$25 for tickets, $11 for parking, plus food, drink & back pain?

Launched in 2002 in Louisville, Kentucky Lebowski Fest is, according to the official website, “a celebration of all things related to the 1998 Coen brothers cult comedy, ‘The Big Lebowski.’ Fans of the film (aka ‘Achievers’) come from far and wide to drink white Russians, throw some rocks and party with an array of Dudes, Walters and Maudes (not to mention a nihilist or two).”

After months of anticipation, and enduring fee-related drama with Ticketmaster, my sister and I headed down to the Showbox in downtown Seattle to attend the first night of this two-day extravaganza. When all was said and done, however, I’m not even sure an entire pitcher of white Russians would have cured my disappointment.

The following is a letter of complaint addressed to the promoters of the Lebowski Fest fan event in October of 2010 in Seattle, WA.

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to request a refund of $26, the cost for parking and other related expenses encountered while attending your failure of a Lebowski Fest event in Seattle, WA in October 2010.

When I first heard Lebowski Fest was coming to my hometown of Seattle, I was living in Cork, Ireland planning a trip home for the summer. Determined not to miss it this time around, I extended my trip into October leading to months of eager anticipation. Little did I know the whole experience would leave me feeling extremely Un-Dude.

My initial annoyance with the event began when I attempted to purchase tickets via Ticketmaster.com. Upon discovering I’d be required to pay $13+ in fees per ticket, I decided to avoid the rip off and take my chances at the door on the night. Note to organizers: Do not use Ticketmaster. When you advertise one price and your customer has to pay 60% more at the outlet, it makes you look bad too.

On the day, after paying the $11 for parking at a nearby lot, my sister and I arrived at the venue at 7pm when the doors were advertised, on your website, to open. The doorman advised us, however, that the venue wouldn’t open until 8pm and if we wanted to secure a place in line, we’d have to purchase something from the adjacent bar; my sister’s white Russian cost $7.50 as did my grilled cheese sandwich bringing our combined grand pre-ticket purchase total to $26.

Finally, shortly after 8pm when our group number (not a single place in line) was called, we bought our tickets and headed passed the souvenir stand (where I intended to blow a copious amount of cash) into the Showbox to find seats. Much to our surprise, here were the best options available:

  • Sitting on a hardwood floor in a large open area in front of the stage.
  • A single row of uncomfortable chairs surrounding the open floor several yards from the stage with the majority of views obscured by pillars, enormous concert-style speakers, and people.
  • A limited number of tables in the back of the venue with views of the stage completely obscured by the aforementioned pillars, speakers, and people.

For $25 per person, plus parking, plus a mandatory bar purchase, we were being offered two and a half hours of loud DJed music, a band and dance troupe we’ve never heard of and wouldn’t be able to see without obstruction, before we could watch the actual film which we also wouldn’t be able to see without obstruction? Perhaps if I wasn’t so heavily medicated at the time to slave off a migraine I could’ve drunk away my frustration, but instead I spent $11 to park, $15 on food and beverage, and $25 on a ticket to sit uncomfortably looking at pillars, speakers, and people.

When securing our ticket refunds I was told by Showbox staff that they wanted to seat this event, but the organizers refused. It is due to this complete lack of seating and overall consideration for your fans that we choose not to attend day two of the event as planned, and are requesting that our expenses of $26 be refunded as well. Had we know in advance we’d be asked to purchase food/drink to get in line to then pay $25 to deal with a badly organized event, we would’ve watched the Big Lebowski on DVD on the couch at home.

Regrettably,

Natina Norton
Former Lebowski Fest Fan

Photo: AP

I swear I am not making this up.

Popping into a local shop in Cork, Ireland recently, I came across several newspaper headlines that immediately caught my attention. Big, bold font, bright red colours, and together they collectively read to the effect:

“Man Denies Killing Kangaroo with Drink and Ecstasy at Dublin Disco.”

My first reaction? I was simply dumbfounded. So.. Many.. Questions. Let’s start with how many things are wrong with the above headline?

  1. Having a kangaroo in a disco.
  2. Giving an animal drugs.
  3. Giving an animal alcohol.
  4. Potentially killing an animal with drugs and alcohol.
  5. Finding yourself in position to have to deny you killed an animal with drugs and alcohol at a disco.

