Friday, March 28, 2014

The Lullaby of Broadway


So much for the hip hooray and bally hoo.

It was a cold day, a windy day, a no-amount-of-cloth-covering-fingers-will-keep-them-from-freezing day. It was Thursday, and all our walking was brisk.We parked in a garage, walked to Times Square, then up Broadway to Central Park, spent a couple of hours being alternately awed by fossil skeletons and creeped out by more modern stuffed dead critters, and in the middle of that, I took a call from my sister-in-law Intaba, who is now living an hour north of Manhattan. She was excited at getting to see us, and was hoping to see a show with us. Her idea: lottery tickets. We thought we'd take a stab at the half-price ticket booth at Times Square first, though, so after filling up on pizza, we headed over there.

The line was long, and Amy volunteered to stand in it with Sarah. Sean and I walked over to the display of what shows were available and how much tickets were discounted. What followed was a half hour of three-way shuttle diplomacy, with me relaying what I'd learned from the ticket board with both Amy and Intaba, while also negotiating with Sean, whose tastes were not the same as ours. We finally settled on a list of shows and a maximum price we were willing to pay for tickets, then headed up onto the iconic red glass steps to huddle against the biting wind. Sarah joined us after awhile. Amy called to ask about several different shows--she was finally at the window--then stopped abruptly, leaving the connection live. I kept trying to talk to her for five minutes, realizing finally that she was walking up to join us. There was nothing: no shows with enough affordable tickets to accommodate all of this. I passed this information on to Intaba, who suggested we try for the lottery tickets at Wicked, a show we all agreed we wanted to see. We did so, putting all our names in the hat for $30 tickets, and meeting Intaba there, fresh off the train. Any name drawn during the lottery could buy two tickets at that price, cash only. That meant three of our names would have to be drawn. The moment of the lottery finally arrived, and my name was called. Unfortunately, mine was the only name in our group drawn, so I gave up my spot, and we headed downtown for dinner at an excellent Indian restaurant.

It was a frustrating experience, but consistent with most of my previous attempts at getting goods or services for significantly less than the retail price: either there's a catch that drives the price up, or what you get in the mail fails to deliver on its promise of being just as good, or by the time the auction has ended you find yourself having paid as much for a used item that may or may not work as well as the new one you forewent to "save" money, or...

The point is simple: it's very hard to get a genuinely good discount on anything of value. I have beat the system once in this regard, and it was a fluke: twelve years ago I saw a Citizen watch with a clearance tag on it at Sears during a 50% off lowest price marked sale, which made the final price around $25. The clerk was so astonished by the price that she called the manager over, who confirmed that a) the price marked was wrong, but b) Sears had a strict policy about honoring price tags, so yes, it was mine for $25. I still proudly wear that watch, marveling every time I put it on at the bargain it was.

Apart from that, almost every bargain I've ever found has turned out to be a disappointment. On the flip side, I've learned that, while I can't expect to pay a truly low price for a high quality item, I can't expect to privately sell my stuff for what it's supposed to be worth. If people don't want to pay $100 for a rare item of Star Trek memorabilia, I'm not going to sell it for that. It doesn't matter that this is the price it's supposed to go for according to reputable sources. Stuff is only worth what people will pay for it.

And apparently the stuff I'm willing to pay for doesn't get marked down by much, while the stuff I'm willing to part with can't be marked up unless I'm wearing a dealer's hat.

Econ 101 lesson aside, for all the frustration of trying to get into a show, it was a great day in New York; and really, how good would meeting up with Intaba have been if we spent most of our time sitting quietly in a theater?

Keep your bally hoo, Broadway. We had a find old time without it.

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