Trading the US Open for Sweet Corn and Barbecue

It’s the third week in August and there’s only one place I’ve been during that time for most of my adult life, the U.S. Open Championships in Flushing Meadow Park, New York. Even after I stopped covering tennis full time in 2008, I still covered the Open for the entire three weeks. Through the Qualifying, the Main Draw and the Junior Championships, my daily column gets up to two million hits during the event. I’ve also added additional outlets to my coverage over the years.

I was especially excited about the U.S. Open this year because, in addition to the food, wine and spirits stories I’ve been doing the past few years, I was also doing some celebrity articles. Unfortunately, none of it would pan out this year. My back problems got to the point where I knew I couldn’t drive to New York and handle walking around the huge tennis center. I considered borrowing a scooter or even a wheelchair, but my doctor convinced me that I needed to stay home, rest my back and get treatment.  
The U.S. Open is much more than a tennis event, it’s a foodie’s (or food writer’s) dream. Last year, I even got to sample some of the U.S. Open food and drinks before the event. There are always some new and exciting offerings each year, but my priorities never seem to change: the Sweet & Savory Crepe booth where Crepe Express provides my favorite thin pancake filled with mushrooms, spinach and Swiss cheese; and the seasoned waffle fries, available at many of the booths, which everyone seems to love. Those items are my first day and last day musts, and in between I try to sample something different from the wide-range of offerings at the restaurants and food court each day. (Thank heaven for all the walking, I’ve actually never gained weight at the Open.)

Saturday, August 27th was to be something even better than gourmet food at the U.S. Open. It was Arthur Ashe Kid’s Day, a celebrity-filled event that’s always a lot of fun. I was especially looking forward to this year’s as one of my favorite actors, Bradley Cooper, was appearing. Armed with lots of assignments, I had hoped to have a few minutes to actually speak to him and it was one of the disappointments in my not going, but I wasn’t the only one this day didn’t work out for. Millions of people around the Northeastern United States have a lot more to be dismayed about than I do as Hurricane Irene flooded neighborhoods, damaged property and even took some lives.

I didn’t get to go to the U.S. Open or meet Bradley Cooper, but I did get to be home yesterday, where it was dry and sunny. I also got to do something that I’ve missed all these years I’ve been in New York at the U.S. Open. I went to the Sweet Corn Festival in Urbana. There was no fine wine or  overpriced seasoned fries, but I had some delicious (Central Illinois) Sweet Corn, Barbecued Pork (from Holy Smoke Barbecue), Macaroni & Cheese (from Louie’s BBQ) and finished Frozen Custard. Then, I went home and iced my back and was thankful that I wasn’t awaiting a monster storm like my friends, family and tennis-writing colleagues back east.

The silver lining to the cloud (pardon the pun) is that the storm didn’t appear to damage the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center after all and it looks like play for the main draw will start on Monday as planned. I am flying to New York in a few weeks and hope to be walking well enough to still make it in to the U.S. Open for the finals -- and the crepes, of course.


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