How The World Turned Upside Down
In the theater world, the hit Broadway musical Hamilton is sold out until 2017. In the San Francisco Bay Area, two dedicated fans who listen to the cast album on endless repeat are about to stumble across the find of their lives. This is their story.
Part One: We’re not throwing away our shot
I threw my duffel to the floor and began racing through my closet with gusto, looking for pajamas, gloves, anything I thought I might need. Except I didn’t know how long I’d be gone. I haphazardly filled a bag with toiletries and glanced at my phone to check the time: 9:15pm.
In the commotion, I called out to my roommate. She ran over, worried something bad had happened. Quite the contrary — something miraculous had just happened.
I found Hamilton tickets online. Good Hamilton tickets. Relatively inexpensive Hamilton tickets. Middle orchestra Hamilton tickets. Amidst a sea of thousand dollar resale seats for the Richard Rodgers theater every night to see the original cast, I had hit the jackpot: $477 middle orchestra seats, right in the middle of the theater. The same price as resale back row rear mezzanine seats. And the seats I found weren’t resale. They were venue seats. Just waiting there online, for someone to claim them.
Almost too good to be true.
Sirisha gasped on the other end of the phone; She was in Berkeley, and I in Mountain View. It was an ordinary Tuesday night. She had a club meeting, I stayed at work late to make up for errands I ran in the afternoon. Earlier in the day, I called her to go over my perplexing dream from the night before — I went to New York and saw Hamilton, but there was an extended scene with human-sized 3D printers onstage. It was absurd. So of course I had to go into minute detail. And call her again later that night to discuss Hamilton more.
Our conversation then devolved into looking up ticket prices and flight sales and scheming how we’d get to New York together to see the musical, how much we were willing to pay for rear mezzanine seats, how we’d find cheap flights.
It was 8pm. I looked up the next day’s performance just for kicks. Found the Best Seats Ever. Looked up 5am Wednesday flights. Realized the performance was a 2pm matinee. And then found an 11:12pm flight leaving SFO that very night. Spent an hour debating life decisions. Even after we decided we shouldn’t do it, and Sirisha went to her club meeting, I kept the site open. I would run down the clock on J 103 and J 104, only to refresh again and put the seats on hold once more.
I called the rational (and surprisingly-encouraging) Anna. Asked in my adrenaline-fueled state that she convince me not to go. Instead, I got “Hm, I think you should do it.”
She said that if she were to travel anywhere, she would want to A) have a destination, B) have a reason for the destination, and C) have a place to stay.
- A) New York City
- B) Hamilton
- C) Renuka’s apartment (Sirisha’s sister) (Who was asleep because it was midnight) (Who had no idea this was happening)
I rang Sirisha. Her club meeting was on the other side of the Berkeley campus from her house. She picked up.
“You need to start running,” I told her.
I hit enter. Hamilton tickets were now in possession. There was no turning back. It was about 9pm.
“Hey yo, I’m just like my country / I’m young, scrappy and hungry / And I’m not throwing away my shot!”
Part Two: We’re Non-Stop
I drove home, my head racing, the lyric “How does he write like he’s running out of time?” transforming into “How does she drive like she’s running out of time?”. Sirisha raced into her house on a mission to buy our plane tickets. Delta, 11:12pm, SFO. We both needed a lift to the airport through our ridesharing app of choice. And we needed to call it fast; Delta won’t let you check-in with less than half an hour until boarding.
We debated what clothes to bring in what little time we had. Were we going to fly back right after the performance, or stay through the weekend? In our haste, a return flight was the least of our worries.
This was a heart-pounding, blood-pumping, one-way journey. Our plane took off in less than two hours.
We arrived at the airport within minutes of each other, carry-on bags in arm and maniacal grins on faces. Our airport reunion paralleled the ecstatic greeting between Eliza and Angelica during “Take A Break”. This was crazy, this was insane. Security passed in a blur of excitement. We told everyone that we could find what we were doing, to varying degrees of interest. This was happening.
