Updated: Sep 2, 2019
I called Luke.
"What are you doing August 26?"
"I don't know, Dad," he laughed. One of Dad's little pranks, he probably thought.
"I'll tell you what you're 'doin August 26," I commanded. "...you're 'goin to the US Open, baby!!! the US Open!!!"
I can't recall his exact response, but I do know that it was somewhere at the crossroads of ultimate elation, out-of-body experience and an adrenaline tsunami. We were going to the US Open. New York City. Day 1 of the US Open.
"If not now, when?" I had thought to myself, followed by the "Why not?" and so many reasons to go for it. And the questions: How would I get around? Would I be able to apply 100% focus to every step with so many stimuli and sensations at which to marvel and feel and take in and bask? The sea of people, clamoring for the slightest glimpse of Serena, Roger, Naomi, Coco, Rafa, or Joker...and Nick Kyrgios! Maybe even a glimpse of Johnny Mac or BG! (Do you sense the swing from "concerns" to my electric sense that I might actually have a chance at seeing one of these icons?! Just a chance!) The slightest bump and I'd hit the deck. How would my energy hold up? Parking, transportation, shuttles, lines, stairs. Luke would have to shoulder the constant role of caretaker, cheerleader, and supporter...He's down for that-- are you kidding me? Slam dunk!
Also on the 'Yes' side of my decision: the experience of a lifetime for Luke and me; the memories; an adventure amongst our passion for tennis; a first for both of us... And yes, just the chance to catch the slightest glimpse of the larger-than-life personalities, and at best, maybe even to watch one of them up and close; to hear and feel the crack of a Nick Kyrgios 141 mph serve or a Federer backhand, the raw power and presence of Serena, or the youth, innocence and hope of 15 year-old Coco...the intensity of Rafa. And I haven't even started to talk about the chance to see a relative unknown from the 1st or 2nd row, or on the practice courts, or the chance to see an upset. Or how about the chance to walk on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, to walk through the "Court of Champions," which pays tribute to the sport's icons, champions, and pioneers-- from Althea and Arthur to Jimmy, Martina, Kimmie, Andre, "the Rocket" and so many more.
And the chance to submerse ourselves in the electricity of New York City-- the energy, the hope, the diversity, the people. Enough. I speed-dialed Luke...
Sunday, August 25, 2019, 10:15 a.m. Destination: Flushing, NY (Queens). I picked him up and we headed out. Excitement. Adventure. Joy...took over.
"Road trip!," we fist-pumped. "I'm going to need your help," I clarified. "Just getting around and stuff. There will be a lot of sensations distracting me. Keep me upright."
"I gotcha, Dad," Luke reassured me. I knew-- no matter what lay ahead-- I was in good hands and I had nothing to worry about.
I had done some homework, of course, yet also realized that part of our adventure lay in the beauty of the unknown. We were staying close to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. We would uber. We DL'd the US Open app which gave us finger-tip access to the draw, match schedules, practice schedules (!), breaking news, scores, press conferences, highlights, and more. As part of my last minute prep, I perused a few sites late the night before we left, and came across one tip that caught my eye in particular. It was after midnight so I told myself I'd check out one more site. It was a long one so I switched to scan mode. Buried at the bottom of a very long list of tips for attending the US Open, was a best-kept secret-- "free admission the day before the Open starts gives you access to the grounds and practice courts..."
We were on the Merritt Parkway when I could wait no longer to let Luke know of my find from the night before. I thought he was going to jump through the sunroof!
We checked-in to the hotel to learn the hotel ran a shuttle to the Open, and one was leaving shortly. "You've gotta be kidding me!" we said to each other.
Five minutes later the van door opened like a curtain to a Broadway show, revealing the Unisphere, the theme symbol of the 1964 New York World's Fair. (see in the background below.)
