I joined a very exclusive club as I began my trip. No, not the mile high club — I’m talking about becoming one of the ‘elite’ Americans with “the card,” the American Express card.
I had always been hit over the head with all the Am Ex marketing about how good they are with international travel help and benefits. Well, I am here to tell you — don’t bother! Did you know that for any international charges you make with an Am Ex card in another currency they charge you a fee? That would mean a fee for nearly every single transaction I’m doing this whole year! Luckily my other credit card does not do this and pretty much has all the travel benefits that AmEx has. I’m glad I found out about the fees before I left and have basically gotten the Am Ex card for nothing! Until now.
Here in Melbourne I found one good use for it. A few nights ago I joined thousands of Melbournians in Federation Square — the city’s central meeting point and all around ‘hang out plaza” to watch the final match of the Australian Open.
I had been fortunate enough to go to one match live the first week of the tournament. The Australian Open is the first of the world’s four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, held each January at Melbourne Park. The other three are the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open held in Queens, NY.
The Tennis Grounds here are just a quick ten minute walk from the Central Business District and they are beautiful. There are nearly twenty tennis courts with several matches going on at once as well as the bigger matches taking place in the two larger arenas—Vodafone and Rod Laver Arena. Thousands of tennis fans, local Melbournians, and just plain ol’ tourists looking for a party wander around the grounds. It is apparently one of the livelier world tennis tourneys.
For a sport that is a bit on the tame side and more ‘adult’ than say rugby or football, the Australian Open does have its share of crazy, possibly not-so-sober fans. I saw many a young mob from Croatia and other parts of the world draped in their country’s flags and dripping with the requisite face paint.
You can buy a simple $20 ground pass and just wander in and out of the lesser matches. My friend Kay — who is here getting her Master’s at the University of Melbourne — and I splurged a little more and got tickets into Rod Laver Arena for the second round. The arena was named to honor one of Australia’s greatest tennis players of all time. Rod Laver is the only player in the history of tennis to have captured two Grand Slams (1962 and 1969). A Grand Slam is the ultimate in tennis — where a player wins the four major titles in the same calendar year.
We got to see a few of today’s biggest stars play including two who would eventually become champs in the end — the U.S. Bryan Twins in Doubles, and Roger Federer, the Swiss Stallion who went on the win the Men’s Final here for the second year in a row. I also got to see our very own Andy Roddick easily defeat Frenchman Marc Gicquel, but unfortunately he later went on to just get mentally crushed by the fierce and ‘on fire’ Federer.
So, of course, I didn’t have tickets to the actual final match, but they were showing it on the big screen TV outside in nearby Federation Square. I hopped on my bike and rode over to join the mobs ready to watch some good tennis. I realized American Express was one of the big sponsors of the Open. They had an ‘exclusive’ seating area just for AM EX card holders, like me. I grabbed a seat, noshed on some snacks, and cheered for the underdog: hot Chilean, Fernando Gonzales. Plus, I got to practice my waning second language skills with some friendly Chileans sitting next to me. Muy guapo Fernando put up a good fight, but in the end Federer is just a maven on the court.
For this one night, I guess membership had its privileges.