By Ryan Clark | March 31, 2008
My day began much earlier than I expected when I called to reserve a taxi in advance for later in the day and was told "If you don't go now you're probably not going and it may already be too late." It was five hours before the event. Every taxi in the city was booked that solid.
Wrestlemania, for those who don't know, was in a very disreputable neighborhood of Orlando called Orange Blossom Trail, known both for its adult entertainment options and for its run down housing projects. Locals came out and stood in the doorways of their apartments to stare at the tourists parading loudly through their neighborhood to spend fortunes on luxurious vacations, while children rushed your car with signs offering to let you park on their parents' front lawn for $20. There were no restaurants or sports bars, only a closed gas station and a Travel Lodge, and my taxi driver warned me repeatedly not to stray from the direct vicinity of the Citrus Bowl. It was an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved because it didn't feel safe at all but it also didn't feel respectful for fans to be hawking platinum ringside seats for obscene amounts of money while using these impoverished people's lawns as their storefront.
There were scattered tailgaters parked outside the building, many of them blasting WWE theme songs out of their stereos. Some were playing a carnival game trying to toss bean bags into a hole, while most were relaxing with beers and alcohol cups in their hands and talking in detail about wrestling. One group I was standing next to was talking about how pumped up they were that Ric Flair had given a shout out to Chris Benoit at the Hall of Fame, and how loudly they'd cheered. "I was so glad he stuck it in Vince's face. You can't talk about The Horsemen without talking about Chris Benoit."
Security let people into the building around 4:20 PM, two hours before the dark match, but a lot of that time was squandered because of over zealous but uninformed security and outraged fans. Gate B, Gate C and Gate D seemed to be spoken unclearly, as fans waited in long lines at each only to be told they were in the wrong one. Some went back and forth from B to C to B to C until they were about ready to strangle someone. Security made me throw away a backpack I'd had throughout most of college and the year's since but couldn't provide me with any explanation as to why that was necessary other than the redundant one. "Because you're not allowed." I wasn't sure if they'd consider my cloth signs to be banners so I ended up stuffing them up my jacket sleeves and in the brim of my pants, and filling my pockets with affordable refreshments before barreling past them fast enough they couldn't say anything. It only got worse when you went inside as there were huge backups of people caused by the fact that they had to re-examine each person's ticket every time they wanted to go get a hot dog. The security guards inside, meanwhile, would start shouting during the most dramatic and emotional moments of the matches because the crowd was trying to push up against the entrance ramp guard rail. Ric Flair would have Shawn Michaels in the figure four and, apparently having no idea who was in the ring or what it was about, they would want to stop and have a conversation about stadium policy. Fans became agitated to say the least, which only prompted further warnings. The refreshment options were extensive, including giant ham hawks and Monster energy drinks.
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