SANDISFIELD — Close friends have on occasion told me what I now at long last know to be incontrovertibly true — that I am an idiot.
A complete, total, copper-bottomed nitwit, a person who should among many other sanctions be kept by a restraining order from being within a hundred feet of a computer. Especially when in possession of a credit card.
As this tale will amply illustrate.
A tale which I tell here not to evoke sympathy nor to seek redress, but to caution any others similarly compromised of the costly perils of unyielding stupidity.
It was an early weekday evening during that recent very cold spell. My wife and the dog were cozily settled by the fire. I was at my laptop, no doubt reading some uplifting literature. But then I suddenly remembered: around now is the deadline for buying tickets to see James Taylor perform over Independence Day at Tanglewood.
We love James Taylor. Aside from the traffic, we love Tanglewood. We love that bit in “Sweet Baby James” where he sings about the winter turnpike, our turnpike, covered with snow from Stockbridge to Boston. We well up. We brim.
Because the realist in me thought that James Taylor can’t go on doing this forever, maybe this year I might actually buy tickets. Moreover, I had become a citizen on an earlier July 4, so the show would amplify the pleasure of the anniversary. It would cost, I knew. But hey. Once in a while, why not. So I went looking for tickets.
Twenty-two years ago, when I first came to the Berkshires, you’d ring the Tanglewood box office and a nice motherly sounding lady would find the best seats for you and take your details and that would be that. Not any more.
Now, on simply typing Tanglewood, Tickets, James Taylor, a web-only company called TicketSales.com presented itself on my screen, telling me that its business was Connecting Fans With Unforgettable Experiences.
How true this turned out to be.
Despite the concert’s on-sale date having passed, a scattering of tickets appeared still to be available. In the Shed, section 4, maybe 10 rows back from the stage. Nice enough, I thought. I moved my mouse around across the more and less attractive rows in the section while large numbers in dollars rose and fell before my eyes.
How many tickets, the site asked. Four I replied. A number stabilized in front of me. Nine hundred and ninety-eight dollars. Golly, I choked to myself. But then again — once in a lifetime, a very good cause (because the Taylors donate all proceeds back to Tanglewood, fine folks that they are).
So I said to myself, sure. Why not. I put in the credit card number, expiry date and the little three-digit thingy, clicked (without reading, naturally) and hit “Purchase.”
It took maybe three seconds. And then when the screen lit up I gave a little cry. It must have been quite piercing, or loud. From beside the fire my wife pricked up her ears. The terrier, a creature of some economy of action, pricked up one of his. I’m afraid I’ve made a bit of a bish, I spluttered, keeping the rising panic from my voice. What, she inquired.
I’ve just bought four tickets to a James Taylor concert. I’ve been billed — and I read the number as slowly and carefully as I could — five thousand and ninety-five dollars and twenty-six cents.
I went back to the website. Beneath the listed price number there was, in the tiniest and barely visible font, the letters ‘ea’. Each. Each ticket had been $998.
Oh. My. God. That’s what I would have said were I a native-born American. But I’m English, and so it was a single word, and much, much worse. Only for a moment, though — because within seconds, I appeared to have been saved. A tiny ding sounded on my phone. Credit card security had declined the charge. Was this you? Hit YES. If not, hit NO and we’ll cancel the card and send you a new one.
But oh, the inconvenience! A hastily convened family council decided. Far better to talk to customer service. It was an honest mistake — stupid, yes. Careless, but honest. I’m almost 80. They’ll forgive it, surely.
It took less than three minutes for an algorithm creatively named Joebert to introduce himself on live chat. He very politely explained that he regretted most sincerely what had transpired, agreed that I had erred honestly, and then solemnly but sympathetically informed me that rules were rules, no refunds could be offered and would I kindly have a nice day. Moreover, everyone looked forward to my doing business with TicketSales.com at some future date.
No dice, in other words.
Ah well, there’s always Visa. To save a $5,000 dollar mistake I could certainly weather the inconvenience of canceling a card. So I called the cardistas. But it seems the TicketSales computers had done the same, had been quite busy while Joebert was chatting to me. The same firm that had written ‘ea’ in near-invisible lettering had gleefully resubmitted the charge four further times and Visa, seeing no challenge from me, had given up the fight, assumed everything had been correct all along and authorized it. I was, in a phrase, done for.
And so it appears on my latest bill: $3,944 for the four tickets themselves. Seven dollars and fifty cents for the benefit of using the technology. And a somewhat improbable one thousand, one hundred and forty-three dollars and seventy-six cents for what is listed as a “service charge.” Total: $5,095.26.
All I can now say is that James Taylor had better be on top form. Of course, what he’ll give back to Tanglewood is a far smaller sum than I was charged.
But he’s a good man. Maybe some characters in this story are less so. One of them is stupid, for sure. But the others? Frankly, I miss the motherly sounding lady. Tanglewood should hire her back.