Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Feeling I Forgot

By Pauly
New York City

Tickets for the concert were going for $1,000 and even more. One cute crunchy chick held up a sign, "I'll give you the backdoor, if you get me in the frontdoor."

Outside the buzzing Hampton Coliseum, a thick bald guy who looked like Michael Clarke Duncan fanned out five or six tickets. They were bunk tickets, of course. Fugazzis. A disheveled wookie snatched one up. The irate scalper pulled out a knife and chased after the kid who darted into the dense crowd.

Out in the parking lot, one desperate fan in search of a ticket was bribed by an undercover cop with an confiscated ticket.

"I'll give you the ticket if you tell me where's the molly."

During the weeks leading up to the Phish reunion concerts, different music message boards were bombarded with dozens and dozens of bad beat stories from fans ripped off by brokers. Some crooks outright scammed fans, while a handful of legit brokerage sites went busto when they underestimated the overwhelming demand for tickets and could not deliver as promised. One shyster from Telluride received death threats (from supposedly from Obama-voting, Buddhist, bong-toking, vegan-eating yoga instructors) after fans discovered that he scammed them out of $50,000. He stole their money and used it to fund trips to the Superbowl and NBA all star game with his wife and kids and even posted pictures on the internet.

For the first time in almost five years, the psychedelic circus was back on the road. 75,000 to 100,000 fans from as far away as Japan and South Africa traveled to a small town in Virginia to see Phish, a band from Vermont play for the first time since their breakup in the summer of 2004. The band picked the Mothership (an apt nickname for the Hampton Coliseum - a magically venue where I once saw Jerry Garcia band play in the early 1990s when I was a teenager) as the spot for the reunion.

My buddy the Joker flew in from Denver with his Colorado crew, while Change100 and I flew from L.A. to New York City, then rented a car and drove to Virginia for the three reunion shows. I embarked on that lengthy journey to watch a 40-something guy in a dress play a vacuum for 16,000 frenzied fans who landed a golden ticket.

One guy got arrested on his way to the show and had to sell his tickets for bail money. There where whispers of outright prostitution for tickets. I wondered if the girl who offered anal sex got into the show? Or did she get a humiliating bad beat and hobble away with a fake ticket?

Prices were absurdly astronomical, especially in these harsh economic times. Phish set their price tag at $50. But the ticket brokers and their evil bots gobbled up most of the tickets. Real fans were fucked. I paid a hefty price but it was a bargain for what some other people shelled out. Plus I booked a cheap hotel room the night before the reunion announcement last October. I got a tip from a reader who was a friend of someone in the band's organization. I was in London at the time and quickly booked a hotel. Apparently the rumor was out because several hotels were already sold out. In the ensuing days after the reunion announcement, room prices drastically rose along with flights in and out of the area. Other hard-hit industries saw an opportunity to cash in on a horde of wasted and starved souls willing to spend money on a once in a lifetime opportunity. At one point, Hooters ran out of wings because they couldn't keep up with the influx of fans... many of whom did not have a ticket or only had a ticket to one of the three shows.

And the locals were compensated for their Southern hospitality. Waitresses at Waffle House and cab drivers were tipped with various forms of herbal refreshments. Hippies understood the tenants of trade. Their bartering skills were top notch and they didn't need to rely upon the financial system and paper money in their sub-culture.

The Joker's cabbie was very excited for the influx of Phisheads. His cash tips were the best in years and he loved the "green" donations from his passengers. Of course, with the circus in town, there was plenty of opportunity for the locals to score exotic contraband from the neo-hippies. One 60 year old waitress at Denny's routinely asked her customers where she could score some mushrooms.

There were a few heads wandering around the lobby of our hotel room when we checked in. Someone had a batch of dank marijuana on them because it stunk of the elevator. Change100 and I waited for the elevator and when it opened up, a woman and a man (non-Phisheads which I referred to as civilians) stepped out and joked that, "The elevator smells like a skunk."

I smiled and nodded.

"Just wait 24 hours when the entire hotel smells like a coffeeshop in Amsterdam," said Change100.

One woman in her late 50s encountered a couple of fans the next morning at the elevator. The kids apologized about the noise.

"Naw, you kids didn't keep me up last night. But I'll tell you what, y'all did keep me high as a Georgia pine!" she said with a beaming smile.

The bottom feeders came out of the woodwork like the scalpers and drug dealers. Not to mention everyone else who tried to cash in on the frenzy. Some ushers were offered up to $1,000 to let people inside. A couple of people bought fake ticket from scalpers just so they could have a chance to slip a couple of hundred bucks underneath the ticket and bribe their way into the show.

