Where: New York, New York
Place: Mid-Summer Night Swing at Lincoln Center
Address: Midsummer Night Swing
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
70 Lincoln Center Plaza, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10023
Midsummer Night Swing Hotline: 212.875.5766
Customer Service: 212.875.5456, Monday through Friday, 9a.m. - 5p.m.
Reviewer: Robert Abrams
By Robert Abrams
8/4/01, but concerning 7/28/01,
and also concerning 4/11/70, but only indirectly.
This is a story of a successful failure. Okay, it is not in the same league as the Apollo XIII mission, but a successful failure is a successful failure.
I decided, somewhat on the spur of the moment, to go to Mid-Summer Night Swing at Lincoln Center, by myself. I had called a friend who I sometimes do spur of the moment stuff with, but she was busy spurring somewhere else. It was a perfect evening, weather-wise, and it was the last such event of the Summer, and I had nothing else to do, so I decided to go to Lincoln Center. I said that already, didn't I? Well, I did. They hold this event outside, by the way. I hadn't mentioned that already. Which is why it being such a pleasant evening figured into my decision to go.
I got there, in a cab, around 6:30 PM. Maybe slightly later. I figured I was in time for the lesson, but I wasn't. I mean, I was in time for the lesson, but there are a lot of people who are more organized than I, Lincoln Center-wise anyway, who bought season passes to the whole Summer Swing thing. It's not always Swing, by the way, but that's another story. Plus, there were a lot of people more organized spur of the moment-wise too. Which meant that they must have gotten there at 5 PM and bought tickets for the 6:30 PM lesson.
They ran out of room on the platform dance area while I was standing on line. Now, I wasn't too upset at this because the included dance lessons at these sorts of events are, well, for newcomers ("newbies" in geek-speak). They can, sometimes, be good for meeting people, except that the instructor rarely has people rotate partners. It's like, "Come on, Mr. Instructor, rotate already." Sometimes the instructor shows a cool new move, but mostly, as I said, it is pretty introductory.
So, I was standing in line, which I didn't mind because it was a pleasant evening. This was a long line. It folded upon itself twice, which means it had three segments, going back and forward, and back. I, having gotten there at 6:30 PM, was at the back. After a while an apologetic woman in a purple shirt and a headset came along and said that the platform was full for the lesson, and they would be selling more tickets for the dancing part of the evening proper, later. But, they didn't know how many tickets they could sell because they didn't know how many of the season ticket holders would show up, and the platform could only hold so many.
In an effort to be helpful, this woman started handing out little blue tickets to the people standing on the line. This blue ticket, as she would explain every four feet or so, would allow you to go away and come back at 7:30 PM and still have a priority spot in line over people who did not have a blue ticket. However, she also said, it would not guarantee you the right to buy a ticket, because, as I said earlier, and as she said over and over again, they didn't know how many season ticket holders would show up and the platform could only hold so many people. Got that? It's going to be important.
To give you a full immersion in the experience, in case you weren't there, there is a picture of the little blue ticket below.
This woman walked down the line and handed people a blue ticket off of a big strand of blue tickets. If people asked her for two or three tickets, even five tickets, she would give them to them. Sometimes this caused consternation (or maybe they were just upset) among people farther down the line when it looked like she was running out of blue tickets. Several times she ran out of blue tickets, and it seemed like she wasn't going to hand out any more, but then she would go away and later come back and hand out more. Blue tickets, that is.
That happened just before she got to me, but then she had more tickets and I took one, just in case.
Now the problem with the blue ticket system, one of them anyway, was that having priority over people without blue tickets was a benefit of little or no value, but you had to be a thinking person to see this. People who stayed on the line, and this means an hour or more, would be ahead of people who took the blue ticket, left to go do something elsewhere, and then came back, because then they, the people who went away, would start all over again on line behind the blue ticket people who stayed. A lot of blue ticket people left anyway, which meant that I went from being three segments back to about one segment back.
