Family Field Trip, 3/20/18
I’d never been to a Red Sox season-starting game before. The Red Sox were hosted for Game One of the 2018 baseball season by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Tropicana Field is just outside Tampa in St. Petersburg, a city I’d never visited. I was willing to go to the game because I haven’t gotten Red Sox burn-out yet this season (after all, this was just the first game). The most compelling reason was that Danny was staying with us in our rented Florida home for just five days, all the way from not-so-sunny California. I wasn’t going to let him go off on this all-day field trip without me, wasting almost 20% of my precious time with him.
So I climbed into the back seat of our little white Budget-rental, behind Danny in the driver’s seat and Bob in the front passenger.
The two-hour ride to St. Pete was pleasant. I was mostly cut off from the conversation in the front seat (actually, I don’t think there was much of that going on) and they apparently couldn’t hear me, because no one asked me to shut up as I sang along to the radio. I tried unsuccessfully to convince the boys to take the exit for Jacaranda Road in Venice and give up this stupid idea of a baseball game. But we sped past.
The bridge over the waterway to Tampa was beautiful. Blue-green water called to me, but I couldn’t reach the brake from my backseat perch. So we sped on.
The dome of Tropicana Field appeared on the horizon. “It looks crooked,” I said.
“It is,” Danny responded. Was he kidding? He had told me earlier that Tropicana Field is the worst stadium in Major League Baseball. Online I found a quote that said the stadium is better suited for a FedEx warehouse than baseball. But crooked? I hadn’t counted on that.
Bob had thought of everything to make this trip a success, including pre-paying for parking in Lot #6. As we got close to the stadium, he opened up his Waze app to direct Dan. We immediately missed a critical turn.
“Mom, set your GPS,” Dan instructed. (I’ve changed his exact wording to maintain a ‘G’ rating for this story.)
Now two different GPS apps were spewing directions, Waze in its male voice and Google in its female persona. Fortunately they agreed on the roads that would take us to our parking lot.
Finally, after a bit of confusion and thickening traffic, we made it to Lot 6. But the entrance was blocked.
“The map shows another entrance on the opposite side of the lot. We just need to go all the way down this street, take a right turn and then another right.”
Traffic grew heavier, then progressed to a crawl, then stopped entirely. “We still have almost 90 minutes until game time,” I assured the guys. Honestly, I wasn’t trying to be stupidly optimistic. That seemed like plenty of time. The alternate Lot 6 entrance was only about a half-mile away.
But here’s the problem, not only in St. Petersburg but on the entire west coast of Florida. Maybe its east coast, too. I’m not sure.
Green lights last for 15 seconds. Red lights last for 5 minutes. I’m not sure what the benefit of this system is meant to be, but I have learned that the result is not smoother traffic flow. Instead, drivers at the end of their patience simply run the red lights. I see it happen multiple times a day in Florida.
But I digress.
Traffic was barely crawling. The streets were full of pedestrians, and cops waving their arms aimlessly. The roads to Lot 6 were deep red on Google Maps, minutes were ticking away, and Danny’s agitation was growing. He’s the kind of guy who needs to be at his seat for the first pitch. Actually, he was concerned about missing the opening ceremony.
Fortunately for him, he has a great mom.
“You guys get out here. I’ll park the car and meet you. I won’t care if I’m a couple of minutes late.”
Bob handed me a printout of my game ticket. “What about the ticket for the parking lot?” I asked.
“I sent you an email this morning with an attachment,” he told me. “Look on your phone.”
Sure enough, I found an email with the parking permit attached as a PDF. It just had to be downloaded, but when I tried, nothing happened. Zero percent download.
“Now what?” I asked, as Bob fruitlessly tried to download the attachment on his own phone.
Danny, who was supposed to be driving, grabbed the phone from Bob’s hand. I wasn’t too concerned, that he was distracted because driving had just consisted of sitting with his foot solidly on the brake for the past 40 minutes.
He fiddled with the phone in ways incomprehensible to my generation, downloaded enough of the PDF to make the barcode visible, and flung the phone to me.
“We’re outta here.” He and Bob fled the front seat and I exited the back. I hopped into the driver’s position, adjusted the seat, the mirrors, snapped the seatbelt, and placed Bob’s phone and my phone in handy locations, all without needing to take the car out of park. Nothing was moving.
