The U.S. Open is one of the biggest sporting events held in New York City, the crowning event of Grand Slam season in tennis. But according to an article that appeared over the weekend in the New York Times, the world’s top players are stressed by the city’s hideous traffic.
The Open poses many challenges for the tennis elite, from surviving 140-mile-per-hour serves to withstanding New York City’s snark, but perhaps the most fundamental challenge is getting there.
Nearly all of the players stay in Manhattan hotels. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center may sit about 10 miles from Times Square, but it can take an hour or more in crawling traffic. That means that 543 of the world’s best tennis players from 64 countries have to scramble through expressways, tunnels and bridges before they even step on the court.
The article details the logistics involved in the car scheme, which is run by the Fugazy limousine company: 175 cars, 75 buses, 200 pickup spots, 1,300 rides per day, a specialized software system, and lots of complaining. The price tag for all this was not mentioned, but you can imagine.
The players kvetch about how tough it is to rely on the Fugazy cars, and how sweating it out on the chronically clogged streets and highways of New York can affect their performance on the court.
Nowhere in the article is the simplest solution advanced. Players should get to the event the same way that most spectators do: by public transit. The number 7 train provides a reliable, speedy ride from midtown Manhattan directly to the Open venue in Queens. It typically takes just over a half hour. Would players be hounded by autograph seekers? Perhaps in some cases, but minimal security would do the trick. Heck, even Jay-Z rides the train sometimes.
Of course, riding public transport would challenge the idea that these athletes are part of an "elite" that deserves to travel in a bubble apart from ordinary citizens. Braves pitcher John Rocker famously trashed the number 7 in 1999, saying that the train – which serves the Mets stadium as well – was unfit to ride.
"Imagine having to take the [Number] 7 train to the ballpark," Rocker said, "looking like you're [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing." (In a Sports Illustrated article, Rocker was equally outraged by traffic on the road in Atlanta, seething with rage about "Asian women" behind the wheel. Perhaps travel by pneumatic tube would suit him).
Celebrities and dignitaries often insist on driving, or being driven, around New York City because they think it makes them special. The funny thing is that it is the absolutely stupidest way to get around town. Acting "elite" means you travel more slowly, more expensively, and more stressfully.
Have fun with that. Or consider the alternative: buying a Metrocard. If you don’t know how to work the machines, just ask the nearest New Yorker. We’d be happy to help.