Strawberries and Cream

Ethan Young was the winner of our second blog competition for his blog: Starting Gate. The below article was originally published on July 3rd. It followed the article Londark.

 

At 7:40 PM, my friends Xavier and Donovan jokingly said, “We’re just going to sleep on the ground man.” The three of us and some others were planning on going to Wimbledon for the Middle Saturday of the Championships. For several days, I researched and tried to understand the ticketing process. Essentially, unless you’re royalty, you wait in The Queue (note the capital ‘T’). Wimbledon is one of the few major sporting events in the world for which the bulk of each day’s tickets are sold the morning of play. This makes ticketing egalitarian in one sense and absolutely insane in another. Most online sources I could find suggested arriving at 4-5 AM in order to buy a Grounds Admission ticket (not even a seat!), which would become available at 11 AM. So, I arranged to stay with a friend in London, get up at 3 AM, and make my way to Wimbledon in time for some tickets. Until a joke became serious.

The Queue that awaited us at Wimbledon (roughly 1600 people spend the night and a total of 6000 will arrive in the morning).

PC: Ethan Young

As we laughed off the joke, everyone’s eyes slowly changed as we each realized it was possible to make this happen. The key constraint to keep in mind is this: we are three Americans with absolutely no clue how to navigate London talking about spending the night at an event 1.5 hours away from downtown that closes for the night in 2 hours. And we had no camping supplies.

The Queue that awaited us at Wimbledon (roughly 1600 people spend the night and a total of 6000 will arrive in the morning).

First we ran to the North Face – it was the nearest thing in sight that resembled an outdoor store. They don’t sell tents. Try the other North Face, 6 blocks away. Ran to that North Face, also no tents. Try a store called Black’s, 7 blocks away, closes in 10 minutes. Sprint to Black’s (knock over a person or two). Manager closes Black’s just as we arrive – no luck. Run back to the North Face, ask for any other places. Possibly tents at a large superstore called Lillywhites, 6 blocks away. Sprint to Lillywhites – it has 6 floors. Ask 4 employees – you guessed it – outdoor stuff is on the sixth floor. Scale six floors in 30 seconds, find a room full of tents.

Arrival photo. Compare this to the departure photo below...

PC: Ethan Young

Now, after 25 minutes of mostly high-speed running through the busiest shopping district of downtown London with no cell phone service and no idea how to find anything, we purchased two 2-man tents and 2 blankets, all on clearance, for £50. It was now approaching 8:30 PM. We booked it out of Lillywhites to an ATM, then to the Tube ticketing kiosk, and then onto the Tube. Along the way, we managed to find and regroup with our friend Adam. We made the correct transfers and arrived in Southfields by 9:15 PM. For the final stretch from the subway station to the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, we jogged at a reasonable pace. And, after another 15 minutes, the four clueless Americans were sitting in pitched tents with official queue cards waiting for gameplay the next day.

After eight sleepless hours

PC: Ethan Young

After eight sleepless hours

The whole plan was completely ridiculous. It was stupid, last-minute, and likely to fail. But it was so much fun. The chaos of getting what we needed and getting there was a blur, but it was an amazing experience I’ll never forget. I will hopefully forget the night in the tent, however. It turns out that discount tents make for an interesting experience when the two people in that tent are over six feet tall and 190 pounds. I probably slept for an hour total that night due to the cold, my being sick, limited space, and condensation dripping off the tent. But things were looking up by 5 AM when we packed up and began to queue within the queue for tickets.

PC: Ethan Young

PC: Ethan Young

PC: Ethan Young

We saw incredible tennis. First, we watched Steve Johnson prevail over Dimitrov (an unexpected win). This match went on for quite some time due to rain delays, but when it finally ended we watched the Williams sisters win a doubles match. Afterwards, one of our friends managed to grab a few extra Centre Court tickets (coveted items) from people leaving early, so we were able to watch Jack Sock lose to Raonic in the big arena. We packed up and left for London, and then Cambridge, and made it home by midnight.

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