We both just started laughing, I think. We passed through the gates and there it was-- Arthur Ashe Stadium, the imposing 23,200 capacity stadium where the world's greats aspire to win. The gate immediately funneled us into the Court of Champions and then to the open grounds, complete with turf lounge areas, food courts, big screens capturing live action, bars serving "Honey Deuces"-- the drink of choice at the Open, creative retail spaces and more; Louis Armstrong Stadium, the Grandstand and then the outer courts. The outer courts, where the magic happens; where aspirants from the Challenger Circuit (B-circuit) have played the week prior trying to land one of the coveted spots in the main draw. 128 men and 128 women compete for 16 spots in each main draw, fighting and clawing their way to the sport's grandest stage.
The app told us that the stars were aligning: Nick Kyrgios was practicing on P1, practice court #1. Could it be?! We nervously funneled through the tunnel to the practice courts...and then it began. Faint at first, growing louder and louder with every step we took. Then it became the crack of a whip, unlike anything I'd ever heard. And then his shadow began to appear and there, IRL, was the legend-- the larger-than-life Nick Kyrgios, cracking 140+ mph serve after serve followed by ripped forehands and backhands, and volleys with angles and spins that defy physics and geometry...O M G...Oh...My...Lord...
Luke headed upstairs to view while I couldn't move from ground-level viewing, mesmerized. I was in the zone...as a spectator! For over an hour, we were treated to an ever-changing cocktail of power, finesse, beauty, and joy. I stood the whole time, yet for some reason I felt no fatigue in the legs, a sensation that has eluded me for months and months. I can't remember the last time I haven't felt leg fatigue (unless I'm in the water!). After his practice session ended, Kyrgios decided to hit with his friend Anna Kalinskaya, who happened to be practicing on the next court. The impromptu exchange was pure joy and fun. Kalinskaya subsequently upset Sloane Stephens, the #11 seed, in the 1st round. I can't help but wonder if hitting with Nick-- leaning in to his 140+ mph serves and bullet groundstrokes-- somehow helped her pull-off an upset. Behind the scenes at the US Open!
Back at the hotel, we arranged for a shuttle to a local sports bar. Our task over dinner-- to decide our 1st match to see on opening day at the US Open. So many from which to choose; however, the first match on Court 13 caught our intrigue. An up-and-coming 18-year old American, Jenson Brooksby, who had already fought through 4 rounds in the qualifying round last week (the "qualy's") to make it into the main draw, would face a cagey veteran with 13 titles to his name, 33 year-old Tomas Berdych who, with a slew of injuries, is in the twilight of his career. This was the match to see.
Under bright sun and a royal blue sky, we made our way to the 2nd row of Court 13, which was eerily quiet before the battle that surely loomed. The seats began to fill, the players arrived and, unbeknownst to me at the time, Brooksby's coach took a seat right next to me...
And a battle it was. We were on the edge of our seats the entire match, as the audience swelled as word got out about the epic duel on Court 13. THIS was the US Open...The shot-making, momentum-shifts, the ups, the downs, the character, the courage and so much more-- were all on display. I couldn't help but think of the parallels and lessons for life itself...
It was the kid, Brooksby, eventually prevailing in 4 sets: 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, in 2 hours and 27 minutes.
And so the life celebration continued, one everlasting memory after another: more practice courts with Roger, Rafa, and Serena; the lobster rolls; the video of me dancing on the grounds, the people-watching; the laughs with Luke; inviting the Chilean couple to share a table with us at lunch; the smiles and many acts of kindness given to me by strangers (and by Luke!); just languishing in it all...together.
I continue to re-live every moment, smiling and laughing out loud and yes, looking forward to our trip next year! Kim asked me a question today-- would I have taken the trip to the Open if I didn't have PLS? i.e., Do I have PLS to thank for one of the most special moments of my life?
J O Y -- A U G 2 5 , 2 0 1 9
BONUS Gift re: GAMING
TED Talk for a fascinating 19 minutes and 15 seconds. You may get 7.5 minutes added to ur life...