Saturday, September 22, 2012

I run because I can.

Today I ran 14.4 miles, farther than I've ever run before. And that's pretty freaking great.

I had actually been feeling a good amount of nerves/apprehension/what the frack did I get myself into sentiments related to the upcoming marathon over the last week. I didn't do a long run last weekend because I was eating oysters, drinking champagne and getting massaged instead (the burden I carry sometimes). But one thing I've realized while training is that if you space out your long runs too much, little, insidious doubts start to creep in. You forget how amazing it feels to finish a long run, forget those sweet, sweet endorphins, forget that satisfied, happy soreness and exhaustion, and start to wonder why you have to put yourself through those miles, why it's worth it.

There was a point when I started at my calendar, mapping out my runs leading up to the Richmond Marathon, and the weight of it landed on my shoulders and felt like too much. I stared at the list of distances I still had to run just to get me physically ready to attempt 26.2 miles, and it felt insurmountable. When I was training before the semester started it was one thing to give up those glasses of wine on a Friday night and sleeping in on a Saturday. But during the semester it can feel cruel. By Friday night I'm exhausted. All I want is a gallon of wine and to not set my alarm the next day. And the thought of nearly two more months of giving that up made me feel very sorry for myself.

So honestly the lead up to this long run was not great, emotionally speaking. Physically I felt good. I did two fast shorter runs (5 miles each) this week and they went really well. I had a lot of energy because I didn't do a long run last weekend, so that was a plus.

This morning when my alarm went off, I could have turned it off. I could have kept sleeping and forgotten the whole thing, said it wasn't worth it, that I could just run the half and be happy with that.

But I woke up. I got up at 7 (really not that early, but earlier than I normally would sleep on a Saturday), ate a banana and a few sips of coconut water, downloaded a couple of episodes of This American Life (I love you Ira!), did my foam roller, chomped on a Cliff bar chocolate espresso goo 15 minutes before I was going to go.

 (Side note: I know some people think goos are gross but I find them weirdly delicious, and the espresso one has caffeine! which is a God send when I have to skip my morning coffee for fear of having to make 10 pee breaks during the run).

And then I was out the door. And as soon as I started to move, as soon as I made it a few blocks, I remembered why I was doing this. Everyone has bad runs, and everyone has stretches of even good runs that suck, but you run for the times when your legs feel light and the air is cool and the sky is blue and bright, you run for the early mornings when the streets are relatively empty of people and cars and you feel like the whole city has turned into one giant, runners only playground.

Most of my run today was one of those runs. Everything clicked. I've worked out a playlist that alternates between episodes of This American Life (see, I am not only running, but learning) and a handful of songs that would inspire me to run even on a broken leg (currently, Some Nights by Fun., Run by Snow Patrol, and Home by Phillip Phillips). Using music and T.A.L. episodes worked great because I had T.A.L. for boredom and the songs when I needed encouragement and motivation. This was the first time I listened to Some Nights as a running song, and it may be my new go to song for that last 10 minutes of a long run when you just want to lie down on the sidewalk and cover yourself with a makeshift leaf blanket and take a nap. It's wonderful.

Another reason my run today was good was my very wise choice to head to REI yesterday evening (in rush hour traffic no less!) and finally buy a new running water system. I've had a hip belt for ages, and I hate it so much. I've used it when I've had to, but I can't stand the thing. It leaks all over me and irritates my skin under the strap and it's just the worst. But instead of buying something new I just complain and whine about it, because I am stubborn. However I finally sucked it up and bought a handheld water bottle. There were a lot of options, but after trying out the feel of them in the store I went with the Amphipod.

Love, love, love, love, LOVE. This little water bottle has changed my life. It is everything I wanted and more. First of all it doesn't leak, which HALLELUJAH. Second it's comfortable and doesn't feel awkward or weighty at all on my hand. It also has a teeny little pocket that's big enough for a gu, key, and credit card. It's the new love of my life, and I cannot recommend it enough.

