The First Chair
The first day I was in the Charleston media center, I broke a chair. Way to make an entrance, right?
Yeah, I didn’t even tweet about it because that’s how embarrassed I was at the time. The chairs in the media center were very flimsy folding chairs anyway, and from the moment I sat down in mine on Sunday I had doubts. It did not feel sturdy. But instead of listening to the voice in my head that told me to perhaps switch to one of the dozens of other chairs around me, I stuck with that chair. I got in and out of it all day, I frequently attempted to scoot it forward so people could walk behind me, and by the end of the day the flimsiness was feeling normal. I was used to it. And then, after a day of watching qualies and interviewing Vania, I was on the ground underneath the table behind me filled with important WTA people, with parts of my chair strung all around me.
I really know how to make an impression.
Now, at first this was absolutely humiliating. Everyone rushing to see if I was okay, or if I had hit my head and now had a concussion, or if I was going to be stuck on the floor forever like some chair-breaking idiot. It was made more humiliating by the fact that I am not at all a small person, and this seemed to draw attention to my lack-of-smallness. What was I going to do the rest of the week? Stand? Were they going to have to bring in special chairs just for me? COULD I EVER SHOW MY FACE IN THE MEDIA CENTER AGAIN?
I am happy to report that I was overreacting. (There’s a first time for everything.) I sat in the folding chairs for the rest of the week without incident, except a cramped back because they provided NO BACK SUPPORT WHATSOEVER. It was a bad chair, not me, that caused the incident.
You can check out all of my writing from Charleston here, and listen to my stories here, so I’m going to make my “final reflections” quick, and just leave you with the five memories/moments that I am going to take with me from Charleston.
1. The folks in Charleston really know how to treat and respect the WTA. With the exception of a couple of days where the weather was awful and cold and icky, the grounds were packed all week to see some of the most talented women in the world play tennis. After the hostility that has been growing in the tennis universe between men and women lately, it was so nice to see the WTA be fully appreciated and female athletes be treated like the main event. To be honest, it made me question whether or not the WTA needs combined events as much as people say they do, and whether the “second-rate-citizen” status the receive at those events by the media and the organizers isn’t hurting their product a lot more than helping it. I’ve got a lot of thinking and researching to do on that topic, but I will say that it was nice to see men and women of all ages excited to pay to watch the women–even women’s qualies and women’s doubles– without griping or wondering where the men were!
2. My personal favorite moment was when I was racing back to the media room at the end of Venus’s match against Monica Puig. She had dropped the second set but was back in control during the third. As I walked out of the stadium I saw Richard Williams leaning against the railing in front of the bathrooms and getting out a cigarette. My path to the media center was right where he was standing so we made eye contact and I found myself saying, “Too nervous to watch?” He looked at me and smiled, “Naah, I just needed a smoke!” Yup, Venus matches will do that to you!
3. This is a repeat from the podcast, but seriously, the future of the WTA is in such great hands. I was most impressed with Monica Puig and Madison Keys both on and off the court, but Robson, Bouchard, Burdette, Townsend, Duval, Stephens, and even Oudin are all ones to keep your eyes on in the future. We have to give them all space to actually grow up, and let them have slumps without it meaning the end, but if they surround themselves with the right people, put the work in, and stay healthy, they will all be fun to watch.
4. This is obviously not groundbreaking information, but the women were much more open and vulnerable in press than most of the men are. Of course there are exceptions–Sloane had her guard up, Monfils rarely does–but overall I was amazed by how open, talkative, and down-to-earth most of these girls were. Pretty impressive. One of the most fun pressers–besides JJ’s–was the one with Kiki and Lucie right after they won their doubles title. They literally finished each other’s sentences and giggled the entire time. It was amazing. You can read the whole thing here.
5. At the end of the day, it matters who you’re spending time with in the press room, and we were lucky to have a great group in Charleston. A lot of good people work really hard covering this sport year-round, and after my time spent in Winston-Salem with mostly local media, it was nice to be in a press room with other people who know the sport, know social media, and know that this was all supposed to be fun. I think it made for some great pressers too, since we were so relaxed and worked well off of one another. It’s just interesting to think of all the tiny factors that go into making a good press conference. But anyway, I’ve already written about that in detail.
Just wanted to say thanks to everyone in the media room at Family Circle Cup for putting up with me, and thanks to all of you guys for reading my ramblings! More to come from Charleston interviews, but this will be my last official diary.
