Here’s a note to out-of-town visitors to the District: Don’t expect much consideration from local authorities just because you are in Washington and spending money at the city’s array of attractions.
You see, they take law and order Very Seriously in Washington. Oh, sure, there is murder, drugs and prostitution (and solicitation, but more on that later), but those crimes are a byproduct of any large metropolitan area, and, well, .
No, I am talking about the unspeakable crime of trying to resell tickets to a Washington Nationals makeup baseball game.
But as Joe Friday would say, just the facts, ma’am:
The Friday, June 7, night tilt between the Nationals and my Mighty Fighting Minnesota Twins was rained out by Tropical Storm Andrea. I was hosting five of my buddies on our annual baseball weekend, and, having lived in the D.C. area in the ’90s, I had booked the hotel, purchased the game tickets and planned the requisite Mall and monument tours. We were going to drop some serious cash (well, by Midwestern standards, anyway) into the local economy.
The rainout resulted in my possessing six tickets — worth $360 — to the second game of a Sunday doubleheader scheduled to be played when my friends and I would be somewhere over Chicago. However, as any baseball fan knows, there is always a market for club-level seats. So I proceeded to “market” the seats as I walked up to Nationals Park prior to Saturday’s 4:05 p.m. game.
Leaving Metro’s Navy Yard station, I held the tickets up in the universally understood sign that a deal was to be had. Four different gentlemen approached, but they all passed after hearing what I thought was a fair price, which was below face value. I moved on, thinking I would wait for one more Metro train to deposit a batch of potential customers. If I still had no takers at that point, I would head into the nice little ballpark and enjoy the afternoon.
Soon, however, I was approached from behind by a uniformed D.C. police officer and another guy, whom I presumed was a trainee.
The officer wanted to know what I was asking. Not wanting to be labeled a scalper, I said, “Love to get face value.” These words started a Kafka-esque journey into the D.C. criminal justice system.
Told to stand against a wall, I was informed that I was under arrest for “solicitation.” I explained that I was from out of town and that I was not trying to “scalp,” and I apologized for not knowing that what I was doing was a crime. As the officer ran a check on my Minnesota driver’s license, I wondered how bad the ticket would be.
The officer came back and told the trainee to call for transport.
“You going to do this?” the trainee asked, somewhat incredulously.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said.
“Does it look like I’m kidding?” the officer replied. Things went downhill from there.
I used every civil argument I could think of to try and make this go away, all to no avail. I was going to jail.
As we drove off in a squad car, me in handcuffs and without my shoelaces and belt, the officer explained how I could have avoided my fate (if I hadn’t put a price on the tickets or if I had stood 15 feet further off the street). He told me that scalping at a Taylor Swift concert at Verizon Center in May was so bad that the powers that be had mandated a zero tolerance on ticket resale. He (my buddy now) said that he felt bad but explained that he had “no discretion” regarding whether to arrest me.
I begged to differ, and he (no longer my buddy) said that I could go along without a fuss or I could wait until Monday to see a judge. Of course, that would necessitate my being sent “downtown.” He informed me that I would not like it downtown.
So I shut up and went to jail. I sat in a cell for 2½ hours, stood for a mug shot, got fingerprinted, paid 50 bucks and was released. In the grand scheme of things, my travails were minor to all but me. But when that cell door slams shut, the world becomes a different place.
I broke a law. Guilty. But what purpose was served by my arrest? It didn’t make any financial sense. I am certain that the costs of my arrest, transport and processing had to be many multiples of the $50 I paid. Does the District have a massive budget surplus it needs to spend down?
Did the scalpers take notice? I think not. I attended the early part of the first Sunday game (so I could at least say I saw some baseball), and as I headed into the stadium, I noticed 16 different people offering to buy or sell tickets, right on the street. Where were the police then?
This incident wasn’t much of an advertisement for D.C. hospitality or the judgment of the city’s police. I feel bad for any Taylor Swift fans who got “scalped” (actually, I feel bad for their parents). But to D.C. law enforcement, I have to borrow a lyric from Ms. Swift and ask: “Why you gotta be so mean?”