he (meaning me) can do; he can’t move over any more.” There was more to it than that. “John” reported later that the yeller’s neck veins were popping and that he was worried that the guy might take a swing at me (which I had considered and would have viewed as a positive development–an assault and battery charge against Mr. Mad would have earned me some (more) sympathy from the Hinkle administrators). As the time out ended, we sat back down and schooched over even more and the yeller continued to scream that I’m not sitting in my seat number 4, but that I’m in “3 and a half.” After his three guests sit back down and assured him the situation was ok, he unexpectedly retreated to his seat, somewhere behind us and to the left, never to be heard from again.

Had the police actually come down, I’m sure it would have ended badly for someone, maybe even us. We knew we owned 4, 5, 6, and 7. I suspected that there were people in that row that didn’t belong–maybe even us. Unfortunately, we didn’t have anything other than a receipt to prove that we once owned the spots. Mercifully, it didn’t come to that.

Whew. Having dodged a(nother) bullet, we tried to watch some basketball.

At the second TV time out a(nother) strange thing happened. A man walked down our aisle and told me that I was in his seat.

“How is that possible?” I ask.

“I’ve got the ticket,” he said, pulling out a ticket bearing Row DD, Seat 4.

“Where’d you get that?” I asked, knowing that a) I owned that seat for more than 2 months and b) the game was completely sold out.

He said, “I just bought it downstairs.”

Knowing that this was either one of our tickets that had been picked up and scalped or a counterfeit, I showed him our receipt saying that we, in fact owned the seats and that he was out of luck.

He turned and walked away.

I could not believe it. I must be more persuasive than I thought.

At this point I was thinking, “What could possibly happen next?” It had become pretty clear that we wouldn’t be able to leave our seats for any reason, squatter’s rights being what they are.  So we stayed and enjoyed a great game and the wonderful atmosphere at Hinkle.

Oh, and Butler won the game on an improbable turnover and basket with 0.2 seconds to go that sent the place into bedlam.IMG_0851

For us, it was just one more chaotic moment in a chaotic, eventful and memorable day.

Let us never speak of (some of ) it again.

Post Script: I realize that by telling this tale I’m running the risk of steps being taken at Hinkle Fieldhouse and in the parking lot to never let something like this happen again. And I certainly don’t want any of the ticket takers or police guys to get in trouble for helping us out in our time of distress. I am forever thankful to those wonderful people who were willing to both take my word for things and to try to accommodate us as best they could. I know that other places would not have been so accommodating or helpful. Knowing that there are still people willing to do things like this is one of the reasons that we’re so happy to have entrusted our daughter to the Butler family.

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