A few years ago it was my pleasure to attend America’s greatest sporting event.
I sat in the lobby of the Sheraton Canal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, on the morning of the Super Bowl, trying to not think about the thousands of strangers whose rear ends had occupied the chair before me, people with perhaps less interest in personal hygiene than myself. It’s a thought I have quite often in public situations. Given a better health plan, I would pursue it further, psychologically.
I thought about strangers’ bathing habits.
But mostly I just wondered about where all the money came from.
In a few short hours, the shuttle busses would depart for the Super Dome, taking we super fans to our super seats at the super game; super seats for which some super fans paid upwards of a super grand apiece.
The lobby was three stories high and done in that “let’s borrow something from every culture” style that’s guaranteed to impress all, offend none and state to the world that if you’re here, you’ve made the right choice. You’re one of the money people.
I was not the only guest in the hotel. Mr. P. Diddy was a guest. Mr. Magic Johnson was a guest. Mr. Bubbles was a guest. The first is a rap star, record and movie producer, clothing and perfume model and somebody who carries with him an entourage of literally thirty or so super people, many of whom, I’m certain, have important tasks. The second is a former NBA basketball star, arguably the greatest black entrepreneur in the country, a man who has survived a scare with AIDS, does an immense amount of work for charity and is, according to the placard placed at the bottom of the escalator in the lobby, “Sorry for any inconvenience. The Magic Party, scheduled for Saturday night, has been rescheduled for this evening.”
The Magic Party.
The third MVP guest, Mr. Bubbles, was a chimpanzee, the one-time pet of Michael Jackson. Michael and Bubbles are now both gone from this Earth, probably spending eternity together, probably somewhere not quite as nice as downtown New Orleans.
Mr. Bubbles was the star, that Super Bowl Sunday, of the latest E*Trade television commercial. His handlers rented him a room at the Sheraton Canal Street. This particular hotel, centrally located, afforded Mr. Bubbles quick access to the many promotional appearances he must make this week. He was a chimpanzee. I still think about the poor soul who had to clean Mr. Bubbles’ suite and hope that person had a high tolerance for mess.
It was Super Bowl Sunday. I looked out the immense lobby windows and watched the money fly as the ticket scalpers worked.
Stacks of bills.
Grant and Franklin, sullenly stared on through the fingers of strangers, changing possession dozens of times in one day.
Black men wearing five-hundred dollar jogging suits and rings on every finger fanned handfuls of Super Bowl tickets. White men dressed in two hundred dollar replica NFL jerseys, wearing the number of the favorite multi-millionaire player, argued about the ticket market like traders on the floor of the Chicago Board of Exchange. It was a buyers’ market. Tickets were going for just over face value just a few hours before game time. Five hundred, six hundred dollars was the asking price.
The limousines arrived in a constant flow; stretch Mercedes, stretch Lexuses, stretch Expeditions and Excursions, eighteen seat Land Rovers and Lincoln Navigators the size of yachts fought one another for the best display space.
There were six hours to go before kickoff and the lobby was filled with former players. We people of normal proportions strained our necks and memories to place a time and uniform on each face. Was that Anthony Munoz? Was I on the elevator with John Elway? Was that one guy somebody or just a bodyguard for P. Diddy?
By eleven that morning the drinks started once again to flow - the drinks and the money. The bartender was happy to mix a nine-dollar Tanqueray and tonic. The customers were happy to pay. If you’ve been drinking all week, as the super fans had been, all it takes is one early one to get you going. Middle-aged Rams fans, in couples, headed up the street to the shuttle that would take them to the climax of their once-in-a-lifetime vacation. A school of New Englanders trudged by, heavy-lidded from a night of breast gazing on Bourbon Street, a night of drinking Big Ass Beers with crazy straws. They’d been taking photos all week. They’d been thinking of ways to hide them from their children. Big Ass Beers with crazy straws.
A fat man in a Drew Bledsoe jersey and a pair of jockey shorts sat dejectedly on the curb, a jester’s hat perched on his head. The bells at the ends of the hat fell silent as the traffic rolled past. He looked sad, although he held a 64-ounce Budweiser in one hand and a roasted turkey leg in the other.
All around me was the inescapable modern day ear attachment, the cell phone. They played tunes, beeped, quacked; every person of every shape had them clapped to the side of their head, all having conversations with some invisible soul that none of us would ever see, or were walking head bowed, the modern day equivalent of ancient monks, a smart phone having replaced their prayer tablets.
Every conversation had to do with one subject – the money.
The Rams were fourteen point favorites all week long and it hadn’t changed one iota on game day. They were still fourteen point favorites and the cell phone people were taking the Pats and the points, no matter the spread.
After New England surprised the world and won the Super Bowl with a last-minute field goal, I left the Super Dome with my free seat cushion, given to every fan in attendance by the nice people at E*Trade. I guess if you have enough money to pay for a hotel suite for a chimp, you can hand out free seat cushions.
As I walked from the Super Dome a guy offered me one hundred dollars for it.
A hundred bucks?
For a seat cushion?
I watched the money fly.
Stacks of bills.
Stacks of bills.
And I wondered, as I walked, if P.Diddy had thrown money on the Rams, Magic had thrown money on the Pats, or if Mr. Bubbles had thrown poo.