BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Kyle Kuczmarski has had some bad experiences on Craigslist.
There was that one time he was chased out of an apartment parking lot by a pair of ruffians trying to retrieve a forged car title they provided him in an effort to legitimize a shady vehicle purchase. Or, another time when he was led into the back of a van by a pair of men inquiring about the $2,500 cash he was supposed to bring for the sale of a different car (he had it, but lied and said he needed to run to the bank).
But like any eternal optimist, he believes there is good in the world. A die-hard Calgary Flames fan who lives near U.S. Bank Stadium, he often posts looking for free tickets to Minnesota Wild games when his team comes to town and finds them. He’s facilitated purchases for co-workers on the site and swears it is still the best place to find deals online.
Which is why it wasn’t surprising that last week he posted an ad for Super Bowl tickets. Kuczmarski, who was given free tickets to the Blair Walsh game two years back, saw it as one of his only chances in life to make it to the title game, but did not want to empty his bank account. Like any true Craigslist professional, he hoped to exchange services for goods.
I can’t afford much, but I will go out of my way to earn it. I can shovel snow, clean up dog poo, and/or take your mother-in-law for a walk, ha!. I can pay a couple hundred bucks and work off the rest or whatever you want!
“I would absolutely be someone’s indentured servant,” Kuczmarski told me when reached by phone. “If someone asked me to come over and clean up after their dog, I would do it for at least a month or two.”
Kuczmarski is the friendly face of a bizarre and often hilarious sub-world that comes alive during Super Bowl week. People flock to Craigslist, looking to trade engagement rings from broken relationships and incredibly rare, prized bourbon for a shot to get into the game. There is a person in Detroit Lakes offering silver bullion in exchange for Patriots-Eagles tickets, one airline pilot who half-jokingly said he would donate a kidney (if he can also get near Tom Brady on the sideline) and another person, who goes by the name Jay Bone, hoping to corner the market on the sale of male enhancement pills for out-of-towners looking for a good time this week (Mr. Bone, when reached by Sports Illustrated, declined to comment for the piece due to his suspicion that this story was actually “an expose on the sex trade” but did say he would answer a few questions if we ordered some pills. We declined).
After a week of hunting through listings, we made contact with a few of our favorites. These are their stories…
***Pappy Van Winkle for the super Bowl***
The first time this particular Craigslist poster—he asked to remain anonymous, so we’ll call him Dan—took a sip of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon on a business trip to Scottsdale, Ariz. and again shortly after when in Las Vegas, it was love.
The true pull, though, came from the liquor’s cult following. There is a small amount of the rare drink bottled each year (about 7,000 cases), which sends collectors on a frenzied scavenger hunt throughout the United States like thirsty antique pickers. There are campouts and stakeouts. Dan prefers to comb through old mom and pop joints in hopes that they don’t know what they’re in possession of.
Bottles online can go for well over a thousand dollars (the 15-year retails for about $80 depending on the store). Empty bottles have been listed on eBay for more than $100.
He acquired one bottle through a client (the man was actually on vacation in the Bahamas, but Dan insisted he call the liquor store where he found it and put his name on a list) and another two through a rigorous process that involved him phoning nearly every liquor store in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota before a store in Grand Forks, North Dakota called with the good news: We’ve received our shipment and will stock it at the close of business, 8 p.m. When our doors open at 8 a.m., you can line up with the rest of them and draw a number to enter the lottery.
“Whenever I travel I check in liquor stores,” Dan said by phone. “There’s an absolute rush. Due to the Pappy name being so difficult to find, I’ve had to move on to other unique, small-batch, limited edition stuff. Other bourbons, whiskies, I’m getting into tequilas now.”
He said his wife doesn’t really understand the allure of Pappy Van Winkle and wished he would make some more room in his many liquor cabinets throughout the house for some wine.
But his real motivation for listing the booze as trade bait was the allure of bringing his NFL-crazed son to a football game.
