"Ace Scores a Ticket"

© 1998 by Alex Kolker

 

The easiest part is getting the ride to Buffalo in the first place. All Ace has to do is hike five miles down to the highway rest area, and hitch along with the first Heads passing through who look halfway decent. He ends up with Benny and Pete, two high schoolers from California with a tank of pharmaceutical nitrous in the trunk. Pete insists, every hundred miles or so, that the three of them stop and sample the wares. When they drop Ace off at Rich Stadium -- vacant and desolate -- early the next morning, he has a sore throat and a mild headache, and his mind is slow and wasted. He staggers over to the edge of a nearby field and sleeps for a few hours in a clump of bushes.

When he wakes up, it's just past noon. His skin is tight and dry on the side of his face that was facing up to the sun while he slept. The other side of his face is wet with summer soil. The parking-lot scene is already underway, having sprung up around him while he slept: running children, barking dogs, venders and customers, jewelry and T-shirts, the distant rhythms of a drum circle, and not a security guard in sight.

He stumbles out of the field and down the dirt road that runs along one side of the stadium complex, towards two buildings in the distance. One of them is just a gas station, but the other one turns out to be a restaurant, and Ace ducks inside. Most of the customers are Heads, so no one notices Ace, in his own tie-dye and cut-off shorts, as he sneaks through the restaurant and into the bathroom.

He runs the water in the sink for a full minute to get it nice and hot, and then rinses his face and hair thoroughly. He takes off his shirt, dries off with it, and puts it back on again. Then he scrubs his teeth clean with his index finger, sprinkles a few drops of cold water across his face for good measure, and leaves the bathroom.

When he tries to sneak back out of the restaurant again, however, a huge man in an apron appears in front of him, cutting him off at the front door. "Restrooms for customers only."

"Oh wow. Sorry, man," Ace says, in his best druggie burn-out voice. "I didn't know."

The man -- a small plastic pin identifies him as the restaurant manager -- grabs Ace by the scruff of the neck and leads him over to a big sign by the restroom door: RESTROOMS FOR CUSTOMERS ONLY.

"Now," the manager asks, "what would you like to order, sir?"

"I'm really not hungry --"

"A cup of coffee's fifty cents," the manager says, his grip on Ace's neck tightening. "A slice of pie is a dollar."

"Coffee and pie would be great."

"Sit down, sir, and your breakfast will be along shortly."

And with that, the manager lets him go. The back of Ace's neck tingles and sparks. "Well, then," he calls out to the manager's retreating back, "you can just forget about your tip."

"Damn hippies," the manager mumbles to himself, settling back into his seat by the cash register.

Ace sits at an empty table, digging through his pockets and his fanny pack for any change he can find. He comes up with a little over two dollars. He's about to lose three-fourths of his money, and he hasn't even gotten to the scene yet.

He passes the time by pouring the salt into the sugar jar and the sugar into the salt shaker. When the coffee and pie comes, Ace mashes the pie into a shapeless grey mass, inverts the full coffee cup on the saucer, and bends all the silverware into knots. He drops a dollar-fifty on the table, waits until the manager is busy harassing someone else, and then slips quietly out of the restaurant.

He dives immediately into the nearest clot of Heads, and walks with them straight into the scene. The parking lots are already more than half full. The sun is bright but not too hot. A light wind fans Ace's face without kicking up too much dust from the road. It's going to be a great day.

There aren't any cops around, at least not as far as Ace can see, so everyone is cool and relaxed. The venders are out in full force, selling openly. Ace even spots an acid dealer walking around with a big sign reading CHEAP TRIPS. When the vending is this free and easy, it really picks up the energy of the scene. The Rich Stadium parking lots look more like an Arabian bazaar. Venders zip through the slow-moving crowd, filling the air with hawker's cries.

"Brownies! Yummy brownies!"

"Kind veggie bumper stickers!"

"Juice and soda!"

"Trade tomorrow for tonight!"

"Busch, Busch Lite, and Molson Gold! Right here!"

Ace pauses at the edge of the crowd, standing cross-armed, watching it all with a big smile on his face. "Capitalism in its purest form," he mutters to himself proudly.

He stops a passing Head wearing a wristwatch. "What time is it, brother?"

"Two," the Head tells him.

Four hours, Ace thinks to himself. That should be more than enough time.

He spots a Deadhead selling fruit juice out of a styrofoam cooler on one side of the aisle. He strolls up to him, hanging his head a little, trying to look as hot and sweaty as possible. "Hey, man."

"Hey," the vender grunts.

"Look," Ace says. "I don't got enough money to buy a juice from you, but I'd kill for some ice to suck on. Could you spare some?"

"No way, man. You want to drink something, you pay for it!"

Shit, Ace thinks to himself as he walks away. First the restaurant manager, and now this guy. Two assholes in a row. Bad Karma.

