My parents, both college tennis coaches, have made many trips from our home in Sewanee, TN, to New York City over the years to watch the U.S. Open (and only invited me once … thanks Mom and Dad). Since they’ll be returning to Flushing Meadows for the first time in several years, I asked my father about one of his first U.S. Open experiences. This is what he said…
In August of 1987, my wife and I took 15 members of our men’s and women’s tennis teams to the U.S. Open Tennis Championships in hyperactive New York City. One of the player’s mothers, Barbara Douglas, was a travel agent and made arrangements for our group to fly up from Nashville and stay in midtown Manhattan. I was 26 years old at the time, so taking care of those college students in New York City was quite a responsibility. Mrs. Douglas had arranged for us to have seats at the biggest stage in professional tennis for Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend but could not get enough tickets for our group on the first Friday of our trip. After we checked into the hotel late Thursday afternoon, I took the subway out to Flushing Meadows in Queens by myself to try to scavenge enough tickets for everyone to attend the following day.
As you exit the subway train at Shea Stadium there is a large wooden boardwalk that leads to the site of the U.S. Open. It is filled with fans, scalpers, tourists and policemen walking to their own beat. After I mentioned to one or two of the local black-market salesmen that I was looking for 18 tickets, I was approached by a young man who appeared to sell some (among other things) illegally. He led me down under the boardwalk to a dark area where old subway trains came to die. We were met by a one of his colleagues who tipped the scales at well over 350 lbs. and seemed fiercely skeptical of my intention to purchase so many tickets all at once. I suddenly realized that I was in a dark underground corner of New York with two men I did not know and had far too much cash sitting innocently my pocket. The larger gentlemen led me over to a Cadillac he had surreptitiously parked under the bridge and out of site of the men in blue patrolling above. When he opened the trunk I was unsure if he was going to put me or my money into the deep cavern. Inside he had a suitcase with hundreds of tickets to every event you could imagine. He quickly pulled out my requested tickets and charged me a fair (but hefty) price for his service.
This week I will return to New York along with a large group of alumni and former players for another trip to the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. David Humphreys, a loyal friend to the university, was generous enough to share his box in the stadium over Labor Day weekend with alumni and guests. My seats are ironically on the same Friday of the event as those many years ago but are a good deal closer to the action than the ones I purchased under that boardwalk. I am looking forward to the tennis, visiting with many old players and friends, and the chance for another adventure. Two members of that 1987 team will be with us all again this year in New York. David’s generous gift of a seat will be safely in my pocket and I will have no reason to venture down below the boardwalk, but if I see my old acquaintance cruising underneath my feet in his Cadillac I may just need to go down and see what magic he has stored in that hidden suitcase. After all, the adventure that began with those 15 students on a trip to New York led to a lifetime full of students, players, trips and more friends than I can count.