(Wednesday, November 14th, 2012)

It’s Not Easy Being A Clippers Fan

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Three months after arriving to Los Angeles, a sales representative randomly called my cell phone to see if I was interested in buying season tickets for the 2012-13 Clipper basketball. How did this person get my number? I have no idea, but I took it as a sign of good fortune because under my list of Things To Do was the phrase “Call About Clippers Tix.’

Back in the day when Dwight Howard was the beloved hero of Orlando, the city I will always call home, I was a Magic season ticket holder. So when my fiancee Cory and I committed ourselves to moving to LA, I started turning my attention towards the Clippers. I love going to basketball games. It’s the one thing I can do as a quadriplegic and feel somewhat normal because all the other fans must sit in chairs too. I also enjoy the camaraderie live sports create within a community. Where else are you going to high-five a stranger? So I bought a Blake Griffin jersey and prepared myself mentally for the team transition.

It must have been Shakob’s first day on the job. When I told him how excited I was to be living in Los Angeles and about my new obsession with the Clippers, he too became excited, almost like he couldn’t believe he had finally made a connection with someone on the other end of the phone. Cheerfully, we discussed Dwight Howard’s trading status. We debated what NBA team would win the title in the upcoming season. We even joked about Blake Griffin being a nice guy. Shakob didn’t need to convince me to buy Clippers tickets that day. He just needed to find somewhere for me to sit–and that’s when the problem started.

As everyone knows, there are all kinds of laws in the United States that are suppose to protect disabled people from being treated any differently. Specifically there is the American Disabilities Act (ACT) that has a fundamental principle that is suppose to provide equal opportunity to people with disabilities. And while I understand the intentions of these laws are in good nature, the truth is they create a fucking nightmare for me when buying any kind of tickets. Because the law states that an arena (or ticket seller) must accommodate those in wheelchairs, there are often no wheelchair seats available for purchase. Lawful executives, in fear of being sued, sometimes choose not to distribute any disabled seats at all just “in case” they’re needed a the event.  The handicapped way is to buy regular tickets, show up to the event and then hope for the best, which means I never know where I’m sitting, I can never go to a show with more than one friend (one companion is the lawful limit) and often it takes an extra thrity minutes of shuffling tickets at customer service before I can begin to enjoy the evening. How inconvenient, right?.

“Really, there are no disabled season tickets available in the lower bowl?” I asked Shakob again. “I’ll pay extra if necessary.” One of the benefits of the new Amway Center in Orlando was management finally had enough disabled seats to accommodate anyone in the lower bowl. So when I bought NBA tickets last year, I had to cough up a pretty penny but at least the seats existed.

“No, I’m sorry,” Shakab replied. He seemed to be just as disappointed and confused as to why he couldn’t make the sell happen either.

“Well then what should we do? I don’t want to sit up in the nosebleeds,” I continued. I was determined to help Shakob meet his daily sales goal.

“Let me go talk to my director,” he finally replied. I must assume not many disabled people go to basketball games because I’m often told when purchasing tickets at any arena, “I must consult with my director.”

Together, Shakob and his director came up with a solution. I was to buy normal tickets in the nosebleeds, but then promised a quick exchange of tickets once I arrived. If we arrived early enough, Shakob was careful to explain, there should be no problems with relocating to the lower tier. I had to repeat his statement aloud because suddenly I felt like I was scoring a deal. “Lower bowl tickets for the price of the nosebleed section?” I confirmed. It sounded to good to be true–and that’s because it was.

On Halloween night, Cory and I arrived to the Staples Center an hour and half prior to the game beginning. We were directed to three different customer service rooms by three different Staples Center employees before someone finally could help us on the third floor. After waiting thirty minutes and sitting next to a lunatic who continued to rant and make creepy comments to the women in the room, our new tickets arrived. I looked down to the tickets as we left the office in a hurry and then immediately came to a halt. We were not going back down the elevator to the place where aisle ways are wider and the over-the-counter food consisted of fancy Turkey sandwiches with avacado. According to our tickets, we were to remain on the third floor where they sell hotdogs and if not careful one could end up onthe front of your clothes. My face flushed with fury. “What was the point of purchasing the tickets months in advance?,” I asked aloud, addressing no one in particular. It’s rare that I become enraged but when I do I’ve noticed Cory hangs about three feet behind me.

