Recently I was sitting on a United Airlines flight heading to Washington DC after a few days in Nashville, TN. It was my third straight week of travel and I was tired and grumpy. My body ached, my eyes were bloodshot, and I needed a shower and a toothbrush more than the contestants on ‘Survivor’. We landed at Dulles Airport, and just when I thought my day couldn’t get any worse, I stepped right into a huge piece of gum…in my socks. Game, set, match.
But at least I was headed home.
I can’t imagine if I was headed to Tuscaloosa. Then Richmond. Then Hershey. Then Pittsburgh. Then Buffalo. Then Des Moines. On and on it goes.
People sometimes think that business travel is glamorous, and at times it can be a lot of fun. I’ve had the privilege of going to Las Vegas, New Orleans, Orlando, Miami, and Los Angeles on the company dime…cities that are always exciting to visit. But I’ve also found myself killing time in Syracuse, Indianapolis, and Lexington…and while I like the Olive Garden as much as the next person, that’s when you really start missing your own bed.
I used to travel to Cleveland 4 days a week for almost a year. It was brutal. My marriage suffered, and when I was home I was a stranger in my own house. I barely spent time with my son. I lived out of a suitcase. I drank too much. I ate the wrong foods. I didn’t sleep right. Continental Airlines even started charging me $25.00 to ship the bags under my eyes.
At the end of the day business travel is hard. I know it is one of my job requirements, so I dutifully pack my bags and head to the airport. But it really makes me appreciate the creature comforts of my own house (why is it impossible to find good coffee on the road?!) I was sitting in my Nashville hotel watching the 1000th episode of Raw, and as much as I enjoyed the show I found myself thinking about the performers themselves, all gathered there in St. Louis.
How do the WWE stars do it?!?
Now that the business is not as protected as it used to be, and everybody and their brother has done a shoot interview, we hear more and more stories about “life on the road”, especially during the wild west 1970’s and 1980’s. And truthfully, we all love wrestlers’ road stories because those are moments we as fans never see on television. But hearing about them makes us feel like we know the stars a little bit more.
When I interview someone for OWW Radio or the Cauliflower Alley Club they enjoy talking about the crazy times on the road, the bonding that takes place. It’s hilarious to hear about all the ribs guys would play on each other just to pass the time. It built a common bond. The sense that “we’re all in this together”.
But those are the happy memories. There are also a lot of bad ones as well. All the miles in the cars. All the sleepless nights. All the bad food. All the airports. All the nights missing their families. And certain territories were even more notorious for their travel demands. Pick up Bret Hart’s book and read about the icy roads and snowy conditions driving all over Canada for his dad’s Stampede shows. Or read about Mid-South and the hundreds of miles the wrestlers had to drive to connect Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Texas. Brutal.
These guys and girls spend an amazing amount of time together. Hell, I don’t even like to eat dinner with my coworkers. After spending all day with them all I want to do at night is spend time with some Jack Daniels and Monday Night Football (or Raw…I’m contractually obligated to say that…) You hope they all get along but it’s obvious from their interviews, tweets, and blogs that wrestling is a high pressure career and that the stress can create bad blood between individuals (even most tag teams end up hating each other. Don’t believe me? Let me know the next time you see the Killer Bees eating dinner together…)
As a big WWF fan in the 1980’s I remember wondering, “Hey, what happened to Corporal Kirshner?” He had just beaten Nikolai Volkoff at Wrestlemania 2 (in the worst match ever…but still) and then he just disappeared. Years later I found out that the Corporal couldn’t handle life on the road. Apparently he “cracked”, as the old expression goes. All the travel and stress caught up to him. He had to leave. It’s a pretty sad story actually.
But he is not alone. Sadly you can’t write a column about ‘life on the road’ without mentioning the pitfalls many wrestlers fall into as a result of their travel schedule – divorce, drug abuse, alcoholism, pain medication, and, yes, steroids.
When I put myself in their shoes, I may not condone their actions, but in some ways I understand them. Can you imagine having to be “Hulk Hogan” every night? Can you imagine wrestling the same match against Kamala every night? How do you keep it fresh? How do you keep up your energy? It’s amazing to me. I just have to sit there every day while my clients drone on about their problems, and I STILL need to pump myself full of caffeine. Good lord the hardest thing about my job is making it look like I’m taking notes and THAT wears me out.
Plus wrestlers have to stay in phenomenal shape! I have to admit that going to the gym is the LAST thing I want to do when I’m on the road.
And wrestlers have to eat right! No McDonald’s? No Sabarro’s? No Starbucks triple latte mini-frap with a double shot of caramel (or whatever the hell they serve)? Where does Daniel Bryan find his vegan food when he’s in the Memphis airport?!
On top of all that, wrestlers can’t hide in public. They are not protected anymore. We follow them on Twitter. We follow them on Facebook. We want them to ‘Tout’ what they are doing every night. We feel like we know them, like we are their ‘friends’. Celebrity has gone WAY beyond signing an autograph in the airport. I don’t know how they handle it.
Yes WWE stars of today have it much easier because of nicer flights and better hotels. Their pay is higher so right there they are not eating bologna and cheese every night. But still it’s hard.
People will inevitably say, “Yeah, well, they knew what they were signing up for! You want to be a WWE Superstar or Diva? Here are the requirements of the job.” I get that. That makes sense. But let me ask you something. Do you bitch about your job? Most people I know do. They get together, grab a few beers, and then decompress about the stresses of marriage or work or kids. I’m no different. I love my kids more than God, country, the Dallas Cowboys, and Beth Phoenix, but damn they are a lot of work.
I understand the parameters of being a celebrity. But we are all people. We all get worn out, tired, and stressed. Sure being a WWE wrestler has incredible prestige and acclaim (how cool would it be to see yourself in a video game!), but you and I only see the television product or the show at our local arena. We don’t see John Cena lifting weights at 11pm at night, or Randy Orton rushing to LAX for a 6am flight.
I will never forget John Cena telling the Axxess crowd before Wrestlemania 26 in Phoenix that he hadn’t had a vacation in 8 years. 8 years!? I am not crazy about working 5 days a week! I heard recently that Kelly Kelly just needed a break so the WWE took her off the road. I applaud them for allowing her to step away for a few months. She needed to recharge after almost 6 years on the road. Hopefully she comes back refreshed and ready to resume her career.
Maybe the business has learned something since the Corporal Kirshner days.
For those of us who think being a pro wrestler would be a glamorous career, don’t close your eyes to what it truly means to lace your boots up every night…in a different city. I empathize with professional wrestlers. I don’t totally understand their lifestyles, or the difficulties of their travel schedule, but I know enough to realize that this is a damn tough way to make a living. And yet people will still say “wrestling is fake”. There’s nothing “fake” about a 5am wake-up call.
When I finally walked through my front door that night everybody in the house was sleeping. It was well after midnight so there was no welcome party, no home-cooked meal for me to eat. But it didn’t matter. Just being home was enough for me, and knowing I would be there for a few weeks.
— David is editor and radio host for OWW. Follow him on Twitter @dlb19338.