Saturday, May 3, 2008

Radio City's Radical Policy on the Redistribution of Wealth

NOTE: This is a guest post from my son, Richie. It also appears on his blog, The View from the Seven-and-a-Halfth Floor.

My father and I purchased a 4-pack of lectures at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, "The Minds That Move The World" Speakers Series. At the time we purchased our tickets, you had to buy tickets to all 4 events (now, I believe, they are selling individual event tickets). The first event was a roundtable discussion, hosted by Anderson Cooper, and featuring several pundits (Arianna Huffington, James Carville, Tucker Carlson). I personally found it a bit underwhelming (it was like watching a pundit show on TV), but my dad enjoyed it. The second event, last night, was Al Gore (more on him later). The next two events will be John Edwards with Rudy Giuliani, moderated by Tim Russert; and Bill Clinton.

The tickets are quite pricey, averaging $50 per seat per event for the very cheapest seats, and going up to $500 per seat for the best seats at the most-demanded events (Gore and Clinton). If you've never been to Radio City Music Hall (until the first event, I had never been), you probably can't imagine the enormity of the place. It has not one, not two, but three mezzanine/balcony levels above the orchestra floor level. The place is cavernous. And our assigned seats (we bought the $50 ones) are near the back of the third mezzanine. It literally feels like you're sitting a football field away from the stage, and there are even jumbotrons so you can see what's happening way down there (although, the giant screens are actually positioned a little low for the uppermost balcony, pointed more directly at the lower balconies).

When we arrived at the first event, rode the elevator up to the third balcony (I have bad knees, or we would have taken the 100 or so steps), and took our seats, we noticed that the place was mostly empty. I told my dad that we should ride down two levels--to the first balcony--and see if there were some free seats there we might be able to move up to.

We stepped out of the elevator on the first mezzanine, and tried to quietly slip into a section of mostly-empty seats. We were stopped by an usher, who I assumed would send us back up to the nosebleeds, despite all the empty seats lower down. Instead, he asked us if we wanted to upgrade our tickets. I gave him a puzzled look and said, "for free?" "Yes," he answered, as he took our old tickets and handed us new ones.

The new tickets, as it turned out, were for row FF in the orchestra. "Wow," I said to my father, "He's moving us downstairs to even pricier seats for free." I had assumed that row FF was behind rows A-Z, and figured that we'd be near the back of the ground floor--still, a major upgrade from the 3rd mezzanine. But, no, I was wrong. Row FF is the 6th row, BEFORE the single alphabet starts. Gratefully, we took our seats, and looked around to see quite a few empty ones. It also appeared that they had emptied out the whole first mezzanine and upgraded them to seats downstairs. At the time, we figured that this was an effort to make the downstairs auditorium look more full, which is probably nicer for the speakers than staring out across a sea of mostly empty chairs.

Two weeks later, we showed up for the Al Gore event. Upon entering, I actually spotted the usher who had 'upgraded' us at the first event, and contemplated politely approaching him to ask if there were upgrades available today. Given that this event featured a more popular speaker, and that this usher was now working a busy entrance downstairs, I figured that there wouldn't be many empty seats, so I decided not to bug him. My father and I walked over to the elevator bank to take the long ride up, when we were approached by a man who asked, "Where are you going?" Before I could finish saying, "To our seats in the 3rd mezzanine," he handed me and my father 2 tickets, in Orchestra row CCC.

Oh yeah, row CCC. I neglected to mention the Triple-letter rows earlier. These are the special, beyond-the-velvet-rope, VIP seats comprising the first 4 rows of the theater. They are actually temporary seats, effectively in the orchestra pit, in front of all the permanent built-in seats. You have to walk past a second usher to get into them, and past some tough looking security guards, who may or may not have been secret service agents last night. So, there we are, flashing our new $500 per seat tickets to see Al Gore, walking past a second usher and taking our seats in the third VIP row, a dozen or so seats over from Katie Couric and her entourage, and no more than a dozen or so feet from the edge of the stage.

My father and I decided then that this was not some isolated incident, but rather a progressive policy of wealth redistribution at Radio City Music Hall. Either from the management down, or from the ushers up, someone at Radio City had promoted the idea that the little people deserve to be mixed in with the bigwigs, that those of us who bought reasonably-priced tickets deserve the full-price experience, space-permitting, and subsidized by the uber-wealthy a few seats over who plunked down hundreds or thousands of dollars for the speaker series. Radio City seems to be engaging in a radical (and effective) experiment in socialism, where each individual is expected to give according to his or her means, but is granted near-equal access to the benefits accorded to the wealthier Radioans (Radio City residents). The wealthiest do not suffer, nor are they made to sacrifice--they are entitled their pick of the choicest seats in the house. But, at the same time, the poorer are not punished or marginalized; through the contributions of their wealthier neighbors of excess seats (from which the wealthiest gain no benefit by hoarding), the less fortunate are often afforded opportunities to move up through the social strata and experience the same rights and privileges (as well as responsibilities, such as the expectation to comport oneself respectfully when sitting mere inches from an on-stage dignitary) as their more privileged fellow Radioans. "What a wonderful, utopian social experiment," I thought, and imagined what it would be like in America today if we did less finger-pointing and scape-goating, and felt a communal obligation to ensure the well-being of the most, and least, privileged amongst us.

Maybe we can learn a thing or two from Radio City.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just got a chance to read this. Wonderful, wonderful piece. Don't tell your father, but I think he learned his writing skills from YOU (and I think he still has a way to go to catch up!).
Aunt Gail