Wednesday night's loss to the Pistons concluded the worst season in Knicks history. As a thank you to ticket holders who tolerated the year-long tank, Madison Square Garden made the evening "Fan Appreciation Night," with discounted merchandise, giveaways, meet-and-greets and most importantly, FREE CONCESSIONS.
We are a couple of lifelong Knicks fans, and we took this lowering of defenses as an opportunity to pillage an organization that's hurt us many times over:
It was a declaration of war.
We figured the Knicks expected to give away a couple hot dogs and sodas per person, so we sought to ambush them by milking every calorie and every dollar we could. We understood that the usual mark-up on concessions at MSG is so ridiculous, and James Dolan's wealth so vast, that none of our efforts would matter. We also understood that this was an untimely revolt -- Dolan has always been a meddling tyrant of an owner, but the Knicks were about to finally complete a much-needed season of purging and tanking under the apparently autonomous Phil Jackson.
But at least out of principle, we set out to eat as much as we could of the most expensive food available ... for free. What follows is a log of the Gastronomic Revolution Against The Cruel Despot James Dolan:
07:55, APRIL 15: We Google "how to prepare for an eating contest" and "how to increase appetite" and find mostly long-term plans geared toward health. Unhelpful. Frustrated, we ditch Google and ask Jeeves instead:
Quite a few Sopranos plot points offer guidance for excessive eating. Knew we could depend on you, Jeeves.
09:18: We'd been resolving to starve -- or at least come as close to starving as we could -- the whole day, but this important WikiHow article on exploiting all-you-can-eat situations suggests otherwise. Suddenly, the revolutionary front breaks into factions:
Still, this post has good tips besides eating a little bit during the day:
- Drink water and juice, not soda
- Start small to prime the tummy, then move quickly to the most expensive stuff and avoid "fillers"
- Leave the sugar until later to switch things up and overcome fatigue
- If too full to continue, eat some fruit
09:37-12:08: Seth has a banana, and later some cashews and a glass of water. Rodger has half a mozzarella stick and a Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi.
- We suspect only the stalls serving basic stuff like hot dogs and popcorn will be open. We'll check the 100-level fancy stalls first, but don't expect to find free access to the nicest food.
- We're aiming for quantity and monetary value. The revolution will fail if we favor satisfaction over efficiency, so we mustn't get caught up in deliciousness.
13:06: YO LET'S EAT A KNICKS LEGEND
Free food and drinks at MSG tonight for #Knicks season finale. Lots of Knicks legends expected to be around to meet fans who attend.— Alan Hahn (@alanhahn) April 15, 2015
(Some debate ensues about who the tastiest Knicks legend is.)
15:43: Rodger feels "okay." Seth feels "a little dizzy."
17:45: We depart the SB Nation office for Madison Square Garden, over two hours before tip-off.
18:23: Tickets acquired, we wait penned up like cattle in the lobby until MSG security opens the gates and lets our small but pushy crowd up into the towers and toward the action.
18:30: We're in! Free Knicks hats presented by Chase! Did you know Chase is the best brand? Very good brand.
18:31: We hop off the escalators a couple floors early and head for the lowest level to check on the most premium food. We immediately encounter a Garden employee standing beside a table heaped with packaged treats: Cracker Jacks, peanut M&Ms, regular M&Ms, Twizzlers, and ziggurats of popcorn boxes. These tables line the outer wall as far as we can see. Rodger asks the man if that food is indeed free, and he confirms, but notes that the other stuff on that level -- the hot, prepared food from stalls -- is not free. Just as we suspected, there's a catch to Fan Appreciation Night. Disappointed, we each grab some candy and ride the escalators up to where we're supposed to sit.
More sports food
More sports food
18:35: We remember we're both really hungry and start circling our near-empty level for dinner to purchase. As we pass one stall, a woman serving hot dogs asks what's wrong with us and why we're just walking by free food.
... wait a second. But only popcorn and candy and stuff is free?
"Who told you that?"
A guy downstairs.
"He's lying. Everything but alcohol is free."
Everything? Burgers? Lobster rolls?
"Everything. Take some hot dogs."
We each take a hot dog and bolt back downstairs.
18:38: Back on the level with the fancy foods, we make a beeline for the stall we believe will have the priciest items: "Lobster Shrimp Roll by Aquagrill." We're right -- a normal-priced sandwich is $19.50 -- but there's a problem. It's not lobster rolls and shrimp rolls; it's both in one. Rodger is allergic to shrimp. We split up and plan to meet back at a table.
18:45: Everything really is free. We ask for food and they give it to us, and we return them nothing but tips. Seth takes down three lobster/shrimp rolls.
Rodger mixes it up with a tray of sushi and a sausage sandwich with gruyere cheese and potato strings:
The initial plan was to pace ourselves, but there are so few people in the building over an hour before tip-off, and we want to do as much damage as possible before lines form.
18:47: We're panting and sipping free bottles of water. We went way too hard way too fast.
19:00: After a couple more free waters and some sweaty pacing, we remember we shouldn't be ignoring the bags of candy just because that first guy deceived us. They're valuable (normal price: $4.50) and we don't have to eat them immediately; we can pocket them and take them out of the Garden. Unfortunately, neither of us are carrying bags or wearing jackets on the first hot day of April, so storage space is limited.
19:05: Rodger goes big with an $18.95 prime rib sandwich from Hill Country Barbecue.
He's hurting badly by the end of it, using the cup of au jus to lubricate his meal much like Kobayashi drenches a hot dog in water.
19:11: As we slump over a table and digest and whimper a little bit, we spy not only several Knicks beat writers, but a couple Knicks executives, each hustling back to work with a little stack of free foodstuffs. MSG charges media for the press room buffet, so no judgment here.