So that helped make it a good run. But honestly what made me keep pushing and also made me remember to enjoy my run was thinking about my day yesterday. I won't get into too many details because I'm terrified of going to jail for violating HIPPA, but for the next two weeks we're doing our practicum on the Oncology Unit. And I was prepared for it to be hard, prepared to see people suffering, but I guess there's no way to really prepare for it. I was the peer leader and didn't even have an assigned patient and it was still draining, just being with the patients for short amounts of time through the day. In the other units I've seen people really sick or people who may die, but I've never seen people in more pain or suffering as much as the people on the unit. I saw young, formerly healthy people who in days had their entire lives implode with unimaginably cruel diagnoses. I saw people who had been battling cancer for years, who had been through remission and through relapse, who had fought for so long only to end up back in the hospital, with so little hope. There were people ready to die, who knew they were going to die, and who were in so much pain or could barely breathe. And maybe that was the hardest part of it all. I've learned to accept people who are suffering in the hospital or people who are dying, but separately. It makes sense for people to suffer if they're going to get better. It makes sense for people to be ready to die, if that means they can go in peace. But it's just ridiculously unfair and sad to see people who are going to die and who are still suffering, whose pain can't be fixed with any medication.

And I bring this up not to be incredibly depressing or to be a downer, but to show what was going through my head for a lot of my run today. But I wasn't thinking about these people to wallow or to depress myself. I was thinking about them as a reason to be so grateful for the fact that I'm 26 and healthy and training for a marathon. People say all the time as a comfort when something bad is going on emotionally that you should at least be thankful for your health. And it's always sounded so trite or empty to me.

But honestly it's one of the truer statements in this world. Any of us who have our health, mental or physical, should really be on our knees every day, awed with gratitude. That's how much of a gift it is. It's finite. We won't have it forever. So when we have it or while we have it, we should celebrate it, luxuriate in it, be overcome every single day by the miracle of a healthy human body. 

So today when I ran, I felt like running 14.4 miles wasn't insane or ridiculous. It was me saying thank you. Every single step, every functioning muscle, every regular heart beat, every healthy drop of blood coursing through my veins, every unimpeded breath, all of it was a big, fat, thank you.

I know how lucky I am to be in a position to even attempt a marathon. I know I won't always be able to do that. I struggled a lot yesterday with what I saw in the oncology unit. And I know it's going to be a struggle the whole time I'm there and when I'm a nurse dealing with those patients as well. It breaks our heart as humans to see other humans in pain. We want to understand why and we want to fix it.

But we won't ever understand it, and sometimes we won't be able to fix it. All we can do, all I can do, is walk out my door on a Saturday morning and run, never forgetting for even a moment, what a massive gift each step is. 

Even at the end of the run, when my legs were burning and I was exhausted, even then, especially then,  it was a gift. Because I have the ability to keep going, to push myself. Because my body is strong and healthy and brave, and will carry me as far as I need it to go.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

East to oysters.

View from the Tides Inn

So it has been a very busy couple of weeks. School is in full swing, and I'm back in the thick of med administration and patient assessments. Life is hectic but good.

This past Saturday the boyfriend and I headed to Irvington, VA. Our one year anniversary was in August, and I, being the spectacular girlfriend that I am (and also humble too right?) surprised Rob with a night at the Tides Inn and a special dinner.

I have never been to the Tides Inn and I've also, very unfortunately, never been to that part of VA. And now I realize what a shame that is, because this area,

this area is absolutely lovely. We drove through West Point, through Urbanna, over the bridge and down to  Irvington. Along the way was quiet, farm strewn countryside, dotted with little creeks and rivers. It reminded me a lot, especially when we were close to Irvington, of the areas surrounding Charleston, not the fancy pants, elegant city, but the quiet stretches of country down highway 17, where towns grow smaller and fields grow bigger in this weaving maze of water and land.

When I go to water I usually head south, but now I realize there's a whole wonderful world of water northeast of Richmond. And it felt different on the Rappahanock than at the beach, much less Waves beach stores and Brew Thru's and much more quiet produce stands and family farms. Irvington was as storybook quaint as you can get. It felt like the setting for every quirky small town movie or TV show you've ever seen, a salty, Eastern Virginia version of Stars Hollow.

