“Alone” columns are accounts of attending sports and pop culture events … alone.
I exit off the highway at around 3:30 p.m. Monday afternoon after getting off work an hour early. I checked the thermometer in my car. Seventy-five degrees. The south bay is usually a solid 15-20 degrees hotter than San Francisco, especially during the summer. I roll down the windows and kept the air conditioning on, just for my hands. Odd, I know. For someone who sweats as much as me, I needed all the air I could get. I can stick my left hand out the window, but my right hand gets extremely warm also. “It’s an Indian thing.” That’s how I would usually end the conversation when I explain this phenomenon to any dumbfounded passenger in my car.
The parking lot across from the SAP Center in San Jose is conveniently located just next to the freeway. Parking is plentiful, and it takes only a few minutes to wait on traffic and jump on the highway after an event, unlike the other arena parking nightmare stories you hear about other venues.
“Twenty dollars, sir.”
But that’s the problem. It’s a bit on the expensive side. Usually this isn’t an issue. I’d just split four ways with all of my friends. Today, I hand the parking attendant a full twenty dollar bill, resigned to the fact that I’m not going to get any change. Who cares, I don’t need to explain my surprisingly spendthrift ways to anyone. Not today, at least.
Benny Benassi and the birth of “Alone”
I decided to write this series about four years ago. Well, officially I told my editors of my intentions about a month ago. But it was more like the summer right before I started teaching in 2011 when the idea came to me. It was around the time the EDM scene had started to pick up. DJs were flying through venues all around San Francisco. Now forgive me, because I’m going to sound like the biggest fucking hipster ever, but I loved dance music all the way back in junior high. So when I saw Benny Benassi was coming in August to one of the local clubs up in the city, I wanted to go. I had a car, I was of age, and I had enough disposable income and no financial responsibilities to give a rat’s ass about how much anything would cost to go see him that night. But there was a problem.
None of my friends wanted to go.
Not Joey. Not Sara. Not even fucking Josh who pops molly like they’re Starbursts. They all had their excuses, but the most prevalent one was “yeah, I’m not really into that music.” It didn’t help that most of my friends were younger than me and had left to go back to school for the year. It came to the point where I was offering to buy people’s tickets just so I had someone to go with. Still no takers.
I remember sitting on my couch pretty flustered the evening of the show. My mother walked into the room and instantly asked what was wrong, as if her “Inside Out” emotions had hit every emergency button inside her brain. I explained everything to her.
“Why don’t you go alone?”
Now, my mom was a pretty lenient woman (even though I was still living under her roof as a college graduate,) but I instantly knew she was bluffing. Shit, even I wouldn’t let myself go to a club alone that was 40 miles away. I scoffed at the suggestion and moped off towards my room.
“Alone.” Hah! What a ridiculous thought.We’ve all gone to movies alone, that’s easy. You just sit there, watch the movie, and leave. A dance club is way different.
But as the months passed and the rejections to more events piled on, the thought of doing stuff alone didn’t sound so stupid. Shit, my other idea of inventing an imaginary robot friend that I could keep in my closet for when my other friends couldn’t do anything that weekend (fuck off, I named him Brad).
Four years later, I’m finally taking my mom’s advice. The point of this series is for me to figure out the social and internal repercussions of going to events alone that you’d usually attend with friends and socialize. And there was no perfect first candidate for my experiment than WWE’s “Monday Night Raw.”
“So you’ve been to concerts alone right? What do you usually tell people.”
Finding a good excuse. That was my top concern of this whole thing. I consider myself an extremely social and approachable person, so I wasn’t worried about not having anyone to talk to. I just wasn’t sure what I was going to tell people when they asked where my friends were, or what I was doing there by myself. So I had to enlist the advice of a friend, Issac, who had actually done this before.
“Well I’ve only done it like a handful of times, but if it ever comes up, I just tell people I’m writing for a music blog.”
That made the most sense. Attaching some type of occupational responsibility to my attendance would deflect all doubts cast by anybody sitting near me (after all, it’s not like it would be too far from the truth). Surely that would put all qualms of being by myself in a sea of 20,000 screaming wrestling fans at ease. I figured that was all the advice I needed.
Just be sure to give some to your friends
I send that same first text message to about five different people during those first ten minutes waiting outside SAP center. Between each one, I check Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter again. And after playing my first round of social media roulette, the only progress I’ve made is moving fifteen feet forward out of the shade and into the sun while hundreds of people still separated me from the entrance.
In front of me, a young boy wearing a John Cena shirt complains to his mom about the heat. I nod slightly in agreement, then quickly put my hand under my shirt to check the sweat on my back. I might as well have dipped my hand into a Louisiana swamp. The back of my shirt is probably drenched and sweating is a huge insecurity of mine. But it’s not exactly like I can ask someone to check for my shirt for me.
I peek behind me to see if my perspiration has become a discussion point for anyone. Two guys in their mid-twenties are in an intense discussion about the former NXT champion Kevin Owens and whether or not the WWE is booking him correctly. I certainly think they are, as I really have enjoyed his feud with John Cena and really was looking forward to see how he would work with Cesaro. Of course, I keep all of this to myself and thank my lucky stars that nobody is talking about my shirt. Or talking to me at all.
“Who wants a Cesaro Section sign!?”
I look over to my left and a gentleman is handing out printed out sheets of paper that in fact say “Cesaro Section.” It looks as if he’s printed out several thousand of them.