He follows the flow of traffic further down the aisle until he finds another vender with a cooler -- this one full of soda. Ace asks him for a piece of ice.

"Sure," the vender replies, his fingers already fishing through the water for a cube. He comes up with several, and hands them over to Ace with a smile. Ace smiles back, and slips away into the crowd.

He finds a secluded spot, and then reaches down and unties the woven bracelet from around his ankle. He bought it only a few weeks ago, so it hasn't really started to unravel yet. Rubbing it with one of the ice cubes, he works all of the dust and sweat out from the weave of the threads. The water even makes the colors deeper and brighter. When he's got what looks to be a brand new bracelet, he tosses what's left of the ice under a parked car and steps out into the flow of the crowd.

"Who wants my last bracelet?" he calls out. "I've sold a hundred and ninety-nine bracelets so far on tour. This is my very last one."

After five minutes, he finds a taker. "Your last one?" the Head asks.

"Yeah," Ace says. "I wish now I'd made twice as many as I did."

"It's pretty cool," the Head says, examining it. "How much?"

"Two."

"Okay. Let's do it." He hands Ace two bills and Ace hands him the bracelet. "Hey," the Head asks. "Why is it wet?"

"Some asshole got me with a squirt gun earlier."

"Oh yeah. They got me the other day. I hate that."

"Water dries," Ace tells him with a shrug.

Ace wanders back down the dirt road, to the gas station next to the restaurant. He gets eight quarters from the station attendant, who's already looking a little harried by all the Deadheads swarming around -- buying gas, shoplifting munchies, waiting in line to use the pay phone. Ace buys four sodas from the vending machine around the back, takes off his shirt and wraps them up in it, and carries them back to the scene.

"Ice cold soda! Freezing cold! Soda for a buck!" It takes him only a few minutes to sell all four.

Just as he's making his last sale, he spots a vender with a table set up on one side of the aisle. He's selling mostly silver-wire jewelry and tumbled stones, but what catches Ace's eye is a basket of woven bracelets with a sign reading ONE DOLLAR.

Ace comes up to the booth. "How's it going, brother?"

"Great!" the vender answers. "I haven't had a selling day like this in years."

"I know what you mean."

Ace buys four of the bracelets. He ties the best one to his ankle, to replace the one he sold earlier. He wanders through the crowd hawking the other three for two dollars each. It takes longer for him to unload the bracelets than it did for him to sell the soda, but at least he doesn't have to make the ten minute trek to and from the gas station.

When he finally sells the third bracelet, he goes back to the same booth and buys six more. The vender gives him a funny look, but doesn't say anything.

Ace takes it much more slowly now. Six bracelets are going to take a while to sell no matter what he does, so there's no need to push his sales pitch or to race all over the lots. He comes across a woman in tie-dye and beads playing old Joni Mitchell tunes on a beat-up guitar, and he joins the crowd around her to listen for a while. He takes part in a few rounds of hackey-sack, and sells a bracelet to one of the players. He bums a cigarette off another Head, and stands a few minutes in the shade of a tour bus, smoking and watching the scene race by him. He trades two of the bracelets for a cheap piece of crystal on a leather thong, and then sells the necklace to someone else for five dollars.

After an hour, he sells the last bracelet, and heads back to the booth for more.

"Didn't you already buy some of these?" the vender asks, squinting up at him.

"Must've been somebody else," Ace assures him. "Some other guy in long hair and tie dye."

"No, it was you, man," the vender insists. "Son of a bitch. You've been reselling my merchandise!"

"What do you care? You got the price you were asking for."

"Well," the vender says. "My price just went up." He reaches over, snatches away the ONE DOLLAR sign, and rips it cleanly in half.

"Whatever," Ace says, and he leaves. Bracelets are too tough a sell anyway. And what does that guy care what happens to his bracelets after he sells them? He could sell them for two bucks apiece himself if he was willing to do some hustling, instead of sitting on his ass all day.

Ace counts the money in his pocket. He's got thirteen dollars and fifty cents. Not quite enough.

He finds a vender selling six-packs of beer for ten dollars. Ace buys one, wraps it up in his shirt, and sells the individual cans for two dollars apiece. These go pretty quick, but the profit is too small. Still, he has fifteen dollars now -- enough to start wandering around with a finger up in the air.

He passes by a kid -- she can't be more than thirteen years old -- selling home-made tie-dyes for five dollars each. Ace stands watching her, considering this new product. These are the old-style, rubber band, concentric circle tie-dyes, but each shirt has at least two colors of ink in them, which is a nice touch. They don't seem to be selling all that well, but then again the kid isn't really into it. Ace, with his hard-working hard sell, might be able to unload a few of them for eight dollars apiece.

Finally he gives in, and buys two.