And in the middle of this cute little town was The Tides Inn. Growing up in Richmond I'd heard a lot of reference to the Tides Inn, friends going there with their families, people heading there for parties or weddings. I'd only ever heard good things, and it more than lived up to what I expected.

The exterior is a slightly old fashioned looking hotel that you can picture your grandparents staying in on their honeymoon. But inside it's gorgeous, polished down to every detail, elegant without feeling cold or overwhelming the way really fancy hotels sometimes can. It felt warm and inviting, just the right amount of casual and just the right amount of luxury. Our room was lovely, with windows overlooking the hotel's marina.

Since we were only staying the one night we wanted to get in as much as we could in the afternoon, so we went for a paddle boat ride around the creek (holy GOD did my thighs get a workout, I used to paddle boat when I was a child, and I do not remember it being that much of a workout) and then played a quick game of tennis (mercifully, no other people were around to witness the horror that is my tennis "game").

Smiling through the burn

We went back to the room to get ready for dinner and found this waiting:

Note that it says to Mr. and Mrs. Jewett, got a nice chuckle out of that one.

Something like this is what separates a good hotel from a great one. When I booked the room I sent an email to the activities department to ask for advice for what to do. I mentioned that I was bringing my boyfriend here for our anniversary, completely off hand, and the hotel took note, remembered, and best of all, gifted us with FREE SPARKLING WINE! If I wasn't sold already, free bubbly would have done it. Tides Inn you got me tipsy and stole my heart.

So my secret dinner surprise was a chartered cruise over the river to Merroir in Topping, VA. Merroir is the tasting room run by Rappahanock River Oysters. I've had their oysters before at home and at local restaurants, and I'd heard nothing but good things about Merroir. Our captain, William Saunders, picked us and another couple (who had moved to Irvington and were friends of his) at the hotel and we boated over to the restaurant with them and William's tiny, Yorkie dog.

We arrived at the dock outside of Merroir and realized two things simultaneously 1) there was a massive crowd outside the place and 2) they don't take reservations. Luckily they have a bar and seating for bar patrons. Unluckily we waited for two hours. Luckily there was wine, lots of it.

When we finally got our table, it was also to my surprise that we were seated with William and the other couple. When I booked the cruise I didn't necessarily picture a romantic anniversary dinner for two including a slat of the Earth boat captain and his friends, but by that time I honestly didn't mind. Maybe it was because I hadn't eaten since 10 that morning and I would have sat with literally anyone if it meant I could eat. Maybe it was because I had already consumed half a bottle of sparkling wine, a beer on the boat ride over, and a couple of glasses of red. But I think it was also something about where we were, the cluster of picnic tables right on the water, the grills set up right by the tables, the utter lack of pretentiousness or fuss, not just at Merroir but in the whole surrounding area. 

(Disclaimer: not my photo, but it sums up the essence of the place)

Everything felt easy. So I just laughed, grabbed a seat and ordered half the menu (no literally). Seriously we got a dozen raw, local oysters, half a dozen grilled oysters (my favorite, mmmmm). We also may or may not have ordered: 2 grilled ears of corn, an unbelievable crabcake over yummy bread, grilled tuna steak with this bangin' Thai pineapple sauce, shrimp and cheddar grits, and a steak for Rob. They were small plates! In our defense, we had boated and played tennis and had not had eaten since 10. But really everything just looked so flippin' good.

All the food was great. The conversation with our new BFF's was great. Full and satisfied we hopped back on the boat and headed to the hotel under a clear starlit sky.

The next morning we biked to The Local, a great little cafe right near the hotel in "downtown" Irvington for breakfast. That was followed up by a deep tissue massage (I know, I hate weekend me too a little). As usual I was told that my back is so tight and full of knots that it is almost defies all laws of logic and physics. 

Needless to say it was a good weekend, a very good weekend.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thank you Andy.

The first Andy Roddick match I can really remember, in its entirety, was a loss.

It was at the 2001 US Open, a quarterfinal night match against Lleyton Hewitt. It's the first tennis memory I have that is completely my own, not a match I watched because my family was watching it, not a match that was on in the background, but a match I was fully engaged in, the match that turned me into a tennis fan.