While attempting to shake off my multi-layered disorientation, I began to read several of the included articles, but this only lead to further confusion, then irritation, then full blown anger with each passing paragraph.

From The Daily Mail:

Detectives questioned a circus owner today about allegations that a wallaby died after being plied with ecstasy and drink at a birthday disco.

The marsupial was let loose among more than 150 revellers dancing at the Clarion Hotel in Liffey Valley, west Dublin, to the theme tune of Australian television show Skippy The Bush Kangaroo.

Video of the incident was uploaded to Facebook which The Irish Times described as finishing with “a man simulating a sexual act on the animal,” much to the delight of the other guests. Meanwhile, a circus, sited 500 metres away from the hotel, denied they’d ever allow their animals to be in a disco, contrary to another report which claimed this would not be the first time the circus had received a similar disco-related accusation.

It just gets better and better, doesn’t it?

Whether the allegations regarding the intoxication death of the kangaroo (much less the allegations against the circus) prove to be true, this whole story, the fact that someone – I assume sober – thought it a good idea to bring a wild animal into a disco in the first place, remains exceptionally disturbing. How can anyone be so oblivious?

Traumatizing an animal for the sole purpose of human entertainment? Since animal-based circuses are still in business, perhaps that’s a stupid question.

Bill O’Reilly of Fox News fame apparently just can’t help himself. Appearing on ABC’s program The View, O’Reilly (well-known for his loud spouting of overbearing rhetoric), managed to rant his way into an embarrassingly bigoted statement. He also insulted and alienated co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar to the point of them walking off the set. The topic was the mosque near Ground Zero. O’Reilly’s take was that it was inappropriate for the families who lost loved ones because, “Muslims killed us on 9/11.”

A description of the event from an excellent article in the LA Times:

If you wanted to know what’s wrong with American politics, all you had to do was watch “The View” on Thursday, when co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walked off the set after Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly announced that “Muslims killed us on 9/11.”  In the wake of their departure, co-host Barbara Walters, who is becoming more schoolmarmish with every passing year, admonished her colleagues, telling the audience, “You have just seen what should never happen,” and adding that “we” should be able to sit down and talk calmly about politics even if we disagree.

Girlfriend, please.

While I appreciate Barbara Walter’s feeble and misguided attempt at keeping the peace, in an effort to do so she lost a lot of credibility. O’Reilly is not a humble philosopher. He’s an aggressive instigator; a hate-filled bomb waiting for the opportunity to detonate. Much like the Rev. Terry Jones fiasco, Walters and company provided O’Reilly a soapbox in the name of ratings. You can hardly blame the fallout when you’re the one who lit the fuse.


(1.45)

O’Reilly did later clarify his statement, inserting the word “extremists” into his argument, however, he still failed to explain how or why the mosque near Ground Zero is inappropriate for the Muslim families who also lost loved ones on 9/11.

Visiting Ticketmaster.com recently, I began the process of purchasing two tickets for the Lebowski Fest, a celebration of all things related to The Big Lebowski. Little did I know, however, by the end of this seemingly simple effort I’d find myself feeling extremely un-Dude.

Advance ticket prices for the two day event were advertised at $20 and $25 respectively; a relatively hefty investment for a movie, bowling, and what have you. Nevertheless, it’s Lebowski Fest so I could hardly complain. Knowing Ticketmaster’s reputation for fees – partially thanks to a boycott by Pearl Jam in the 1990s – I did, out of principle, at first make an attempt to purchase the tickets elsewhere, but that only resulted in more frustration (like talking to Larry about his homework) at the local outlet:

Me: What is your fee on these tickets?

Agent: (Pointing at the computer screen) The tickets are $19.99 each, and the convenience charge is $9.60 and the facility fee is $1.

Me: Is that $10.60 per ticket?

Agent: (Again pointing at the screen) The tickets are $19.99 each, and the convenience charge is…

Me: Yes, I get that. But it doesn’t specify if the fee is per ticket or if it’s the total fee for both tickets. All I want to know is if I’d be charged $10.60 total in fees or $10.60 per ticket, like $21.20.

Agent: The tickets are $19.99…

Me: Okay. I’m leaving now.

With my options limited and the Fest dates rapidly approaching, I decided to bite the bullet and buy from the evil Ticketmaster.

