Scam Francisco, Part 2: Scam Harder

Part 1 is here

It was our last day in San Francisco, or as the locals call it “Frisco”. We’d had a blast in the city by the bay, but we were ready for the next city, the next good time. After all the partying and threats of violence from wired and well-built Hispanics, we were set to have a leisurely day out in Berkeley. I don’t know what inspired us to decide that this would be our swan song in San Fran, but for whatever reason we were heading there. Looking back, one of our fellow travelers possibly recommended it to us.

We packed our belongings and left them at the front desk of the hostel for the day. We ventured down to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we intended to grab some breakfast and head into town to catch a bus out to Berkeley. On our way we were joined by a weathered looking gentleman who looked to be in his early 30s. He just sidled up to us and immediately talked to us like he’d known us for years. I later remarked that he sort of resembled Reverend Henry Kane, the creepy antagonist from Poltergeist 2: The Other Side, but the reference was lost on my companions.

Our new friend claimed to be a musician in a band called Biter. The bands latest album: an opus called Uneasy Listening. He even claimed that they’ve toured extensively, including Australia, the very country that me and my two friends happen to hail from. He asked us from where in Australia we were from and when we told him (Perth), he regaled us with tales of drunken debauchery in the Southwest, boozing it up with band mates in Dunsborough and Denmark and Busselton. To us, his story checked out. He was legit. Oh sure, he was rail thin and had some suspicious looking sores on his head (that quite possibly were leaking, if I recall correctly), but I just wrote that off as the result of the hedonistic life of a rock star. They were souvenirs of a life lived on the edge. You strap a Fender Strat on a bum and he can pass for most any living musician today.

So we’re walking and talking, then the man tells us about a gig that was taking place that night. It was a secret show and industry-only when it came to invites. It was to be held at The Fillmore, an iconic location for shows for decades.

The cause: relief for the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Now I hear you ask, which bands were playing this secretive gig? Oh, only Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mr Bungle. Being fans of each of these bands, we were tickled pink. We asked the man, how would lowly commoners such as ourselves ever be able to see fit to attend such a rocking event, and for such a noble cause no less?

“No problem,” he said. “Biter have four tickets, but the rest of the band are out-of-town. You can come along with me.”

Brilliant. But there was a catch.

“I can’t just give these away,” he said. “But you can have them for twenty bucks apiece.”

We couldn’t believe our luck. We may have pinched ourselves to ensure we weren’t dreaming. The man had to make a phone call, just to make sure that the tickets were still available. Something about checking with his manager or some such. He walked over to a payphone and made the call.

It was a long phone conversation, but we didn’t mind. Our plans had been altered slightly but we figured it was a low-cost to pay for seeing some amazing music in such an iconic venue. We’d remember this for the rest of our days. I pictured myself at seventy, a dribbling grandchild on my knee, recounting the time her grandaddy saw Flea and John and Anthony and Chad do their thing at a secret gig in San Fran! I could even regale him/her about the origins of the Anthony Kiedis/Mike Patton feud, providing him/her with some historical context about the musical landscape, circa 2001.

The man got off the phone, instructed us to follow him to a hotel where his manager was staying. We went the long way. We weren’t familiar with the area for obvious reasons, but we knew we were doing a huge loop for no logical reason. The whole while, the four of us had gradually split into two distinct groups: our new friend and our current friend Rufus, and myself and Johnny T. Johnny T and I were slightly suspicious, hence the growing physical distance we were applying between us and them. The man and Rufus were engaged in a deep and meaningful conversation about amplifiers. Rufus was in a band himself. A real band with other humans. They were talking shop.

We finally made it to the hotel. Before we entered, the man asked us for the money. Twenty apiece. Rufus and I handed over two bills each. Johnny T fished through his wallet for a moment, came away with a couple of notes and a heap of coins. $17.25, to be precise. The man was none too pleased over being shortchanged, but relented because we were young tourists in search of adventure. He pocketed the cash and we all walked into the lobby of the hotel. He told us to wait in the lobby while he went up to the room of his manager and collect the tickets. We watched him get into the elevator and as soon as the doors closed I turned to my friends and said, “we’re never seeing this man or our money again, are we?”

Johnny T, as suspicious and cynical toward the world as I, agreed wholeheartedly. Rufus saw a kindred spirit in this man and assured us that the man had good intentions and would return with the tickets.

We waited five minutes. Then ten. That turned into twenty. Fuming, we approached the counter of the hotel and advised the staff of our dilemma. They were not helpful in any way.

“What did the man look like?” The desk clerk asked, disinterested in the response.

“Reverend Kane,” I replied.

“Who?”

“Reverend Henry Kane,” I sighed. “You know, from the Poltergeist sequel?”

“Never seen that one,” the lady yawned.

We went out onto the street and flagged down a cop. When we told him our story, he laughed and said, “welcome to California.”

I was hoping he’d put out an APB. I’d seen that in detective shows on TV and hoped I’d be privy to one taking place in real life. I didn’t know what an APB involved, but as long as this “perp” (cop slang for person of interest) was captured and given his just-desserts, we’d be satisfied and feel that justice was served.

There was no justice, only three Australians that were $57.25 poorer and now without the time to head out to Berkeley as planned.

Welcome to Scam Francisco, California!

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