New York, 2011 🗽🏃‍♀️🎤

October 17, 2022

By: Lee LeFever

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

We arrived in New York to cheer for our friend, Christi, who was running in the NYC Marathon in November of 2011. One of my first memories is arriving in the hotel room and putting on the Jay-Z and Alicia Keys song Empire State of Mind. We both bounced around the room like the cheesy tourists we were.

It was a strange and interesting time to be in the city. Occupy Wall Street was in full swing and Zuccotti park was full of protesters living on the premises. I snapped this photo, which felt like an appropriate juxtaposition of what was happening in the financial district.

The marathon was a much bigger event than I realized and the city was full of athletic people trying to enjoy New York, but not too much. In an act of solidarity, I loaded up on carbs and wore comfortable shoes.

The weather was perfect and Christi successfully finished the marathon surrounded by friends. She and her husband, Blake, went to UNC with a few current NYC residents who all came out to support her. One of those local friends, Nick, works in finance and met up with us for drinks.

As the weekend was winding down, we realized that Madison Square Garden was hosting Jay-Z and Kanye West for two nights on their Watch the Throne tour. These were Jay-Z’s hometown shows and apparently the hottest ticket in town.

Since we weren’t leaving until Wednesday, Blake mentioned that Nick and I should try to get tickets. Seeing Jay-Z in New York was the kind of pop culture opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Our only option was Monday night and on Sunday, Nick and I agreed to try to find tickets. We’d have to use aftermarket sellers like StubHub, and likely pay a premium. Once Nick found out it was a market, he volunteered to put in the online legwork.

Throughout Monday, I received text messages from Nick about seeing ticket prices increase and decrease. Sometimes a ticket would be within reach, but something would happen. The person seemed untrustworthy or stopped communicating. Showtime was quickly approaching.

Sachi and I went to an early dinner in the vicinity of Madison Square Garden, in case I needed to meet Nick with yet-to-be-acquired tickets. Sure enough, over dinner at about 6pm, positive-sounding texts started to arrive. Nick had connected with someone with tickets who he felt good about. All we had to do was meet this person behind Popeye’s Chicken by Madison Square Garden. True story.

We met before heading to Popeye’s and worked out a quick plan. We knew we were taking a risk. The tickets could be fake, we could get mugged, the guy might never show up. We agreed that we’d drop the whole idea if anything seemed weird. But if it seemed legit, we were prepared to pay extra for the right tickets.

Sure enough, the ticket seller met us behind Popeye’s. He was a guy about our age, dressed like us. He was friendly and seemed trustworthy. The only problem was that the tickets were printed on sheets of paper instead of normal ticket stubs. Anyone can copy and print that kind of ticket and call it real. Nick and I huddled for a minute. The price printed on the tickets was higher than expected and reflected good seats. Section 1, row J. The seller’s offer was a bit more than the ticket price, but not too much.

As we were discussing, the seller said something I’ll never forget…

“Look, I’m just a finance guy. The people in Zuccotti hate me, but I’m just a normal guy. You’ve got my work email.”

It was true. He and Nick had been corresponding via email.

Nick nodded, “I’m in finance too, it’s all good.”

With that, we paid cash for the tickets and headed in without a clear expectation of what would happen. It was a wild scene inside, with people decked out in their best duds. Everyone was pumped for the show and the energy was palpable. Every turn we took led us closer and closer to the stage. Eventually, we ended up at our seats, which we couldn’t believe.

Row J of Section 1 was 10 rows back, but the stage was designed with a peninsula that pushed it out into about row H. We were only feet from that part of the stage. I was astonished. About an hour before, I was eating dinner with Sachi with no plans, and now, I was about to be face-to-face with Jay-Z at Madison Square Garden.

As showtime approached, we heard a roar in the back of the coliseum. Slowly the buzz came closer and closer to the stage. I looked back to see what the commotion was all about and saw a face I didn’t expect. Sean “P-Diddy” Combs had arrived at the show and was a few rows BEHIND us. Hah! We had better seats and ours came from the parking lot of a Popeye’s Chicken.

The lights soon went down and the show started with a roar. The truth is, I don’t know many of the words to Jay-Z’s music aside from the most popular songs, but it didn’t matter. I was there for the spectacle and it delivered. Nick and I danced and laughed and enjoyed an experience that felt authentically New York.

Later that night, I kept thinking about all the things that could have gone wrong, but didn’t. Thanks to Nick’s legwork and judgment, a random dude on the internet sold us valid tickets for a reasonable price. The seats were far better than expected.

It seems more difficult today than it did in 2011, but I continue to believe in the goodness of people. More times than not, the average person is motivated to be fair and honest. I like to think this whole scenario could just as easily happen today.

I took the photo below with my phone; the only evidence I have of the entire experience.

Jay-Z at Madison Square Garden

In New York

Concrete jungle where dreams are made of

There’s nothin’ you can’t do

Now you’re in New York

These streets will make you feel brand new

Big lights will inspire you

Let’s hear it for New York

New York, New York

–Empire State of Mind (Jay-Z and Alicia Keys)

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