You've never been to Wimbledon?
Let's walk around.
Get your umbrella first. It began raining in England the day Shakespeare learned to spell and hasn't stopped.
Let's go through Gate 5 on Church Road, a narrow, winding street that cuts between the tennis club and a little golf course used as a "Car Park" during the tournament.
First thing you see on the grounds is a pole with directional signs to such places as "Number 1 Court North" and "Debenture Lounge."
Where, you ask, are the strawberries?
American ballparks have hot dogs, Wimbledon has strawberries and cream.
Seven strawberries in a small plastic cup, moistened with about nine drops of cream, cost $1.80.
Eat up, because there's a strawberry crisis coming. Too early a summer, too much rain lately have conspired to limit the strawberry crop. By the end of the tournament, it is possible--oh, the shame--that Wimbledon will import strawberries from France or Italy.
If you don't want strawberries, and if you're a better man than I, Gunga Din, you might stop at the next booth for a Dutchee. That's a sausage that appears to have been cooked continuously since Christmas Eve. It is interred in a bun the consistency of I-95. It costs $1.50, not including the bicarbonate and/or dental bills.
The veteran Wimbledon gourmet, Barry Lorge, sports editor of the San Diego Union, passes along a bit of history about the Dutchee.
"They used to serve hamburgers and fried onions here, but they stopped because the aroma disturbed the guests in the Royal Box at Centre Court. A local paper here had this headline: 'Royalty Gives Onions the Chop.'
"To replace the hamburgers, they went to the sausages. They were called Oscars in the beginning and later were Frikendellen before becoming Dutchees."
Don'tee eatee Dutchee, unless you plan to wash it down with something from the "Champagne and Pimm's Bar." There for $40 you can buy a bottle of Veuve Clicquot N. V. 1973, or for $5 a Pimm's Cup of sloe gin with cucumber slices floating in it.
Before we move on to the tennis courts, for this is a tennis tournament and not just a picnic in the rain, let's stop for a souvenir. You'll have to wait behind the young schoolgirls. No major sports event in America draws the number of young girls who come to see Chrissie and Martina and, for sure, the new Swedish heartthrob, Mats Wilander, only 17. Most of the girls come in school uniforms, including rolled-down white socks.
All these white socks are buying posters of Mats.
You, on the other hand, might want a 90-minute videotape recording of the John McEnroe story. It's called "The Rites of Passage" and sells for $80. Or, if you're a cheap New Yorker, you can buy a wall poster of your hero for $1.75. Even with the supposed cease-fire in the Falklands, posters of Guillermo Vilas, the Argentine star, aren't selling well.
Concessionaire Hazel Cole will tell you, "No one wants to know the Argentines."
Borg memorabilia isn't moving, either, what with the Swede staying away this year. Without him, Vilas and three other of the world's top 10 rated players, there hasn't been much electricity about this tournament yet. Attendance is 30,000 less than for the same first three days a year ago. Part of that is because there's a subway strike, and part is because Borg isn't at Centre Court.
If you care about the sport, you want to see Augusta in April, Kentucky in May, South Bend in October.
And Centre Court in June.
Of Wimbledon's 17 courts, 16 are arrayed around the stadium holding Centre Court. There are narrow sidewalks through the maze of courts. Spectators mostly stand and watch. It was on such a sidewalk, by the way, that a Wimbledon umpire was arrested the other day and fined $200 on the official charge of "insulting behavior." That behavior, according to the local newspapers, consisted of "pressing himself too closely" to a schoolgirl.
Not a hundred feet from this maze of sidewalks is the players' locker room, where the girls gather with their tiny cameras to gawk as players slip into cars Wimbledon provides and carry them about London. "The bobbies at the locker room door," wrote novelist John McPhee, "are nine feet tall, carry night sticks by Hillerich & Bradsby."
Past the gawkers, it's a short walk up the steps to Centre Court.
It's worth the trip.
Not that it's an architectural wonder.
It looks like an old minor league baseball park spruced up.
All dull green paint on wood. There's a corrugated-metal roof hanging over most of the wood-slatted bleachers, each seat with a back to it.
Down front are some cushioned fold-up chairs. There's a spot on each side, behind the expensive seats, about 40 feet deep and 150 feet long. These are the standing room areas, where maybe 3,000 people are packed in. The Royal Box has green wicker chairs with green cushions.
Let's watch a moment of McEnroe's opening day match. With the crowd of 14,000 in the old ballpark, here come the linesmen marching onto Centre Court in single file, each in mauve and green outfits. They are applauded. Then come the ball boys, to more applause, and dramatically, McEnroe walks in a second later, rackets cradled in the crook of his left arm.
At match's end, the rackets re-cradled, McEnroe makes the traditional nod to the Royal Box.
The Dutchess of Kent nods in reply.
Which brings to mind the time in the '30s when Don Budge, an American, had to be reminded to bow to the queen. He came back from under the bleachers. He bowed. Then he waved. And he said, "Hiya, queenie."