Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Fans make rocky road trip to Richmond

Snow patrol and cars make PSA finals a flight of fancy for intrepid fans
By JOHN BRANSTON – Squash Mad Special Correspondent

John, Shubho and Dan meet Jonathon Power
John, Shubho and Dan meet Jonathon Power

Everyone knows you have to pay the price to be the best. But who knew you had to pay such a price just to see the best?

Everyone knows you have to pay the price to be the best. But who knew you had to pay such a price just to see the best?

The eight best squash players in the world are in Richmond this week for the Power Courts PSA World Series Finals. So a few months ago three of the biggest squash fans in the world made plans to fly there to see them, but a late winter blizzard changed our plans.

The trip was saved by a Hertz rental car; a driver, Dan Cullen, with the stamina of Nick Matthew; his trusty chief engineer, Shubho Banerjee, with his Smart Phone and Ashourish creativity; and their backseat passenger, me, reading aloud from a copy of James Willstrop’s “Shot and a Ghost” to keep them awake and alert.

To get anywhere these days without paying an arm and a leg you must, of course, play airline roulette. There is no direct service from Memphis to Richmond. We scored a bargain direct flight to Baltimore and a bargain return flight via Detroit.

We rented a car for the 130-mile drive from Baltimore to Richmond. Mid-March, weekend traffic, plenty of time, should have been a snap.

And it was, until a storm blew in Sunday night and dumped eight inches of snow on Baltimore and Washington D.C. By Monday airports were closing, flights were being canceled, and we had visions of Atlanta a month ago when a lesser storm gridlocked the roads and stalled drivers for hours.

In homeward travel as in squash, standing still is usually not a good option. Dan had to be back in Memphis Tuesday morning. If we didn’t make it to Baltimore, or if the flight left too late to make the Detroit connection, he was screwed. Better, we decided, to take matters into our own hands and drive home – 823 miles and 13 hours if all went well.

Snow was falling when we left Richmond heading west and falling faster when we hit the mountains. After two nights of insomnia and watching CNN and Fox News obsessing over the Malaysian mystery flight, I had conspiracy theories on the brain.

If we got stuck and abandoned the car, searchers would find some tantalizing clues: footprints in the snow, unused airline tickets, a GPS set for Memphis, Shubho’s nasty-looking green smoothies in glass jars, my undecipherable notes scrawled on the sports page of USA Today, and a dog-eared copy of Willstrop’s book.

“A carjacking? Pitifully under-dressed travelers lost in the woods? Vegan terrorism? Suicide by squash? Investigators haven’t ruled out anything. Details as they emerge.”

In the driving equivalent of a five-game marathon, we made it home before midnight (so did our scheduled flight, as it turned out). Thank you Richmond’s Westwood Club for being classy hosts. Thank you Jonathan Power for stepping in as sponsor and for visiting with us. Why they didn’t introduce you before each session is one for Ripley’s.

Thank you Boars Head Sports Club in Charlottesville for letting us play on the glass-walled court at the McArthur Squash Center and thank you Mark Allen for turning on the closed-circuit cameras.

Thank you pros, for playing hard in the best-of-three round-robin format. And thank you, James Willstrop, for writing an honest book, a rarity in the world of sports biographies.

A callused thumbs up, never mind the potshots at journalists. Despite your facetious suggestion, you’re going to be remembered for a lot more than your sportsmanship.

(John Branston is a freelance writer who lives in Memphis. [email protected])


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