Our not-so-awesome seats.

Arriving to our seats didn’t help matters.  Not only were we up in the rafters, we were tucked away in a corner behind one of the backboards. I started debating whether or not to go back to customer service and ask for different seats when the lunatic from the office earlier sat next to Cory and spat at us, “Yeah Clippers!!! It’s gonna be a good game, right?” Within seconds, I grabbed Cory’s hand and started dragging him back to the customer service office.

The lady standing at the counter was unimpressed with my story. The 45-minute wait for tickets, the terrible relocation, the failed promises of Shakob, the lunatic that even she had scoffed at earlier–she didn’t flinch at one comment, not even when I gave her my sad wheelchair face. This woman was tough and clearly not phased by adversity. “I can try… but I can’t promise you nothing,” she finally announced, rolling her eyes at what I imagine to be the laborious job she was getting paid–or as I like to think in some roundabout way that I’m paying her–to do. I immediately started writing Shakob an email from my phone explaining the circumstances. The package of tickets he sold me were clearly not going to work. Either we needed to find a way to upgrade to a lower tier or look into receiving a refund. And minute by minute, buying single game tickets was starting to look like the best option as we moved forward through this long drawn out process. Even the Stub Hub transaction fees seemed minimal compared to the time it took to deal with this situation. And for the first time in a long time, while sitting in a puddle of my own frustration, I wished I wasn’t disabled.

“Good news,” the lady said, interrupting my trainwrecked thoughts. “We were able to find two other seats… unfortunately they’re in the same area but further down the row. Hope that helps.” It was official. I had been defeated. I would not get my way that day. We were to be stuck next to the lunatic in the rafters.

Shakob didn’t bother to reply to any of my three emails. He also didn’t return my phone call. It was when I wrote the advertising office asking they forward my email to the director of sales, that I finally received a return phone call from the Clipper sales office. Coincidentally, it also happened to the be the day of our second game of the eight-game package. Shakob was still AWOL but a different guy named Kyne called and seemed to have investigated my situation. “I understand what your saying but there’s nothing we can do. We usually don’t give refunds. And there are no lower bowl seats available,” he began. It was exactly the opposite of what I wanted to hear.

The Dream

“That’s because you guys have sold them to other people who aren’t disabled,” I replied sharply. I had peered into every disabled section in the lower bowl at the previous game and discovered only two wheelchairs. Maybe some of the fans had heart trouble or a disability that was unlike mine and not visible, but I saw a guy with his feet up on the railing, rocking his folding chair to and fro while drinking his super-sized draft beer. After much observation, he seemed capable of sitting in any other seat in the entire arena and it was this kind of misuse of dedicated space that added to my irribility. Why dedicate space for the disabled when there’s a loophole that allows no access to it? And why is this hard to buy decent tickets to a basketball game? It’s not like I’m asking for any favors or freebies. I’m simply asking to pay to sit close enough to the court that I can see what players are in the game.

Kyne had no authority to do anything to help me and my situation but talk to his ‘director’. The final outcome of his negotiation with the director was a plea for me to “hang tight” and an explanation that there was nothing they could do for tonight’s game but moving forward they “want to figure out a situation to make me happy.” Or in other words, “The Clippers are sorry for your loss. Next time don’t be so gullible.”  Lesson learned. I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that nothing will come of our conversation until enough disabled people complain to the city. The problem is most disabled people don’t have the energy, the transportation and/or time to do it.

At the end of the day, I’m just a girl in a wheelchair… looking at a basketball team… asking to pay to see Blake Griffin play. Is that really too much to ask?

*Update: A Clippers sales rep came up to me at the game and mentioned helping the situation. He promised to be in touch and make a change before our next scheduled game. After we shook hands and he left, I never heard from him–or anyone from the Clippers–again.

One Response to “It’s Not Easy Being A Clippers Fan”

  1. Brian says:

    I can’t believe this is actually the way the staples center handles this. As a Clipper fan, I am appalled that they would lie to a fan and then refuse to issue a refund when they, to put it mildly, under deliver. Even though it obviously wasnt your intent, it sort of makes me want to boycott.

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