I was visiting San Francisco for the fundraising “KIPP Ping Pong Smackdown” tournament and party that raised over $625,000 for Bay Area schools. It was a brilliant and creative tournament that Uberpong put on, and I was happy to be a part of it. However, as a personal ambassador of the sport, I had another reason to be in San Francisco. I decided to spread some ping pong happiness to those on the streets of San Francisco with my ping pong table that I brought from home in Chico, CA.
The day after the tourney, I got my table out and started rolling it down the street to find a place to set up and play. I didn’t know anyone in the city, but I was sure that through the power of the social sport of ping pong, I would make some friends. I modified my table to make it better suited to go up and down curbs without help by adding some wheelbarrow wheels and dolly-like handle bars. I rolled it up and down steep city sidewalks, maneuvering around people and objects for a couple miles until I found myself at Union Square, a city block full of people, cement, sitting areas, etc. I was a little tired, but as people started staring at me in wonderment. The excitement of what was about to happen gave me a spark of energy. I saw a flat area that was perfect to play and set it up in two minutes. Within 2 minutes of setup, my first courageous inquirer stopped his bike to ask if he could play. I of course agreed, and the game was on. It was a beautiful sunny day and the feeling of bringing ping pong to this area was exhilarating…for about 10 minutes before we got noticed by the Union Square staff! Two men in official uniforms asked if we had a permit for the table. We didn’t. He informed us that because we didn’t have a permit for our “structure,” we needed to leave. My new local ping pong friend Paul tried to reason with them to no avail, but then convinced them to photograph us playing before the banishment. It was frustrating, but I was not about to give up. I didn’t come this far for nothing.
I rolled my table another couple miles to another public area that looked ideal, this time by the entrance to the BART Station. I put my table in a public elevator to get to the lower level open air location. I was instantly greeted by curious folks who were already hanging out looking bored. When they realized that the table was for their enjoyment, not some demonstration or money making stunt, they happily played table tennis with me. One guy was a ticket scalper who used to play, and another guy missed the BART train to play. “So, you just brought this table down here to bring some ping pong joy to the city?” one asked me. “Yep” I said, already feeling it was worth it. I had met and played with 4 people before history repeated itself and we were told to leave before the police got there. You would think we were dealing drugs or something! My newfound friends heckled the power hungry park staff, and insisted on continued play.
So after another 20 minutes of intense ping pong, and continued threats from the staff, we finally complied and folded it up. If I had been allowed to continue, we would have had a large crowd. If there was a public place to officially and permanently play ping pong in San Francisco, it would be very popular. I met many people that would have never talked to me if I didn’t have a table tennis table. The social barriers and fears go away when you connect with someone who loves the sport more than their fear of strangers. In my opinion, it is time to break ping pong out of the prison of individual residences, and bring it to the masses that love the sport! It brings a community together, promotes exercise, and friendship.