I was 15. Roddick had just turned 19. I was a teenage girl, so of course I thought he was cute. But there was something else there, this cocky kid who played with so much fight and energy and passion. He lost that match in five sets, but by the end of it, I wasn't just a tennis fan, I was an Andy Roddick fan. I would be one, unwavering, for the next eleven years.

It's fitting that the match that made me root for Andy was a match that he lost, because for the next ten years, I would have to watch him lose a lot. I'm not saying this to knock Andy's career. Every tennis player loses a lot. It's the nature of a game where each tournament can only have one winner. And for every excruciating loss I can remember, I can also remember another ten glorious wins, against Ferrero in the finals of the US Open when he became a grand slam champion, against Murray in the semis of the 2009 Wimbledon, years after everyone said Andy was no longer a real threat for a title. I remember all of those Davis Cup wins, especially the 2007 finals, when Andy helped lead the US to their first victory in years. I remember all of those wins at the US Open and at Wimbledon and the Australian Open, all of the wins in the smaller tournaments, wins that helped him to 32 titles, and to nine consecutive years in the top ten in the world.

Those wins were thrilling and rewarding, and they're why he'll be in the Hall of Fame, why he was the number one American for all those years. But I don't remember those wins with nearly the clarity or the precision or the pride as I remember some of Andy's losses, particularly the 2009 Wimbledon final against Roger Federer.

I only got to watch one tennis match in the summer of 2009. I was in Thailand teaching English for the summer, without a TV or internet connection, so I missed the French Open and assumed I would also miss Wimbledon completely. At the time I was still an Andy Roddick fan, but my love of tennis had grown and expanded in the years since that night match in 2001. I could root for Nadal with almost the same passion and heart as I had always rooted for Andy. And it killed me to miss the best tennis of the year. But then, long story short, I got swine flu. I tried to go on vacation for the fourth of July and then my train crashed (I told you it was a long story) and I got even sicker, and basically I just gave up, and fled to the sanctuary of a fancy hotel in Bangkok to recuperate.

As fate would have it, I was there for the Wimbledon final, a final between Andy and Roger Federer, the man who had made my life, as an Andy Roddick fan, miserable for so many years. I snuggled under the covers of my beautifully soft bed and watched the match. I had watched Andy in two other Wimbledon finals, and he had lost both of them, also both to Roger Federer. As a fan you always believe in your player. You always believe they can win. But it was a big mountain for Andy to climb.

I sat up a little straighter when he won the first set, and then straighter still when it got to the second set tie break. Even after he lost that tie break, I couldn't move. This was a different Andy than I'd ever seen in those two other finals, back when he was in the top 5, back when he was supposed to win. In the 2009 Wimbledon final, Andy wasn't supposed to win. Nobody believed he had a shot. But here he was, hanging with Federer, shot for shot, on and on.

The match went to a fifth set, and then it kept going, all the way to 14-15. Andy had served second in that final set, which meant that every time he served he would have to face a match point instead of merely a break point. In tennis it's the highest kind of pressure. Most people crack.

He didn't. He was playing the greatest player in the history of the sport, and he didn't falter. He didn't fade. He fought, every single point. He lost the match, and I remember watching him during the interviews and ceremony, how much humor and grace he showed.

I've never been prouder to be a fan of anyone. I'm not sure I ever will. My life would have been a lot easier if that first electric tennis match I saw as a 15 year old was a Federer match. The man rarely loses. He's won 17 majors for God's sake.

As an Andy Roddick fan, I've had to face countless match points, countless losses that have left me with claw marks in my cheeks or in tears. There have been brutal losses, first rounds of grand slams, times when he's been two sets up and still lost. I've cried and I've raged and I've wanted to kick my TV.