  • Convenience Charge (for their convenience, not mine) = $8.60 PER TICKET
  • Facility Charge = $1.00 PER TICKET
  • Tax = $0.43 PER TICKET

Only slightly cheaper than the outlet, yet I’d still be spending potentially $10 more than the advertised price and that doesn’t even take tickets for day two of festivities into consideration, not a mind food and a souvenir t-shirt. But wait! There’s more!

Outrageous shipping charges are also available, if you don’t select “Will Call,” including $2.50 for the privileged of printing them yourself at home. (Apparently this charge covers the cost of sending you an email, which we all know is more expense than a postage stamp.) Then, once you’ve entered your credit card info and billing address, Ticketmaster tacks on ANOTHER “Order Processing Fee” of $5.94 as an afterthought.

So when all is said and done, a $19 ticket will cost you $32 at Ticketmaster. That’s roughly a 60% mark up.

Needless to say, after being asked to pay a facility charge, and a convenience charge, AND taxes on top of the advertised $19 price, the additional $5.94 inexplicably snuck in at the last minute was the final straw. I’d rather take my chances at the venue on the day than pay $13 in fees to a – in the preferred nomenclature – soulless corporation running as a monopoly.

 

Options.

 

Because Lebowski Fest, which began in 2002, doesn’t have the multimillion dollar marketing machine of, say a Justin Bieber, my chances of scoring tickets outside Ticketmaster were limited to begin with. However, for the bigger concerts and sporting events, there are far more ways to circumvent excessive fees.

Go to the venue – You can’t avoid all fees, but you’ll at least be able to elude the dreaded “convenience charge” by purchasing your tickets in advance or on the day directly from the venue.

Win tickets – Contact local radio stations to inquire about contests and giveaways for upcoming events. I won two tickets to my first concert this way. It cost quite a bit in stamps for all the individual postal entries, but it still cost less than buying two tickets at Ticketmaster.

Craigslist or Ebay – While you must be wary of scalpers and counterfeit tickets, this may be your best option to not only avoid Ticketmaster fees, but also find reasonably priced tickets to sold out events.

Outside giving Ticketmaster CEO, Irving Azoff, a bath with an amphibious rodent, what can be done to stop Ticketmaster’s fleecing of the general public? Is there any hope of defeating them when even the patrons of grunge-o-licious virtue, Pearl Jam, yielded to their former archenemy in 1998?

Unfortunately no. It’s all about supply and demand. As long as the average citizen doesn’t mind paying their fees (or continues to do so begrudgingly), Ticketmaster will remain the masters of the ticket universe.

As for me, I do mind, this loyal Big Lebowski fan minds. A $13 add on is just offensive and I refuse to reward their abuse of power. This will not stand, ya know, this aggression will not stand, man. And until there’s a major revolt, or promoters start disclosing ALL additional fees in the advertised price, you wanna know what the sum total of my money Ticketmaster will see?

Mark it zero.

Photo by Darren Greenwood, jupiterimages.com

As summer draws to a close, I’m reminded of the many fun-filled trips to the beach I’ve had the chance to experience; the ocean, the sun, the sand and… the trash.

Humans, in addition to being the most over-populated species on the planet, are also the laziest. The sloth has got nothing on us and they’re so slow, it’d take them a month to walk a mile! (Have you walked a mile in the last month?)

Based on the state of most beaches after a decent day of weather, evolution has not only increased the size and complexity of the human brains, but it also seems to have disabled our ability to clean up after ourselves.

Caro, from the uniquely titled blog, Help Me Or I’ll Kick You, discovered a bunched of washed up garage (no, not whatever was Kayne West’s latest album) on an otherwise pleasant walk down the beach in Newfoundland.

I may be no expert, but I know for a fact that tires and blue plastic are not native to any natural environment. Some of you may be tempted to think “Newfoundland needs to clean up their act!”, but you know what? It’s not them. It’s us. What are we doing to ourselves?

– Caro, “Of beauty, discovery and destruction,” June 24, 2010

Humans (as the title of my blog suggests) are collectively disgusting, inconsiderate beings who indiscriminately dump their waste into the ocean (and everywhere for that matter), never once giving a second thought to the damage it will cause. As was so eloquently stated by an official in Louisiana during the BP crisis, the fish, birds and other wildlife of the Gulf are suffering because we insist on the convenience of oil. This statement is true of environments all over the world. It’s a shame so many prefer to go the “outta sight, outta mind” route rather than take responsibility and clean up their act.

