Thursday, December 22, 2005

Radio City: The Grinch That Stole Christmas ‘87

Like many non-religious people I enjoy the overeating, free gifts and time off from work that come with Christmas.

The one Christmas tradition I’ve never gotten to enjoy, nor likely ever will, is the annual Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show, which typically features The Rockettes, excerpts from The Nutcracker, a reading of “'Twas The Night Before Christmas,” etc.

Not that I haven’t tried.

Back in 1987 my mother and I went to New York to enjoy Christmas with my brother and his family, in-laws and a few friends. Mom had ordered tickets for a group of us to go to the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show the previous spring to be sure we’d have tickets.

We did some sightseeing in Manhattan before heading to Radio City. There was a line wrapped around the block for tickets, but luckily, we already had ours. One of us handed the ticket-taker seven tickets, and we filed into the lobby as she counted us off one by one.

Wait a minute, seven adults and one infant, but only seven tickets. We’re one ticket short.

The ticket outlet had assured my mother those many months earlier that there was no charge for infants, since they’d be on their mother’s lap anyway.

Not so said Radio City. "Insurance requirements." Our problem was with the ticket outlet, not Radio City.

The Radio City manager, whose name was Kevin I believe, was polite but not very helpful.

We could buy another ticket – as there were still some individual seats available up in the stratosphere – but that would mean there’d be an empty seat somewhere that we were paying good money for but not using. The baby was going to sit on his mother’s lap regardless, and we were going to be occupying only the same seven seats we would have if we had been admitted originally. So this prospect was unacceptable to us.

Sometime during the proceedings a tall, stocky guy started looming nearby. Turns out this organized-crime-henchman-looking dude, whom I’ll call “The Juicer,” was Radio City security guard.

We stated that we could not use the tickets we bought, and wanted a refund. No refunds. And, as The Juicer said, we couldn’t “sell them here,” because that would be scalping. Whether you buy tickets expressly to resell them on the streets or you get stuck with them due to someone else’s error, it’s scalping to sell them.

Finally, manager Kevin suggested that he might be able to give us eight seats together if we returned the following day. That would mean the eight of us, including an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and two grandmothers, would have to take the long, crowded train ride to Manhattan again, and occupy seven seats during the show while paying for eight.

It sucked, but it was the best we were going to do.

We spent the rest of the day sightseeing, taking in the observation deck at the World Trade Center, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and other “Christmas in New York” stuff.

Back home later that night, as we stewed over our Radio City experience, we all began to feel worn by a long day navigating a chilly city, and some us of seemed to be developing colds. A few of us opted not to go the next day, and decided it probably wouldn’t be good for the baby to go out in the cold again, and the rest didn’t want to go because they wanted it to be a family experience - as was intended.

We ended up passing off the tickets to my aunt and some cousins, who went in and enjoyed the show immensely. True to her nature, my mother wouldn't accept any money for the tickets which she had paid several hundred dollars for and had ordered nine months in advance to ensure we’d have seats. So much for that!

I’ve never been able to look at or listen to anything involving Radio City since that time. The mere mention of the place gives me a sick feeling that hasn’t softened any with the years. An enduring mental association has been rooted in my head between that venue and bah humbug feelings.

Radio City Music Hall is, for me, the real grinch that stole Christmas.

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