It’s my first road trip with WWE and I’m lost. And when I say lost, I mean lost in the GPS-actually-shows-two-arrows-pointing-directly-at-each-other-like-I’m-somehow-about-to-crash-into-myself lost. But it’s not just the signs that read “Wrong Way” and “Do Not Enter” that are freaking me out. It’s the fact that while everyone in the car is frantically trying to search for alternate directions on an iPhone that can’t catch a signal, a light inside the car pops on to warn us of low tire pressure. And of course, when we stop at the gas station to check our tires, fill up, and catch our breaths (not to mention catch that satellite signal), the gas cap of the car actually shatters into three pieces as we simply twist the top to the left. So now not only is our GPS still freaking out, we’re about to run out of gas and might have a flat.
This all happened over the course of what should have been a simple three-hour drive and back between Pittsburgh and Penn State. A trip that should’ve been a quick trek along scenic roads but turned into start-and-stop traffic along countless construction sites, and the only things even mildly scenic were the crazy sideshow-like attractions in the random parking lots of strip clubs and adult video complexes we passed along the way.
“Welcome to our world!” MVP laughs when I tell him about the trip. “I actually had a meeting with Vince McMahon once where we were talking about my career, and I explained to him that wrestling is my passion, it’s my craft and I love it. I’m one of the guys who worked the indies and would drive five hundred miles for five dollars just for the chance to perfect my craft and work in front of a crowd. What I explained to Mr. McMahon is this: What I do in front of our audience, I do it for free. What I charge Vince McMahon for is all my time on the road. It’s the grueling air travel, the car rides, and the bus rides. I charge for travel. I don’t charge for performing. The travel is the real work of this business.”
And judging by my one experience between shows, he’s absolutely right: Once you get to the arena, once you step inside that environment, that’s when the adrenaline kicks in, that’s when the excitement of the spectacle takes you away from all your broken gas caps and wonky GPS machines. Once you get to the show, that’s when the fun really starts.
“People think it’s all glitz and glamour, that we’re jet-setting around the world,” adds Christian, “but the reality is, we fly into a city, rent a car, find a restaurant, find a gym, go to the hotel, find the arena, perform at the show, find somewhere to eat after the show, and either drive on to the next town or spend the night in that hotel and drive off to the airport the next morning. Rinse and repeat. It’s the same thing over and over. Sometimes we get lucky when we’re overseas and we might get to spend an extra day in one place and go sightseeing, but for the most part, we’re in and we’re out. It’s all about getting to the next arena and entertaining. That’s what we live for. That’s what we do. Everything else in between is just a means to an end of getting to that arena in order to perform for our fans.”
And the more I was able to talk to these stars about their lives of 200-plus travel days a year, the more I kept hearing the same word pop up over and over again: family. These Superstars spend so much time traveling across the world in order to entertain their fans that their second families are their fellow men and women in tights, performing together in a raucous show CM Punk describes as a “rock concert where the band is beating each other up on stage while at the same time performing improv comedy.”
But maybe nobody better sums up what it means to live your life out of a suitcase traveling alongside everyone from a leprechaun to a Glamazon to a king better than second-generation wrestler Cody Rhodes.
“Life on the road is a unique thing. It’s such an experience because you’re taking a bunch of different people from different parts of the world with different life experiences, who come from different social circles and have very different behaviors,” he says. “But you get all of these people on the road together and they become a family very quickly. It’s a lot like a real family. It’s not necessarily people you like very much or you want to hang out with on your off days, but we all certainly depend on each other.
“There is a long-standing tradition in wrestling, that when you get to the building, you shake hands with everybody. People have forgotten why we do that, but I am very fortunate to know because I was reminded regularly by my old man [WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes]. It is just a way of saying thank you. What you have to realize is that the top is not just one person. It takes two. You need someone in the ring. You need someone to work against. You need someone to work with.
“So when we travel on the road, I see it as family because that’s truly who we are.”
Rumble Road follows some of this WWE family as they dish the dirt on some of their most memorable stories between performances. From their favorite practical jokes to the shenanigans that happen at three in the morning to the time Santino punched a Tasmanian Devil and made her cry, here are some of the funniest moments straight from the Superstars who lived them.
Now if only I can get this GPS working again, maybe I can get back on the road for another trip of my own. And I still don’t understand how a gas cap shatters into three pieces. . . .
Jon Robinson writes 'The Gamer' column for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com, for which he has interviewed everyone from Kobe Bryant to Tiger Woods. He is the coauthor of The Madden Phenomenon and has a BA in creative writing from San Fransisco State University.