“Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.”
—John F. Kennedy
By Alex P. Vidal
I WAS on my way to the Main Street in Flushing, Queens on board an elevated 7 Train August 30 midday when I decided to drop by at the Mets/Willets Point Station, where most passengers disembarked to watch the 2021 U.S. Open opening day matches.
I took advantage of the open gate and entered via the boardwalk leading to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park in Queens.
If I decide to comeback to the platform and wait for the next train to the Main Street (the trip’s final destination) after the visit to the U.S. Open, I would just walk in using the same (open) gate, I told myself.
In the U.S. Open entrance, I saw most of the tennis fans flocking to the first in-person U.S. Open in two years being forced to endure hours-long leading to “completely chaotic” and dangerous crowding outside the stadium.
The full capacity tournament drew thousands of visitors who were mostly Caucasians from Europe (based on their dialects), Canada and the host United States despite the pandemic.
But while the event was slated to begin at 11 a.m., many fans complained they were forced to wait outside for close to two hour—keeping them from some of the early matches and leaving attendees at risk of heat-related illness as confirmed by the Gothamist.
A Greenpoint resident who previously worked at the U.S. Open and has been coming to the tournament for more than two decades, told the Gotamist the lines and confusion were unprecedented.
“It was out of control,” said Jessica Pearson. “There was no crowd control from the stadium all the way back to the subway.”
The U.S. Tennis Association said in a statement the delays were primarily caused by fans bringing an “inordinate number of bags this year.”
The USTA also said that patrons had arrived at the gates earlier than usual. "Previously, the number of patrons arriving to the grounds prior to 11 a.m. averaged approximately 10,000," the group said. "This year, the number arriving prior to 11 a.m. was only 3,000."
Others speculated that a last-minute decision to require COVID-19 vaccinations at the tournament was to blame.
The USTA announced the mandate on August 27, after facing criticism for their original plan not to require vaccines or masks.
Pearson said the hold-up seemed at least in part due to broken metal detectors and a lack of staff. However, the association denied that vaccination requirement was a factor.
“The slow down seems to be centered on the Bag Check area,” the USTA statement noted. “The process to check proof of vaccination seems to be working smoothly and is not a major contributor hampering entrance to the site.
At some points, the Gotahmist said the queue appeared to severely clog parts of the Mets-Willets Point subway station. “Worst line in US Open history,” wrote one attendee. “I was in the 7 train tunnel.”
The bottleneck appeared to clear by around 2 p.m., just in time for fans to catch Andy Murray and his reassembled hip take on the third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas.
At 7 p.m., Naomi Osaka—winner of the 2018 and 2020 U.S. Opens—was playing Marie Bouzkova.
Meanwhile, when I returned to the open gate leading back to the train platform, a burly male Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) staff blocked my way as the two New York Police Department (NYPD) cops standing nearby watched.
“Where’s your (subway train) ticket, sir?” the MTA staff, a look-alike of Wesley Snipes, hollered followed by three steps backward (I thought his action was overacting because I wore a mask).
“I was here a while ago. I only disembarked from the train just to take some photos in the U.S. Open,” I nicely retorted. “I’m back to resume my trip to the Main Street.”
He backpedalled once more like Floyd Mayweather Jr. dodging a Manny Pacquiao wallop. Another OA acrobatic because, I must insist, I wore a mask.
“You saw me a while ago when I left the train and approached this (open) gate,” I added, smiling. “Am I that easy to forget, sir?”
Mr. “Wesley Snipes” then pointed to the platform inside the gate and loudly mandated, “Go, get inside!”
I thanked him nevertheless for not letting me spend another $2.75 for the train fare.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two dailies in Iloilo)