You Miss 100% of the Shots You Don't Take
Our story begins Saturday December 19th. I was sitting in my usual 10am bikram yoga class in Lefferts Brooklyn. My favorite teacher was teaching. It was about 105 degrees with 60 degree humidity. Most bikram teachers just say the same thing – they recite the class. There’s no room for originality or stories. They’re more robotic, but that’s just the style. My favorite teacher is named Robbin. She's different because she always strays off the path and throws in jokes and zingers and stories. It’s a breath of fresh air. We're kicking of 90 minutes of heat, where students are silent and only the teacher instructs.
On the 3rd or 4th pose, students cross their legs standing up and form somewhat of a pretzel. The goal is to keep it tight and balance on one leg. Robbin is walking us through the pose and says
“Keep those legs tight, like you’re squeezing a ticket.”
We continue holding, trying to focus.
“Hold that ticket tight. Don’t let it go.”
We have a theme now, this ticket. It would continue to pop up in class. It didn’t make much sense but, whatever.
“That’s it. Hold that ticket in place, like a Phish ticket.”
I assume I heard her incorrectly. Or that there is some other form of fish Robbin is talking about. Not to be judgmental but Robbin is mid 40’s African American and although she does often make amazing music references, I could not believe she was talking about what it sounded like. Each pose in bikram is done twice, so we set up to do another pretzel. Once again, the ticket theme comes up.
“Hold that ticket tight! It’s valuable. Those Phish tickets are hard to come by. I know.”
OK. Where is this going?
To back up a few months, Phish announced a 4 night run at MSG over New Year’s. Tickets sold out immediately but I was fortunate enough to grab some nosebleed seats for the final night. My eyes are locked on her and mind is racing with possibilities, as I hold myself in a pretzel. Silent. In 3 digit heat. We move onto the next pose and Robbin begins to tell a story.
“Man, those Phish tickets are beautiful. The art work! I’ve never seen anything like them. Do any of you know who I’m talking about? The band? They play every New Years’ at the Garden?"
About 5 people flash a hand, saying nothing.
“My apartment building got a new mailman recently and he delivered my neighbor’s mail to me instead. They’re out of town, but there was an official looking package so I called them to see if I should open it, and they said sure. “
I know exactly where this is going. The image in my head is crystal clear.
“Well, I opened this cardboard FedEx envelope and wouldn’t you know. 8 tickets to these concerts! 2 for each of the 4 nights! And the seats are amazing. Something like section 103. I’m thinking, I should go sell these! They’re valuable. I know how this goes. And it turns out my neighbors had lost track of it, were out in Seattle, and can’t go anyway.”
Now, I’m starting to lose it. My eyes haven’t left her. I want to break the pose. It’s like when Alex Trebek starts reading a question on Jeopardy and the contestant doesn’t let him finish the sentence because they know they answer. She doesn’t need to finish anything. The pose, the sentence, the class. I’m there. In my seats. At MSG. I go to the dark side. My competitive razor edge pokes out. I gaze around the class examining every student, wondering which one of these motherfuckers is thinking the same thing I am. Well, you’d better stop thinking it, because I will stab you. Those tickets are fucking mine.
This exchange occurred in 5 minutes and now I have over an hour to sit in silence, sweating, waiting. I start to day dream. I’ve got 2 amazing seats to 4 nights of Phish. Who will I take? Who will I surprise? Who’s never been? Who do I want to experience it? This is going to make the best story. Only in NYC does this happen.
The core of these tickets is obviously New Year’s Eve. It often looks like this:
Being in the building for a Phish show on New Year’s Eve is guaranteed fun and one of the hardest tickets out there, especially in New York. I need to somehow tell Robbin that I want those tickets if they’re free. The final posture of the class is just laying their in your own sweat, the room silent, to let your body cool down. As she says the final Namaste, I spring up to follow her out of the room like a creep at a bar following a girl around (not that I'd know).
I say, “Hey Robbin, if somehow those tickets you mentioned in there aren’t going to be used, I will buy all of them. I’m a big fan and have seen a bunch of their shows.”
“Oh! Isn’t that great! Yes, of course. I’ll give my neighbor a call after class and see what they were thinking. Here, give me your number.”
Wow. That was easy. And I didn’t have to make anyone bleed. Later that day, she texts me that she’s made the call but no word back. I try not to get ahead of myself but it’s hard not to. All they have to say is “Yes, Robbin, that would save us so much hassle. Have Ryan pay you and grab the tickets.” A few more days pass and while I haven’t lost hope, I know how this goes. If these people scored 8 tickets, they’re not rookies. They have other die hard friends who’d kill for these and probably just need to make a phone call. Their neighbor’s yoga student is not super high on the list of people to bestow these gifts up.
On the 23rd, I’m on a bus driving south to DC when I get the text:
Hi Ryan. Turns out they’re going to try to give the tickets to a friend their indebted to. Sorry but wishing you well on getting into the shows.
Oh well, it almost became a great story. At least I'm seeing one of the shows. But all 4 would have been swell.
Christmas comes and goes. It’s a time to look back at another uphill year that saw some highs and lows. Being away from NYC allows me some silence and space to catch up on a few months of reflection I suppose. I’d thought about booking my bus back to NYC early juuuuuuuust in case the yoga thing worked, but there were no last minute miracles this year.
