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Scalpers Work Olympic Streets

February 21, 2002

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ ``I need medals for tonight, cross-country for tomorrow. Who’s selling tickets?″

The big man in the black ski jacket sings his song to the throngs passing by the corner of 200 South and West Temple. Doesn’t like names, he complains, before finally relenting with a toothy smile.

``Malcolm,″ he says. ``Call me Malcolm.″

He flew out from Philadelphia two days before the 2002 Winter Games began and will leave when the flame is extinguished, on to the next big event _ college basketball’s Final Four.

He is one of hundreds of ticket scalpers assembled in Salt Lake City for two weeks of work that can help make or break an entire year. On Malcolm’s corner alone, they hail from Baltimore, Atlanta and even Australia.

This isn’t a one-time deal for these guys. They aren’t amateurs out to make a buck on a ticket they got stuck with. This is their trade, their livelihood _ their lives. It is a culture unto itself.

To the layman, it’s grinding out a living.

In scalpers’ lingo, it’s called ``The Walk.″

No one does The Walk better than Malcolm, a 37-year-old father of three who’s worked the streets since high school, peddling sunglasses and scarves before switching over to scalping.

He’s got the ``I need tickets″ sign hanging from his neck _ laminated so it holds up. A laminated Olympic schedule is tucked in his coat pocket, while a cell phone headset is strung under his ski cap.

``Do you have any aerials for tomorrow? I want one, but at what?″ demands a woman in a coat with a Mickey Mouse decal.

``One twenty-five,″ Malcolm responds. Face value, he explains, is $200-$300.

``Mickey″ jaunts off for some cash, while Malcolm gets on the phone: ``Bourbon, bring one of them aerials down here. The lady wants to spend about a buck and a quarter.″

Malcolm’s year started at the Super Bowl. After the Olympics and the Final Four, he’ll head to the Masters, the NBA finals and the World Series.

He went to Australia for the 2000 Summer Games, and has bumped into several scalpers whom he met on the streets Down Under.

Salt Lake City was a big draw because scalping is legal. For the Olympics, ticket peddlers were supposed to buy a $750 business license and set up shop inside a downtown office building.

Most passed, city officials say, taking to the streets instead, where they risk fines up to $1,850 and up to six months in jail.

As Malcolm worked the streets this day, a city employee confiscated three figure skating tickets from a scalper and gave him a ticket.

Malcolm’s been lucky so far.

``I don’t appreciate the city of Salt Lake busting my chops,″ he says. ``The hotel rooms are three to four hundred a night, rental cars five to six hundred a week. And they talk about scalpers selling tickets?

``I’m the grease turning the wheels here. People can’t afford these tickets, and we’re selling them below cost.″

The consensus on the street is that the hassle hasn’t been worth the payoff.

Nearly 2 million tickets are floating around for 78 different events. The cheapest are the free tickets organizers passed out to the nightly medals presentation and concerts downtown. They’re going for $10-$100 on the street, depending on the act.

The steepest were tickets to the opening ceremony: $885 face value, which ended up going for $400 below cost on the street.

Jason Eisenhardt, a 24-year-old from Baltimore who’s been scalping since he was 14, is making his third appearance at an Olympics. In Atlanta he pocketed $100 for $5 table tennis tickets. The best he’s done at these Olympics is $90 for a bobsled ticket he bought for $10.

Good money is $1,000 a day, he says. He’s made no more than $300 a day.

``The tourists with the money aren’t here. It’s just local families walking around,″ says Eisenhardt, who sliced his schedule from 12 hours a day to four to take in some events himself. ``I didn’t expect to come out here and get rich.″

Malcolm doesn’t like to talk money, saying it’s like asking a businessman for his pay stub. He’ll say only that he broke even three days ago. Before that, he was losing money.

Malcolm plans to use the money to put his daughter through dental school.

``Yeah, I get tired of this,″ he admits, ``but I’ve been self-employed my entire life. I’d rather shine shoes than punch a clock.″

And so he remains, out on the street _ 14 hours into an 18-hour day.

As a wet snow starts to fall and the winds pick up, he’s still stalking the corner of 200 South and West Temple _ singing his song and doing The Walk.

``Cross-country tickets? Anyone got cross-country tickets?″

___

EDITOR’S NOTE _ Pauline Arrillaga is the AP’s Southwest regional writer, based in Phoenix.

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