One guy pushing a baby stroller offered to sell me molly and doses. His kid was fast asleep and I wasn't going to judge the guy at all. I mean, he had an excellent cover. How many tour dads would be slinging doses in the lot? But shit, times are tough these days. Phish tour gave everyone the opportunity to earn income in creative and non-conventional ways.

The cops were cool enough to tolerate the potheads. They were a lot friendlier than the meth heads that they gotta chase down every night or dealing with the drunken melees from military guys from the nearby bases. However, a lot of people gambled a little too much and got caught. According to published reports, the police in Hampton seized over $1.2 million in drugs from over 200 arrests. That did not include the surrounding towns like Newport News and Norfolk who busted fans doing illegal activities in their room.

As my Waffle House waitress told me, "Phish brought in over $5 million to the local economy, not to mention all the fines from people thrown into jail."

You can get away with only so much... before the law decided that you flew your freak flag a little too high.

There were some hilarious scenes, like the undercover cop who looked like a soccer mom that tried to score drugs from people wandering by a bunch of undercover cop cars. That sting did not net too many potheads.

The nitrous tanks made a comeback. Hippie crack. The DEA raided one van and confiscated 75 tanks. There were several hotel rooms within walking distance to the Mothership which became havens for entrepreneurs who sold balloons filled with nitrous for $5. You could negotiate 3 for $10, if you were savvy enough. After the local SWAT busted a few rooms on the first night, prices sharply rose to $10 per balloon. Wasted wookies stumbled around with balloons for three days during the non-stop party, as they waited for the hotels to serve their free continental breakfast at 6am, so they could scam a free meal.

The locals hit the parking lots looking to sell t-shirts and other items. There were a swarm of little black kids all over the lot hustling for a buck by selling stickers. It was almost like Hampton's version of Slumdog Millionaire with all these kids darting in and out of the crowd of hippies hawking different items. Some of the kids had small pants with small pockets. One kid sold so many stickers that his wad of cash was spilling out of his pockets. A couple of bills fell out and a wookie jumped out of the crowd and grabbed the kids money. He didn't give it back but other people in the crowd noticed and threatened to kick his ass if he didn't give the kid back his money. The busted wookie sheepishly returned the money that he stole.

"That's not cool," said the sticker kid.

"I'm happy this weekend is over," said one hotel porter who cleaned up an elevator on Monday morning after someone took a shit in there. "These people are animals."

One of our friends shit his pants trying to bum rush the door with a fake ticket on Saturday. He crashed in my room on Saturday night and quietly asked me if he could take a shower when we got back from the show.

Yeah, it was an interesting weekend but nothing that I had not experienced before. That used to be my life before I got into poker. It wasn't uncommon to wake up and find three or four people crashed out on my floor and one of them trying to pay me back in the form of liquid sunshine. These days, I'm a little older and went to the circus for the sheer enjoyment of the music and to reunite with some old friends. I really missed the music, and more importantly, I missed the person inside of me who used to love following around one of my favorite bands.

* * * * *

There's another back story to the weekend in Hampton. Since tickets were so expensive, I had been on a mission since last October to win enough money to cover the cost of the entire trip. I got off to a hot start when I was in Amsterdam and took a couple of hits towards the end of last year. I posted a decent run in early 2009 including a victory at the Beverly Hills homegame which pushed me very close to my goal.

The band was well known for mixing up their concerts (in three nights they played over 70 songs without a single repeat), so several friends of mine gambled on the songs in different pools. One of the guys from South Africa ran a nightly pool. The Joker won Saturday night's pool. I didn't do so hot.

I also had plenty of heads up action with G-Rob. We were gambling on the opening song, the second set opener, and the encore. Befoe the shows, we would draft songs back and forth via text messages.

When the dust settled, G-Rob edged me out. The big moment? When he called Fluffhead to open the reunion concert. I laughed at him when he picked that song. To put things in perspective, the last time Phish played that song was in Las Vegas on 9/29/2000 at the Thomas and Mack Center. I happened to be at that concert. Phish took a two year hiatus and returned to the circuit for two years. During that stretch, they never played the song despite the many pleas from their fans to play it. An air of contempt flourished around that song and the band refused to play it. I figured that it would be one of the last songs that they played. Sure enough, I was wrong. The band had a change of heart and embraced the fans with a definite crowd pleaser. Nice catch, G-Rob.

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker at All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

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