In line (sort of)

In line (sort of)

Sometimes things are easy in Italy, sometimes not. Last week, I happened to see in the paper that the Italian National Soccer Team would play their final pre-World Cup match vs. Luxembourg here in Perugia. The team is called the ‘Azzurri‘ or ‘Blues,’ named after the blue color that signified the Savoy dynasty whose king, Victor Emmanuel II, was the first ruler of a unified modern state of Italy in 1861.

Pre-sale tickets to members of the National Team fan club were available online for three days, and starting this morning at 10:00 the remaining tickets would be sold. So I contacted our friend Michael, here with his family from Australia for a year (and about to go back home the same time we are), and we decided to go down to the ticket office, located in Tabaccheria 18 near the train station, about a half-hour early to get in line.

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Chit no. 64 (white)

When we arrived, dozens of people were already there, holding paper chits with numbers on them. We went into the store and got some chits ourselves, as their stamped number would indicate our place ‘in line’. “These are some of the last tickets,” the cashier said as he scratched the number ‘4’ on the white slip of paper, the maximum number of tickets each of us could buy. When we told him that both our families had 5 people, he shrugged and explained that the machines were set up that way (to prevent mass purchase and scalping), and there was nothing he could do. He told us to wait outside. We were numbers 063 and 064; that didn’t seem too bad.

tabaccheria sells cigarettes and other goods, but also performs a whole suite of daily services, from buying lottery tickets to paying electric bills and re-charging phone credits. A store worker gamely strung up a candy-striped plastic tape and asked everyone to line up along it up a set of stairs just outside. Within 10 minutes, the initial queue was unrecognizable; the plastic tape ignored. A steady stream of new arrivals crowded around the store entrance. Drivers passing by honked their support. A TV crew arrived to get a few shots for the evening news. We kept pressing forward, trying to avoid the sun which was just coming around the corner of the building, and mindful that although we all had numbers, those numbers might be trumped by one’s place in line. Be prepared either way.

This is a comedy.

Michael and I tried to strategize.  We could only get 8 tickets, but we needed 10. What could we do? (Our first thought was simply not to buy them for our wives. They only said they were going because we asked them to anyway; they didn’t really care to see the match…) I texted Rebecca, enjoying sun and sea with her friend Lili this week in Cinque Terre: “would you be crushed if you didn’t attend the match?” “No” was her succinct response. But then a store representative said that we could get more tickets if we found just one more person to buy them. Michael tried to call his spouse, Jenny. Nothing. (Why do they never answer the phone when it’s really important?) We waited. It was now after 10:00. A sign outside detailed how the purchase system would operate, but we didn’t really trust it:

Ticket prices and rules

Ticket prices and rules. Tickets are cheaper for women, children, seniors, and Fan Club members (VivoAzzurro): “Take a number to get a place in line. You can buy, at most, four tickets. All purchasers need to show I.D. If you are buying reduced-price tickets, say so right away. You can pay with cash or debit card, but not with credit card. Everyone wait outside, enter one number at a time; we will call you!”

After we had swapped a few tales about times when we had been stopped by the police for various traffic infractions (and how we had avoided sanctions), Jenny called; she could come down and join us in line to buy tickets for herself and Rebecca. Excellent. The two-family outing at 9 pm on the school night of June 4th was shaping up. Michael gave her elaborate directions, but when she arrived, parking in front of the ‘Sushi Wok’ restaurant across the street, she simply said that the crowd had given away the location.

Now all three of us waited, squinting against the advancing sun and breathing in thick clouds of cigarette smoke washing over us from all directions. People left the ‘line’ to get coffees. They left to get more cigarettes. They left to ask the people inside what was happening. Word came back that we were up to no. 45. It was 11:00. That was great! At this rate, we’d have our tickets in half an hour. We began to handicap the possibility of tickets still remaining if, all over central Italy, people like us were in line at their very own Tabaccherie, trying to buy four tickets…

Then Jenny (or perhaps Michael) noticed something. “Why do some people have blue chits, while we have white chits?” Trying to pretend it might not make a difference, I brilliantly suggested they might have run out of one color paper. Surely the color of paper could not matter, could it? Michael was skeptical. He entered the store (he’s fluent, having dual citizenship). He returned with a grin and said, “Well, mate, you’re not going to like this.” “How bad is it?” I responded. “The blue slips go first, then white,” he said. “What? How many blue slips are there?” I squeaked.