It turns out to be a mistake. He hustles for forty-five minutes before he can sell the first one. There are just too many of the modern-style fire-dyes on the lots. He hustles the second T-shirt for half an hour, and then finally just hooks it in his belt and wanders off looking for a more lucrative product.

He buys and then resells another six pack of beer, bringing his money back up to fifteen dollars and fifty cents. He's still got one finger up in the air, but so do half the other Heads in the lot. It's going to be harder to find a ticket than he thought.

Next he comes across a Deadhead selling packs of cigarettes for two dollars apiece. He must have bought a whole crate of cigarettes at bulk rate, or maybe he just shoplifted a carton -- otherwise he wouldn't be making a profit at that price. But Heads are used to paying a little extra for the things they buy on the lots. Ace buys seven packs, and quickly resells them for three dollars each. Cigarettes practically sell themselves. In the end, all Ace has to do is walk around with a pack held high in the air, and the customers come to him.

When all else fails in the world of sales, Ace muses to himself, you can always count on people's addictions. The best product, of course, is drugs. Ace could have made all of the money he's made today ten times over, and in half the time, if he'd been dealing acid instead of bracelets and cigarettes. But Ace wants to see the show tonight -- not the inside of a holding cell.

He finds a woman selling grilled cheese sandwiches for two dollars apiece and buys one. He washes it down with a one-dollar soda, and then sits down to digest for a while in the crowd at the edge of a drum circle. This is a really good group of drummers. They pound and beat their little hearts out, letting the rhythm lead them, rather than them leading the rhythm. To one side, a whole line of Heads sit shaking strings of tiny silver anklet bells, which adds a light, magical quality to the percussion. There's also a girl playing a tambourine. But she isn't just beating on the damn thing -- she really knows how to play one. In her hands, it comes alive. Every time she shakes it, it sends off a crystal shower of pure sound.

Ace could sit there listening for hours. But he still has business to conduct. He finally tears himself away and heads back into the main flow of the crowd.

He's within reach of his goal, now. All he needs is one more good, lucrative product and he should have enough for a ticket. He wanders back and forth through the lots, considering carefully. Finally, he hits paydirt. He catches sight of two venders selling tie-dyes just twenty yards down the aisle from one another. One is selling them out of a backpack for ten dollars each, while the other, his merchandise laid out on a tarp, is selling his tie-dyes for twelve.

Ace buys a ten-dollar shirt from the backpack vender. He has the man go deep down into his pack to make sure that the shirt Ace buys is the best one the man has to offer. Then Ace melts back into the crowd, standing to one side, watching. He waits until, through the natural ebb and flow of the crowd, the backpack vender is surrounded by customers and the other vender's tarp is not, and then Ace steps up to the tarp.

"Hey, brother. How's business?"

"Okay."

"Well, I thought you should know that guy down the aisle there is selling his dyes for ten bucks apiece," Ace tells him, pointing. "He's making a killing."

The vender stares off in the direction of the other vender, but then shakes his head. "My business is going just fine."

"Okay, brother. It's your nickel," Ace says, turning to look back at the other vender, who's still lost in the middle of a mob of potential customers. "I just wanted you to know that he's been raking it in like that all afternoon. Hand over fist. Look at the shirt he sold me." Then, with a small flourish, he shows the vender the shirt he bought.

"Nice shirt," is all the vender will say. Ace smiles, and wanders off; there's nothing to do now but wait.

When he comes back, five minutes later, the second vender has dropped the price of his shirts to eight dollars apiece. Ace buys one, carries both of his shirts over to the other side of the lot, and sells them both for twelve each. He zips back over, buys three more eight-dollar shirts, and resells them as well.

He makes a quick count of the lump of bills crumpled into the front pocket of his fanny-pack. He now has thirty-seven dollars. Paydirt.

It takes him twenty minutes to find the dealer with the CHEAP TRIPS sign. Just the fact that this guy wasn't arrested hours ago shows how loose the scene has been today. "How much?" Ace asks him.

"Five for fifteen."

"How much for two?"

"Eight."

"Seven?"

"Eight."

"Come on. Please, man. Can't you make it seven?"

The dealer smiles, shaking his head. "Okay, man. Seven."

Ace buys two hits and drops them immediately. Then, his work nearly done, he saunters over to the front gate to check out the going price for resold tickets.

There are fewer Heads out selling tickets than Ace had expected. The low supply means a big demand, and higher prices. He finally finds one seller who's more or less in his price range.

"Twenty-five," Ace offers.

"Oh, come on, man," the Head complains. "That's face, man. I've got to make some profit on this."

Ace suppresses a sneer -- not good for business. "It's not even a very good seat," he counters. "And the show starts in fifteen minutes. You'll be lucky if you get twenty."

"Thirty-five. That's my price."

"Come on, man. All I got is thirty."

"Can't do it, man."