So we, the blue ticket people who stayed, were waiting, and then the woman in the purple shirt started handing out yellow tickets. Why, I don't know since by her own explanations people with a lesser priority than the blue ticket people didn't stand a chance of getting in, but maybe yellow tickets make people happy, even if they don't serve a purpose, perhaps by reminding people of taxi cabs without actually having to pay for a cab, so if the yellow tickets made people happy, "yellow tickets all round", I say.
So now it is about 7:30 PM and they have started selling tickets again. Three people ahead of me, there is an older couple dancing a little Swing in line. Nice floorcraft, given the small space, and extra points for making the most of a pleasant evening. So by now, the purple shirt woman and her colleagues have counted a lot of people and made an executive decision about how many tickets to sell. They count off the line and decide to cut it off just through the older dancing couple. I suspect that even if they had their maximum two people before the older dancing couple, they would have stretched the fire code a little and included them, because it would be poetic, and by being poetic they can pretend that they weren't being arbitrary.
They clearly tell people that they will sell tickets up to and including the older dancing couple, but no one else. Despite this, I, the two people ahead of me but behind the older dancing couple, and a whole lot of people behind me, stay on line. Maybe they will be off by three, I think to myself, plus I have been standing in line so long, what is an extra few minutes? Maybe they will be off by four, thinks the person behind me? You get the idea.
By this point in the evening, still rather pleasant, the regular season ticket holders start showing up. And like any good New Yorkers, if they have extra tickets, they try to scalp them. Of course, they aren't being true free market New Yorkers because they are only trying to sell their unused tickets at face value, or maybe somewhat less. About $10 to $15 each.
Who gets these tickets? Who ever on the line shouts first and loudest, mostly. Plus some judgement on the part of the regular season scalper about who on the line looks most deserving of the ticket. Lincoln Center is on the West Side, after all, so you have to expect some liberal do-gooder moralizing.
I spoke up when the second or third of these dancer-scalpers came along and bought a ticket for $12. A picture of the front and back of this particular ticket is shown below, mostly so that if you want to get yourself organized for next Summer, you will know what to look for, unless they change their system, in which case it may not do you any good. But more importantly, you need to look at this particular ticket because it has a bearing on the story.
If you know anything about scalping, you know that sometimes you end up with tickets that are counterfeit or otherwise not useable for some other reason. Now when I looked at this ticket, it was good for six punches, that's how they keep track of how many times it has been used, and only had five punches total so far, but it looked like it was only good for two punches per event. This ticket had already been punched twice for this evening. I pointed this out to the guy - slightly short, with a short beard - but he swore up and down that it was still good. I think he believed it too. So much so that I over-rid my doubts about it, especially since he said he would stand there until I used it to get a wrist band to be let into the platform area, and I paid him the $12. Actually, I paid him the $12 and then had this whole discussion of the two punches, but the fact is that I paid him and took the ticket. Caveat Emptor, so it doesn't really matter when you pay for a thing.
For those of you who grew up more recently and were therefore deprived of a classical education, in other words, they didn't make you take Latin for at least three years, that means Buyer Beware. I really hate it when an author drops a French or Latin phrase as if you are supposed to be just as cultured as he or she is, but since we are imagining a fuddy smoking room old school snob it is more likely to be he, just as cultured as he is and doesn't bother to explain what he means. So that's why I explained it, the Latin phrase, that is.
So now I had a season ticket, if a somewhat suspect one. This, you guessed it, allowed me to stand on yet another line. In fact, the first new line I stood on turned out to be the wrong line, and so I had to move to a different, and even longer line. The scalper with the beard started getting a little antsy and I told him he didn't have to stand around. He left and disappeared into the mob on the platform. This is a little foreshadowing, in case you missed it.
So I get to the ticket taker and she almost hands me a wrist band, but then she looks at the ticket carefully, and points out that it has two punches on today's feet. Each event is marked by a pair of feet, well, shoe prints if you are going to be picky about it. She tells me that she can't let me in on this ticket. I make a lame attempt to point out that there are only five punches total and the ticket is good for six. When in doubt, play dumb. She just said that I should find someone else selling punches and buy one from them. I gave up and walked away.
