The Long Walk To Thompson-Boling Arena


The Long Walk To Thompson-Boling Arena

Let me preface this story by informing you this has nothing to do with basketball. It doesn’t even have anything to do with the University of Tennessee. This is a story about one naïve, uninformed, directionally-challenged, middle-aged woman and her 66-year-old dad just trying to get cheaper concert tickets.

Learning that Pentatonix was coming to Knoxville in December got me and my dad a little excited. We were interested, but ticket prices weren’t posted until actual tickets were available for purchase. Cue us penny-pinchers. We decided instead of buying online and paying convenience fees, we’d be at the Thompson-Boling box office right when they opened at 10am on the day tickets were released so we could see prices, decide if we wanted to buy, and get them without fees. I’ve done the same thing at the Civic Center. My parents did the same where they used to live. Both those places had a convenient place to park and an air-conditioned or heated building to enter and a seating chart to view. Easy and quick! You can avoid all those extra fees that way! Call us cheap if you will, but I call it financially smart.

Setting the scene

Friday, August 25, 2023, 9:45am-1:30pm
Tied for hottest day of the year in 2023. Temperatures reached mid-90s, real feel temperature was something like 106 degrees. The radio advised to stay indoors on this day. Heat index and air quality were dangerous.

Note: I am a Tennessee transplant. I do not know the UT campus AT ALL.

Arriving with my dad to the arena via GPS with time to spare, we discovered there was no parking lot or empty parking garage like we were used to. There were some meter spots which were all taken, so we headed to the parking garage right next to it. The counter-downer screen showed over 100 spots still available, but the mechanics of that must go by preschool math because as we circled the garage with 50 other moving cars, there was nothing. Not a single spot. Not to mention, you needed a student tag which I did not have.

Exiting this garage was not much different than trying to leave The Twilight Zone. We just kept going deeper and deeper into the ground, never seeing where I entered and came out on a completely different street. We drove past the meters again to see them all still occupied. We continued up the street looking back and forth for any lots or garages that allow civilians like us. Yellow, purple, red, blue, student, teacher, and UT employee lots were rampant, but nothing was marked “non-UT people who don’t understand our campus, need box office tickets and are trying to save money on convenience fees by showing up at 10am on a school day – park here.” If only we were so lucky. This is when I remembered the one spot I knew and I felt smart for one moment! I thought about those three times I went to the UT Gardens where there was a parking lot with several visitor spots. I mentioned this to my dad and since he knows even less about the campus than I do, he went along with it. Once I found my way there, I was so excited to finally park somewhere.Once we stepped out into the sweltering August sun, I pulled up Maps on my phone to see how to walk from the gardens to Thompson-Boling. It said six minutes by car, which didn’t sound great, and I failed to switch my maps to ‘walking’ to see what that time would be. We started our quest up “whatever” street, which meant an immediate hill. About 0.3 miles into it, we were already dripping sweat and decided to take an A/C break in a building. Thinking we were already halfway there (because I’m really bad at this), we decided to continue on. We apparently were still an entire mile away and by the time we got there — way past that 10am goal — you could have used my dad as a slip ‘n slide.To rub salt into the wound, we realized the box office was outdoors, so our only refuge from the heat was the shade. There were no laminated seating charts, just a really slow computer that kept getting swiveled back and forth between the college student and us. After thirty minutes of technical issues and picking seats (yes, we did buy), we knew our return to the car was imminent. I’m positive my dad was dreading it more than me. I asked the nice student if there was someone “back there” who by chance had a campus golf cart that could drive us back to our car. “I wish,” she exclaimed with the energy of a 20-year-old, and then continued to tell us that she herself had to run a mile here to get to her job. With no magic golf cart, no student bus passes, and my car over a mile away, we dreaded our walk back as the sun beat harder and the humidity just kept rising.Looking at the map on my phone, it “appeared” as though the gardens were a straight, albeit curved, shot from the arena if we just took Neyland Drive instead of walking back through campus. Once again, my dad just trusted me. He should probably stop doing that. So, we ventured off towards a road I knew very little about. I assumed, since it bordered a college campus, it would be pedestrian-friendly. Once we got to the stoplight, we had a choice to legally cross the busy street at a safe crosswalk to reach the sidewalk OR stay on this side and walk in the grass. Since our destination was on this side, we picked the grass. The bumpy, hole-y, uneven, unsafe grass. The grass quickly turned into a hill that forced us next to a railroad track.

At this point, we could choose if we wanted to die via train or via car.

As our grassy area continued getting smaller and now blocked from the road by a guardrail, we neared an underpass that somehow turned into a dead end. The road continued on our left and the train track continued on our right, but the grass in between just stopped and became a wall. We were forced to cross the street, but not before backtracking to where we could get around the guardrail. At this point, I’m starting to worry about what the drivers think of our situation. Is she a street walker? Are they homeless? Is that girl in trouble? Is that man going to keel over? There is no longer a stoplight or crosswalk. Our only hope was our prayers and the grassy median between the lanes. Once the 60mph cars let up, we did our best power walk to make it across. The heat index is out of control, full sun, no breeze. Did I mention neither of us ate breakfast that day or had water with us? As we shuffled along on the sidewalk next to the zooming cars, we noticed the sidewalk getting thinner and thinner until there was no longer a sidewalk. We were just on the shoulder of the road. Across the 4-lane state highway was a sidewalk, but no grassy median this time…just a spot where those yellow diagonal lines are where cars aren’t supposed to go. At this point, we have become the people we usually yell at from our own cars. Now that we were back on the side of the road we started on, alive I might add, I started taking note of our landmarks we were passing including a sewage treatment plant. What an adventure!

The sidewalk ended AGAIN and we were forced to walk through mulch beds, in between roadside trees and even step into the highway turn lanes a few times as that was our only way around some trees that butted up against concrete walls. You never truly know what sides of busy streets are like until you walk them. We took some breaks in tree shade and as we finally approached the gardens, we decided to walk through them instead of around them. I kept telling my dad “we’re getting closer,” “it’s right past these three things,” “we’re so close,” etc. I’m sure he wanted to tell me to shut up many times. The excitement of seeing the car was crushed by knowing that getting inside would mean entering a sauna 30 degrees hotter than what we had already been in for the last two hours. Getting into the car just meant sitting in a pool of wet underwear while letting hot air blow into our faces as we waited for it to turn cold. We decided to finish our adventure with lunch as we had planned. It was while we were sitting in the air-conditioned restaurant with cold drinks that all the “why didn’t we…?” and “what if…” and “we should have…” started. So many ways we could have handled the whole thing better, but apparently getting increasingly hot and dehydrated makes you increasingly stupid.

At the Pentatonix concert! We survived the long walk in August, enjoyed the concert in December, and now have a ridiculous story to tell!

Moral of the story: Just buy your tickets online. They’re called convenience fees for a reason.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here