Some say the "Road to WrestleMania" begins with the Royal Rumble. Others, the night after, on RAW. For the California Bay Area, the Road to WrestleMania started on Friday, November 14, 2014, when WWE rolled into Santa Clara's brand-new Levi's Stadium for the WrestleMania On-Sale Party. Danielle and I attended the event, took some pictures, met some of the stars, and partied the night away.
Here's how things went...
When we learned that WrestleMania was coming our way, Matt just snapped his head my way and said, "We're gonna find a way. There's got to be a way." I had agreed with him -- at least in spirit. We live about 15 minutes from Levi's Stadium, in the southern portion of San Jose, California. The problem was financing and where our seats would end up. Initially, we looked toward maxing out our credit cards...but, ultimately, we decided that this couldn't be the way to go.
The event was on StubHub for months, taunting us with ambiguous "floor seats" and promises of first row grandeur. I had resisted the urge to buy anything the site had advertised and waited for WWE to release an official ticket package. We were hoping, by then, we'd happen upon some funding. Then, it happened: Danielle was on the verge of closing a huge sale -- one that would not only get us through the holidays and some of next year, it would also give us the opportunity to go to the event. It wasn't until October when WWE began advertising their WrestleMania travel packages. Unfortunately, Danielle's sale was delayed due to unforeseen complications. Initially, we were going to go big with a ringside seat deal, which included Axxess, the Hall of Fame and tickets to next night's RAW...but our hopes were dashed as her sale was delayed into the first week of November.
Yep, sale was delayed and that really put a lot of stress on our everyday lives. There were times when both of us were ready to call it a day and give up on the prospect of it going through. Then, lo and behold, everything clicked and the sale was finalized. Two days later, I had gotten part of the money. Since the whole deal was out of another state, we had to wait about two weeks to get the full amount in our accounts. I had done work to make sure that, when the money had arrived, I had everything siphoned toward the necessary priorities. As WrestleMania's tickets were going on sale in about a week, it had quickly stepped up the ladder as something we needed to afford. The Travel Packages had gone dry. I started searching the 3rd Party ticket re-sellers as I had told Matt that this was, most likely, not going to happen here again for another few years at the very least. "Let's do it up big," I had told him. He was unsure. The two of us both wanted to do this but we also had a budget to keep.
Danielle has a knack for nicknames. Our goofy apartment agent's name was Chiquita. No shit. I'm not kidding here. Fucking "Chiquita". Danielle thought she was sorta phony and slightly condescending. So, in her typical style, she dubbed her "Banana Bitch". We had missed the WWE Travel Package thingee and Danielle had found a third party deal which included towncar service to Levi's, ringside seats and a VIP Party to boot. The whole thing was pretty expensive but not wildly unheard of as far as WrestleMania was concerned. Since there were several of those tickets left, I told Danielle that I would hit up TicketMaster's pre-sale first. After a full day of waiting for TicketMaster's system to work as it should (it wouldn't allow us to simply choose the fucking section we wanted, regardless of price), we decided to cut our losses and go for our 3rd Party Tickets. Danielle wasn't happy with the process and had dubbed the thing "TicketBastard". Needless to say, her and I will be at ringside for the event. Our tickets will also have other badass undisclosed perks. We don't have the itinerary yet nor will we have the tickets until about a week prior to the event -- but Danielle and I are going to be at WrestleMania. The other thing that had been sent my way was a little event at Levi's Stadium called, "The WrestleMania On-Sale Party". Apparently, if you hadn't gotten your tickets yet, this party would have them on tap. Having had our tickets, we went for the benefit of meeting some of our favorite WWE superstars. Hulk Hogan, Jimmy Hart, Daniel Bryan, Booker T, Rosa Mendes, Tyler Reks, Charlotte Flair, and Wade Barrett were all advertised to be there.
Matt had found us free tickets to this event several days before. After WWE sent us our confirmation, we were notified of a change: the event was still free to the public -- but WWE was now selling VIP tickets for this event as well. Being a VIP included a much more intimate Meet and Greet with photo ops, food and three alcoholic beverages. All this could be yours to the tune of $175 a head. When Matt initially tossed the idea my way, I balked. We already had our WrestleMania tickets and we had spent a little more on them than planned. However, we ended up having a little extra money this week when a bill came out a lot lower than we expected. Thus, we decided to invest in the VIP experience and I am so glad we did.
The Wrestlemania On-Sale Party produced some of my favorite wrestling moments since I began watching it as a young girl. The VIP portion allowed us to park in the VIP Red Lot which was moot for Matt who was arriving on foot after taking our local VTA Lightrail to work and then to the stadium, but wonderful for me.
Having totally missed the ridiculously well-labeled and lit up VIP lot (Matt will tell you my ability to get lost or miss landmarks while driving is legendary), I got to see the impossibly long line of people waiting with general admission tickets as I drove around to take a U-turn back to the right lot. Despite this, I had a fast entrance through the VIP check-in at Gate B.
At VIP check-in, I was given an autographed photo of Hulk Hogan, a VIP wrist band to get into the party we paid or and three drink tickets(!). Thanks to Matt reading up about the stadium rules in advance, I knew just what we needed to get in easy - a clear NFL-approved tote (as the event was subject to NFL rules). While others whined as they were told to put back their unapproved over-sized non clear totes and backpacks, I easily got through the line and made my way to Intel Gate A -- which made wrestling fans feel at home.
When I got in I stopped at the main stage where Daniel Bryan was getting interviewed.
He was not facing the crowd, so I snapped only a few photos and went to the VIP area upstairs. The two "official"-looking guys told me I was at the right spot.