The Long Trip Home
Going back home to New York City was quite an adventure. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve already gotten a taste of this story, but a few people requested a blog, and I’m always happy to talk more about myself.
So, here’s the thing, I don’t have a lot of money and I am not great at planning ahead because of laziness … I mean, my unpredictable freelancer’s schedule. So a lot of the times I take the bus. You’re probably thinking I’m talking about the Greyhound. Nope. Way too mainstream for me. I’m talking about The GotoBus. Look, they have a website and everything, so they’re totally legit. It’s a Chinatown bus that basically goes up and down the east coast, and all trips are overnighters. I first found out about it when I was looking for cheap options to get home to Greensboro, NC, and each bus trip was only THIRTY DOLLARS. That’s right. I could get round-trip from New York to Greensboro for only $60 and not waste any daytime hours. The bus trip only took 10 hours, it stopped three times for bathroom/gas station food breaks, and I could book it the day-of. Really not that bad of a deal.
Of course, all good things must come to an end. One night, the driver of one of these buses fell asleep at the wheel and a bunch of people died. Bummer. But no fear, the totally-legit bus service didn’t stop! It simply doubled its prices so that they could hire more drivers so the drivers could sleep better. Sounds good to me! I like sleep. So now the bus trips back to Greensboro cost $60 each way, but it’s still a great deal for me when I don’t plan in advance. Which is pretty much always. Anyway, when I was trying to get to and from Charleston cheaply (My freelance work was painfully slow in March. And now, to be honest. Anyone got a work-from-home gig for me?) and I found out that plane rides back were like a billion dollars more expensive than plane rides down there, I couldn’t help but wonder if the bus was an option. It turns out that it was! I could get from Charleston to NYC for only $80! Sure, it was a longer ride than the one from Greensboro, but I’d save so much money that it’d be worth it. Right? Remember–totally legit.
So, the bus was supposed to leave from in front of the Walmart in North Charleston (classy!) at 10 p.m. Unfortunately my friend/ride Steph had to leave on a flight (baller!) around 7:00, so she had to drop me off at the Walmart around 5:30. No problem. I found the McDonalds in the Walmart, hooked up my laptop to the only outlet in the place–the one by the soda fountain–and got some blogging done. I also called my mom, because that’s a good thing to do when you have four hours to kill at a Walmart McDonalds. Oh, and this happened:
So at about 9:30 after using the restrooms to change into more 15-hour-bus-ride-friendly clothes and buying a book and some Tylenol PM for the ride, I went outside to start waiting for the bus. You see, in Greensboro the bus usually gets to whatever parking lot is serving as the loading dock (it rotates) at about 20 minutes ’til, and you want to be there early so you can pick your seat, load your stuff, and get “comfortable” first. I’m an old pro at this.
But the bus wasn’t there at 9:40. Or 9:45. Or 9:50. At that point I was starting to get a bit worried, especially since nobody else seemed to be waiting for the bus. Usually there are others. I went inside and asked a cashier if she knew anything about a bus, and another stranger overheard me, and they both assured me that the bus did indeed pick up there and that if I stood outside I would for sure see it. I’m very trusting of random strangers, so I did as I was told, obviously while figuring out what my plan B would be if I was actually stuck at the North Charleston Walmart. Considering my bank account balance, my plan B basically kept returning to “Call and wake up my heart-attack-prone dad while sobbing hysterically that I am stuck at a Walmart in North Charleston with no money.” Good plan. I’m an independent woman, a grown adult, etc. etc.
10.00, no bus. 10:05, no bus. 10:10, no bus. 10:15, no bus. At this point everyone on Twitter had basically confirmed that the bus was never coming and that I was going to die. Thanks for that, guys.
At approximately 10:16, a 16-pass van, like the ones I used to drive around Manhattan during my Production Assistant days, pulled into the bike lane where I was told the bus was supposed to be. It skidded to a halt–like, I’m pretty sure I saw smoke between the tires and pavement. A Chinese man put his head out the window, looked at me with my rolling suitcase, backpack, and lost expression, and yelled, “YOU FOR NEW YORK?” I nodded, and he angrily waved me over, like I was already wasting his time for not immediately being in the 16-pass van.