My phone rang. “You’re in the wrong lane,” Danny informed me. “The cars in front of you are trying to turn right into Lot 6A, but you need to go to Lot 6. You’ll move faster if you move one lane to the left.”
So I did. That was easy! And then traffic moved a few inches and I saw a sign for Lot 6, just beyond the sign for 6A. It was all one big lot. I needed to get back in the right lane! I panicked. I tried to ram my way back in, but no one was interested in surrendering even one inch of asphalt. Then a cop saw me. He was standing in the middle of the road, hellbent on stopping me.
I opened my window. “Lot 6!” I shouted. “I need to get to Lot 6!”
He wasn’t moved by my hysteria. “Stay to the left of the cones!” he instructed me with equal emotion in his voice. But I felt a surge of adrenaline, and it actually felt great, so stayed where I was, with my right signal blinking, trying to squeeze back in to the right lane.
“Left,” he shouted. “Left! Cones! Cones!”
“Relax, relax!” I shrieked back at the top of my lungs. Oh my God, was I screaming at a cop? A southern cop? The look on his face sobered me up fast. I quickly shut off my blinker and maneuvered left around the cones.
As it turned out, there was yet another entrance into Lot 6. Once past the police officer, I bulldozed my way back into the right lane. I turned into the lot entrance. And then I stopped, because the entrance was completely blocked off. The missed turn into Lot 6A had been my last shot.
“Oh no,” I think I said. I don’t really know what I said.
But there was an angel in a parking lot attendant’s uniform standing by the blockade. He walked over to my car.
“I have a ticket,” I told him. “I paid $15 for a ticket to park in this lot.”
“Let’s see it,” he said.
I showed him the barcode on Bob’s screen. Nothing else was visible, not the number of the lot or the date or anything else. The PDF still hadn’t fully downloaded.
“Well, I don’t know where the guy with the scanner disappeared to,” the angel told me. “So I’m just gonna let you in. But don’t tell anyone it was me.”
“I won’t. I won’t, I promise.”
“OK, well after you park, I want you to try to find someone with a scanner,” hei said. “Tell them to scan your ticket.”
“Will I get towed if I don’t find anyone?”
“Gee, I don’t think so. Just don’t say it was me.”
He moved one of the barriers and I inched the car past it. There were lots of open spaces. I parked the car, skeptical that I’d be able to find it again in a few hours because none of the spots or lanes were numbered. (Well, actually they were, Dan pointed out to me later when we did finally find our car. But the lettering was too small for me to see without binoculars.) I headed off toward the big white domed stadium. On my way, I passed the entrance for Lot 6A. It was open, attended, and cars were streaming through.
I brought Bob’s phone over to a man seated in the booth. “Do you want to scan my ticket?”
“Nope. System’s down. Can’t scan.”
So much for prepaying $15 dollars for parking.
I texted Dan. “I’m parked.”
“We’re in the stadium,” he replied. “Only cuz Dad cut the line.”
It’s one of the things Bob is good at.
In a few minutes I saw what Danny was talking about. Thousand of people were in line to enter the building. A quarter of them were smoking cigarettes. I positioned myself as far away from the smoke as I could and felt thankful that Bob wasn’t with me. He’d be screaming at each and every person exhaling fumes in our direction.
I tried not to think about the fact that I needed to pee.
I was in the ‘search your bag’ line because of course I brought along my biggest pocketbook. When I finally reached the search table, I was handed a cup-of-soup-size plastic container to hold my electronics. I rifled through my bag and fished out my phone, Bob’s phone, the remote for my electronic leg brace, and my iPad. I dared the security guard (with my eyes only) to be judgmental about the fact that I brought an iPad to a baseball game. He shrugged and waved me through.
That wasn’t too bad, I thought, until I realized that I had just gone through the preliminary line, and all the preliminary lines were merging into one ridiculously massive crowd of people who now were in line at the main entrance to get their tickets scanned.
I definitely had to pee.
“The score is 3-to-0, Boston,” someone in line announced. I couldn’t care less that I had missed the runs; I was happy that Danny and Bob hadn’t.
Somehow I made it through the line. It only took about half-an-hour and earned me a lovely sunburn. Then I was inside, because Tropicana is an indoor stadium. It was a more disorienting feeling than I expected. Baseball is not supposed to be played indoors.
Each fan was handed a cowbell upon having their ticket scanned. Wait. I thought our $19.98 tickets included a bag of chips and a bottle of soda. That’s what I wanted. A cow bell? I shoved it in my bag and glanced at my phone. Dan had called, then texted. “Where are you?”