“80.”

Stadio Renato Curi. Named after a member of the Perugia team who died from a heart attack during a match in 1977. Capacity: 28,000.

Our projected time in line had increased by nearly a factor of four. It was now 11:30, and they were only up to no. 54 (blue). Kids would soon be coming home from school, hungry for lunch, and needing to be shuffled to music lessons, soccer practice, and a play-date.

Worse, the store might run out of tickets. What was our strategy now? Jenny got out her phone and went online to the TicketOne website (the Italian equivalent of Ticketmaster; I don’t think they are quite as evil), and dialed up the order form. I followed her lead. We could see that tickets in various categories were already sold out. Our initial hope of sitting together at the match was now replaced by a plan to get any tickets, anywhere. We aimed for the ‘Tribuna Est’, the uncovered flank of the stadium that goes unused for most league matches. If it rained, well, we’d deal with it.

We kept our place in line, in case the website failed.

Each gold star is for a World Cup victory: 1934, 1938, 1982, and 2006. They finished 2nd in 1970 and 1994; 3rd in 1990; 4th in 1978.

Jenny’s phone was not cooperating, but within 15 minutes, to our utter amazement, I’d completed my order of four tickets. All I needed for identification were our codice fiscale numbers (the Italian equivalent of social security numbers). I could have PDFs of the tickets printed out by our neighborhood Tabacchi man. We couldn’t believe it had worked, but we still had to get the other tickets. We hustled across the street to the car (thank you, ‘Sushi Wok’), and drove to their apartment in the center, where we hoped the computer might be faster (and allow easier typing). Along the way, we wondered aloud why everyone was standing in line (with their smartphones) if they could more easily purchase tickets on the web. Was it the juicy ticket service fees? The pain or dishonor of missing out on standing in line for three or four more hours? Did they know something we didn’t?

Now in the centro storico, we were in front of the computer, Jenny furiously typing away as the TicketOne website refused one userID after another (of course, you have to register…). Whew. Tickets in the Tribuna Est were still available. She had now finished the first order, for Michael and their three kids, and tap! on the ‘pay’ button.

Error. Ma dai!

In the time it took to type in the name, birthdate, codice fiscale, citizenship, and residence for each person, the tickets in the Tribuna Est had sold out. What next? Curva Nord? No, that’s where all the maniacs hang out for Perugia games, the tantissimi tifosi. On their Facebook page this morning, already anticipating the local rivalry with the Umbrian city of Terni in 2014-15 now that Perugia has been promoted to Serie B, one Perugian poster has chimed in: “Bastardo zozzoverde ti bruceremo tutta la città” (“Bastard filthy-dirty greens, we will incinerate you, your whole city”). Terni’s team colors are green and red. And that’s a very, very tame post. For much, much worse, just read Tim Parks’ A Season with Verona.

How about the opposite side of the stadium? Curva Sud? That’s where the visiting fans normally sit. Wait — no one from Luxembourg is going to come to this match. (And here, Jenny kindly muses that she might barrack for Luxembourg, if only to even it out a bit for them.) Yes. Still open. Go.

But by now all of the discount (women’s and children’s) tickets are sold out for Curva Sud. Quick. Order full-priced tickets. Discounts be damned. Type in the info. Pay. Done.

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PDFs flicker happily onto the screen. We don’t have to return to Tabaccheria 18 to see if our wrinkled numbered chits can still get us tickets. Although our families are now placed in three different parts of the stadium, we’re all in. We’re going to watch Pirlo, Buffon, Balotelli, Chiellini in action against the mighty Red Lions of Luxeumbourg. Who cares if they last won a match six years ago.

The blue tickets took four hours to get. Of course it was worth it.

Forza Azzurri.