This is us being too excited to sleep on the flight. We went on to spend the next half hour singing through the beginning of the first act in order.
“And when our children tell our story / They’ll tell the story of tonight”
Part Three: The Story of Tonight
Let’s review. We bought our plane tickets at 9pm for an 11pm flight. We bought our tickets Tuesday night for the next day’s 2pm performance. We timed it all to a T — land in NYC around 10:30am, freshen up and eat lunch, and head to the theater.
Of course, something had to go wrong.
We checked the weather for New York, so we knew to bring rain gear. But we did not check the weather for our layover in Detroit.
Detroit started out very exciting; the airport was beautiful, we found breakfast, and walked through a tunnel with a musical, colorful personality straight out of Fantasia.
Little did we know what lay in wait at the end of this tunnel.
But the scene outside the airport windows foreshadowed our doom.
“Oooh look it’s flurrying,” we said like idiots who never had to deal with East Coast air travel.
We started to get nervous when when we boarded the plane and sat at the gate for half an hour. Then came the de-icing process. Another half an hour of sitting, helpless, unsure what was happening. But we got into the sky, like a newborn bird taking flight for the first time — a little wobbly, a wee bit cocky — and forged ahead, aiming to forget about this blip in our whirlwind experience. I tried to nap, while Sirisha went through some schoolwork.
Then a voice cut through the manufactured murmur of the cabin.
Part Four: Dealing with the unimaginable
There was something wrong. That much was clear. We were heading back down. Emergency landing. Pittsburg.
This part of the trip has no pictures, because Sirisha and I worked overtime in trying not to cry and keeping it together. We landed in Pittsburg around 10:30am. In an alternate universe, the two of us strolled through Newark airport, channeling the swag of Daveed Diggs’ Thomas Jefferson.
In this reality, panic. We schemed to get out of the plane as soon as we could, to reach the attendant first who would work with all the passengers to get on rerouted flights. Our fellow passengers thought the same. We were at least 20 deep in line with no hope.
I found one of the flight attendants from the plane and asked him exactly what kind of trouble we’d had. Was it the weather?
Not just. He told me that after de-icing, the plane got up in the air fine. But when we reached cruising altitude, the machine that constantly blows hot air out onto the wings to keep them dry had konked out, no warning. The wings were icing up, the weather making things worse in Newark, and Pittsburg the closest Delta airport with open airspace. So emergency landing it was.
Back in line, Sirisha and I shared looks of dread. We took deep, calming breaths and told those closest in line our tale. The woman behind us sympathized — she was a fan of Hamilton as well! “You need to get to New York,” she told us. “You can’t miss that show.”
So... @stephlystein @HamiltonMusical @Lin_Manuel by an cruel twist of fate, we got stuck at Pittsburgh due to ice. We NEED to see this show— Alex (@polarwishes) February 24, 2016
Live tweeting the ordeal.
Newly encouraged, I asked Sirisha to hold our place in line while I tried to find another desk. My footsteps echoed through the near-empty airport. Down the way, a Delta worker with no line at her desk. With the finesse that only comes to me in situations of dire need, I convinced her to hear my plight and graciously reroute me and Sirisha on a 12:45pm LaGuardia-bound flight. She grumbled through the process, but she did it. I thanked her profusely.
The gates of the airport passed in a blur. We reached our new plane. It would take off at 12:45. We would land at 2:15.
We wouldn’t make it. There was nothing we could do.
Part Five: Not willing to Wait For It
Let’s recap. The time was now about 11am. Twelve hours prior, we took off from SFO. Two hours before that, we pressed enter on the craziest adventure of our lives. And 24 hours before that, it was a normal week with responsibilities and deadlines and the Hamilton soundtrack on constant repeat.
It was not time to sulk. We couldn’t turn around. The plan formed simultaneously in our minds: sell our tickets and buy new ones. I fished my laptop out of my bag, bracing myself.