“Standing in line for the bathroom,” I typed back.
When I exited the bathroom, I checked my ticket. Section 213. That was a good sign: Danny’s birthday is 2/13. At least I would be able to retain the number in my head without double-checking the ticket every 30 seconds.
I asked for directions to the seats, and was told to walk up one flight of stairs, find section 115, take the big escalator to the 2nd floor, and I’d be there. OK, I can do that.
I checked my surroundings at the top of the stairs. I was at section 145. I only had to walk all the way to the opposite end of the ballpark to get to section 115. I fought my way through the standing-room-only sections, the wheelchair sections, past the people precariously balancing their popcorn, hotdogs, beer. One guy bumped into me so violently that I almost toppled over. If he apologized, it got lost in a deafening, clanging thunder suddenly coming from the stands. The Devil Rays had managed to get on base. The crowd reacted by ringing their cowbells. Seriously? This is Florida, not Texas.
Finally, past section 118, 117, 116. There it was! The escalator that would bring me to my destination. I hurried on and it carried me up. And up. And up. Wow, I thought, this is the longest, steepest escalator I’ve ever been on. But inevitably it brought me to the top and I stepped off. I looked around. And what I saw was…Section 345. The third floor? On the opposite side of the stadium from where I meant to be?
That was the point when I decided I was not in Tropicana Field at all, but that Rod Serling was welcoming me to The Twilight Zone.
“Here’s my ticket.” I shoved it in some poor uniformed guy’s face. “Why aren’t I in the right place? I followed the directions. I took the escalator. How did I get here? How do I get there?”
“Did you take the long escalator?”
“You should have taken the short escalator.”
Now I was getting tired. I mean, really exhausted. I couldn’t follow the complicated instructions the guy was trying to give me (apparently simply reversing my steps was not an option) and I think he sensed that, because he interrupted himself to say, “Or you could just take the elevator.”
“Right there. In Section 330.” He pointed toward off in the distance.
I couldn’t see the elevator but I took a leap of faith and followed his finger. Fifteen sections later, there it was!
I hopped on.
I hopped off again.
I ran back to the man.
“That elevator won’t take me to the 2nd floor, “ I told him.
“Yes it will,” he insisted.
“ No! There are buttons inside labeled 1, 3, 4, 5, 6. There’s no button for 2.”
“You need to hit the button for 5.”
“You want to go to the 2nd floor? Press the 5 button.”
So I did. I went back to the elevator and got on, followed by a crowd of people that filled the car to its capacity. When we arrived at the fifth floor, aka the second floor, I had to beg from my wedged-in corner, “Let me out, please.”
The sea of passengers parted for me and I stepped out of the elevator. And there it was, right in front of me: Section 213.
My guys were sitting in terrific seats, enjoying their team’s 3-run lead. It was the fourth inning. “You missed an in-the-park home run,” Danny told me.
“Aren’t all home runs in an indoor stadium considered ‘in-the-park?’” He answered by giving me the look he has perfected over twenty-six years. You know what I mean.
“Did you make it in time for the opening ceremony?” I didn’t mean to be snarky.
I settled in my seat, only to get up again to redeem all our tickets for free chips and cokes at the concession stand. “It’s a good thing you don’t want beer,” the concessions lady told me. “The ballpark is completely out of cold beer.”
“Yup, good thing.” I suspected the other people in line wouldn’t react as pleasantly to that news.
I don’t know how Bob managed to drink his coke, because that was ice-cold, and he was already shivering from the air conditioning. I gave him my sweater, which he wrapped around his neck like a scarf, and I pulled out my iPad to start writing this story.
The Red Sox went ahead 4-0, then 4-1, then, to the cacophony of cow bells, fell behind 5-4 in the 8th inning, and finally lost the game 6-4. Don’t quote me on those scores. I was busy writing. I’m so glad I had the foresight to bring my iPad.
It was the quickest, most painless game I ever sat through. I wasn’t even half finished with this essay. I crossed my fingers for extra innings to give me more time, but it wasn’t meant to be.
So here is the funny thing about my trip to Tropicana Field. I had a great time. In fact, I glowed from the inside out all day because I was on a field trip with my boys. How often do we get a day like this to spend together? A day when we’re all healthy and happy?
Dan returns to California tomorrow.