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U.S. OPEN Tennis Tourney Traffic Transportation Thursday Gridlock • Take A Subway? 4th Day Of This

US Open moments of madness, Part One (of many)

By Alix Ramsay

How difficult can it be? There is a large highway with several lanes, a two-lane exit slip road from that highway that leads into Corona Park and lots of people, both paying customers and official types, trying to get off road one, on to road two and into the tennis at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Surely this will not need the brain of a rocket scientist to fathom.

Now, before we begin: the following rant has absolutely nothing to do with the lovely Greg, the fab bloke who runs the buses to and from Flushing Meadows. Since Greg took over, the transport service does everything in its power to get us to work of a morning and back home of an evening, no matter how late the hour. No, Greg is blameless in all of this. It is the other muppets involved in “organising” this tournament (and we use the term as loosely as possible) who must carry the can.

After all, it is not as if no one knew that the US Open would be on in these two weeks (although sometimes one wonders whether the USTA were fully cognisant of the fact) and judging the numbers of police officers on hand to wave their arms about and point angrily at random drivers, some sort of plan had been put in place. But whatever that plan was, it is not working.

With hope and optimism, we all clamber aboard the bus in Manhattan every morning. Our driver negotiates the midtown traffic with skill and regular use of the horn and off we go to the Midtown Tunnel. So far so good. Once through the tunnel, we off and running down the Long Island Expressway. Sometimes there is traffic, sometimes not but, either way, our driver gets the job done and with a fair wind, we can be within striking distance of our destination in around 20 to 25 minutes.

And then we turn off the Expressway and on to Grand Central Parkway and everything grinds to a halt. That last few hundred yards can take anything up to an hour thanks to the security checks on private cars (the police officer asks the driver to open the trunk, the driver pushes the button on his dashboard and then the officer closes the trunk again. This is security at its best) and the absolute dog’s breakfast of a road layout. With no lane for buses and official cars, everyone is lumped in together and the funnelling of all traffic into a small road results in total gridlock.

By this time, the optimism has been knocked out of us and we have all but given up on hope. But us journos are resilient types and with a bit of gentle persuasion, it has been possible in past days to get the driver to let us out as the bus sits motionless. Not today, though.

Today a packed bus grumbled and glowered and then begged to be set free to walk the last few yards into work. “More than my job’s worth,” came the reply. Cue more grumbling and glowering. And then we spied the peeps in the bus in front jumping out and walking towards the entrance. Cue even more grumbling and glowering.

As the minutes ticked by – and the matches we all wanted to watch we zipping along – we inched slowly and less than surely towards our final stopping point. It was then that our beleaguered driver made an announcement.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I apologise for the delay, the traffic and the inconvenience,” she said. “But to let you know, those people who got off the bus in front of us are now being held by the police until their bus returns to collect them and bring them into the complex.”

Blimey.

So we went and checked (we had recognised some of the reprobates skedaddling down the kerbside). Sure enough, the cops had tried to apprehend our source but he, being anything but daft, walked straight on and adopted the attitude of the idiot foreigner: “no hablo Ingles”, “Je ne parle pas Anglais”, “Ich spreche kein Englisch” or, for those from the Highlands, “chan eil Beurla agam”. And on he walked while the cop screamed at him to “Get off the highway!”. He was then instructed to “Stop!” And when our source showed absolutely no sign of stopping, the cop informed him that “if you do that again, I’m gonna give you a ticket!”

So not only are you not allowed to get to work quickly in New York, you will also be arrested if you try. It could only happen at the US Open.

Perhaps those dozens police officers ought to be turning their attention towards Johanna Konta, the No.16 seed who is now into the third round thanks to a thumping 6-1, 6-0 win over Margarita Gasparyan on Thursday.

Our Jo-Ko is a terribly nice lass – polite, friendly and bright. But she is a secret tealeaf (for anyone outside the UK, that is rhyming slang for “thief”). She is squirrelling away her official championship towels as souvenirs and she ain’t letting go of a single one.

Having shown her ferocious side to Gasparyn – she won more than twice the number of points than the hapless Russian – Jo-Ko then got fierce with a small fan. The kid was ever so keen to get some sort of memento from Britain’s No.1 but Jo-Ko was not giving an inch.

“Can I have a towel?” the kid asked.

“I’m really sorry but they are in high demand at home,” came the polite but firm reply.

“But I came here specially to see you,” the small one said, sadly.

“And I really appreciate that but I think my mum and dad will be very disappointed if they miss out on one.” And with that, the small one’s hopes were dashed.

Alas, this exchange was picked up by the courtside mic and broadcast without a spoiler alert. As a word of advice to Mr and Mrs Konta back home in Eastbourne, if your daughter brings you an official US Open towel as souvenir from New York, please do try and look surprised. There is a small, towelless person somewhere in Queens who sacrificed much so that you could have that gift.

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