On Friday, May 27th, my loyal scooter performed what is perhaps its greatest service to date: It got me to the live taping of American Ninja Warrior at the scenic “Richmond Power Plant,” way up (way, way up) on North Delaware Avenue. Are there things in life more important than American Ninja Warrior? Sure there are. Football and beer come to mind. But as it is off-season, ANW stepped up to assume the mantle of Most Important Thing In My Life Right Now.
The Anticipation: I had heard that ANW was coming to Philadelphia months ago, but tickets weren’t on sale yet. So I did the only thing I could do — I signed up for an email update, and I waited, hoped, and prayed. My hopes and prayers were answered a week ago. The day started poorly, with a notification that my May 27th beer class at The Wine School had been canceled. As I stared down the barrel of a Stygian, beerless void, I struggled to find hope. My struggle lasted about five minutes. That’s when a silver lining came barreling into my email inbox in the form of a notification that tickets to the Philadelphia ANW taping were available and that the taping was Friday, May 27th. The Fates had intervened and, in their wisdom and mercy, had saved me from having to make the gut-wrenching choice between the already-paid-for beer class and being on the set of ANW. In what seemed like the longest quadrillionth of a second ever, I logged into the ANW ticketing website and secured myself a passport to salmon-ladder-induced bliss:
Ticket printed and in-hand, logic dictated that I wander around my office telling anyone who would listen about my good fortune. The first person I approached looked confused for a moment, then said, “Wait — is that that show with the guys who run around jumping over stuff?” Yes! Yes it is, I said. The next question was whether I was going to be a contestant on the show. (If coworkers assume that I do parkour, then I am doing something right.) The second person I told asked me if tickets are still available. Others asked me why I wanted to ride to the middle of nowhere at night to stand around for four hours. “Because,” I said, “it’s going to be awesome.”
The Fine Print: As with everything in America, the ANW ticket contained a lot of fine print. A LOT of fine print. By attending the event I was surrendering whatever rights I may have ever had to my likeness — possibly my soul. By attending, I was agreeing to whatever type of search and seizure the show’s producers thought I needed when I arrived. And I was certifying that I could stand through four-hours of taping, regardless of whatever world-ending climatological cataclysm might choose to befall the venue. There was also a dress code. No clothing with logos or any white-colored clothing. Somehow, magically, by the time I got home with my ticket, every piece of clothing that I owned had become either white or logo-bearing. Is the name of my college a logo? The Centurion brand from last year’s Christmas-in-July run? Did I want to risk finding out the hard way? In today’s brand-driven, status-worshipping society, everything has a trademark on it. This was going to be my moment as a nameless speck on a nationally televised event. Naturally, I wanted to shine. And it looked like I might have to shine in business casual attire or a suit. Or, as a guy in a South Philly cafe recommended, I could simply put duct tape over any trademark or brand name on my shirt.
“A Great Story, Assuming I Survive”: As time slowly ticked by, I began to map my route to and from the event. The ANW ticket euphamistically characterized the venue as the “Richmond Power Plant.” (Sounds nice.) Google Maps had a different appellation: “Sanitation Convenience Center.” (Sounds less nice. And also, inaccurate, as 3901 North Delaware Avenue is conveniently located near nothing.) I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking: Wait a minute — 3901 North Delaware Avenue sounds familiar. Why do I know that venue? Because: You likely recognize it as one of the Philadelphia filming locations for the movie 12 Monkeys — you know, the one set in a dystopian, future world devastated by disease, where a convict is sent back in time to gather information about the man-made virus that wiped out most of the human population. (Yep — I was gonna ride my pink scooter to there.)
And, according to Google images, “there” looks like this:
For the uninitiated, North Delaware Avenue is not a continguous road, due to some ill-placed rail beds. Riding the 170i at midnight on I-95 seemed like taking bad odds on certain death. Riding home on local roads through Port Richmond and Kensington at midnight seemed like ever-so-slightly-better odds. (And I had such fond memories of my last tour through Kensington.) For added fun, the weather report predicted thunderstorms late on Friday evening/early Saturday morning — right when I’d be riding home. (Thankfully, the thunderstorms never materialized.) As I told one person after explaining my plan for a midnight ride through Kensington in the rain on a Friday night: “It’ll make a great story, assuming I survive.” (After a brief meeting with a trusts and estates lawyer to get my affairs in order, I was ready for the journey, which — in a tribute to Bruce Lee and in keeping with the overall martial arts/ninja theme — I decided to nickname: The Game of Death.)
“Zen and the Art of Waiting in Line”: As I was leaving my house, I grabbed the essentials: an armored jacket, armored gloves, full-face helmet, and a book. Since Marcus Aurelius’ Mediations would not fit in my purse, I elected to take Shambhala Pocket Classics’ “Zen Essence: The Science of Freedom.” Because when you are waiting in line for 3 hours and 45 minutes, you need to read about Zen philosophy. And when you get within nine people of the front of the line and all of a sudden you learn that there may not be any room left to seat additional people, then you really need to read about Zen philosophy. Like the following passage from Zen Master Yuanwu regarding “Essential Nature and Ultimate Truth” for instance:
“Zen study requires you to see your essential nature and understand ultimate truth (e.g., that you may have waited in line for nearly four hours for no reason). Immediately forget feelings and detach from perceptions (e.g., like that desire you had to see ANW), so your heart is clear and your mind is simple, not comparing gain (e.g., of those who have already been seated) and loss (e.g., vs. you, Liz), not making a contest of better or worse.”
It’s like Zen Master Yuanwu was speaking right to me…
But this story was destined to have a happy ending! A few moments after I contemplated the application of Zen principles to standing around at the Richmond Power Plant, they decided to let another group of folks in.
And I made it to Shangri-la.
Twenty-one years and the set of ANW did a lot to spruce up the old 12 Monkeys set. And it is impossible for me to express how amazing the experience of being at the taping was (mostly because of the nondisclosure form that I had to sign) — but also due to genuine awesomeness!! The newspaper was able to take pictures: lookie here.
American Ninja Scooter: Around 1 am, I decided it was time to attempt to get home, riding the gauntlet from 3901 N. Delaware Ave to the place where I live (which is far away from 3901 N. Delaware Ave — as is pretty much everything). Let me assure you that it takes incredible skill to remain alive on Allegheny Avenue at 1 am on a scooter. Incredible. Skill. I felt a little guilty about riding with my high beam on, until I noticed that pretty much everyone else was riding around with their high beams on as well. Quick application of Kant’s categorical imperative illustrated that I was behaving morally and I shed my guilt. I was sort of relieved when I got back to Girard, until I realized that everyone on Girard was trying to kill me too.
But after 45 minutes of daring-do, I made it to the top of Mount Midoriyama, I mean — home, I made it home.