But through all of it, I've never once stopped being a Roddick fan. I've never wanted to. His list of accomplishments is endless. Every sports writer in the country is currently compiling a list of them. He's had a career most athletes would kill for. But he's earned my loyalty and my respect for the way he's played in his losses, for never giving any less than all of himself. When I watched him when he was a cocky 18 year old kid I saw fight and determination up until the very last point of that night match. When I watched him in this, his last US Open, I saw that same fight and determination, even though his body was weary and broken down. I also saw grace and class, a 30 year old who could have stuck around for a few more years, could have been the kind of player who made it to the 3rd or 4th rounds of tournaments and was satisfied with going no further. But instead he chose to bow out, to leave when he could still fight, when on a given day, he could still beat anyone.

Tennis is a strange sport. In football or baseball, players retire, but entire teams don't. You're never left with what I'm left with tonight, a big, gaping hole in the sport I love, left by the player I rooted for the most. It will be incredibly strange when the Australian Open comes around, and he's not in the draw. I'll have other players to cheer for, other players I support and want to win.

But it won't be quite the same. Andy Roddick will always be the player who first got me into tennis. Through him I really and truly fell in love with this beautiful sport. I'm a lifelong tennis fan now, and I'm not sure I would have been, not sure I would have found it, if not for that US Open quarterfinal in 2001, if not for having Andy to cheer for all these years, through all of his wins and losses.

I am so honored that I got to watch Andy play in his last tournament. It almost felt like this weird little thank you from fate, to be able to be there to show my appreciation in person, to root for him one last time. Eleven years later, at another night match, I was given the opportunity to say goodbye and thank you.

And just in case I haven't made it clear, once more, thank you Andy. Thank you for never giving me a reason not to root for you. Thank you for all of those fantastic wins which made us respect your career. Thank you for the losses that made us admire you. I will always be proud to have been your fan.

Monday, September 3, 2012

US Open.

If you know me, you know I am a tennis nerd. I have a big, unabashed, stupid kind of love for the sport of tennis. During my childhood summers, the US Open and Wimbledon were always on, and usually coincided with a beach trip. I have so many memories of watching Agassi, Sampras, Rafter, Courier, etc. play on the TV at Duck or Fripp Island on rainy, indoor afternoons. For me it was more background noise at the time, something to occasionally catch my absentminded attention, as I waited for the sun to come out and get back to the beach. But still it sticks in my memory, courts of green and blue, fuzzy, neon yellow balls against the backdrop of so many summer days.

And then when I started high school I fell in love with the sport on my own terms. Since then it's meant everything to me. It's my sport, my thing. But despite how much tennis has enriched my life, it hasn't always been easy to be a tennis fan. It's often very lonely. It's watching a five set, edge of your seat Australian Open final in the wee hours of Super Bowl Sunday, and having no one to share my exhilaration with over the result at the Super Bowl party later that day. It's constantly being in a rooms full of people who will talk excitedly and at length at the mere mention of football or basketball, but who will look on with polite confusion if the names David Ferrer or Juan Martin Del Potro are brought up. It's being the one lone geeked out Facebook or Twitter post about a tennis match in a sea of like minded updates about other, far more popular sports in American culture.

As a tennis fan, at least in Richmond, VA, I've never really had a pack. Sure, I'll meet the occasional tennis fan and gorge myself on that rare, spirited conversation about tennis. My dad and mom are  tennis fans, and that helps. But more often, I'm in it alone. I can't go to a sports bar and surround myself with other intense Nadal or Roddick fans to cheer with during a match. I show up bleary eyed to class after staying up till 2am to watch a thrilling, history making night match at the Open, look around, and realize that absolutely no one else shares my sleep deprivation.

I've accepted this. I've found solace reading eloquent and passionate Jon Wertheim articles, or on tennis websites, or in the crowds I see on TV, proof that passion for tennis is real and exists in abundance, somewhere out there.

But this weekend, a short ride up the 7 train from Manhattan, in Queens, NY, at the US Open, I found my pack, a world full of crazy, stupid, passionate, flesh and blood tennis fans. For the first time, I wasn't one lone tennis fan in an apathetic world. I was one among tens of thousands.

