We drove home from Memphis on Sunday, and it appeared to be an uneventful trip. Then something happened that gives me the chance to tell a couple of stories, so I will.
We left Memphis about 9:20 a.m. Brian Windhorst of espn.com was driving back, too, so RFD hopped in the car with him. They are former colleagues at the Akron Beacon Journal. That gave us a little more room in the Expedition. Johnny Damon sat in the back and worked on his video package, which he didn’t have to get online early Sunday morning since our website was mostly down due to schedule maintenance. A.C. Slater sat in the middle row. I sat up front and worked. Bryan Terry Burden drove.
It was a rough drive. Lots of rain, lots of road construction, as anybody who’s driven through Arkansas knows. But I’ll say this. Get 100 miles west of Memphis, and Arkansas is beautiful. You’re not so much in the Ozarks or the Ouachitas as you are in the rolling hills. But it’s beautiful country.
Alas, we didn’t stop the entire length of the state. Drove straight through to Roland, America, on the right side of the state line. Like to spend our money in Oklahoma. We pulled into an Arby’s, ate some lunch, filled up with gas and got me a Sonic drink.
Roland was a fitting place. Hometown of our assistant sports editor, Hayley Riggs McGhee. It’s only right that we should spend a little money in Hayley’s hometown. She and her crew bail us out on a regular basis.
It’s astounding the amount of content we produce for the paper after Thunder playoff games. Tons of photos. Four to five stories. Four to five charts or lists. Not many newspapers, even in the big markets, make that kind of commitment to space and manpower. And the stuff we write at the arena is only the beginning. We sent something like six files between 11:30 p.m. and midnight Saturday, busting our deadline to some degree, but with the knowledge that the game was late and everyone from our front office to our readers know how important the Thunder is.
Hayley and her staff take all that stuff, edit it, organize it, design it on the pages and produce the pages. Under extreme deadline pressure. We had four pages of Thunder coverage in the Sunday Oklahoman, off a game that ended about 11:25 p.m. and went down to the final second. Page designers Rob Backus and Phillip Baeza make it look good, and editors supreme Hayley and Kendall Mathews pull it off. Their ability to do multiple pages in a short amount of time is the reason we can cover the Thunder like we do. They are pack mules, only they can get things done in a hurry. They are the foundation of what we do.
And besides, if we hadn’t stopped in Roland, Johnny Damon couldn’t have spilled his Dr Pepper on A.C. Slater. Oh, the drink didn’t actually reach A.C. He was lucky. His sandwich got a little sopped, I think, but A.C. escaped harm. Lucky him.
I was not so fortunate. Back in 2008, the first week Johnny Damon joined us, coming over from KFOR, the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City, he and I drove over to Tulsa for the OU Caravan stop. We did interviews, I wrote a story, he shot some video and we headed home. He wanted to stop at Braum’s, and when we got back in the car, he put his drink in the holder. At least he tried to. Something happened, Johnny Damon’s drink went sideways and spilled all over my slacks.
Ode to joy. I got to ride all the way back to OKC with wet pants and wondering how this video thing was going to work out.
Turns out, it’s been fine. Johnny Damon is a fine videographer and fine travel partner. He now knows to spill his drink in the direction of the new guy. Not me.
Anyway, I took over the driving from Roland back to the office. We picked up the Clippers-Warriors game on the radio, listened to Stan Van Gundy and Kevin Calabro, who are a great tandem. That game got us all the way home.