Sunday, March 25, 2012

No Joy for You: Disabled Tickets to See Bruce Springsteen Tough to Find

I just realized another way disabled people are screwed: buying concert tickets.
My experience is concert-specific -- Bruce Springsteen tickets in Los Angeles -- but I’ll bet it’s applicable to other venues and musicians.
I was aced out of handicapped-accessible tickets for the April concert after going the traditional route: getting online the minute they went on sale through Ticketmaster, specifying accessible tickets like I was told. I got a nice message in minutes from a Ticketmaster employee who said all accessible tickets were sold out.

When another concert was added within hours of the first one going on sale, I went through the motions again the second they went on sale, only to be told again the accessible seats were gone.
No problem, people who listened to my sad proclamations said, I can always find them on a secondary site, like Craigslist or StubHub.
Here’s the thing: there are thousands of tickets available to Bruce’s two concerts here on sites such as those. But not for me. Or for any disabled person.
While I can use a walker, I can’t walk long distances. So I need to use a wheelchair for shows like this. I know my wheelchair is comfortable for me. I cannot sit on a seat, bleacher or stand in the General Admission area.
Here's what I’ve learned in the last several weeks of trying to find accessible seats for purchase:
Craigslist LA comes up blank when I type in wheelchair or accessible Springsteen tickets and search. StubHub and other sites I’ve tried don’t list disabled seats as a feature for ticket sellers to highlight. You can narrow your search by section or a price range, but not accessibility.
The LA Sports Arena -- where both his concerts are being held -- does not sell tickets over the phone and while its website says wonderful things about how accommodating it is for the disabled, no wheelchair seats are evident on the map of the arena.
When I called a national ticket broker service in Chicago because it had a live person to talk to, he said there was no way of knowing which of their Springsteen tickets were wheelchair tickets, if any. I would need to contact the arena and have them tell me which specific seats were accessible, then I could search for those on all the sites I’ve previously visited. 
I emailed the arena with just this question. I got no response. But that would be a tedious search, even if I had those specifications. (Hello. I’m disabled, I’ve got back problems and it’s extremely painful for me to sit at a computer for a long period of time.)
Why, one might ask, do I even want to see Springsteen if the search is so physically wearing on me? If you’ve seen him, you know. I’m reminded of a succinct review Jon Stewart gave last time he saw Bruce on tour in New York.
“Joy,” he said. “If you like joy, this show is for you.”
Bruce has been giving me joy in live shows for more than 30 years. I first saw him live in Tucson on my date’s birthday in 1978.  (The date later became my husband.) The concert was unbelievable.  “Thunder Road” brought me to tears for the first of many times over the years. Bruce crowd-surfed. Clarence donned his Santa suit for a jubilant “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”.
In the many times I’ve seen Bruce since, he has never failed to deliver the magic. It's not a show; it's a religious  experience full of power, energy and love.
In the old days, we would camp out for tickets or dial phones ferociously. We rarely got good seats, but we got them. A few shows were particularly memorable. I saw him on the “Born in the USA” tour in 1984 when I was pregnant with my first child. I went to his acoustic tour for my birthday in 1996 and got his autograph. After the show, Bruce was standing on a loading dock outside the concert venue. I remember my whole body shook as my friend Norma and I patiently raised our tickets over our heads in what seemed like a sea of extremely-tall seasoned autograph seekers. 
No one was saying a word. We were in the presence of The Boss. I sensed that his signing-time might be up, so I spoke. “Bruce, what if we are too short?” 
He stopped, looked at us and said, “I’ll take care of you girls.”
Before he left, he did: reaching down for our tickets and personalizing his autographs.
While I made my journey into cancer hell (and back) over the last seven years,  Bruce and his music played a role. “Radio Nowhere” from the “Magic” album served as my go-to song for MRIs.
I got more brain MRIs than I can count. Although I wore earplugs, I could still hear the annoying rhythmic beeps of the machine.  Bruce’s song was my silent sing-along backdrop to make the experience more endurable.
My daughter propped a picture of Bruce in front of my hospital bed at home. (I also had photos of my kids and family nearby: this was just an extra incentive to keep up my spirits.)

While I was shuttled between hospitals, rehabilitation facilities and home as I fought the lymphoma that left me paralyzed for a spell, I had many terrifying drug-induced hallucinations. But the only one that was pleasant involved Bruce.
Nearly four years ago, I imagined that my husband had  arranged for Bruce to perform a courtyard concert outside the room where I was getting my stem-cell transplant. It was going to be simultaneously broadcast on all the late-night talk shows. Like all of my horrifying hallucinations, this one seemed extremely real. 

I knew that Bruce had sung at Tim Russert’s memorial just months before, so it didn’t seem too far-fetched.  I believed my husband and the hospital staff were planning to cheer me up and to keep it a secret from me. When one of my kids (the daughter who attended the "Born" concert in utero)  said she had run into Bruce Springsteen’s mother in the restroom down the hall, I responded in a nonchalant way, not wanting to let on that I was in on the plan.
It was a drug dream, it turned out. My daughter wasn't even there. Nor was my husband late that night. And despite the fact that I thought I had heard the band warming up outside, as I flipped through the talk shows on my TV I sadly became aware that it was all in my head.
I last saw Bruce and the band in 2008 on the "Magic" tour with my son. The venue was the Honda Center in Anaheim. Getting those tickets was easier. I just called and got a wheelchair seat and a companion seat for my son.