The US Open was everything I hoped it would be and more. This analogy may be the result of the fact that I'm currently re-reading the Harry Potter series for the 7th or 8th time (shockingly, tennis is not the only thing I am a geek about), but all weekend I kept thinking that this was my Hogwarts, my platform nine and three quarters. I got off the 7 train at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, and suddenly I went form a world where as a tennis fan, I was always out of place, always missing something, always a little strange, and into a world where I fit, where being a tennis fan wasn't an anomaly, but the norm. I was in a world that made perfect sense, surrounded by people who spoke my language, who talked freely of groundstrokes and return games, of first serve percentages and break point conversions, who were not only familiar with Nadal and Federer and Serena, but who could identify Jack Sock and Milos Raonic just as easily.

I've been to live tennis before, to Davis Cup events and the tournament in DC. And those were great and awesome. But nothing can compare to a grand slam tournament, two solid weeks of tennis at its peak capacity. I walked onto the grounds of the US Open, and saw tennis at its most saturated, vibrant form, a miniature village that exists just for tennis, with multiple show courts and dozens of smaller courts and practice courts.

And of course Arthur Ashe stadium, the 22,000 plus capacity goliath of a tennis stadium.

We watched Andy Roddick play here Friday night, and by the second set this place was full. You kind of get a sense on TV of the crowd here, but really I had no idea what 22,000 tennis fans can sound like.  It was rewarding on so many levels. As a fan of tennis in general, to be around 22,000 tennis fans was unreal, to know that tennis love on this level exists, that this many people love this sport the way I do, are willing to shell out for pricey tickets (even at this level up) and pricier concessions, to drive of take the train or fly to New York and venture out to Queens, for the love of this beautiful game. And it was rewarding specifically because it was a Roddick match. I'm going to write a separate post about this, but Roddick was the first player I truly followed as a fan. His 2001 US Open quarterfinal against Lleyton Hewitt was what really got me so invested in tennis. And he's had a hall of fame career. He was in the top 10 for nine years. He's played to the peak of his capacity and fought like a warrior every match. But I've often had to defend him, especially from casual tennis fans, people who watch the last weekends of slams, but who don't get the full scope of the sport. On Friday night I was surrounded by  22,000 people who were there to support Roddick in his last ever tournament, who showed him so much love and support and appreciation for his career and what he's meant for American tennis the last decade. It was really special, and I'm so grateful to have been there for his last tournament. It means the world to me.

But on a less emotional note, night matches at Ashe are just fun. You don't get that on TV either. There's booze a plenty (even if its costs $8.50 for one Heineken), lots of fried food, and dancing on every change over. It's a celebratory, giddy atmosphere, and I soaked up every ounce of it.

Saturday we were back for the full day and night session, and it was so flippin' great, I still have to pinch myself to believe it's real. How the US Open works is that there are a ton of stadiums with matches going on simultaenously. You only need tickets for one stadium, Arthur Ashe. If you have tickets for Ashe or grounds tickets, you can go to any of the other matches going on. You can also go to practice courts and see top players super close (sadly the day was so jam packed we didn't get a chance to do this) On the middle weekend there are a lot of matches going on. It is a buffet of world class tennis, and we feasted.

We started the day at the Grandstand, the smallest of the three stadium courts, to watch Jack Sock, a 19 year old American up and comer play Nicolas Almgaro, a Spanish player ranked 12 in the world.

Arthur Ashe gets the big names, but I actually loved going to the smaller courts, because of how much closer you can get. And unlike at Ashe you don't have to take out a second mortgage on your house to afford court side tickets. You just show up, stand in line, and then grab whatever seat is empty. This place got packed, because American tennis fans love to root for American players. One of my favorite parts about tennis is that because it's an international sport you get to be patriotic. Think the atmosphere of the Olympics, rooting your country on, only all year round. The match was really close, and despite the 90 plus degree temperature and the fact that our seats were in direct sunlight (I was drenched in sweat and burnt to a crisp by the end), we stayed through all four sets. Sock lost, but he's 19 and very green to the pro circuit. It was impressive in itself that he got to the 3rd round, and played Almagro so close for the first three sets. Especially with Roddick retiring, it's nice to know that the future of American tennis is promising. Although it makes me feel slightly ancient to know that this kid is SEVEN years younger than me.