I mean, seriously. How freakin’ difficult is it to bring along a plastic bag to the beach, put your garbage in it, then throw it away in a trash bin at the end of the day?

"That thing could really tow the boat I don't have up the mountain I don't live near.”- Jon Stewart, The Daily Show on Comedy Central, June 16, 2010

In America you see them everywhere you go; big wheels, big grills, big everything. They are the Super Size Me of automobiles. And their drivers? They range from the scrawny, blinged out 20-something to a heavyset granny in the Walmart parking lot. So why is this country so obsessed with the Sports Utility Vehicle?

It’s all about the illusion of ‘Big Is Better.’

Sure, an SUV is handy on moving day, or for loading up boulders when the mood strikes, or perhaps making your inadequately-sized penis appear larger against the tasteful shimmer of your nudie girl mud flaps. However – small penises aside – how many average Americans really need this kind of size and power on a daily basis? Chances are that unless you find yourself moving once a month, live in the mountains or in snow 9 months outta the year, or transport DIY materials for a living, the answer is…

NONE.

With the recent launch of Ford’s newest Explorer SUV (with a reported base price for the various V6 models ranging from US$28,995 to US$37,995) I was reminded of the large number of my fellow citizens who own one of these over indulgent monstrosities. It’s become the soccer mom mini-van of our generation. And the excuses for ownership are endless:

  1. I need the space for the kids and grocery shopping.
  2. I need the power in case it snows or I ever go off road.
  3. I bet you won’t object so much the next time you need help moving!

Note: If you need a tank to go grocery shopping, perhaps you’re buying too much food? How often do you actually drive in the snow and/or go off road anyway? Also, if you’re offering to spend $20,000+ on a vehicle to help me move someday, that’s really nice, but just $20 bucks will get me a U-Haul for the day.

Shockingly enough, along with the bogus excuses also comes the audacity to complain:

  1. My monthly truck payment is SO high!
  2. Why don’t they make bigger parking spots!
  3. It cost half my paycheque to fill the gas tank!

Note: Surprise! You chose an overpriced, over-sized, gas-guzzling monster truck! Oh, I’m sorry. You were expecting cheap and universally accommodating? Is it any wonder why we still haven’t moved away from a petroleum-based economy with this kind of backwards thinking?

The reality is if you own a SUV you probably live in the suburbs. You only really need transportation to get to and from work, the store, to run errands and the rare weekend excursion which does not in fact involve a multitude of steep, gravely hills. And even if you could afford it (and you know you can’t) it still doesn’t justify taking up two parking spaces and polluting the environment with a 2-ton exhaust machine.

So, still obsessed with the ‘Bigger Is Better’ attitude? Still need to make excuses so you can impress your friends or make up for your tiny penis? Try investing in professional therapy or maybe a life coach instead.

Contrary to popular belief, owning a bigger car (or any unnecessarily expensive accessory for that matter) does not make you a better person, just a more materialist one. Like most people fascinated by big wheels, big grills, and big everything, it’s all an illusion. Americans actually need far more important things in their garages of life than Stupid Utility Vehicles.

Buy a Smart Car instead and quit your complaining.

Rationalizations

Many thanks for the overwhelming amount of feedback, both on and off WordPress.com, on my last column: Freedom of Religion & Stupidity: The Rev. Terry Jones Story. Some loved it, some hated it, and someone actually compared me to the Tea Party (*Shutter*), but collectively everyone had a worthy opinion to contribute.

In response to everyone’s questions and comments, I’ve created the following Q&A to add to the discussion and further develop my position on this topic.

Credit: aej.org

Q: Why do you care if the First Amendment rights of someone like Rev. Jones is denied?

A: I don’t. What I do care about is the current contradiction in this country where many Americans are cherry picking when, where, and who the First Amendment applies to.

There is no asterisk in the Constitution. Maybe there should be in some extreme cases, but when you start denying the rights of one person based on personal opinion, it weakens everyone’s rights and leaves the door open for more bias. Demanding a mosque not be built based on “feelings,” for example, is not a viable excuse to disregards someone’s rights; that is called discrimination.