As he performs his "Wrecking Ball" tour this year, The Boss still has the fire and energy for his legendary arena shows. But while Bruce is singing stirring new songs like "We Are Alive" and "We Take Care of Our Own," a lot of his fans have faded physically. We need more accessible venues and a handicapped-friendly, fair ticketing system.
We need some care.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The 2012 Handi Awards: Places That Make Life Easier for the Disabled

I’m quick to whine when I have trouble finding accessible accommodations in my daily life. But sometimes I am blown away by how accommodating a particular establishment or staff is.
So in the spirit of the Southern California obsession with awards, I hereby announce my 2012 Handi Awards: places that have made my life as a handicapped person easier.
First, a word about the methodology: It’s entirely unscientific, comes from a female perspective and is geographically limited to places within easy driving distance of my home. It’s a compilation of particularly accommodating places I’ve visited the last seven years in my wheelchair or walker. 
And while you may not be in my neck of the woods to visit these spots, you can be heartened knowing some people do take care to make disabled lives a little better.
Here, in alphabetical order, are the winners of my 2012 Handi Awards.
AHMANSON THEATRE 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles
After an unpleasant experience in the nosebleed wheelchair section of a show here, I was assured by a season ticket seller things would be different for me if I returned as a regular customer.
Boy are they.
Not only is handicapped parking a breeze via their discounted valet service, but the seats are perfect (not in anyone’s way or blocked in by other patrons) and the attendants are always courteous and efficient. They wheeled me in when I was in a wheelchair and remove and retrieve my walker as needed during other shows. The women’s handicapped restroom is fantastic -- a room in itself including sink -- and separated from all the other stalls. I can bypass the line of patrons at intermission waiting for a stall. 
Carpinteria State Beach, Carpinteria
Free, convenient disabled parking right on the beach makes this a nice spot if I want to see some surf or breathe ocean air. Or visit some of fabulous restaurants nearby. But first I’ll hit the clean, easily accessible public restroom on Linden Street in the free parking lot.
COLLEGE OF THE CANYONS PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 26455 Rockwell Canyon Road,  Santa Clarita
While this venue could use a spot to drop off disabled ticket holders, it always provides a top rate experience once I get into the theater, whether I am in a wheelchair or walker. 
Volunteer attendants kindly escort me to my seat, bring me my walker at intermission and, when I am on the lower level, lead me to an easily accessible handicapped restroom that is not for general public use.
I’ve been in plenty of rest stops I shudder to recall, but this one near Santa Barbara brings a smile to my face. It’s clean, it’s been open every time I need it and it has a friendly attendant there to point out the handicapped-accessible stalls.
Nestled in a beautiful setting and well-maintained, this is a rare rest stop where I would actually consider “resting” and maybe using a picnic table. 
JACK-IN-THE-BOX, 26547 Bouquet Canyon Road, Santa Clarita 
Located in a busy shopping complex, this Jack’s goes out of its way to make a visit enjoyable for the disabled. Parking is convenient, restrooms are lovely and accessible and the seating area inside has at least one designated table for a wheelchair.
When I ordered my curly fries (I had a craving, OK?), I asked for a cup for water. The server set down an empty tray and my cup and then I remembered I was disabled and couldn’t carry these to my table.
 (I do forget sometimes -- like when I recently bought a twin-pack of cute umbrellas at Costco and then, when I got home, remembered I can’t actually hold an umbrella and walk with my walker.)
I took the cup from the tray, went over and filled my water, then stuffed a napkin and straw in my pocket and managed to sit down without spilling. When my made-to-order fries were ready, the counter guy called out my number. I looked at him and when he realized it was me, he walked around the counter and delivered my fries on a tray right to my table. So kind.
THE GREEK THEATER, 2700 North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles
The disabled parking in this venue needs major improvements, but the Greek gets high praise for its accessible restrooms. Built along the lines of its bowl layout, bathrooms are easy to get to no matter where you are sitting.  The stalls are plentiful and, during intermission at the concert I attended, the handicapped-equipped were  guarded by an attendant who saves them for those who are truly disabled. Yay!

My treatment at my favorite late-night talk show couldn’t have been better. When I called to see how accessible it was before I brought two friends down to the CBS studios, a guy at 1Iota (the agency who handles tickets) called back to answer my questions and assure me it was worth the trip.
I got primo parking, sat on my seated walker in the shade and chatted with a security guard while others lined up elsewhere on the sidewalk. Restrooms were quite accessible and convenient. My friends and I and other less-abled folks were given a separate elevator ride from the rest of the throng. And while other fans descended via stairs to their seats, I was led backstage and escorted to mine on the stage level. Two courteous staffers helped me climb a few steps to my front row seat. It was just as easy getting out of there after the show was over. 
MASSAGE ENVY, 25636 The Old Road, Stevenson Ranch
My regular massage site makes my day without the added stress of getting in the door and up on the massage table comfortably. When a front desk attendant or sometimes my therapist sees me approaching the glass door, he or she will open it so I don’t have to struggle just to get in. Ditto for exiting.
Best of all, the heated massage tables can be electrically lowered to where I can easily get on them (not the case with fancier spas I’ve been to), then elevated to where the therapist can work. 
When I visited a site in Northern California, I realized not all Massage Envy locations have such accommodating tables. The perk  -- and the wonderful massage therapists -- make me a regular at this location.
(P.S. Take heed, doctors: Is it possible to get examining tables that you can lower? I don’t think I’m the only person who can’t “hop up” on them.)