After the match we walked around the grounds and got some surprisingly good (and not so surprisingly overpriced) food at the Food Village. Again I was struck again and again by how lovely it was to be surrounded by people talking about TENNIS. This does not happen in my life. But as I sat eating my turkey sandwich, almost every snatch of conversation was about my favorite sport. People talked animatedly about the matches they had seen, the matches they planned to catch. We shared a table with a duo from Canada, and we happily swapped stories about our experiences at the tournament. It's this big love fest for tennis, on a scale that I honestly didn't know could exist.

We rushed back to Ashe after lunch to catch the Federer Verdasco match. I was determined to catch Federer live, because duh, he is the greatest tennis player of all time, and you tell your grandkids about seeing him live, but honestly his match wasn't super exciting. The only drawback to matches on Ashe in the first week is that it's the top players in the world playing people that are far below their level, so often the matches are kind of wimpy. It's great to see the top players, but there's not a lot of tension. After two sets of watching Federer dominate (and he does dominate beautifully), I heard chatter that the Murray match on Armstrong was still going on. Another great aspect of a tennis tournament, with it's multiple, simultaneous matches, is that there's always a lot of chatter and rumors flying around about what's happening on the grounds. We heard that Murray and Lopez were in the middle of a good fight, and since the conclusion to Federer's match was pretty much foregone, we decided to hop on over to Armstrong.

We joined a bunch of other like minded people who wanted to catch the most exciting match, and again got amazing seats. I sat with a dazed smile on my face, in disbelief that I had just walked from a match with the number one player in the world and greatest player in history to a match with the number four player in the world and recent gold medalist. The atmosphere in Armstrong was electric, and we were lucky to catch the deciding fourth set tie breaker, which Murray won, along with the match.

We did a little shopping (there are endless ways to spend money at the US Open), grabbed some wine at an outdoor wine bar in the plaza (there are endless ways to drink at the US Open), and then headed back into Ashe for the night session. The first match was an exciting three setter between up and comer American Sloane Stephens and former world #1 Anna Ivanovic. The crowd pulled for Stephens, but Ivanovic took it. After that was American Mardy Fish against Gilles Simon. The match didn't even start until 10am so it went till past 2am. Even though I'm old and like an early bedtime, I'm so happy I got to be there for a late night match. Some of my favorite US Open moments as a fan have been matches that stretch to the early morning, where the crowd thins but the crowd that is left is die hard and more than willing to make up for their reduced numbers by increased volume. Fish won it in four, and everyone (except for any lone French people in the crowd) went home happy.

Other random highlights of the US Open:

-American Express card members (I am not one but the boyfriend is), get these nifty little ear piece radios where you can listen to the TV commentary as the match plays live. As I am both a Johnny Mac fan and a fan of random trivia, this was great for me.

What the ear piece looks like, just picture my head here

-I get abnormally excited to see local TV news anchors in person, so you can imagine my excitement to be in such close proximity to national TV news commentators. Every stadium has a little box for the announcers, and I spotted both MacEnroes (two for one!), Jim Courier, Mary Carrillo, and Justin Gimelstob to name just a few. Sure they were kind of far away, but I could make them out, so it still counts. We also walked by quite a few of the TV sets, including ESPN and Tennis Channel. I even got excited about those despite the fact that no one was in them at the time.

-So after the US Open I have no idea why anyone would say that tennis is a snobby sport. I mean okay there were several booths full of Mercedes cars, because Mercedes is an official sponsor. And maybe Moet was the official champagne of the tournament, but what sporting event doesn't have an official champagne? And Lacoste and Ralph Lauren had official shops, but again, doesn't NASCAR have those too?

Okay fine, the tennis is the snobbiest sport that ever snobbed. But at least within the snobbiness of tennis, there is still a class system that separates the most snobby from the least snobby. At the US Open, there are clearly the elites and the normals. The elites sit court side and pay thousands of dollars in tickets prices. They get to go to restaurants that us normals don't even have access to (yes there are two, count em', two restaurants on the US Open grounds that only certain ticket holders can go to, so us normals don't contaminate them with our filthy poverty while they eat). Seriously there was a lot of money at this tournament. And tennis should be more accessible. But hey, at least during the Fish match they gave out special blue tickets to let people in the upper level move down to the court side seats at the end of the match when the crowd was so much smaller. I had a lot of pleasure imagining the looks of disgust and horror on the real ticket holders faces as they saw all of these upper middle class people coming into their vicinity.

