The Freeloaders' Handbook

If you ask, they will give. Really.

We drove our beat-up Mazda to the Oakland Coliseum on a recent evening with just a stick of gum and bridge money in our pocket. Four hours later, we returned to San Francisco with two ticket stubs originally valued at $30 and warm memories of Miguel Tejada's game-clinching home run in the bottom of the 11th. Experiences like this have been more the rule than the exception at sporting events, concerts, and other shows Dog Bites has attended in the past two years. This is because we have mastered the fine art of freeloading.

Our Oakland adventure began when a short, bespectacled man passed between the metal barriers leading to the Coliseum's entry turnstiles. He led a multiracial coalition of four kids of elementary-school age, all tugging and playing with one another. From our vantage point at the end of the barrier, we were within earshot of the young fans and their chaperone. "Who's got free tickets? Looking for extra tickets here," we repeated at a carefully calibrated volume; discernible, but not pestering. Despite the distraction of his bustling pre-adolescents, the man tilted his head toward us as he passed.

"I have a ticket," he announced, continuing down the chute.

To a 24-year-old sports junkie like Dog Bites, these are words of ecstasy. "Thanks very much, sir," we babbled as we followed him toward the gate. The man barely heard us as he herded his charges. On final approach to the gate, our benefactor pulled a wad of tickets from his jacket pocket, peeled off the last one, and handed it to us. "Thanks again, sir," we gushed. The man ignored us and rustled up his flock into some semblance of a line for the turnstile.

We had made our first score of the evening.

Pocketing our prize, we returned to the end of the barrier and continued our banter in the hope of procuring a second ticket for our girlfriend. Latino high-schoolers whispered "sorry" in response to our requests. Cheerful girls in puffy coats politely informed us they were out. Older white men were more likely to ignore us, but also more likely to chuckle at our endeavor. "You need a sign that says, "I need a miracle!'" laughed one Deadhead-looking guy.

Undaunted, we waited. That evening's matchup was against the league laughingstock, the Detroit Tigers, and the crowd wasn't very big. Clean-cut twentysomethings helpfully related that other guys by the BART station had tickets, and we thanked them for the tip. We had already talked to the scalpers back there.

"Got any free tickets?"

"Yeah, I got three. Where you wanna sit?" the leader had responded, solicitously.

"I just need two. And I'm looking for freetickets," we reiterated.

"Free tickets?" He laughed, then looked away. "No free tickets here. You'll get 'em, might have to wait a while."

We nodded, acknowledging the most serious drawback of our ploy. As we endured further rejections, someone fired up "The Star-Spangled Banner" on the PA. Fortunately, only a half inning passed before we met Rudy, a buyer for a medical supply company whose friend had bailed on the game. Since he was attending solo, Rudy did not enter with the same urgency as had our first benefactor, but still we kept the conversation brief. Now that we had our two tickets, we wanted to catch the game ourselves.

A week later, we were on the prowl outside Pac Bell Park.

The Chicago Cubs were in town, and attendance was much heavier for Dusty Baker's homecoming. We arrived a half-hour before the first pitch and positioned ourselves near the Willie Mays statue on the corner of Third and King. A legion of fans halted on the far side of King by a red light was unleashed by a green. Another phalanx of gamegoers descended on us as it got a "walk" sign going south on Third. The lights changed again and the cycle began anew. Perfectly situated in the midst of the swarm, we went to work.

We soon discovered that San Francisco fans are significantly more brusque than their Oakland counterparts. In Oakland we had received many acknowledgements of our existence; in San Francisco, there were almost none. What little notice we provoked generally came in the form of sniggers, smirks, and exclamations of disbelief at our gambit; most fans remained stone-faced. We overheard failed dot-commers ask each other in disbelief, "Who turns down money in this economy?" People waiting for friends obliquely observed us with interest. A few asked if our scheme ever worked, to which we brazenly responded, "Always."

After 10 minutes of diligent begging, a voice behind us said, "I've got some free tickets, if you're not a Giants fan." We turned and removed our Giants cap in one smooth motion, and spotted a smiling man in a blue Cubs cap. He passed us two tickets behind home plate.

A rabid Cubs fan who lives in Oregon, Roger had flown down with his son for the Cubs' annual trip to San Francisco. "We were going to go with an older guy I used to work with. He sits around and watches the Cubs all day, but he had a setback," Roger told us in the bottom of the second. "I told some Cubs fans in a bar that I was going to give a lucky Cubs fan the tickets, but I appreciated your style."


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