IT SOUNDS like such a simple task: Buy a concert ticket to see Bruce Springsteen.
Springsteen tickets go on sale Saturday at 9 a.m., and fans will have to endure a maze of rules, regulations and bureaucratic twists that would chill the soul of Franz Kafka or at least Agent Scully. Tickets will be available at the Marine Midland Arena box office and Fantastix outlets.
People will have to put up with just about everything but a DNA test for the privilege of shelling out $67.50 and $37.50 to see the old Boss and his E Street Band. It seems easier to get a marriage license than a seat in the arena to attend the Nov. 19 concert.
Let's begin at the beginning, which was Tuesday, when fans were urged to pick up random-numbered handbills -- not for the show, but for a spot in line. Springsteen followers had to show driver's licenses or other identification for proof of identity, and their names were printed on the handbill. They then had to sign a form to get those handbills.
The fans also received a one-page sheet of rules that reads like a legal brief. Consider:
"The beginning number will be announced at 8:15 a.m. You must be at the location that you received your handbill by 8 a.m. to get your place in line. Your handbill will only be honored at the location that you have received your handbill.
"You must have valid identification to receive your handbill. Handbills are non-transferable. Valid identification must be provided both at the time you receive your handbill, as well as at the time of purchase."
Whew! And I thought getting my computer rebate was tough. Remember, this is not for a ticket, but only for a place in line. And listen, all you Springsteen fans out there -- no cheating and sneaking up front without a handbill.
And don't be late, because the rule sheet states: "You will not be allowed in line if you arrive after 8 a.m. regardless of your handbill number."
Why all the restrictions?
Well, Springsteen fans, it's for your own good.
"This policy helps ensure everyone's safety," the rule sheet says. Especially scalpers, who always have plenty of tickets regardless of the rules.
Oh, and by the way, if all this sounds too complicated, consider the telephone and more complications. The first 17 rows are available for sale by phone only. Get ready to speed-dial at the exact second the clock strikes 9 or you'll be out of luck.
Meanwhile, back to the handbills: OK, so you got your handbill and you arrive at 8 a.m. Saturday. Now it's time to follow the 11 commandments listed on the rule sheet, which Springsteen fans are urged to memorize as if they were the lyrics to "Born in the U.S.A."
Commandment No. 1: "Each ticket center will pass out consecutively numbered handbills." That means the numbers will run in consecutive order. Hitting one of these numbers is akin to winning the lottery, which means you have as good a chance of actually getting a ticket as being struck by lightning.
Commandment No. 2: "There will be a limited numbers of handbills available." So when you look around and see 500 people, you know 400 or so are going home without tickets.
Commandment No. 3: "One handbill per customer." Cheer up -- if you go to Tops, you can get your single handbill and a pound of Polish sausage at the same time.
Commandment No. 4: "You must be at least 12 years old to receive a handbill." Hey, this is Springsteen, not the Backstreet Boys. Besides, what respectable 12-year-old would put up with all this just to see a concert? Only adults are that dumb.
Commandment No. 5: "A handbill does not guarantee you a ticket, only a place in line if you arrive by 8 a.m." So what do they expect you to do on Saturday morning, sleep in?
Commandment No. 6: "Your handbill will only be honored at the location that it was distributed from." This means you can't get your handbill at Sam the Record Man and then line up at Tops.
Commandment No. 7: "Handbills are non-transferable." So your brother-in-law got the handbill and you want the ticket. Tough luck.
Commandment No. 8: "Valid ID, matching the ID that was presented when you received your handbill, must be presented to purchase your tickets." Remember that fake IDs work only on Chippewa Street.
Commandment No. 9: "The random starting number will be announced 45 minutes prior to 9 a.m." The fun starts when the drawing begins one hour before the sale time and "one section of each customer's handbill will be torn at the perforation and placed in a hat, bag or box."
Then, "one half-hour prior to the sale, a customer from the line will reach in the bag without viewing any of the other handbills and choose the beginning lineup number. The number will be drawn in front of the general public."
This is it, your Springsteen moment. Imagine being the lucky stiff to put your hand in that little bag and determine the destiny of so many other ticket holders. It's almost as cool as being Patti Scialfa.
Commandment No. 10: "The line will start with this (chosen) random number." And the winners go to lucky town.
Commandment No. 11 (my personal favorite): "Upon arrival, take your place in line numerically. We will shift everyone in line accordingly."
I think they mean you show your ticket and they shift you in line, kind of like what Doug Flutie does in the backfield during a Bills game.
Some guy yells "27" and you say, "I'm 27." The guy says, "Come here and shift." And you put your right foot in, you take your right foot out . . .
Or as Springsteen might say, getting a ticket to one of his concerts is kind of like dancing in the dark.