19:30: We spend a long time circling the arena, working the food through our systems as best we can and filling every available pocket with bags of Twizzlers and M&Ms. We're stuffed inside and out, and we're not the only ones. Some fans balance towers of chicken finger boxes. Other shove hot dogs down their pants. People grab and gorge to the point of delirium, kinda like Pleasure Island in Pinnocchio, except without donkey-children. These kids are on top of their game:
Some people are clearly sampling plates of food then disposing them. We have agreed not to do this. As much as we'd enjoy punting free pretzels and emptying bags of M&Ms onto the floor, we're here to plunder, not to waste.
20:01: Starting lineups are introduced. We're both pooping.
20:15: The once-packed concourse begins to thin out as fans take their seats. We are determined to never enter the playing area of the arena.
20:20: More water. Waters are typically $5.50 a piece, so this is good value. It's also the only thing we can stomach right now.
20:28: SECOND WIND. We're ready for more, but we want to mix things up a bit. We defy our research and go for some sweets. Rodger gets a Magnum bar (usually $5.25). Seth gets a cup of salted caramel frozen yogurt (usually $7.50):
We watch the whole first quarter on a television in a deep nook of the concourse we're pretty sure no one ever enters, except for the one other guy who was posted up in the corner talking to a bag of french fries.
20:39: During a timeout, we hear the loudest cheer of the night. Apparently this dude hit a half court shot and won $10,000. Good job, dude! That kinda counts as pillaging, even if the money doesn't come out of Dolan's pocket!! Viva la revolución!
21:10: Halftime. We figured stores would be depleted by now. We expected massive lines. None of this is the case. All the expensive food is still readily accessible, the hordes of fans stay mobile and the folks at the tables of candy and popcorn practically throw bags at you as you walk by. They're not just giving food away, they're almost forcing it on people.
21:17: Rodger gets a couple chicken tacos that would have been 11 bucks. They're fine, but tiny. Don't get those if you have to pay.
21:31: More than before, people are acquiring food only to abandon it immediately. Still-wrapped bales of cotton candy and open popcorn boxes missing just a few kernels litter the tables and floor. This forsaken box of nachos appears untouched:
21:35: Having run out of pockets and noticed fans storing their goods in boxes and bags, Seth visits the team store and cajoles the cashier into giving him a huge, opaque plastic bag meant for merchandise. While we circle in search of the next meal we can comfortably eat, Seth grabs a bag of Cracker Jacks (normal price: $6.25) from every table we pass, which is a lot of tables. We feel like we should be sneaky about filling a multi-gallon bag with snacks, but most of the table attendants insist we take at least two per visit, and some candy as well. They want us to rob them.
21:40: Rodger revisits Hill Country and snags a mini pecan pie he'd been eyeing before. Down the hatch with ease.
Fan: "Does this happen every year?"
Concession worker: "Every time they're bad."
21:55: Seth halfheartedly chokes down a tray of chicken tenders (which had been breaded and fried together into one MEGATENDER) and waffle fries. A fan nearby grasps five ice creams in one hand.
22:08: Team store employees have put a ban on free bags, but a Cracker Jack peddler is more than happy to give Rodger one of the large boxes in which individual packages were stored.
As the Knicks wind down their final loss of the season, workers closing up stalls grow more and more eager to give away food, but find customers too overwhelmed to accept any more. The man who led us astray at the outset cries "PLEASE TAKE MY CRACKER JACKS SO I CAN GO HOME!" Rodger's box is promptly heaped with candy, popcorn, hot dogs and a couple soft pretzels.
22:10: The vendors who normally walk through the stands selling items out of bags have been working tonight, just walking around yelling FREE PRETZELS and FREE CHICKEN TENDERS. One has gotten tired of walking and just set his huge heating bag of hot dogs down so fans can take as many as they want.
Rodger grabs two. The vendor beseeches him to "take a bunch." Rodger takes five.
22:15: We notice a mess of giant popcorn bags strewn across the floor. Some snickering tweens pose for photos with them, but chicken out on actually taking them. Seth asks an employee packing up a table nearby what will become of all that unopened popcorn. He says it's going in the trash and we might as well grab it. We do.
Remember, that black bag is full to the top with Cracker Jacks and candy.
22:22: MSG security guards laugh at us as we exit the building, tipping under the weight of our loot, but they don't stop us. It's an incredible feeling.
22:25: We offer the pick of our snacks to each of the homeless people camped on 7th Avenue. Several are happy to accept:
Others have already received so much free food that they turn us away. One guy with a cat sits next to a stack of pizza boxes nearly reaching his head. We drift away from the Garden to Broadway and 6th Avenue and find enough hungry, unvisited people that we unweight most of our luggage.
And thus ends the night. Our total damage:
- Ten waters, three lobster rolls, one plate of tacos, one mini pie, one frozen yogurt, one plate of chicken fingers and fries, one ice cream bar, two hot dogs, one plate of sushi, one sausage sandwich and one prime rib sandwich = $207.90 of food consumed inside Madison Square Garden.
- Approximately five hot dogs, two pretzels, 17 boxes of Cracker Jacks, 15 bags of candy and 28 boxes of popcorn = $392.25 of food walked out of Madison Square Garden.
That's a grand total of $600.15, measuring by MSG's famously lofty prices. And not a second spent in our seats.
But did the revolution succeed? Did we sufficiently exploit James Dolan's generosity, at least in principle?
Not really. The generosity was far too ripe for exploitation. Like the opponents who crushed the stripped-down Knicks this season, we tramped over ground that mustered no defense. As the Knicks lost by design for the 65th time this year, their home did the equivalent with its foods, thereby denying us the glory of revolution, if not the pleasure.
One cannot conquer the adversary who invites conquering. All one can do is delight in its snacks.