I have to admit it, I was a little grouchy after Labor Day – my first day at the US Open. Lots of people jostling one another like rush hour on Canal Street and not much tennis. I guess we can blame the lack of matches on the perfect weather – unlike last year, when we were rained out one day and then treated to plenty of tennis the next two, this year Azarenka/Mirny vs. Mirza/Bhupathi in the Grandstand was about the best we saw during the day session. This was after Radwanska vs. Peer in Louis Armstrong fizzled out and before we sat down to watch Haas vs. Blake in the food court ($13 turkey sandwich, $7 Heineken) which was laid out in such away to afford only one table with a decent view of the big screen. We would’ve sat in the Ashe nosebleeds if we could’ve – but those tickets were sold out and I wasn’t hankering to catch the end of Mahut/Benneteau vs. Querry/Kendrick from our reserved seats in Armstrong.
Blake lost the final tiebreak just before 6 p.m. and we decided to try our luck at the Upgrade Booth to see if we could improve upon the $48 nosebleed tickets we’d bought for the night session (the chance to see Federer, we figured, would make our long, expensive, sunscreen-laced-sweat-dripping-in-the-eyes day more “worth it.”)
All looked relatively promising at first. There was an orderly, medium-sized line (by US Open Labor Day weekend standards) starting at the ticket windows, the first in line, of course, a trio of dorky-looking women in red “Federer” shirts. Being new to the process, we had inquired earlier at the box office and had been told by a guy named Richard that something called upgrade coupons would be given out at 6, with upgrades doled out at 6:30. This sounded a bit strange, but my hubby John and I figured that there was a system in place suitable for a high-profile operation attended by about 700,000 people.
So when 6 p.m. came and went, we started asking our fellow queue-ers how the upgrades worked, and no one had a clue. Circling staff answered our questions cryptically or with a shrugging “I don’t know.” We got even more confused when a staffer informed all of us that, surprise, there actually was “no line” for upgrades, but a person would indeed be coming out shortly to hand out the coupons. How was that going to work? We exchanged quizzical looks and shuffled a few steps here and there, reluctant to give up the line we had formed so dutifully.
About five long minutes later, Richard, the guy we’d spoken to earlier that afternoon, came out from the box office and started speaking to us in a voice that could only be described as bitchy.
“We anticipate very few cancellations tonight, therefore there are only fifteen coupons available. I do not have the coupons but I will tell you where the man with the coupons is in just a moment. However, I warn you that if there is any pushing or shoving that there will be no upgrades”
“What?!” All of us murmur in disbelief. This sounded like some kind of twisted playground game thought up by the class sadist. The lovely Eastern-European woman in front of me turned and asked me to confirm, “This is America, right, because this is like something that would happen in my country. . .”
“The man is over there!” Richard cried, pointing somewhere over my shoulder.
I swung around and saw a big burly teenager in a US Open polo shirt bumbling towards us, holding up coupons in his clenched fists. Instantly, a crowd four or five people deep surrounds him, waving and reaching as he raises his arms tauntingly above their heads. I couldn’t decide if the scene is more reminiscent of a UN food drop or a panicked day on the trading floor of the Chicago Commodities Exchange. One of those Federer fan bitches, a petite Asian woman in tortoiseshell eyeglasses, actually shoved me roughly aside in her rush to join the fray.
John made a half-hearted attempt, waving gamely at the upgrade lumberjack from the edge of the mob, while I stood on the sidelines with the majority of the group, slackjawed at the scene we were witnessing. Some people decided to express their disgust and dismay to Richard, who had smartly put some distance between himself and his increasingly frantic coworker. Instead of addressing our complaints, he avoided eye contact and raised a finger towards the heavens.
“That’s it, there will be no upgrades for anyone this evening!”
He and his goon hightailed it and we pursued them, shaking our fists and shouting like a throng of pitchfork-wielding villagers.
“People are going crazy!” An usher shouted to another as we rushed through the entrance of Louis Armstrong Stadium and down the hallway to where the ticket office was located. Close at Richard’s heels, we pile into the small room, circling a few beleagured box office employees who try not to cower behind the counter.
The pathological Federer fan and her friends were foaming at the mouth because they hadn’t managed to score the upgrade. Amid their shouts of “Unfair!” I found myself longing to confront the pushy broad with the Swiss cross emblazoned on her chest. I debated to myself if it would be more effective to kick her in the shin or to shame her by asking, “Would Roger approve of such behavior?”
A reasoned appeal by someone who had not accosted me, pulled me out of my daydream. The speaker was a gray-haired, man in a US Open camp and a faded Hawaiian shirt with the sun damaged skin of a life-long tennis player. He claimed not to be miffed at missing out on an upgrade, but he was upset at the pure ridiculousness of the past twent minutes.
“As someone who has attended the US Open for 14 years and as a long time member of the USTA, I’ve never been spoken to so rudely by event staff.”
“Amen!” The rest of us chimed in with our support.
Unimpressed, the defensive box office manager argued that long-time attendees should be aware that the old upgrade system was unfair – “We have day session ticket holders lining up for night session upgrades before night session ticket holders even get here.” I guess the fact that his office’s new and improved system favored violent maniacs people who would bodyslam their fellow tennis lovers to the pavement didn’t bother him.
When Mr. USTA reasonably pointed out that people could be injured with lawsuits inevitably following, the manager just shrugged and told us that we were welcome to “write letters.”
John and I just looked at each other and laughed at this point, leaving the hard core complainers to fight it out in the office. We imagined that Richard and his burly sidekick had been left to their own devices earlier that afternoon, charged with the seemingly simple task of handing out upgrades.
“Hey,” Richard said, pointing his finger, “Why not a Coupon Cage Match?”
“Cool,” shrugged Burly Sidekick, getting a funny feeling that he’d be the one in the ring.
Still mildly rattled by being assaulted by a Fed Fan, I decided to calm my nerves with a $12 Grey Goose cocktail (the Honey Deuce, served in a “collectible” US Open plastic glass.) Maybe it wasn’t Richard’s fault after all – could the upgrade melee be some high-level executive’s billiant scheme to spur concession sales?
Later, John and I grimly watched the end of Chakvedatze-Paszek and the entirety of the Fed/F-Lo match from our horrendous evening session seats in Arthur Ashe. They were in the front of the nosebleed section, but both the metal railing blocking our sight lines and the busy, usher-less stadium entrance right in front of us severely hamperd our ability to enjoy the matches. My blood really started boiling during a changeover when, while scanning the stadium with my binoculars, I spied my attacker and her cohorts. There they were, bouncing up and down and waving their “Go Roger!” signs, having the time of their lives in seats that were just four rows up from where Mirka was sitting in the players’ box.
It was time for another drink.