I took a temporary break from my Mississippi River source to sea rowing trip to spend a month in New York working at the US Open for ESPN.
I was lucky enough to connect with some fellow runners and got a spot in our runner house, aka our airbnb basement apartment by LaGuardia airport. At capacity we had 6 folks in a one bedroom apartment with 2 beds. It was a small space but it was okay cause we were only there to shower and sleep. We were working minimum 10 hour shifts everyday at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center where America’s grand slam, the US Open, is held. My work hours varied from starting at 8AM and going till 6 during set-up week to working the night shift during the tournament when I would start at 4PM and go till the matches ended for the night, which sometimes were past 2AM. Although I was rooting for great, tough matches going all 5 sets, my coworkers hoped for short 3 set matches so we could get out earlier.
If you’re curious as to my job position as a runner for operations (or the similar position called a production assistant), I did just about anything and everything from emptying trashcans to stocking the fridge to getting people food to driving to Ikea and building furniture. The week leading up to the start of the tournament was set-up and we were getting everything ready in the temporary buildings for when the full staff of producers, editors, directors, etc arrived. I got familiar with the site by running to the ESPN booths in Arthur Ashe stadium, the new Louis Armstrong stadium, grandstand, court 17, practice court set, and fountain set. And since I was all over the place all the time I got to see most of the tennis players either on the practice courts or during parts of their matches. I was always humbled and in awe whenever I was in the presence of one those professional athletes. I saw Serena on the practice courts and witnessed her raw power firsthand, I heard clearly and loudly the thunk of the ball hitting Nadal’s racket when he played in Arthur Ashe, and every time I saw Federer warming up I was impressed with the ease and grace in which he plays.
As a big tennis fan and novice tennis player (I try) I was super stoked to work this event. I had been to Wimbledon back in 2008 and knew how exciting the tournament atmosphere is, but I was still blown away by the scale of it all in New York. It was awesome to be part of something so big and know that I was helping make it happen, even in my small way. Some of my favorite times were sitting in the domestic control room with the wall of screens of all the different cameras where the director would call out what would be on live television. It was all happening right before my eyes and I saw what all goes into making what I see on the screen back at home.
The occasional times when I wasn’t working I would watch British Bake Off with the roommates, go out for drinks with coworkers, and one time went to see the Mets play at neighboring CitiField. At the height of the tournament we had over 30 runners, so I made lots of new friends and enjoyed hearing where everyone was from (most were local as it is a local hire position) and how they got into working at the open. During the weeks, the high stress moments were chilled by my coworkers goofing off and by sharing meals with folks at the canteen. We had deep and interesting conversations while bagging snacks out back and even created a new game called the US Oreopen while we were stuck waiting out a storm. The days passed in work hard, play hard fashion and before I knew it we were taking everything down that we had setup. The tournament ended and it was time to pack everything up and move on.
After my job ended I stayed a few extra days to tour around the city. I’ve been to NYC twice before so I felt as though I’ve seen the major tourist attractions so this time I wanted to get a more localized view of the city. Another goal this time was to see lots of shows. One of my coworkers graciously let me crash on her couch for a few nights as well as accompanied me around town. My first free day I rented a bike and rode around Central Park for the majority of the day before meeting up with some other coworkers for a drink then capping the day by going to see the musical Come from Away. I went to their box office that morning and was able to snag some standing room spots for just $32. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. The next day Deanna and I wandered down to Brooklyn where we had brunch at The Bedford, checked out a zero waste store I had been wanting to visit called Package Free, and stumbled across some super cute Japanese ice cream in fish cones at Taiyaki. I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and visited the Fearless Girl statue and the Battery downtown. Later that night she got us free tickets to see Trainspotting where her friend worked. She warned me via text saying the show was vulgar but I had seen the movie so I knew the premise. It was true to her word and was pretty wild in small quarters with audience interaction, nudity, and an intense story line about drug addiction. After the show we met up with friends in Times Square to say our last goodbyes since they were going back to England the next morning. I wrapped up my time in Queens the next morning by getting a rainbow bagel on the way to Grand Central Station.
From Grand Central I took a train up to New Haven, Connecticut, to visit my friend Emily. I had visited her up there a couple years ago so I didn’t have anything pressing to check out so we just spent the day catching up on life. During my short time there we rode bikes around town, hiked up East Rock, and played tennis. Before I knew it I was on a train back to the city and on a plane headed down South.
I had a blast living in Queens and working at the Open. It felt like summer camp and when I said bye to everyone it was sad but not that sad because you hope to see them next year. I have no idea where or what I’ll be doing next year but if I’m able and they’re willing I’d love to go back.
But for now, the mighty Mississippi is calling my name…Gulf or Bust