“How do you write like you’re running out of time? / Write day and night like you’re running out of time?”
I tried to no avail to get Ticketmaster’s resale program to cooperate. Feeling defeated, my head perked up when Sirisha uttered the golden words — there were two resale tickets for tonight. Orchestra. Row B. Direct middle.
We had to act fast, who knew how many others chanced upon these tickets as well? Without delay, I pushed ahead and ordered them. Similar tickets could go for $1800 to $3000 resale. Ours were about $850 each.
My bank account wanted to strangle me, but my heart didn’t pay attention.
Third row. Dead center.
Last call for boarding. My card declined.
Third row. Dead center. With the original cast right in front of us and all our cares and woes behind.
We walked up to the gangplank hauling our bags and trying to hold my computer open with our free hands. I scrambled to punch in the information for my other card. At last, I pressed enter.
We made it on the plane, finally on our way to New York City and Hamilton.
We couldn’t sell the other tickets.
Part Six: How lucky we are to be here right now
So no, we were not able to sell the other tickets. In these circumstances, didn’t want the seats to go to waste, so I had a friend in New York take them, and with only 10 minutes to spare she rushed to the theater, in the rain, just making it by the start of the second song. Dramatic, perhaps, but totally necessary and worth it.
The clock striked 2 o’clock and we were still in the air. 2:30pm and we walked off the plane, both defeated and optimistic, which is a hard set of emotions to balance. But we made the best of it, and continued to quote Hamilton non-stop.
We made it to New York. We had a performance to catch at 8pm.
“History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen to be in the greatest city in the world”
Pretty much the only photo I took between Detroit Airport and Hamilton. You can see where my priorities were.
The rest of the day passed in a blur of rain and anticipation. Sirisha submitted a homework assignment minutes before the deadline. We eventually made it to Google’s NYC office, where I proceeded to catch up on emails, schedule meetings, and catch a breath. Then Sirisha’s sister Renuka joined us and helped us prepare for the main event. Yes, we had been up since the previous morning and had just traveled across the country. Still, we wanted to look good.
Making the Schuyler Sisters proud.
If people noticed us as we sprinted like maniacs and vlogged simultaneous on our mad dash to the Richard Rodgers Theater from the 42nd St / Times Square subway station, I do not know and I do not care. We were on a mission. 10 minutes to showtime. Some point along the way as I picked up our tickets at the box office, I lost track of Renuka. And Sirisha.
I started to panic, fearing that at the last moment, after everything we’d gone through, this would be our downfall: A hungry crowd of ravenous theatergoers jockeying for a taste of American History set to hip hop and presented at 90 miles of lyrics a minute. We all wanted to be in The Room Where It Happens.
Then I heard my name called as Sirisha pushed her way forward into the theater lobby. We swept through with the crowd, dazed our way into our third row seats and could not stop freaking out. Picture us with the most giddy expressions you can, and then picture the older audience members giving us a wide berth. We were practically jumping in our seats.
Almost exactly 24 hours after pressing the button, purchasing the tickets, and committing to this journey, the lights dimmed in the theater. All eyes glued to the stage as Aaron Burr (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) entered stage right and began the opening number.
At this point in my tale, I don’t want to give it away. If you paid attention in US History class or saw the classic commercial, you know the climactic resolution to the story. Or go and listen to the entire album online. The musical is like Les Miserables in that the entire story is told through the songs. So with the album on repeat, “it could be enough.”
But to see it in person: the nuances, the characterization, the unspoken interactions between characters, the choreography at key moments, the facial expressions captured from sitting so close to the stage, the actual staging and set that leads you to rethink entire acts…it 100% did in fact Blow Us All Away.
There are no words.
To conclude my tale, I want to emphasize that this spontaneous jaunt across the country was completely worth it.
Also, here’s a gif of us with Daveed Diggs (who plays Lafayette & Jefferson & absolutely kills it): Three cool cats reppin’ the Bay Area.