Finite Glories: Fighting for Taylor Tickets
Wednesday, November 15 4:59PM PST.
I hold my phone to the screen of my MacBook.
“Can you see, Mousie?”
“What am I looking at, papa? I don’t see anything. Fix your camera!”
Oh. Her view is still of my nostrils. I haven’t reversed the iPhone camera: I am horrible at FaceTime. Besides, I am too excited.
“I got the tickets!” I am beside myself in triumph and relief, and eager for affirmation that I have done well.
A pause, then a gasp, then a shriek then, in a single breath: “Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you oh my God I have to call Tess bye thank you!”
Like some 15 million Americans, I spent much of Wednesday on my computer, desperate to buy tickets to a Taylor Swift concert. Unless you’ve been under a boulder, or just blissfully unconnected to the culture, the biggest pop star of the 21st century is going on tour next year. Taylor will play 52 shows over five months, culminating with a five-night August stand at SoFi stadium, home of my beloved Los Angeles Rams and a three-mile walk from my Hawthorne apartment.
Fifty-two shows, even in the largest football stadiums, are nowhere near enough to meet the colossal demand to see Swift. As you have likely read, the Verified Fan presale on Wednesday was an utter debacle. Ticketmaster, which holds a near-monopoly on concert and sports tickets across the United States, had developed a scheme to ensure that the first crack at tickets went only to the most devoted fans. The problem, as everyone who pays even passing attention could have predicted, is that the number of “devoted fans” of Taylor is in the many millions. The presale overwhelmed Ticketmaster: their servers crashed, swamped by bots and by frantic, hopeful and utterly determined Swifties.
I have always liked Swift, a fan since her first single (“Tim McGraw”) came out the summer my father died, more than 16 years -- and half Taylor’s -- lifetime ago. I’ve stuck with her through her various evolutions, and I honor her preternatural drive and songwriting skill. (I am rather disappointed that lately, she has emerged as a critic of age gap relationships.) I am no music expert, however, and her oeuvre is already subject to such intense scrutiny that I have nothing to add to the cottage industry of Swiftian criticism. It’s enough to enjoy her.
Heloise, who is nearly 14, loves Taylor. My daughter’s room, like the rooms of many millions of teen girls, is a shrine to Swift. Heloise asks for Taylor merchandise for Christmas and birthdays; her vinyl collection of Taylor’s discography lacks only two records. She analyzes lyrics and writes them in notebooks and in letters to her friends who share her devotion.
It's been a rough year for my daughter. Her privacy matters: I won’t share details here. Eighth grade is rarely easy, and my brave, beautiful and impetuous first-born has had a rough go of it, and that’s the sum of what I can share. Heloise has also been beside herself with hope and anxiety about seeing Taylor when she comes to Los Angeles, and she charged me with getting tickets for her and for Tess, my daughter’s equally Swift-besotted best friend.
Eira and I have been separated for nine years, since Heloise was four and her brother one. We co-parent reasonably well, better than most. Blessedly, we share the same basic intuitions about raising children. We never wanted to push either child towards a straitjacketed notion of success. We’re not trying to get the little ones into the Ivies – we’re trying to raise kind, independent, resilient, resourceful, well-mannered people. Put simply, we’re not interested in competing with other parents to get the highest-status resources for our children. Heloise and David can thrive anywhere they find themselves. We care more about their human relations skills than their math scores, though it would be nice if those were decent. Beyond that, they will tell us who they are.
It’s one thing to dismiss competition as a manifestation of grubby petit bourgeois status-seeking. It’s another to have your daughter, who doesn’t smile as much as she did before the dark curtain of adolescence descended, tell you that nothing in the world matters more to her than going to see Taylor Swift with her best friend. You want to see her smile. You will do absolutely anything, pay any price, to bring her joy.
It took me seven hours to secure the tickets. The website crashed a few times, and I was knocked to the back of the queue several times. I had a Verified Fan presale code, but by midday Wednesday, Twitter told me that many who had the same had had no luck, some even getting to the point of selecting tickets before TicketMaster’s overwhelmed system kicked them out. The disappointment and anger online ratcheted my own anxiety higher. I imagined my daughter trying to calm herself in her classroom or on the phone with a friend, trying to reassure herself that somehow, someway, her bumbling, fumbling ne’er-do-well dad would come through.
As I waited through the tense afternoon, refreshing my screen after each crash, I ran numbers in my head. I heard tickets on the secondary markets would go for several thousand dollars each. Right now, I’ve got the best freelance writing gig I’ve ever had, but there are no guarantees of more, and the generous advance I got on this last ghostwriting assignment is already almost all gone. I decided I could take on one more shift at Trader Joe’s, pick up a little basic editing work, and go back to delivering laundry on Sunday nights if that could get my child into SoFi next August.
