The Backstreet Boys walked into KISS 98.5 a few weeks ago. But Michelle Enstrom didn't bat an eyelash.
Ever since the white-hot, pretty-boy band's Nov. 14 concert at Marine Midland Arena sold out on Aug. 14 -- in 21 minutes -- the WKSE receptionist has gotten used to seeing unusual things at the station.
In this case, it was a trio of 12-year-old girls dressed and made up as three members of the blue-eyed soul quintet, offering to do one of their songs right there in exchange for the concert tickets they were convinced Ms. Enstrom had.
"I don't have any. Really," the receptionist told them. "It's sold out. We have nothing."
There was a pause as the teens digested this news.
"Could you go see if (morning host) Janet Snyder has some?" one queried hopefully.
That is just one of many tales being told around town as teens, twentysomethings and their parents desperately search for some of the hottest concert tickets of the decade.
In Detroit, the first show sold out in a record eight minutes; two more shows were added and were sold out in 49 minutes.
In Baltimore, nearly 20,000 tickets were snapped up in less than a half-hour; a second show was added and sold out in 45 minutes.
On the Internet, private ticket brokers are asking $800 per ticket for floor seats.
And at the Marine Midland Arena, campouts began early the morning of Aug. 12 in anticipation of the sales on the morning of Aug. 14.
Not since Menudo (and then New Kids on the Block, and then 'N Sync, and then 98 Degrees) has a teen-dream boy band been so blazingly successful.
Their latest album, "Millennium," remains No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Adding in the self-titled first collection, the Orlando natives have sold more than 28 million records.
The frenzy over the Backstreet Boys -- and tickets for their tour -- has stunned parents.
One mom asks a reporter, half-jokingly: "You don't have any, do you? You must know someone who has some. We're willing to pay."
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think these would be so hard to get," sighs Helen Warejko of Cheektowaga, whose 14-year-old daughter, Joanne, wanted four seats but came away empty-handed on Aug. 14.
Ultimately, Mrs. Warejko had to resort to buying them over the phone from a stranger who wanted $75 per ticket. "I can't believe the baloney you have to go through now with wristbands and lottery numbers and scalping," she says.
Also stunned by the money parents are willing to pay, and the desperation they're resorting to, are broadcast and concert veterans.
"It's to the point of stupid," says Artie Kwitchoff, of Buffalo's office of Delsener-Slater, the concert's promoters. His partner, Marcel Thimot, was out having Sunday morning breakfast the day after the Buffalo show sold out, and found himself "almost accosted" over his eggs by an acquaintance begging for tickets, Kwitchoff recalls.
"Then, Monday morning, as soon as we got in at 9, the phones started ringing and we looked at each other and went, 'OK, here we go.' "
"This is way worse than Sabres playoffs," observes KISS' Janet Snyder, who has several cardboard boxes in her office filled to the brim with letters from despondent teens and parents. "No parent wants to be the one who didn't get tickets."
Even broadcasters at stations that wouldn't play Backstreet Boys music in a million years find themselves deluged with pleas.
"Oh, yeah, everyone wants these tickets," confirms Rich Wall, program director at alternative rocker 103.3 The Edge (WEDG-FM). The week the tickets went on sale, Wall got several calls "from friends, people in the business, whoever. They just figured I had some."
At Oldies 104 (WHTT-FM), longtime radio personality Tommy Shannon has been unable to escape "Backstreet" insanity. "My girlfriend's children are just all over me to get tickets," he chuckles.
WMJQ Program Director Dave Gillan's favorite call was from a neighbor from five years ago. "And I barely knew her even then. But she was all, 'Hey-y-y-y, Dave, how ya' doin'?' It was hysterical. So wetalked for 10 minutes and finally she goes, very casually, 'Oh, by the way, do you have any Backstreet Boys tickets?' "
(He doesn't now, he says, and WKSE officials emphasize they don't either. However, both will be giving away tickets in November as the concert draws nearer.)
Of course, those who already have Backstreet Boys tickets are treating them like gold bullion.
"My daughter actually wanted me to buy a firebox to put them in," says Linda Lauck of Amherst, who last week had three great tickets she couldn't use.
How did Ms. Lauck land those floor-section beauties? Her 20-year-old daughter, Jill, got in line with two cousins at the arena two days before the tickets went on sale, and were rewarded with eight prime seats.
They kept five, and Mrs. Lauck, a technician at Sisters Hospital, kept the remaining three secret, afraid she might be inundated with pleas.
Finally, she offered them at face value -- $38.50 -- to Debbie McGowan, a nurse at Sisters with daughters ages 17, 14 and 12.
Ms. McGowan responded with a huge hug of gratitude. "I was so shocked," says Ms. McGowan, who surprised her girls with the tickets "as an early Christmas present" last week. "Backstreet Boys are a very big deal in our house."
Private ticket brokers on the Internet -- who skirt scalping laws by stressing they're not selling tickets but rather the service of finding people tickets -- are quoting per-ticket prices for the Buffalo show ranging from $225 for "nosebleed" seats at the top levels of the venue to $800 for seats in the first 20 rows on the floor.
"Leave your name, phone number and what you're willing to pay. If we like it, we'll call you back," was the phone-machine message left by one woman selling several tickets via a News classified ad.
"My wife and I have been kind of shellshocked by this," says Stan Swogier, of Sanborn, who placed an ad in The News seeking four tickets he could give his daughter Jillian on her 10th birthday.
He was told it would cost him $700 to $800. Now he is uncertain what to do. "It's either that or go back to the Net," he muses, "but either way it's paying scalpers' prices. It's outrageous.
"We figure if we can't get seats, we'll buy Jillian some Backstreet Boys CDs and videos, decorate the basement, let her have a Backstreet Boys party," Swogier said.
"She's a good kid. She tried to make me feel better this week. She said, 'Dad, if you can't get tickets, I won't be heartbroken.' But all her books and binders have Backstreet Boys pictures. She really wants to go very much."