Let’s face it – which well-off Indian in their right mind would willingly do a chauffeur’s job? Not me! Chauffeurs mostly drive and then sleep between driving assignments. For the most part, my memory of drivers is that of utterly bored, sleepy looking folks who often look like they are doing me a big favor!
So when a friend mentioned that her husband was a volunteer driver at the Seibel Open tennis tournament in downtown San Jose, I was intrigued.
I met the guy a few weeks later and he had this star- struck, happy, look about his face. He was a software engineer by profession. He worked the late night (7.30 -11.30 p.m.) shifts on a couple of nights and a couple of weekend shifts, for the 10 day event. “You get to drive brand new Mercedes cars, you chauffeur pro tennis players and you get a free ticket to watch”; was his pitch. And I was in.
Growing up in India, watching the four Grand Slams on TV, religiously, every year, I was a reasonably ardent tennis fan. It is entirely besides the point that I had never even seen a tennis court in India. The only professional sport I had watched live was cricket and the Asian Games in 1980.
The prospect of actually watching Andre Agassi live was a dream opportunity! And the thought that one would drive him to practice or a game was unbelievably tantalizing!
(For the record, he’s now retired and I have never driven him…his entourage gets their own separate car and I have heard he drives himself!)
My first drive was from the Fairmont Hotel to Courtside Club in Los Gatos – and it was Paul Goldstein and Jim Thomas. Jim is a popular guy amongst the volunteers because he is from Stanford and a friendly gentleman. We talked about the Chennai open because they had just returned from there. They gushed about the Five-star hotels and the crowds at the open. We discussed our kids. Although I was vaguely nervous about the route (we did have a printout with all to/fro directions listed), it evaporated when we were cruising on highway 17 in the Mercedes ML450, my ride for that event.
I have since driven James Blake and Robby Ginepri and Mardy Fish before they hit the big time. I have driven unheard of players from Chile and Russia and Thailand. Almost all players are quite sweet and down to earth. You chat a while and the drive is over before you know it! In between drives, I watch them hit balls with incredible power and precision; and they make it look so effortless. The view from the sidelines is a whole world above watching on TV – to me, that is reward enough!
Now, four years later, I am still driving the pros every February. Yes, they are not all stars. But they are the world’s best tennis players; and that is no mean achievement. In a tough and highly competitive sport where nobody but the individual is responsible, these guys excel at international levels and live exhaustingly rigorous days across the globe. If nothing else, you come away with a great appreciation of their achievement.