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A Ticket to Bias

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By SUSAN M. LoTEMPIO
October 7, 2005
Buffalo

I WAS 15 when I first saw the Beatles in concert. That was 1965, long before the Americans with Disabilities Act, so wheelchair seating was rather unpredictable. Lucky for me, the ushers at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens pointed me to the front of the arena and told me to stay there.

"There" was right under Paul McCartney's amplifier. A perfect place to be.

"There" last Friday night at Madison Square Garden, 40 years later, was third row on the floor, a few feet away not just from his amplifier, but from Sir Paul himself. An opening night dream seat, you might assume.

Actually, it was a seat from hell.

The ticket was a Mother's Day gift from my 20-year-old daughter. She and my niece scraped together $278, contacted the Garden's disabled services office, and gave me the best gift I've ever received.

Like the thousands of others there that night, I expected a great show, and a great memory.

At the Garden, though, as I was being shown to my seat (a spot at the end of the aisle where a chair had been removed), I wondered if I would be able to see the stage if the fans in front stood up during the show.

Don't worry, the security guards assured me, they know how to handle the situation. I also asked a representative from the Garden's disabled services office. He said the same thing.

When Sir Paul came out and launched into his first number, everyone stood up, and all I could see was a wall of gyrating backsides.

Too close to the stage to even see the huge monitors overhead, I moved into the aisle to try to get a view. The security guard told me to move back. I asked him where I could go to see around the masses of bodies, and he ordered me to stay where I was.

I tried to remain polite, but that painful sensation I get when I'm being dismissed or patronized swept through me and I yelled back, "These tickets cost $300, and I can't see anything."

"Stay there," the security guard shouted, his face just inches from mine. "If you don't like it, you can leave."

He abruptly took off, returning with the guy from the disabled services office, who looked around and said there wasn't much he could do.

It was then that I snapped. More than forty years of having to enter restaurants through kitchen doors; years and years of being carried up the steps of public schools; and countless times being hauled onto airplanes like a baby in a buggy culminated in this one degrading moment. Who gave them the right to take my money and then take away the concert? Who gave them the right to make me look as if I had done something wrong?

And so I left the concert before the former Beatle had even begun his third song.

Yes, someone did ask if I wanted to move to a seat up in the stands. I declined. Was there any other person at that concert - disabled or not - who would sit in the $100 section if her ticket had cost nearly $300? And yes, they did ultimately refund the ticket - but I wanted to see the show more than I wanted the money.

When I asked the Garden staff how they could, in good conscience, sell a ticket that afforded no possible view of the stage for a person who cannot stand up, their response was, "It's an old building."

What about the Americans with Disabilities Act and sight-line regulations, I asked them. Aren't you breaking the law? Again the reply, "It's an old building."

The final blow was when someone from the disabled services office accused me of swapping my ticket to, I suppose, get closer to the stage.

Later, I wondered what Sir Paul would say if he knew what had happened. His wife, after all, is disabled, and maybe she knows what I now know: No matter who you are, no matter how much money you have, no matter how many laws are passed, true equality remains a dream out of reach.

Susan M. LoTempio is an assistant managing editor at The Buffalo News.

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