"I swear to God," Ace says. "Look." He starts digging through his pockets, coming up with his spare change. "Thirty dollars and fifty-three cents. It's all the money I've got."

"Sorry."

Just then Ace remembers the bulge at his hip. It's the homemade tie-dye he bought from the kid hours ago. "How about thirty and a shirt?"

The Head takes the shirt, examining it carefully -- checking the size and the brand name, checking the seams for loose threads. A real expert. "Sure," he says, finally. "What the hell?"

In another second, the deal is made, and Ace strides over to the crowd trickling through the main gate. He glows with the satisfaction of a job well done.

Finally, he gets up to the turnstile and hands over his ticket. But the security guard stops him before he can push his way through.

"Sorry," the guard says. "It's counterfeit."

"What?"

"The ticket. It's a fake."

"Oh, come on, man. You've got to be joking."

But the guard's only answer is to shake his head.

"Come on, man. I spent thirty bucks on that ticket."

"Next time, buy it from the box office," the guard tells him. "Now clear out."

It takes ten minutes for Ace to work his way back through the crowd into the open parking lot.

"That son of a bastard," he grumbles, fuming. "I'll counterfeit him."

But, of course, by the time he gets back to where he bought the fake ticket, the scalper is long gone.

"All that time," Ace mumbles to himself, as he kicks and shuffles his way back to the gate. "All that time. All that work. And I get fooled by some damn kid with a fake ticket. I can't fucking believe it."

The area around the gate is swarming with Deadheads, each of them with a finger up in the air. Ace peers wearily at them, and then just sinks down on the curb, his head in his hands.

Oh well, he thinks to himself. It's been a long time since I've dosed out on the lots. And this has been such a cool scene, maybe there'll be some action on the lots during the show. Maybe that drum circle will still be going . . . .

These thoughts, as sincere as they are, do little to cheer him up. He leans back on his elbows now, a sour expression across his face. His eyes follow the ticket-holders swarming past him towards the gates, as they wade through the sea of miracle-seekers.

After a few minutes, a Deadhead steps up to Ace from out of the crowd. "Are you okay, brother?" he asks.

Ace squints up at the man. He looks to be in his early thirties. His clothes are just as ratty as those of every other Head in the lot -- except for the shoes, which (Ace can't help noticing) are new and expensive. You can always tell by the shoes.

"Yeah, I guess."

"Aren't you going into the show?"

Ace sighs, and shakes his head. "My ticket was a fake."

"Tough luck," the man says, squatting down next to Ace. "But that's the risk you take when you buy your ticket out here on the lot. There are lots of grifters at the scene."

"Tell me about it," Ace grumbles.

"Why aren't you looking for a miracle ticket?"

Ace dismisses the suggestion with a wave of his hand. "I've never been comfortable with begging for tickets like that. If I can't pay good hard cash, then I just put it down to karma and leave it at that."

"Admirable," the Head says, nodding.

"No one ever gets miracles anymore anyway," Ace adds. "Tickets are too hot a commodity these days just to give them away."

"Unless you're a millionaire."

"Right. And how many millionaires are there on the lots?"

"Not many, I imagine."

Ace glances back down at the Head's shoes, and then at the odd smile on the man's face.

"I really wanted to get into the show, too," Ace says, keeping his voice light and casual. "It's the only show I could make this tour."

The man stands suddenly. "Here," he says. He pulls a small envelope out of his pocket, and offers it to Ace. Ace takes it, and he can feel that old familiar rectangle of cardboard inside.

"Hey, brother, thanks a lot," he calls out, but the man has already slipped away into the crowd.

Ace rips the envelope open. Inside is a ticket for a seat on the stadium floor -- fifth row, Jerry's side. "God damn!" he mutters under his breath.

He jumps to his feet and starts to push his way through the crowd. He's three steps away from the gate before he stops himself.

Ace looks down at the envelope, then over at the line of Heads waiting anxiously for tickets. A line of fingers of all different shapes and sizes -- thin, stubby, calloused, creased, battered, grimy -- each of them extended towards Heaven, each one trying to summon down a miracle.

Karma.

He walks up to the Deadhead in the line with the oldest, rattiest-looking shoes and hands the envelope to him. "There you go, brother."

It takes the Head several seconds to figure out what's in the envelope. "Cool, brother," he says, hugging Ace tightly. But as the Head starts off in the direction of the gate, Ace hangs back.

"Aren't you going in too?" the Head asks.

"Nah," Ace answers, with a grin. "My ticket was a fake."

And before the Head can comment, Ace slips back into the crowd.

 

If you're interested in reading more stories from Alex Kolker's Tales of Tour collection, link HERE.

 

All texts on this web site are © 1998 by Alex Kolker. No portion thereof may be published or distributed without his expressed written permission. But ask him -- he's a reasonable guy.