“Four, please.” This was a phrase I used many, many times during my week covering the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati. An alternate to four flights of stairs, the Center Court elevator provided the staff with access to the media center. It also hit the floors for the player and interview areas, Center Court staff, and suites for small crowds of tournament attendees. This created the possibility for a very interesting mix of people on what often turned out to be a more lengthy elevator ride than expected.
The elevator included an attendant, young volunteers on one-hour shifts who checked everyone’s credentials and attempted to get you where you were going.
That’s Brandon Berger up above, one of the many charming elevator attendants I encountered during the week. I told him I was writing an article about the elevator, and asked to take his picture, which, as the words came out of my mouth, sounded like the equivalent of inviting someone up to “see my artwork.” But see, Brandon, I AM NOT A CREEPER, I really DID write an article about the elevator.
Now that I got that out of the way, I can say that this low-res cell phone photo does not do the very cute Brandon justice. Just saying.
But I digress. As much as dear Brandon and the other attendants tried, the elevator sometimes had a mind of its own. Entering on the ground floor, you’d often go down before going up, picking up and dropping off crew with a variety of tools, many pushing in carts loaded with laundry or equipment. With an elevator six feet wide and carts four feet wide, this often made things interesting…
If we were really lucky, two guys pushing a 7-foot tall stainless steel cart of some sort would also clamber onto the elevator. The cart generally had the squeak and stability of a grocery shopping trolley, you know the one–where only three wheels touch the ground and the entire thing rattles every time it moves?
Sometimes we’d get a tall cart and a flat cart at the same time. And three professional photographers toting cameras with lenses the size of 18th century cannons. And a half-dozen tennis spectators carrying giant pretzels, plastic glasses of wine, and umbrellas. And then we would don our Spiderman suits and cling to the ceiling.
The amount of traffic on this elevator meant that it was in constant motion, and once you got on, a few millennia would pass until you made it to your destination. This also meant that people on every floor who had called for the elevator often had a verrrrrry long wait.
Time would stretch on as you pushed the call button for the 700th time. Crowds would slowly build in front of the doors, like a traffic jam caused by drivers gawking at a shoe on the side of the road. If you told any arriving staff that they’d just missed the elevator, the response would be a groan of epic proportions, and occasionally a string of words not fit for polite company. Amazingly, random acts of violence were kept to a minimum.
As the week progressed, everyone learned that it was wise not to miss the elevator when you had the chance. People flung their bodies into the rapidly-closing doors, and the spectators headed to the suites often tried to get their entire party of 12 into the little metal box, even if there was only room left for…3.
Media who had deadlines and press conferences to get to were often forced to take the stairs. Since many writers are built for comfort, not speed (as my mum would say), this was a last resort. But we found out early on that most of the tennis players took the stairs, especially since they often only had to go one flight up.
One evening, however, after I had sprinted 30 yards to catch the elevator before it left, we traveled down and then up to pick up more passengers. The doors slid open and Roger Federer and Stefan Edberg got on. All the staff donned their “I’m so totally cool with this, no big deal” expressions, while the air rapidly escaped the lungs of the “commoners” that were also on the elevator with us.
As a completely objective media observer, I can report that Fed looks even taller and more broad-shouldered in such close quarters. He was also, objectively speaking, quite dreamy in a mint zip-up hoodie sweater, as you can see in this photo from his press conference about a half-hour later that evening.
Roger casually turned his back to us, surreptitiously pressing the “Door Close” button to hopefully prevent any more of a cornucopia of passengers from dragging their knuckles across the threshold into the elevator. Like he does on the tennis courts, he seemed to be coolly working out a strategy for any challenges that might come up…
Stefan, meanwhile, seemed to make himself a non-entity, so quiet and still he was like a chameleon blending into his surroundings…
The air was thick with suppressed squee as the elevator car slid up to the next floor, letting Roger and Stefan out. The doors closed again and the suite-holders erupted with glee. A young man waved his phone around. “I filmed it!!” he exclaimed. A thrilled guy next to him said, “This was worth the ticket price already.”
The small group gushed some more, and then a woman let out a “Eureka!” squeal. “Did you know who that guy was? The other guy? That was that…that Endelberg, that was him, we used to watch him when we came here a long, long time ago!!!” She clapped her hands together excitedly.
We feel ya, Stefan, we really do.
Two centuries later, the Fed and Endelberg fans got off on the upper level, and I finally made it to the media center. A few days after that, I took the Cincy clown car, erm, elevator for the last time after finishing work up on the final results. After 10 days of perpetual tennis-watching, photographing, writing, tweeting, sunburn, and sleep deprivation, I rode the little silver box down to the ground floor, all alone, without even a friendly attendant to guide me.
You might also enjoy: Roger Federer, aka Dorkerer, has fun on the Cincinnati Champions Balcony
PHOTOS: Towels by Chris Riebschlager at Flickr, Creative Commons; Chickens by Marji Beach on Flickr, Creative Commons; Men carrying plate glass, Glassdoctor.com; Elevator by Aaron Hockley on Flickr, Creative Commons; Clowns in line by iamcootis (some cropping and background color added), Creative Commons; Chameleon by mwanasimba on Flickr, Creative Commons; Girl in elevator, Luca Rossato on Flickr, Creative Commons; Spiderman and Captain America screencaps, fair use; all others: by Valerie David for TennisInsideOut.com, Getty Images as marked, and fair use.