I tried to ask the guy questions, but mainly I was just paralyzed with fear and dying to get out of the Walmart parking lot, so I put my suitcase in the back of the van and hopped in. How I was not kidnapped as a child remains a mystery. There were two other Asian guys who looked to be about my age–but could be about 50 because damn that Asian skin–in the van, one sitting in the passenger seat and the other sitting in the first row of seats. I tried to climb into the completely empty second row of seats, but was yelled out with words I didn’t really understand and told to sit in the front row of seats. FINE.
THIS WAS NOT A BUS. I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ON A BUS. WERE WE GOING TO RIDE LIKE THIS ALL 15 HOURS? THAT’S NOT COMFORTABLE. WHY COULDN’T I SIT IN THE BACKSEAT. AM I GOING TO DIE? #innermonologue
We took off, and after about five minutes in the van the driver asked me for a confirmation number, which at least made me feel somewhat more secure. Both other passengers were on their cell phones talking in Chinese, and the driver kept getting calls from this one guy–at least I assume it was the same guy–and telling him in broken English that he was not going to pick him up tonight, and maybe he would tomorrow night, and he said “FUCK” a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Like, he would have made Andy Murray blush.
Suddenly I realize that we are driving around a neighborhood in Charleston. I mean … usually these busses just go straight from sketchy parking lots to the highway, with nothing in-between. But I was in a van with three other people, not a bus, so who was I to question things? We pulled into a small driveway next to another 16-pass van, and waited for a few minutes. Everyone else on cell phones, me staring at my lap completely terrified, trying to just go with the flow. Totally normal, totally legit, nothing to see here.
After a certain amount of time, that was probably only a few minutes but felt like a FUCKING LIFETIME, two other people come out of the house and board our little crew van, sitting in the back-seat. Not sure what they did to deserve home pick-up and their OWN ROW OF SEATING, but they were clearly in the know. So anyway, finally the van pulled out of suburbia and began what I presumed was our personal trip to New York City? I still couldn’t make any sense of this, but nobody else seemed to think it was weird.
OH BUT WAIT. Then, of course, we get stopped at a police checkpoint. BECAUSE WHY NOT? They ask the driver to see his driver’s license, and out of nowhere the driver delivers calm and complete sentences in perfect English. “Of course, here it is sir, I hope you are having a fine evening.” Sure.
So, the police officer shines a flashlight into the back of the van and notices that none of us are wearing seatbelts. (Did I mention there were no seatbelt buckles? Like, there were straps but nowhere to put them. Seriously though, the least of my worries.) So the police officer kindly instructs his pal to tell us to buckle up, and then I look around as everyone else is literally miming buckling their seatbelts, so I do the same because, I mean, when in Rome. The police officer smiles and nods and seems satisfied and waves us off. Like two seconds later the driver starts cussing again in broken English, everyone un-mimes their seatbelts and we carry on. TOTALLY LEGIT.
So then we drive on a weird two-lane highway through the woods for about an hour, and literally pass every single person in front of us, which isn’t terrifying or anything in a 16-pass van with no seatbelts. Not at all. But finally we get to a gas station, and the driver basically tells me to get out of the car and wait for 20 minutes. He says something about a bus and filling up and my suitcase. Finally I realized what was going on. Since there weren’t many people leaving from Charleston, this guy was driving me to meet up with another bus route going to New York City. That bus would be stopping at this gas station in about 20 minutes to fill up. Now, if all of this had just been rationally explained to me at the beginning of all of this I could have avoided a lot of worrying!
So I sat outside the Denny’s that was attached to the gas station for about half an hour talking to a guy who worked there about how technology is ruining our lives, the sitcom “Sister, Sister,” (Introduced into the conversation so he could bring up the “Go home, Roger!” line, which was awesome.), and the 9/11 conspiracy (“Just type in ‘9/11 conspiracy’ on YouTube. You’ll see. The government just wanted more money so they planned this,” was an actual thing he said to me with a straight face.) until finally he walked off with a girl he referred to as his “baby mama, but not really, but kind-of” and the bus came.
From then on, things were pretty boring. I got a window seat, popped my Tylenol PM, and essentially slept for the next 11 hours. I vaguely remember waking up to the guy next to me holding my hand a few times, but hey, he was sleeping too. I think. I hope. Aaaah let’s move on.
I got to New York safely and cheaply, and to be honest, I’ll probably take the GotoBus again. Because I never learn the first time.