-Manhattan was eerily empty, because most Manhattanites are off to the beach on Labor Day weekend. Which gave the very realistic impression, as Jim Courier pointed out during his commentary, that the only people left in NYC on Labor Day weekend are tennis fans. This made me feel warm and fuzzy, especially as it seemed realistic. Several times in the city at random restaurants or on the street I heard snatches of conversation about tennis. It really felt like NYC existed for tennis fans this weekend.

-We did manage to fit in a little non tennis action. We ate Friday night early at Boquiera, a Spanish place in the city. 

And holy God. I've had a lot of really awesome meals in NYC. Last time I ate at Bobby Flay's place, Craft, at Gray's Papaya, and at this awesome brunch spot in Brooklyn. But this might be my favorite NYC meal ever. And we weren't even there for dinner, so we ordered off the tapas and lunch menu. However my favorite food in the world is the humble sandwich, and this place delivered on that and more.

For an appetizer we got two different kinds of croquettes, mushroom and serrano ham.

(This or the next two pictures are not mine, stolen from other foodies' websites, please don't sue me)

Oh sweet heavens. I don't know if I can describe these. Just the lightest, crunchy, salty fried crust, and then filled with the nectar of the gods. So much packed in flavor, both the mushroom, and the ham, and whipped into just the lightest pureed form. And the sauces! A sweet, almost apple-y sauce to go with the cheesy, ham croquettes and a more savory cream sauce to go with the earthiness of the mushrooms. Perfection in a fried ball. And in my opinion fried balls of any kind are in themselves perfection.

We also ordered salty, charred, padron peppers, and then each got a sandwich for an entree. Mine was tuna nicoise, with fresh tuna salad, capers, and hard boiled eggs. I eat tuna sandwiches for a living, and I always love them. But this one was another level. It was what I always think of about Spanish food, even though I have very little experience with Spanish. It's not about reinventing the wheel with bizarre flavors and combinations. It's flavors we know and love, but done exceptionally, with the highest quality ingredients. The bread was crunchy and perfect. The tuna fresh and bursting with flavor. It was just all good. I devoured it and wanted to weep when it was over.

This was all amazing, but the high point of the meal might have been the side of fried potatoes that came with it.

I just don't even know what to say. These potatoes had a tangy and savory tomato sauce underneath and a creamy, almost mayo-ish (although that doesn't do it justice) sauce on top. So much salt and crunch and flavor. I want these in my life permanently. I may try to mail order them from NYC.

Oh and this was all washed down with a perfect rendition of red sangria.

It was very, very good, and I just found out that there is one of these restaurants in DC, so see you later, I will be face planting into a plate of potatoes in the very near future.

After the tennis Friday night we stopped by the Strand Hotel's rooftop bar. One word: view.

There happend to be a post reception wedding party here, so we hung out with the groom's father for a bit and watched a lot of really drunk and happy people act silly. But mostly we just enjoyed the stunning view (that and the bartender's really, really hefty wine pour).

To sum up, it was a really, amazing weekend. I don't know if I've adequately expressed how much going to the US Open meant to me (I've certainly used enough words, whew!). It was a great trip, and one I know I will remember for the rest of my life.

View of NYC skyline from Arthur Ashe stadium at sunset

I'm a person who gets really excited and over enthusiastic about the details and small things in life. Whether it's food or a TV show or a book or a sport. Life is short. Why waste time being over it or apathetic? Why not dive head first into the things you love and make them important to your life?

Tennis is important to my life. I've loved it through all those years where I sometimes felt like the only tennis fan in the world, through all those matches I wished I had someone to obsess over, through all the early mornings and late nights, sitting alone in a room with a TV, heart ready to burst.

To spend a weekend surrounded by tens of thousands of people with that same passion and love and heart, by tens of thousands of people who get it, who get tennis and its beauty and its soul,

well it kind of felt like coming home.

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