Monday, September 1, 2008

Day 3 (And 4) in New York - Part 2: The U.S. Open (And Going Home)

Monday night was the climax of my trip! Anyone who knows me also knows how badly I've wanted to attend the U.S. Open Tennis Championships since I was 12 years old.

I caught the "4" train to 59th and Lexington Ave and strolled the 5 blocks to Brooke's office building. I looked around a lot (as I always do when I'm walking around NYC) because I'm fascinated by the varying architecture. One of the most beautiful buildings I saw during my walk was the Central Synagogue, which is located on 55th St.

Central Synagogue

I met Brooke outside of her office building, and we headed over to a joint called Qdoba Mexican Grill to grab a quick dinner. I thought it was really good! It's kind of like Subway restaurant. You walk through the line and tell them what you want. Afterwards, we took the "N" train, and then transferred to the "7" train, which took us to the tennis center.

After we exited the train, the walk to the tennis center was very exciting to me. I could see the familiar landmarks that I see on television every year...except this time, they were looming in the horizon and getting bigger as we walked.

Getting closer! That's Arthur Ashe Stadium

It's a pretty long walk from the grounds entrance to Arthur Ashe Stadium, and the signs directing you were pretty much non-existent. My first impression of the U.S. Open staff is that they're quite bossy. From the moment we entered the grounds, we were surrounded by people barking orders through a bullhorn. "If you are carrying a bag of any size, you MUST move towards the left! You MUST move towards the left!" "If you have a laptop computer, you MUST move to the right and check it! Laptops are NOT allowed in the stadium!" etc, etc. Everyone obeyed, and we moved through metal barricades like cattle. I joked that I was waiting to be zapped with a cattle prod because I'm not a very fast walker (I prefer to blame that on my short legs).

There are beautiful colorful banners on display that feature the past U.S. Open champions

The brackets!

Our seats were in the upper level, so we got to ride several escalators. The trip up was a scenic one, and I took a few photos on the way up.

The Unisphere built in 1964 for the World's Fair

Action on surrounding courts
I was very excited about the view from our seats! On television, Arthur Ashe Stadium looks gigantic (it's the largest tennis facility in the world), and I thought the players might look like ants to us. Surprisingly, it's actually a pretty intimate setting! You know how on TV, the crowds are shushed at the beginning of each point? And they're not allowed to use flash photography? And no movement is allowed during points? And people are only allowed to leave or go towards their seats in between points? Well, that ain't the case with the upper level seats and we peasants who sit there. It was total anarchy, I tell you! People were chatting audibly on cell phones, chit chatting among themselves, and getting up and down during points. I was irked each time I had to stand up in order to allow some pinhead to pass in front of me with his beer and nachos during a point. I don't understand how a person can be present at such a monumental event and not want to soak in every moment. I suppose there will always be people around who aren't there because they love the sport. There are those who want to make an appearance because it's trendy to be able to say that you were there. I happen to be a tennis purist who deserves nothing less than front row courtside seats!

The view from Sec 340 Row F Seat 14

I forgot that this is the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Open. In 1968, the tournament became open to both professionals and amateurs, thus elevating the quality of tennis being played. Great Britain's Virginia Wade was the ladies' champion that year, and the late great Arthur Ashe became the first African American to win a major tennis title as he took the men's title. Because it was the 40th anniversary, the opening night ceremony was a pretty big bash--much to my thrilled surprise!! Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke, and Academy award-winning actor Forest Whitaker hosted the ceremonies.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Forest Whitaker is introduced

A choir from Harlem called the Songs of Solomon performed, as did a youth drum corps called Drums of Thunder.

Songs of Solomon : An Inspirational Ensemble

Drums of Thunder

The magnificent Earth Wind & Fire performed! I kept waiting for them to belt out my favorite "September", but alas, it never came. Additionally, performers from the Broadway musical "Jersey Boys" sang some numbers from their show.

Earth Wind & Fire

The "Jersey Boys"

And finally...the highlight of the night for me! They introduced former champions of the U.S. Open! Many of my childhood idols were there, and it was all quite thrilling for me. The champions included Virginia Wade, Rod Laver, Stan Smith, Billie Jean King, Ilie Nastase, Chris Evert, John Newcombe, Guillermo Vilas, Tracy Austin, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Boris Becker , Gabriela Sabatini, Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport, Marat Safin, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Roger Federer. Arthur Ashe was represented by his wife and daughter, Jeannie and Camren.