Now at this point, I was feeling pretty steamed. I looked around a little for the little guy with the beard, but I knew I would never find him. And it was worse, too, because someone else had offered me a ticket, but I had turned him down because I had already bought one.
And I knew that these feelings were not really about having been sold a useless ticket because these kind of panic or anger feelings really are just emotional energy and it is we, well, I, since we are talking about me, who ascribe the meaning to them. I just have to ride them out and move on, and things will be okay. That is easier said than done, of course, but I went through a lot of crap not too long ago, and fortunately I worked with a really top notch therapist who helped me identify the surge of emotion for what it is and not react to the panic feelings. It used to be that you were supposed to be embarrassed if you had seen a psychiatrist or whatever, but if he or she is expensive enough and actually does some good, these days you can and probably should brag about it. A psychiatrist is just another member of a skilled staff, like a housekeeper or a statistician.
So I wandered around for a while. I went over to the bar and managed to get a glass of wine even though I forgot to bring my driver's license. It's been a while since I was barely legal. The wine, a red, was more like slightly alcoholic grape juice than actual wine, but at least it was drinkable slightly alcoholic grape juice. I can not tell you, because I haven't bothered to keep track, of how many times I have gone into a bar and ordered wine, only to have them serve me some sort of swill and also have the effrontery to charge me $8 for the glass. I mean, I am not a wine snob, but you can get a consistently good bottle, the entire bottle mind you, of wine for $10 at Best Cellars, so a bar has no excuse selling you swill for $8 a glass. I even once went to a Latin club I will leave nameless unless you buy me a Chardonnay with a nice oak and buttery smooth texture - and absolutely no acidic aftertaste - that served me a perfectly fine glass of Chardonnay when I was having dinner there, and then had the gall to serve me a rather lesser Chardonnay at the bar later that evening for the same price. I have come around to the view that if you are in a bar, stick to beer or cocktails because the quality is more consistent. Save the wine for restaurants.
By this point, I was feeling a little better. I was enjoying the pleasant evening. Had a refined glass, even if it was grape juice mostly and served in plastic. I could look at the platform, smug in the realization that even though I had paid $12 I didn't need to, at least I was not on the platform. On a pleasant evening like this, the platform gets packed, and there are bound to be people who get wild, and or wouldn't know what floorcraft was if you ripped it up and smacked them in the face with it. Which of course you wouldn't do because floorcraft is the art of sensing the people around you so that you and your partner don't bump into them. And besides, there is often more space outside the platform, where you don't have to pay for a ticket, than inside. The downside, of being outside the platform, is that you can't hear the band as well.
It was about then that I was greeted by a friend of mine from the studio as we nearly passed each other in the random walk of the crowd. He was there with a group of people, and we went to go find them. When we found them, the group danced for a while outside the platform in the still pleasant evening. Not exactly under the stars, this is Manhattan we are talking about, but pleasant nonetheless.
Later, after ungrouping and regrouping, we walked down to Swing 46 for more dancing, stopping at every convenience store along the way. This was before the recent heat stroke death of an NFL player, but we already knew to stay hydrated.
We danced until 1:30 AM and then people went off to their various homes and apartments and beds and futons and whatever.
The point of this story, other than being an excuse to show you what the little blue ticket looked like, was this. If I had been successful in getting a ticket for the platform. Either by being organized and buying a season pass, or by being organized and getting to Lincoln Center early enough to actually get a ticket for the lesson, or by buying a punch from a season ticket punch scalper who actually had a punch to sell, I probably would have been up on the platform, crammed into the space, maybe having someone to dance with, maybe not. And I probably would have not run into my friends.
So I got to dance in the end with people worth dancing with, and we even hung out and talked a little too. So that's what a successful failure is like. I didn't get where I was trying to go, but I got somewhere just as good, maybe better. The crew of Apollo XIII were trying to get to the Fra Mauro mountain range on the Moon, and instead made it to Hawaii. A less historic destination perhaps, but the sand is just as good and the water is a lot better. Dance is to dancers what rocket science is to astronauts. The success of the mission does not depend upon the destination. The success of the mission depends upon the people.