Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bleachers' Brew #168 Bogs

by rick olivares

This year, Bogs is celebrating his Jubilarian plus-one year. That’s 26 years in the business and he’s bringing a bucket of fried chicken home to his family to celebrate.

Two of his children have finished school. There’s one left in college and another in high school. When they fill out the usual school forms, on the line that asks “father’s occupation” they write “driver.” It’s true because from time to time during the lean times of the calendar year, he drives a cab. But as I sit and face him in a Chinese restaurant at the Robinson’s Galleria, I ask him what his profession is, he minces no words… “scalper.”

Bogs is a businessman well versed in the law of supply and demand. He is governed by a couple of simple maxims: one, to provide for his family, and two -- “Ang tao may pera pero walang ticket. Ang scalper may ticket pero walang pera.”

He sees nothing wrong with his profession. He isn’t doing anything illegal. And it certainly beats working at the factory where he was paid sub-standard wages and had trouble making ends meet. With an unemployed wife and with four children to provide for, it also beats going abroad when he believes that life is more happy and fulfilling here. So he’s nationalistic. But he’s also pragmatic.

While in a quandary on what to do while unemployed, a neighbor suggested that he try scalping tickets to earn a living. Seeing that his neighbor had put all his kids through school, Bogs took the same route. “Sipag at tiyaga ang kailangan dito kasi kapag hindi ka kumilos, eh gutom ang aabutin niyo,” he reasons.

It was 1983 and to secure tickets for games of the Philippine Amateur Basketball League (as the Philippine Basketball League was called then) and to be able to get in, one needed to redeem three bottle caps of Lagerlite or Gold Eagle to secure a ticket.

At first, Bogs made the route of sari sari stores gathering the crowns before he figured that life would be easier if he befriended those working in factories where the beer was bottled. Soon he had a plastic full of caps that he either sold – three caps for 10 to 20 bucks – to customers who had no time to scrounge for the proofs of sale. On good days, he’d make PhP 500. From there he graduated to selling tickets of the Philippine Basketball Association, the University Athletic Association and the National College Athletic Association.

Outside sports, he scalps movie premiere and concert tickets. Any event, including the recent Kobe Bryant hoops clinic at the Philsports Arena, that requires a ticket, is fair game. No venue is too far for him. When he plies his trade at the posh Power Plant at Rockwell, he even dresses up for the occasion.

He befriends everyone – athletes, coaches, agents, security guards, clerks, professors, cops, bouncers, celebrities, ball boys, school officials, customers -- heck, practically everyone. Bogs is so well known that he could run for public office if he chooses to do so.

He is more than a businessman. He is also a public relations practitioner. “Kailangan marunong ka mag-PR sa buhay na ganito.”

One regular customer, a seaman, who is a regular customer, trusts him so much that he once asked Bogs to go to a nearby money changer and exchange a hundred dollar bill. When Bogs returned, the two had a quick snack and the seaman let him keep the change.

It’s not exactly a one-man operation. There’s an unspoken and informal association of scalpers with their own code of ethics: “Pakikisama at walang sulutan ng customer” are the prime directives. If there is honor among most, there are many out to make a fast buck by saying that he has a customer for this game and he makes off with the tickets never to be seen again.

What happens if they do show up?

Bogs chuckles in a way that makes me think I’m having a bowl of mami with Tony Soprano. Then his eyes turn hard and his voice trails off, “Ewan ko na lang…” Fair warning.

Scalping isn’t without its risks and dangers. Bogs and others like him are wary of thieving bastards and cops. Some cities have anti-scalping ordinances that make life difficult for them. He was once caught by cops who imprisoned him for a week. While in jail, he had no regrets about his line of work. His only thought was, “How do I get out of here?” You see, at the same time he was behind bars, one of his sons was seriously ill and he was powerless to help him. He didn’t need to post bail for after a week he was set free.

The whole experience merely taught him to make sure that when his kids fall ill, he’d never fail them again.

The most Bogs had made in one day was PhP 25-grand for selling tickets to Frank Sinatra’s Manila concert at the Folk Arts Theater. Tickets to games by pro-club Ginebra San Miguel are always a hot ticket. But the best profits are always made at Ateneo-La Salle matches where he could earn anywhere from PhP15-20,000 per game.

He’s become a fan of Ateneo for two reasons: tickets to all their games are always a hot commodity (especially when they play their Taft rivals) and because Ateneans are in his opinion the most rabid and passionate of hoops fans. When the two archrivals play, he always saves himself a ticket or two for him and one of his sons. “Syempre Upper B na lang kasi sayang yung kita sa ibang tickets.”

Selling isn’t simply supply and demand. It’s also knowing and understanding people who need tickets. Bogs is patient and observant. He watches those who are turned away from ticket booths, a look of disappointment on their faces. He then makes his way and pitches a price.

There is no such thing as scarcity. As long as people have money to pay there will always be a ticket available.

The fast money sometimes comes at a price. Some scalpers make a ton of money in a day only to lose it a few hours later at the casino or on mindless indulgence in vices.

For a time, Bogs fell into that trap. He began taking drugs. You name it, he has inhaled it, drunk it, sniffed it, or stuck it in with a needle. He had a reality check when he caught one of his kids doing the same. Susundin ng bata kung ano ang nakikita sa matanda. Both father and son are clean now. And Bogs simply prefers to buy food or appliances.

Every appliance or piece of furniture in their home (he does not pay rent) was purchased through the monies made from scalping. Television, refrigerator, beds, desks, computers, and Playstation consoles. The only thing he can’t afford so far is a car. He laughs. “Sana,” he laughs. “Sana.”

If you think that Bogs is an uneducated opportunist, let it be known that he finished college and was a star baseball player who once competed in the Palarong Pambansa.

Natikman ko yung sarap at ginhawa sa pagiging scalper at ayaw ko na maghanap ng ibang trabaho.”

But when I ask if he’s going to let any of his children follow in his footsteps, he shakes his head. “Kaya ako nagbabanat ng buto para pumunta sila ng magandang eskwelahan tapos yan lang din ang trabaho nila? Huwag na!”

After a quick bite at the Chinese restaurant, he bids goodbye. Earlier in the day, he made some money from working the UAAP games that day. He was looking forward to bringing some good food home to his family. And there were tickets to secure for the next Ateneo game.

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