“I was saving them all for a really special occasion, but all of a sudden about three weeks ago I thought, jeez, the Vikings have a chance here, I have a son and absolutely die-hard into the NFL. Man, it would be cool if I could sell these things and trade them for Super Bowl tickets.”
Initially, Dan battled a steady barrage of Pappy enthusiasts who simply want the merchandise and can’t supply tickets in return (Smith is offering two of the 15-year aged, which he says is worth $1,750 each, one of the 12 years ($750) and one of the 10-year aged, which he wanted $500 for. His vision, though, was wise: In his best-case scenario, a group of high rollers come to town armed with extra tickets and craving some high-end booze that may not be readily available in Minnesota (we found at least one local bar that is stocking a select amount of Pappy for their high-end clientele this weekend).
After several days, Dan ended up getting spooked and took the ad down. One user messaged him and asked if he had a liquor license, which made him wonder about the legality of the whole thing. He had planned to check ID but the prospect of becoming some sort of cyber bootlegger was not enticing.
When asked if he would pop one of his bottles on the couch Sunday, he said in a text: “I might.”
Diamond Ring trade for Super Bowl - $8000 (Minnesota)
Ron Hug is something of a Craigslist savant—a self-described “cynical” observer. He can spot scams and scam trends rather quickly, which is useful since he uses the site for just about everything.
“The scammers are really heavy on the cars, but recently I’ve seen them scamming hard on the RV’s,” Hug told me by phone. “The typical scam I’ll see is a picture of a car that looks like a stock photo and they’ll email them and there’s some reason they’re leaving the country or aren’t in the country to sell the vehicle but they’ll send you a cashiers check for the price of the vehicle, plus shipping plus time and effort for your troubles and you cash the check and then you pay the shipper, you wire the money to the shipper and you go to deposit the cashiers check thinking its good and boom, it’s fraudulent.”
That’s why he’s confident he won’t make a mistake when trading a diamond engagement ring for Super Bowl tickets. An Omaha, Neb., native, Hug is planning on making the nearly six-hour trek in one night if he has to. The goal? Turn a negative memory into a positive one.
The ring belonged to a family member, he said, whose engagement broke off. The ring was appraised a few years back for more than $6,000 but in typical online deal-making fashion, the three people who contacted Ron wanted cash on top of the diamond. He’s still mulling it over.
It’s the closest the Super Bowl has ever been to his house and he’s familiar with the Minneapolis area, which is a bonus. He knows some hotels in Iowa if he gets tired and needs to pull off.
In the meantime, he’ll continue his one-man detective operation to weed out the serious offers. One, in particular, recently tested his patience.
“He was using a commercial phone number tied to a legitimate business,” he said. “So that was the first thing I checked. What phone number is he using? Then when I asked him to see a picture of the tickets, he sent me a picture of the tickets but they were two different colors and the seat, row and everything else was redacted.”
Ron kept demanding pictures from different angles but only got the same one in return.
“He just kept sending me the same f----- picture,” he said. “He told me he was worried about scammers. OK, so what if I know your seat and row number, I can figure out every seat in the stadium from the damn seating chart."
The beauty of search optimization is alive in Minnesota Craigslist. People are attaching the Super Bowl angle to just about anything they’re trying to sell. One person is selling board games, which will, somehow, be great for the Super Bowl.
Another person is selling a dilapidated heater just in case there’s an outdoor Super Bowl tailgate in freezing Minneapolis winter. One seller from Blaine, Minnesota, has a stockpile of SUPER BOWL CROWD CONTROL CHROME ROPE STANCHIONS. The sale, which offers you the chance to create your own red carpet atmosphere, was described as a “blowout.”
Last week, someone sent out a message soliciting a stranger to make a fun bet with. Each person picks a team and the loser gets to pie the other in the face. Another hopeful user is attending a nudist Super Bowl party in Hugo, Minn.—it’s a pot luck, according to the ad—and wants a friend to come along.
It is, all at once, a depiction of what terrifies the world about Craigslist and why people like Kuczmarski use it for everything. If you look hard enough, there is something for everyone—even Super Bowl tickets.