On 12/30, I took a late bus up to the city, leaving Bethesda, MD at 7pm. The whole way up, I was listening to the first nights's show live from the Garden, sitting in the front row of the bus. That made the trip easier, and as the band starts their encore in my earphones, we are pulling into the city, our final stop literally 2 blocks from MSG. We pull up and I see the masses leaving the show. The circus was officially in town. As we pull up to the curb, there lies a litmus test that there’s a Phish show nearby. 4-5 nitrous tanks filling balloons for willing customers. C’mon, guys. It’s not 1997. I hop on in a taxi and make my way home.
The next day is New Year’s Eve and my goal is to stay in, not drink, and prepare for the 2 final nights at the Garden. I thought about just popping over on the train to see if there were any tickets being sold. Although scalpers were asking in the realm of $500-$1,000 per ticket in certain sections, Wayne Gretzky once said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. At around 6pm, I hopped on the subway to Penn Station, giving myself about a 90 minute window to check the market before heading back and staying in for the night. I come up from the subway and before I’m outside, people are already looking, holding single fingers over their heads as the universal sign for ‘I need a ticket’
Aside from a few non-Phish fan scalpers, I didn’t hear anything. I started walking against the grain, away from MSG, trying to get people approaching the venue. A mix of die hard fans and people wondering WTF I was doing with my finger. After about 30 minutes, I circle back. A guy in the street says,
“Hey, Mr. Finger.”
“You should go to the will call window where they’ve been re-releasing tickets.“
Oh, no shit.
“Yeah, do it.”
I roll over to a line about 60 people deep. As people cancel tickets last minute, they’ll sell them at face value to this line. Who the hell would cancel their Phish New Year's tickets?! The latest stat was 10 tickets sold in the past 4 hours. Not in my favor. Need to keep moving. I roll toward the back side of MSG, switching arms to hold up because they’re getting more tired. A trio walks by and one guys says ‘Hey, we’ve got one. Let’s take a walk so we don’t get busted for scalping.’ Cool. Sounds good. We roll down a street and chat. They’re in from Colorado. The ticket they have is to sit with them. They got it off of Stubhub. For $240. I kindly decline, as we all know, somewhere unwritten in the Phish scene is that buying a ticket above face value isn’t too cool. I lose a little steam, thinking this was one of my closest chances. I start walking back towards the front of MSG on 33rd St., finger again in the air.
A woman, tall, attractive, early 30’s walks past me, makes eye contact, and without breaking stride, hands me a ticket. The exchange was, at most, 3 seconds. It felt like an hour. My brain quickly puts the pieces together. I’ve been given a piece of paper. I’m holding it. I look at her and can only involuntarily say ‘No.’ As in, no, this can’t be. All she says is ‘Happy New Year.’ I look down again. General Admission West. I look up and she’s gone.
I’m alone again. In the cold. In the middle of New York City. Holding what could be a free ticket to a Phish New Year’s show. After having no expectations. After having acknowledged it’s been a hard year of fighting to stay above water in this god damn city. After acknowledging that, in some ways, I’m more tired than I’ve ever felt in my life. After, not asking for anything, but deep down knowing I could use a win, she gave me one. I take a minute to gather myself.
There is a specific entrance for these GA stubs. I walk in and go through security, then it's D day with the ticket scanner. I hand it to the woman, still not fully believing I'm walking closer to the show.
These are the things you only hear stories about.
So, where exactly in the building am I going? It soon became clear I wasn't like the others and whatever ticket I had lead me down a different roped off path. Up ahead was a table where they called me over. Wristband station. This is a good sign. It's New Year's, I'm at a Phish show and I'm getting a wristband. They equip me with an orange one and I'm on my way. Up some escalators. Through some doors. It's soon clear I'm underneath the stands. I’m low. I'm floor level. There are ritzy concessions and people milling about, exuding the energy anyone would knowing they've gotten inside the building for an event like this. There's a hole in the stands. I go towards it and can see the stadium. Far in the distance is the stage and I'm standing at the back of the floor. Security is ushering people through, calling for hands in the air. Blue wristbands step in here. Orange keep walking, so I did. Next thing I know, I’m standing in the front section of the floor which is now only 20% full since we've got about 90 minutes til showtime. I sit down on the floor and realize 2 things. 1. Something just amazing happened and 2. I'm by myself, for the first time ever at a Phish show.
The ceiling is covered in netting, holding thousands of balloons to be dropped at midnight. Hanging towards the back of the floor is an unusual structure that most likely would come into play later. I make friends with some people and blow their minds with my story. They all sort of validate my feeling by the sheer shock of their response. Yes, getting miracled into a Phish NYE show is one of the greatest things out there to some people like me. The rest of the night was spectacular. I did what you’re supposed to do when someone hands you a free Phish ticket of out the kindness of their heart – danced my ass off for 4 hours.
At one point during set break, I talked to this girl and told her the story. We discussed going to shows solo and she does it often, preferring it sometimes. When you’re solo, you don’t have to wait and can mill about the madness as you please. You can also leave whenever you want.
After the balloons dropped and Aud Lang Syne was played.
After the weird bizarre hour glass structure jam happened.
I was fulfilled. So, I left.
As I walked back along the floor, looking up into the crowd watching them watch the last song of the set, I felt lucky and I I felt like I'd been gifted. Depending how you look at it, someone somewhere did in fact grant me the gift of luck.