Q: Isn’t Qur’an burning the equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater?

A: No. Falsely, shouting “fire” in a crowed theater, though irresponsible, much like burning the Qur’an, the Bible, or the Torah is not specifically against the law. However, if it directly leads to injuries, death, and/or public services i.e. local law enforcement having to get involved, then the person can be held personally and financially responsible. In the case of Pastor Terry Jones, he was ordered to pay the city of Gainesville, Florida $180,000 to cover security costs.

As a potential counter argument, there is the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio where the scope of banned speech was ultimately limited to that which would be directed to and likely to incite imminent lawless action (e.g. a riot). However, if this addendum is considered applicable in the case of Terry Jones, we’re again confronted with the hypocrisy of cherry picking. Jones might be a bigoted lunatic, but what about an elected official like Newt Gingrich likening Islam to the Nazis or fear mongers like Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck? The latter have their own TV shows every weekday, inciting hatred and violence in their loyal viewers. In fact, much of what they say could be categorized as “hate speech.” Shouldn’t they also be held responsible for the acts of crazy fanatics who have been inspired by them to aggression and murder? Who gets to decide when speech should be banned?


Q: Couldn’t the same logic be used to defend the KKK burning crosses in front yards?

A: No. Though the definition may vary from state to state, burning a cross on someone’s property and/or a public place is considered a hate crime and, if the purpose is criminal intimidation, it is a felony (as well it should be), so it does not fall under the First Amendment.

Q: What about the potential danger to our military?

A: Obviously I’m not a fan of soldiers getting killed, much less because some idiot thought book burning was a good idea. I just want to know how and where we can reasonably draw the line. I’d LOVE to see people like Bill O’Reilly off the air; hell, shutdown Fox News entirely. They incite hatred and fear – the verbal equivalent of burning a cross on the New York Imam Rauf’s front lawn – which could potentially endanger the lives of Muslims in America. Why are they allowed Freedom of Speech and the Press, but some preacher in a tiny church in Florida gets undeserved news coverage and worldwide condemnation?

Americans justify our country going to war by saying our military is, “fighting for our freedom.” It’s an utterly ridiculous concept for many reasons, but in this case, if it truly is OUR freedom they are fighting for, then why are so many in the U.S. using lies, hostility, and intimidation to take freedom away from someone else i.e. specifically Muslims who want to build an Islamic Center in New York?

[Video: Glenn Beck says we don’t want Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal’s help or money. He says, the Prince already sent us help and [he] flew that help into the Trade Centers.” Someone should probably let Beck know that bin Talal is a major share holder in Fox News’ News Corp.]

Q: Is denying the Freedom of Speech of a Terry Jones really a “slippery slope” situation?

A: My fight is not about Terry Jones. It is against the idea that freedom is selective in this country. For example, if the Terry Jones’ of the world should not be allowed to burn the Qur’an because it might incite violence, then the Bill O’Reillys and the corrupt Fox News organization should be shut down too. Why is ANY hate speech allowed?

We’re already on a slippery slope in this regard. There was a time when whites were uncomfortable with blacks using their same drinking fountain. Now, despite the fact that it was extremists who attacked us on 9-11, people are uncomfortable with peaceful Muslims building a mosque. Some even go so far as to say Muslims shouldn’t even be allowed to wear a religious headscarf in public.

What if crucifixes were deemed offensive? Should every Christian be forced to remove them in public? What about Ash Wednesday dots? Nuns and their funny hats? Religious tattoos? Those damn Jesus fish alone are enough to provoke unreasonable anger.

To be honest, I’m happy Terry Jones was silenced. But he is not the root of the problem.

Q: So what is the root of this problem?

A: The way I see it, the real problem behind all this strife is:

  1. The media’s constant, irrational peddling of terror and giving insignificant people like Terry Jones an audience.
  2. Americans buying into the media’s propaganda.
  3. Religion.

Religion might be the worst of the three. People seem to forget that everyone has a God to kill for; they all just have a different name. Let’s just throw everyone’s holy book on a pyre and roast ourselves some marshmallows.

I’m not suggesting imminent lawless action, by the way; just a tasty, fireside treat using some potentially inflammatory kindling.