Wild day: Plane, train & automobiles
Saturday was one of the 10 wildest days of my life. Probably top five. I woke up before sunrise in Milwaukee. I laid my head down in Phoenix. In between I saw things I’d never seen, experienced basketball in myriad ways and had more adventures than Steve Martin and John Candy ever thought about.
It was all part of trying to get from the Oklahoma State men’s NCAA Tournament site to the OSU women’s. With the OSU men in Milwaukee, the Ford Center regional, the OU women’s regional at Lloyd Noble Center, spring football practice and being a staff member short to start with, we hatched this plan. When the Cowboys were finished in Milwaukee, win or lose, I would get to the desert and catch up with the Cowgirls.
OSU’s 64-59 loss to Georgia Tech meant I could get to Tempe, Ariz., in time for OSU’s 5:15 p.m. (Arizona time) tipoff against Chattanooga. So I got up at 6:15 a.m. Saturday — with only three hours sleep – and comrade John Helsley drove me through the snow to the airport.
I had forgotten to check in on Southwest until late Friday night – because I am challenging George Costanza for lord of the idiots — so I was No. 123 in line. Those Southwest planes only seat 137, which meant I was doomed to a middle seat for the 200-minute flight. I tried to pay the $15 upgrade to board early, but no go. Those were all taken.
So I waited and mentally prepared myself. And darned if I didn’t walk in and there was an empty aisle seat in the second row. I sat down, then noticed there was an empty window seat in the opposite second row. Since I was going to try to sleep, I wanted a window. So I got up to move over and noticed the FRONT row window seat on the other side was open. The front row has the extra leg room. And there was overhead space for my laptop, which always is a problem with the front row.
I think I’ve figured it out. Milwaukee is a new Southwest city. Southwest has been flying out of there only a few months. I don’t think people have the open seating figured out. It’s every man for himself. If you’re boarding after the top 60 or so, it’s like inbounding a basketball. Throw it to the first man open. Take the first good seat you see.
Turns out my front row seat was a little crowded; a large woman and her husband were sitting next to me, but I didn’t care. I slept a little, read a little and was fired up that our master plan was going to work. I had escaped Milwaukee and its potentially bad weather.
Landed in Las Vegas at 10:15 a.m. Pacific time. During daylight savings time, Arizona is Pacific time, too, so I was seven hours away from tip. In great shape. Until I saw that my 11:45 flight to Phoenix was delayed until 2 p.m. U-oh. This is one of those weather deals; a thunderstorm in Birmingham can back up a plane that eventually will land in Portland. Snow in Providence delays a flight in Lubbock.
I made a quick decision. My reasonable knowledge of American geography told me Phoenix was drivable from Vegas. I called home, and Trish the Dish looked it up for me: 287 miles. I could drive in four hours, I figured. I called Hertz; they gave me a good deal on a one-way rental, $135.
I asked the Southwest gate agent what would happen to my bag that was waiting to be taken to Phoenix. He said it still would go, even if I didn’t. So I told Southwest to write me off the list, I jumped on the train that takes you out to the front terminal and I hopped on the rental car shuttle to go get some wheels.
Twenty minutes later, I was on a Las Vegas freeway, listening to the NCAA Tournament and fired up about my excellent adventure. I was about to see a part of America I never had seen. It was 11:15 a.m. I was 290 miles from Arizona State University.
We’ve got bridges to nowhere in Alaska. We’ve got an interstate highway between Lubbock and Amarillo. We’ve got an interstate that goes 610 miles from Moorhead, Minn., to Billings, Mont., without sniffing a city with 100,000 people.
But there is no freeway between Las Vegas and Phoenix. Instead, you get to go along Hoover Dam.
I’d heard about Hoover Dam my whole life, and it was fun to see. Impressive. Huge. Beautiful. It was built in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, 30 miles southeast of Vegas, and sends electricity all over southern California and elsewhere. Traffic slows to about 10 mph 2-3 miles before you reach the dam; tourists are everywhere.
Trouble was, as I started going up and down and around the mountains south of Vegas, my rental car, a Chevy Malibu, started doing weird things. Sputtering going uphill. Jerking like humans do when we cough. And then it would be OK for a few miles. I didn’t know what to do, other than I knew everyone wanting to see Hoover Dam wasn’t too thrilled with me stopping in the middle of the road, so I kept going.
Saw the dam. It was cool. Car kept jerking. I kept going. When I hit some level land, the car would run, but it was doing other funny things. Running at about 6,500 RPM and would max out at 60 MPH. I had it floor-boarded to do that.
South of Hoover Dam is desert, for about 79 miles, when you reach Kingman, Ariz., a decent-sized town.
I called Hertz. Well, I sort of called Hertz. When you call Hertz, you wait. You wait and wait and wait. They put you on hold and play the most irritating music. When a live Hertz person finally came on the phone, I told her my problem. I asked if there was a Hertz counter in Kingman, and could I switch out the car there, if I could make it. She said if I got there by 2 p.m. and that she would call them and let them know I was coming. But first, she wanted me to talk to Hertz roadside assistance. OK. So she transferred me.
I sputtered down the road. Sixty mph for awhile, then chug-chug-chug. Sixty mph, then chug-chug-chug. All the while I’m on hold for Hertz roadside assistance. I drove 10 miles. Fifteen miles. Twenty miles. I got within 30 miles of Kingman and hung up. Got the phone number to Hertz in Kingman and called them. A very nice girl said she would switch out a car and told me how to get there.
So I staggered into Kingman, found the Hertz and got a new car, a Mercury Milan. It was 1:30 p.m. I was 202 miles from the Arizona State University campus.
The NCAA Tournament saved me. I don’t like driving. I really don’t like it on little sleep, especially in the daytime. But March Madness on the radio was a blessing. I saw the great American desert and listened to hoops on Westwood One radio.
And I heard all that’s great and awful about listening to a ballgame on the radio. I listened to the St. Mary’s-Villanova game. I heard the end of Butler-Murray State. I listed to all of Kansas-Northern Iowa.
And the quality of a radio voice can make all the difference. The Villanova-St. Mary’s game was a classic. A No. 2 seed knocked off by a mid-major. A 3-point bank in the final two minutes broke a tie. Huge game. And Bob Papa made it sound like it was a Wizards-Pacers game in January. No emotion. No excitement. No nothing.
I don’t know who called the Murray State-Butler game, but it was totally different. Excellent description. Great drama. Really put me there. And Kansas-Northern Iowa, well, Brad Sham was fantastic. Here was a game for the ages, an historic game, and I never once wished I was watching on television. I could tell the importance of plays and the wow-factor of plays by Sham’s voice. Wonderful job.
In a day of madness of me and a day of madness on the court, basketball on the radio kept me sane.
In Kingman, the new Hertz they gave me wasn’t full of gas. In fact, it had about a quarter of a tank. I stopped at Arby’s to go to the bathroom — I’d needed to go since the Vegas airport — and get what would be my only meal of the day. So I ate a couple of beef’n cheddars, listened to basketball and marveled at the wonders of a well-driving car.
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