Once there, I couldn't believe my eyes: Hulk Hogan and Jimmy Hart were posing for photos and, upon hearing that they'd only be around for the next 15 minutes, I hopped in line to get a photo with the two of them. All the while, feeling sorry for Matt who got stuck at work due to a network emergency and a train that was later than usual.
When my turn arrived, I was pleasantly surprised when Hogan engaged me in a quick conversation:
HOGAN: I like your shirt!
HOGAN: He's right over there, you know...did you get a photo with him yet?
ME: Oh, I will! I wanted to get a photo with you first because you're legendary and old school.
HOGAN (smiles and nods): That's a good answer!
After my photo was taken, Jimmy Hart, in characteristic fashion, said "Thank you, baby! Enjoy the rest of your night!" and I was off to schmooze with the other superstars in the room. Daniel Bryan, Booker T and Bad News Barrett were a bit busy, giving interviews to the local press.
Of the three, I managed to grab a quick photo with Barrett. He's very tall -- taller than he looks on TV -- and, as I'm petite, the photo was hysterical. Had he not been doing a series of interviews, I would have asked him to tell Matt (who was still on his way to the event at this point), that he had bad news for him. However, due to the time crunch I was lucky to just get the photo.
I waited for the other two (Booker T and Daniel Bryan) but the press hogged most of their time and I couldn't get to them. A few VIPs remarked that it was weird that they had the press and the VIP room combined. Having worked as a photojournalist for a few newspapers many years ago, I agree. I cannot remember anything like that happening to me when I covered sporting events. I guess it's because these are athletes who have not been to the Bay Area before, and the event is rare (and huge), so that's most likely why.
I. Missed. All of this. I got caught up at work on a high priority case and couldn't escape. THEN, the printer that I wanted to use to print up my VIP ticket wasn't taking any jobs. It was a brain fart on my part: I should have done it sooner. I'm usually more organized. I didn't get to the Cisco Way Lightrail station until about 5:30 and had to transfer to the Mountain View train at the Tasman station to get to Levi's about mid-way. All the while, Danielle was sending me the above pics and telling me how awesome the whole even was. I DID get to see about five minutes of Hulk Hogan and Jimmy Hart doing a spot on the stage next to the Intel Gate A entrance, so it wasn't a total loss but I was bummed I had missed a photo op with them. I went to the VIP gate and made my way into the Club section to have some dinner and drinks with Danielle.
I haven't even mentioned the food and alcohol yet. The three drink tickets we were given entitled us to wine and beer and the selection was nice. For my last glass, the bartender finished the bottle for me so it was poured almost to the rim. Matt jokingly asked if I had flashed him for that. I hadn't but you never know what will happen at WWE events, I guess. The food was buffet-style and featured some amazing little pulled pork sandwiches and even cheese including Purple Moon which apparently Safeway no longer carries much to my dismay.
Matt finally arrived as I was enjoying my food sitting at the club area overlooking the seats of the stadium. It's easy to see there will be many great seats for Wrestlemania XXXI.
The VIP passes paid off here. We got to sit and eat in the Club section, overlooking the lower deck and field. In case you're curious, the surface you're seeing is a white tarp, not snow or ice. It's not that cold in California. In any case, the sandwiches were good. Salad was a bit crappy but the antipasto platter ruled with aged salami, pepperoni, pastrami, and various cheeses.
We ate and enjoyed some video entertainment in the form of the party below us and matches from last year's 'Mania.
And, of course, we made sure to be in line for Daniel Bryan's autograph (he was signing from 6:30-8:30).
The autograph line area was a zoo. The people running this event really could have done better as I took several tries to find the right line (and since he was signing only for the first 150 entrants and VIP ticket holders, all of whom had gray paper bracelets on, it should have been easier to find the right line.
In any case, as we got closer to the line, the WWE official asked what we wanted him to sign (one item only). I asked if Bryan would sign my Respect the Beard shirt. She cringed and said that he might but that she didn't know. When we got there, Bryan was very warm. He shook our hands and said it was nice to meet us both. He asked if there was something we wanted signed. I hesitantly asked if he'd sign my shirt and, without so much as a hint of hesitation, he cheerfully, and at once, agreed to sign my shirt, doing it so fast Matt missed the photo moment. I guess that's just as well: another WWE official was barking at people and telling them not to take photos. Well, they aren't as fast with their warnings as they think, Matt and I both snagged photos of him signing stuff.
And Booker! We got him, too!
Of course! They were all nice. Matt and I told Bryan to get well and that WWE needed him. Bryan gave us a wide grin and said, "I'm trying!" Maybe I'm all kinds of naive here, but I still think he may be AT WrestleMania in some capacity. Maybe not wrestling, per se, but as a guest referee, announcer, etc.
Afterwards, Matt took a photo of me doing the Yes, Yes, Yes chant and of the signature. I'm planning on framing the shirt along with the photos Matt took of me and the shirt and Daniel Bryan signing the paper. And I put together a collage because I'm that sorta chick.
All in all, it was an amazing magical night. I was reminded of this when I started to complain about the way the autographs were given out. Matt had pointed out that we were lucky and, compared to others, our experience was probably better than most: he had seen a mother talking to security at the VIP entrance who she felt that she had not gotten a lot out of the experience and that her kid was upset because he wanted to meet Hogan and Daniel Bryan and they had already left. It put things in perspective.
Speaking of fans, we did have some great interaction with some of the goofier ones and got some great pics.
I can't wait for WrestleMania. I'm very excited. It had been a hectic week and a hectic month with the sale just sitting there like a giant gorilla you couldn't get to move, so it was also nice to sit in the Club section of the new place (I haven't been inside the stadium since it was opened up this Summer) with Danielle, on a Friday night, and enjoy tons of great food and wine and just relax.
We leave you with this shot...
And, of course...