From the Press Box: Ups and Downs

Welcome to "From the Press Box", where Raw Charge's reluctant-yet-enthusiastic correspondent in the Amalie Arena press box, Clark Brooks, takes you behind the scenes of the exciting world of watching hockey from the rafters for the purpose of writing articles about it.

The best thing about having a team-issued credential to cover the Lightning is that I'm a Lightning fan, and I like to believe that being a credentialed member of the media allows me to be an ambassador on behalf of fellow fans who will never get to experience the game of hockey that way. Through this weekly column, I'll be sharing peeks behind the magical media curtain with you. Today, we're going to talk about getting in and out of it.

A brief history of the elevator that gets people up to the Amalie Arena press box...

1994: They started building the Ice Palace, which would eventually be known as Amalie Arena. Among the things built in the original construction was a freight elevator that the press used to access the press box.
Every day since then: That’s been good enough.

The press box at Amalie Arena is located on the seventh floor of the building. It’s pretty much the only thing on the seventh floor. There are some mysterious tunnels that lead to catwalks and air conditioning vents and wiring and who knows what else,  but the press box is the only “destination” on that floor. There’s exactly one elevator that takes people higher than the 6th floor, or “Terrace Level” and it’s a big metal cage with a chain link fence for a gate on the inside and big, slammy doors that open up and down in the middle like a robot’s mouth on the outside. For all the amenities added to the building over the years, this is the Box That Upgrades Forgot. It’s not an exaggeration to say that every restroom in the place is cozier and comfy-er than the freight elevator.

Now, we established previously that sportswriters like to complain. But when it comes to the freight/press elevator, they may have a legitimate gripe. Not because of a lack of sconces and wood paneling, but because of the operation and navigation of the elevator itself.

For starters, it’s a freight elevator. All the other elevators are there for the use of patrons, so this is the only one that hauls staff members, pallets full of beer kegs and  dumpsters full of garbage from floor to floor. If you’ve ever been there on a busy night, you can imagine how much traffic those elements create, so you can probably also imagine how difficult it can be to get a spot on it. It’s more than likely that it will go all the way up and all the way down, stopping at every floor on both trips, every time someone gets on.

For another, it’s old. And what do old elevators do? They break down and get stuck sometimes. Somebody getting stuck in an elevator is one of those things that’s hilarious when it happens to somebody else and a source of nerve-shredding anxiety when it happens to you. It’s only happened to me once (although I probably just flushed all my elevator karma by mentioning that) and it was awful. A stuck elevator gets really hot, really fast and if you think you aren’t claustrophobic, being trapped in an elevator, even a relatively big one, will teach you some things you may not have known about yourself.

But the waiting for it when you need to be somewhere in a hurry is the hardest part. Miss it by a second and expect to wait up to 15 minutes or more for it to get back.

Such was the case the time I was trying to get upstairs from the ground floor prior to one of the playoff games last year. I could hear PA announcer Paul Porter reading his pre-game announcements and was sure I’d miss a sizable chunk of the first period. That’s when Steve Yzerman rescued me.

The Lightning GM watches games from a booth in the press box and he was running a bit late in ascending to his perch. He was with an Amalie Arena staff member with a walkie-talkie who called the elevator operator to tell him Mr. Yzerman needed to get upstairs pronto. It turns out that elevators, even ones that are almost 30 years old, have an ‘Express’ function that allows an operator to cancel requests and travel directly between any two floors with no stops between. Mr. Yzerman is someone who merits Express Service, one of maybe four people in the building with that kind of clout. Steve Yzerman doesn’t have time to stop at the fourth floor so someone with a rack or two of hot dog buns can get down to the Promenade level. As it turns out, anyone who happens to hop on the elevator with him under those circumstances reaps the benefit of Express mode as well. It’s like having a friend with a helicopter show up to pluck you out of rush hour traffic on the Howard Frankland. As such, both Mr. Yzerman and I made it into our respective seats before Sonya Bryson sang “Oh, say can you see...”

I guess the moral of this story is, if you’re in a hurry, it’s good to hang around with Steve Yzerman.