I took care of one of my bucket list items last Sunday by (finally, after all these freakin’ years) seeing Bruce Springsteen perform with THE heart-stoppin’, pants-droppin’, hard rockin’, booty shakin’, earth-quakin’, love makin’, Viagra-takin’, history makin’, legendary E STREET BAND!!!

I did see Springsteen once, years ago, without the E Street Band. It was good, but… I had several chances to catch them back in the day, when we were all younger. I had what I thought at the time were more important things to do. Because of stuff like school, final exams, and other silly stuff, I missed them on their tours for the Darkness and River albums. I missed them in 1985 at the Orange Bowl for the Born in the USA tour. And I had missed them on all their recent South Florida appearances since Bruce got the band back together and produced some of their best work.

Sunday, September 13, 2009, was the day that all those years missing the exit to E Street would finally be overcome. The venue: the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise (Broward County). The weather sucked. On our way from the parked car to the arena entrance, a storm rolled right in and soaked us but good, but to no avail. Even the weather gods (Jim Cantore and Al Roker?) couldn’t stop the train headed to the E Street Station.

Needless to say, the concert was phenomenal – three hours of great rock music performed by a band at the top of their game, led by a sixty-year-old who still hadn’t hit 30. This column is not, however, a concert review. It’s more of a venue evaluation of my least favorite indoor arena since the old Hollywood Sportatorium, may it rest in peace.

You may recall that I mentioned that heavy monsoon rains were falling as we were walking toward the BankAtlantic Center. On the mainland, especially during the six months of the rainy season, this is not an uncommon event. So how much covered area does the venue provide to their South Florida patrons? Would you believe almost none?
When we finally got in, herded like faceless dripping cattle to Checkpoint Charlie, the Event Staff security detail was actually yelling to the crowd,” If you are a woman who hasn’t had her purse searched already, please go over here.” It goes without saying that no one from our line left to go voluntarily let a stranger manhandle the contents of her purse. Very effective security, don’t you think?

I had somehow managed to keep the TicketFast® tickets I had printed on my inkjet printer dry and smear free. After they were scanned and we were let in, we set off to find our seats. A “helpful” Event Staffer gave us the shortest directions to our Section, and off we went in the direction we were told. I’m still not sure why I was surprised to find that part of the arena walkway between us and our Section had been roped off, and we were told by another “helpful” Event Staffer that we would have to walk all the way back around to the other side.

At this point, I decided I needed a drink. I headed to the “Absolut Bar” and ordered a drink. “Would you like a single or a double?” What’s the difference? “A single is $12, while a double is only $17!” Seventeen dollars for a drink?!? I retrieved my investment portfolio, sold some shares of stock, and bought a double and a bottled water ($4). The beverage preparer (I can’t call them bartenders) used the small end of the world’s smallest jigger to pour two tiny shots of vodka into my glass. (I was so glad I didn’t order a single.)

I was immediately reminded of the line in Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” that states, “There’s a joke here somewhere, and it’s on me.” The concert was still an hour and a half away from starting, and the miniature “double” had disappeared. Beer was only $8 (domestic) and $12 (import), and couldn’t be screwed up by a beverage preparer.

I walk up to the concession window and order a Heineken keg can. The beverage preparer said, and I swear I’m not making this up, “Can I see some ID?” Now I’ve been buying beer legally for 30 years. I’m two years shy of the big five-0. I’ve got plenty of gray hair. I haven’t been confused with an underage beer buyer since I was 16. My reaction was to ask her if she was joking. She informed me that it was “arena policy.” (The Absolut Bar I had already put the down payment on must not have gotten the memo.) I pull out my wallet and show the beverage preparer my driver license. She then asks – and I’m still not making this up – like a cop with a bad attitude, she asks for me to take the driver license out of my wallet. As if for some incomprehensible reason I’m trying to pass off a fake ID. I’m steamed like clams.

As I remove the license from its protective sleeve, I notice that while the Bud and Bud Light 16-ounce plastic bottles were freely handed out, the Heineken cans were being emptied into large plastic cups suitable for easy spilling. I asked if I could keep the can and was told that the Heineken keg cans were dangerous and could not be released into the general public. I saved four dollars and had a Bud Light.

Now I realize that the treatment I got is par for the course at concerts and sporting events. But what the Event Staff and their bosses at the arena seem to forget is that the cattle – I mean the people who attend events are customers and patrons, and that providing a good experience to them might ensure the long-term viability of the venue and its anchor sports franchise. Anyone remember the Miami Arena and what happened to it after the teams left? And really – just how much profit does the venue really need to make by charging $17 for a drink? BYOB, baby!


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