The Champions gather

The parade of champions. The lady in black in the middle is Gabriela Sabatini. She and Chris Evert are clasping hands as they walk by each other. That made me smile.

The colors were presented, and a giant American flag was unfurled as Earth Wind & Fire performed "God Bless America" along with Songs of Solomon.

This scene sent chills up my spine and gave me goosebumps.

Finally, we were ready to play some tennis! The night's matches featured the women's No. 2 seed Jelena Jankovic (Serbia) vs. CoCo Vandeweghe (United States) followed by the men's No. 9 seed James Blake vs. Donald Young (both from the United States).

The match between Jankovic and Vandeweghe was pretty anti-climactic, though Vandeweghe was fun to watch, and she hit some impressive shots...her serve is quite good. Jankovic was never truly tested, so we didn't get to see any glimpses of her brilliance. She wasn't really forced to exhibit her champion form. During her post-match interview, however, she was her usual charming and engaging self---she thanked the crowd for coming out, and we acknowledged her with a warm round of applause. She then autographed three tennis balls and hit them into the upper levels so that us peasants could have a shot at a souvenir.

That's Jankovic in the yellow dress receiving Vandeweghe's serve

And this is Jankovic hitting one of her autographed balls towards fans in the upper level seats

Donald Young is a 19-year-old U.S. Open rookie from Atlanta, and he gave James Blake a run for his money! These two put on a very exciting match that went 5 sets and well into the next morning (Blake won). At this point, the wind was blowing and it was actually pretty chilly! Brooke and I were exhausted and cold, so we left around 12:45 a.m. during the 4th set. Part of me hated to leave because we were witnessing a very exciting match! But the part of me that wanted to be warm and in bed won. The trains don't run quite as frequently during non-peak hours, so it was almost 2 a.m. by the time we got back to Brooke's place. Needless to say, we went straight to bed without much fanfare. We were both exhausted.

That's Blake at the bottom returning Young's serve

I got up early the next morning so that I could say my good-byes to Brooke before she left for work. Thankfully, she decided to go in a little late, so she had time to recover a bit more from her long and late night. We hugged as she was walking out the door and we said good-bye.

The balance on my Metrocard was enough for one more bus/subway ride, so I decided to take the $2 bus ride to the airport rather than the $15 cab ride. It's a little bit of a pain keeping up with luggage on the bus, especially when it's crowded (which it was), but it's worth saving the $13. I disembarked at the Delta terminal at LaGuardia, and I got my luggage checked within 10 minutes. I grabbed a slice of pizza at Sbarro's along with a bottle of water, and I plopped down at the gate with plenty of time to spare.

I'm happy to report that the flight back to Charlotte was uneventful AND on time. My suitcase came through on the baggage claim carousel very soon after we landed, and then I rode the shuttle to the daily parking garage. I was out like a flash, and I walked into my apartment around 6 p.m.

As always, I'm eager to get back to New York City ASAP! Hopefully, I'll be returning there as a new resident by the end of the year. I'm grateful for the trips to Westchester (north of NYC) and to Long Island, because it showed that I have other options of places to live if/when I become a student at NYU or Columbia U. Living in the city is going to be very expensive, and I think it would be very very difficult to live there as a poor college student. Brooke and her friends gave me some good advice about places to live that are right outside of the city, as well as the various modes of public transit that take you right into the city. The Long Island Railroad takes you to Penn Station, and the Metro-North takes you to Grand Central. Each of those locations is a short subway ride away from NYU. Knowing about these other options eases my mind and makes me feel more optimistic about my chances to succeed there. Once I have my master's degree and a job, then I'll look into completing my dream and moving into the city...preferably to Queens.

My application to NYU is almost complete, and I'll be putting it in the mail tomorrow. The NYU School of Social Work's website states they take 4-6 weeks to review an application and make a decision. Hopefully, I'll know something by the middle of October, and then I can start taking the next steps.

Stay tuned!


Theresa said...

Pam, I really enjoyed reading all about your trip! The pictures were excellent. You really have a great "eye" :) Congrats on getting the application complete. Fingers and toes crossed! (not that you need it :))

Elizabeth said...

Hey!!! I love reading your blog. You certainly have a talent for writing and making us feel like we're there with you :) And you got to go to the US cool!!!! Ok, going back to read more! Love you, Elizabeth (AKA, Elizabear)