Tess’s father is also doing the same thing. We text each other, agreeing that we will each try to get tickets, increasing our chances – whoever grabs two first will sell one to the other dad. At 4:30, Ticketmaster lets Don into the seat selection screen, while I am still stuck in the queue; I urge him to buy whatever he can, and I will pay him anything. A moment later, he texts: “It went down. I’m at the back of the line again.”
At 4:53, after many hours of patient waiting, the purchase window opens on my Mac. The layout is confusing; on the diagram of SoFi stadium, so many seats already sold or blacked out. I see “VIP available” on the right side of the screen, and I click on the link. These are expensive seats, more than I wanted to commit, two weeks’ worth of wages at the store, and far more than Don had said he would pay.
It doesn’t matter. He who hesitates is lost. I want my child to be happy. I want it for her, and for Tess, and I want it for me, because I want to be the hero instead of the disappointment. I’ve transferred money from savings into the checking account to cover a debit card purchase this large, but it is still an agonizing 40 seconds after I click “Confirm Purchase,” as I wait for the inevitable crash of the sort that has already thwarted so many fervent hopes. Somehow, someway, the crash doesn’t come, and after this interminable wait, the confirmation page appears. I have tickets. I did what so many could not do, not out of virtue or skill but sheer dumb luck that the connection held for me when it dropped for so many millions of others.
I FaceTime my daughter. When she hangs up to shriek the good news to Tess, I text Don. I tell him I got great seats, but I do not ask for half of what I paid. I know he is on a budget, and I will not saddle him with the cost of my eagerness to be the hero; I quote him the maximum amount he said he was willing to pay. He thanks me profusely, and within seconds, Venmoes the sum. He doesn’t read this Substack, and I can transfer the ticket without displaying the face value. Next August, his daughter’s dream will also come true, and I am nearly as pleased for a fellow anxious single father as I am for myself.
I have spent the last 48 hours struggling with what I can only describe as survivor’s guilt. Why was I so lucky to get tickets when so many others weren’t? What of all the other fathers, charged with doing One Important Thing, who have had to deliver terrible and crushing news to their daughters? The resale market is exorbitant, and though some have the means to pay thousands for mediocre seats, millions more do not. How do I cope with this mix of relief and guilt?
Taylor Swift’s tour is a brutal reminder of finite resources. Capitalism is very good at increasing the supply of things that are in demand until millions are satisfied, but Miss Swift is just one 32-year-old woman. She could perform a sold-out stadium show every single night for three consecutive years and still, there would not be enough tickets to go around. She could sell the tickets on her own site without any TicketMaster markup, but the problem of scarcity would be the same regardless of the platform. Unless the girl clones herself, and until her popularity fades, millions of people who want to see her will be emptyhanded and disappointed. That’s not a failure of markets, or of ticket companies. Americans assume that we can always produce more of whatever is needed: oil, housing, good jobs, marriageable men; if these are scarce, it is a problem that politicians and economists and businesspeople should fix.
You can design a better Ticketmaster platform. You will not be able to get every fan a seat to see Swift. There is no conceivable alternative to this frantic, heartbreaking competition for a scarce and precious commodity. There is nothing for loving fathers to do but to do their absolute wild best to get what they can for their children.
If I weren’t a father, I could walk away from the ridiculous spectacle of hunching over a laptop for seven hours in order to spend a fortune for a ticket to one woman’s show. Parenthood doesn’t allow me to rise above the indignity and absurdity of praying and sweating over a concert. Fatherhood throws me into the scrum, forcing me to do the thing I hate most – compete with others. I hate that I feel as if I climbed over bodies to reach a brass ring, but I would have hated myself still more if I hadn’t tried.
I was raised to believe that nothing became a man more than his ability to handle disappointment. I was raised to ‘jump the net’ – the tradition in tennis of the loser leaping over the boundary to congratulate the winner. A gentleman jumps the net when he congratulates the candidate who beat him in the student body election; he jumps the net when he watches the love of his life marry another man. He shakes the groom’s hand warmly. Any cad can be gracious in victory; only the well-bred can be utterly charming when dreams are dashed.
Those are the manners of the childless man. I can find great satisfaction in my own disappointment, but I’ll be damned if I’ll mythologize my daughter’s heartbreak. Wednesday, I was no gentleman. Wednesday, I was a wild-eyed papa bear, ruthless (if guilt-ridden) and determined. I won the prize, and any shame I feel in victory is outweighed by the unfathomable relief and pride in bringing joy to a daughter for whom that emotion seems all too elusive.