Christian Staack was totally stoked about seeing the Eagles in concert at the Forum.
More than a month before the Jan. 24 gig, he went to Ticketmaster's website and spent about an hour picking the perfect seat, one that afforded a head-on view of the stage plus full stereo sound.
He paid $184 for the ticket, plus $30 in fees and $25 for parking.
Staack ended up in a lousy seat on the extreme side of the stage, and his request for a partial refund was denied by the Forum's owner, Madison Square Garden Co. How that happened speaks volumes about the indifference with which some companies feel they can treat customers.
"I grew up in Germany listening to the Eagles," Staack, 47, told me. "They were partially the reason I ended up moving to California. This concert was very important for me."
This would be his first time seeing the band live, and he had every reason to think it was going to be a great experience. Staack's wife couldn't go, but he was cool flying solo. After all, he'd be seeing one of his all-time favorite bands.
Staack, who now lives in Redlands, arrived early for the 8 p.m. show. He didn't mind having his bottle of water confiscated by security staff — you can't be too careful these days — and cheerfully handed his ticket to the person at the gate.
"A red X came up on the screen," Staack recalled. "I was told that I had to go to an office."
At the Forum office, he was informed that the perfect seat he'd painstakingly booked was blocked by camera equipment. Staack was handed a ticket for a different seat.
"I thought I was being upgraded," he said.
The new seat was to the right of the stage, slightly behind where the performers would be standing. Not only wouldn't Staack see much of the Eagles' faces or the giant video screens flanking the stage, but he could forget any hope of stereo sound.
He returned to the Forum office and asked for a different seat. All that was available, he was told, were a couple of seats at the nosebleed level, which Staack declined.
On a whim, he decided to check out the seat that he'd originally picked, the one that he'd been told was unavailable because it was blocked by cameras.
"There weren't any cameras blocking the seat," Staack said.
In fact, there was no seat.
Staack had purchased Seat 7 in Row 1 of Section 101. But when he stood beside Row 1, he saw there were only six seats, and they were all occupied.
So Staack returned to his assigned spot to the right of the stage and, despite everything, enjoyed the show. "The Eagles still had it," he said.
A few days afterward, Staack called Madison Square Garden Co. in New York. He informed a service rep that he'd been sold a seat that didn't exist and that the seat he'd been given instead wasn't as good as the one he was supposed to have.
Staack asked whether a partial refund was possible.
The rep said no, for two reasons. First, Staack's new seat and his original seat, which the company still believed existed, were equally good. Second, he'd stayed for the show, so that was that.
To Staack, not attending the concert was never an option. He'd waited years to see the Eagles. "This was probably my last chance to see them live," he said.
Staack told me he didn't think the Forum's owner owed him a pile of money for his troubles. "If they had offered a voucher for some beer at another show, that would have been OK," he said.
But the company was adamant. Staack had purchased a ticket for the Eagles; he'd seen the Eagles; discussion over.
This isn't just the mistreatment of a single person. It's typical of the way many businesses feel they can get away with strong-arming customers.
Even when the company is in the wrong, its default setting is that the customer should be happy with whatever he got.
Larry Solters, a Forum spokesman, told me he'd look into the matter. When he called back later, he said: "You're right. There's no Seat 7 in that row. It doesn't exist."
The only explanation, Solters said, is that because this was the first series of concerts at the newly refurbished Forum, a glitch had found its way into the seating chart.
He said the Forum staffers that Staack had dealt with at the venue could have done a better job of handling things, and Madison Square Garden Co. could have been more responsive when Staack called seeking a partial refund.
"But we're going to fix it," Solters said.
Staack told me later he'd received a personal invitation from the Forum's general manager to see Paul Simon and Sting perform Feb. 15. A pair of tickets, and parking, would be on the house.
I asked Staack what lesson other companies can learn from his experience.
"It's so obvious," he replied. "Take care of your customers. It doesn't cost that much, and they'll keep coming back."
Or as the Eagles might say, "Lighten up while you still can."