“Sure, I’ll take one,” I meekly say over the troves of fans shouting.
“Here you go,” the man says handing me about twenty of them.
“Oh, I just need one.”
“Bah no worries. Just make sure to give some to your friends.”
No one else cares, why do I?
By the time I find my seat, I’ve already finished about $6.50 worth of my $10 beer. I look around. Only about 15% of the arena is filled despite the fact that the show is starting in about twenty minutes. Nobody is in my row yet. I pick up my stack of “Cesaro Section” and place them one at a time on top of each of the seats on my row.
A couple finally sits down next to me. The boyfriend is carrying a tray with two sodas and a bag overflowing with popcorn. Some of it falls next to me, unbeknownst to the boyfriend. No harm, no foul. I kick it into the next row.
With the arena now at about 75% capacity, ring announcer Lillian Garcia picks up the microphone and announces that the show will be live in less than ten seconds. The scattering of your typical WWE chants (“Let’s go Cena / Cena sucks!”) volcanoes into full on cheers and jeers. I join in to some of the louder chants and clapping, especially as the alcohol begins to settle into my bloodstream. WWE fans have a funny way of making you feel included at all times, even when they don’t say a damn word to you. It’s a feeling I first discovered when I attended “WrestleMania” just a few months ago. You’re never faced with the cynical “you know wrestling is fake right?” comments followed by high-browed scoffing. You’re just allowed to exist. To be.
Maybe that’s why I didn’t feel compelled to join in during any of the wrestling conversations in line or inside the arena. Or was it because after my second beer, I felt like I was slumped on my couch instead of a raucous event center watching greasy-haired gladiators put on an impressive display of athleticism.
But if that were true, why did I keep checking Twitter to see how many people were responding to my tweets? Or how many likes I had gotten on my Instagram post. Or which of my Facebook friends had posted the best link of the day. Or if anyone had responded to my tweets. Why couldn’t I just sit comfortably and watch the show?
I end up skipping the Rusev / Mark Henry match to go to the bathroom and get my next beer. I hardly opened my mouth to ask the couple separating me from the aisle if I could pass them before they both instantly stood up and moved out of my way. I suppose non-verbal cues count as a social interaction, my first of the night while in the arena.
I return, this time with significantly less beer in my cup and a plate full of chicken tenders and fries. Not exactly the best meal to help me meet my fitness or financial goals for the month, but fuck it. Again, no words exchanged as I scoot pass the couple in my row. No need yet to explain why I was sitting alone.
And that’s when it sort of hits me. How conceited am I to believe that anyone would even care about the fact that I am unaccompanied? Why did I think the fact that I had showed by myself was somehow a bigger spectacle than the “Monday Night Raw” show on which thousands of people had spent their hard earned money for tickets. They were here to watch wrestling, not to pity me.
Nobody wanted talked to me. Nobody cared about the fact that I was alone. So why did I?
“You think Paige will wrestle tonight?”
I looked to my left.
“She’s supposed to be on the live Stone Cold Steve Austin podcast right after the show yeah? Will she wrestle?”
The boyfriend to my left had wasn’t talking to his girlfriend. He was facing me.
“Um, probably? Yeah, I think so.”
“Ah nice. She’s our favorite. We wouldn’t want to miss her.”
The “We” factor
I never really figured out why that guy asked that question. Probably because I was the only person sitting next to him at the time. But something about his response stuck with me particularly. “We wouldn’t want to miss her.”
Looking back on the event, the social anxiety of being alone really transformed into a monster of my mind. I had built up the experience to a point where my expectations turned into my biggest enemy. But again, many of these feelings from the event certainly could have been elicited due to the fact I was at “Monday Night Raw,” an event that draws a certain demographic of fans that perhaps don’t have the same reaction to someone sitting alone in the stands aimlessly scrolling through his phone.
Still, it got to a point where I felt obligated to use social media as an outlet to distract myself from the emptiness. Most of the time, we do that anyway though. I can’t count the number of times where my friends and I are out at a bar and we fail to even make eye contact because we’re all scrolling through our Snapchats. It’s just become part of our social experiences in 2015. So while it’s possible that social media was my crutch during my Alone experience, I don’t really know if it drastically changed my experience.
The more compelling aspect of the whole evening that I didn’t realize until a few days afterward had nothing to do with the being alone in the moment. It was more that I didn’t share that experience with anyone. Years later, I’m not going to be able to grab a beer with one of my friends and say “Dude, remember when we went to ‘Raw?’ That was awesome!”
I had posted on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat that night, yet weeks later, it’s near impossible to remember specific events from that night. That’s the “we-factor” I felt like I was missing. Perhaps if I shut off social media next time, my brain will be able to absorb and record more detailed, specific memories. I’ll have to give that a shot.
So long parking attendant, I’ll miss you most of all
As I walk out of the show, I check my phone. My battery is at close to 5%. Doesn’t matter though. I’m steps away from my car charger. I plug in then start the car. The temperature has dropped, but not enough to stop me from rolling down the windows. I drive past the parking lot attendant. He waves, but in no particular direction, and most likely not directly at me. I wave back anyway and mouth the words “thank you” to him.
I rest my left arm on the car door with my hand stuck out the window. As I enter the freeway, I notice my right hand is still a bit sweaty. I flick on the air conditioning and drive back towards San Francisco.