Well, we made it home. Touched down at 5 p.m. Thursday, 250 hours after we lifted off and almost three days after we were scheduled to get home.
You know how you hear about winter travel problems, especially back East, and feel sorry for people stranded? Well, don’t feel sorry for us.
We actually had a good time. We were never stuck at the airport. We weren’t alone, the Dish and I had each other for two days, and she’s my favorite person in the world, and then we hung out with the OU basketball organization.
But we were gone a long time. Someone asked me if I could remember how to drive from the airport to home, and I said I hope I can remember how to drive, period. Hadn’t driven since before sunrise Monday, Jan. 27.
I had ridden in taxis, ridden on subways and buses and planes and boats (to and from Liberty Island). I had ridden a horse-driven carriage through Central Park. But I hadn’t driven a car myself.
Turns out it comes back to you.
The last day was a little short of adventure, but only comparatively. Adventure is where you find it.
If this is your first travelblog, a refresher course. My wife and I went to New York on Jan. 27, I covered the Super Bowl, the weather for the game was great, then overnight a winter storm moved in and paralyzed the Northeast. Our flights Monday and Tuesday were canceled, and Wednesday we hooked up with the OU basketball team in Newark, N.J. The Sooners had been diverted to Newark trying to get to Morgantown, W.Va., for a Big 12 Conference game.
Lots of cool stuff happened in those nine days. You’ll have to find that on your own.
But we woke up Thursday in Morgantown and were scheduled to leave Morgantown’s Waterfront Place hotel at 10:30 a.m. West Virginia time.
We got up, cleaned up (my washed-in-the-sink underwear was a little damp, but in the upset of fortnight, it wasn’t too annoying), packed up and went downstairs to check out.
And Mike Shepherd, Lon Kruger’s director of basketball operations, told us we might not be able to leave on time.
Shepherd has the difficult job of coordinating all the Sooner travel. All major-college teams have a guy like that, and it’s complicated. Even when things go smooth.
Find a hotel months in advance. Book the charter flight. Hire buses to transport the team from the time they touch down to the time they lift off. Coordinate meals, often at the hotel but not always, and meeting space.
Most of the time, everything works smoothly. Then we get a Whiteout, and everything changes. For instance, Shepherd had to scramble when the Sooners diverted to New Jersey. OU had no hotel or bus lined up in Newark. So when the plane landed at 3 a.m., Shepherd’s phone was attached to his ear, trying to get the Sooners to a comfortable bed as soon as possible.
And then he had to coordinate new plans for a hoped-for arrival in Morgantown that afternoon.
And when we sat on a bus on the Clarksburg, W.Va., tarmac Wednesday night, only to learn that our flight could not take off because of crew problems, Shepherd had to scramble and find the Sooners a hotel that night.
The next morning, Shepherd was on the phone with United, trying to find out when our plane could take off, which was no small investigation, apparently, and then Shepherd had to arrange for meeting space so the Sooners could watch film and get a little something done.
The Dish and I sat around the hotel lobby — I wrote my travelblog — and chatted with whoever was around.
We had a great conversation with Jozsef Szendrei, Kruger’s strength and conditioning coach and a backup center on Kelvin Sampson’s 2002 Final Four team.
I had seen Szendrei walking with his children in my neighborhood. Turns out he lives just across Porter Avenue. YoYo, everyone has called him for years, and he’s got a great personality. Here’s what we learned — most residences in Europe (Szendrei is from Hungary) have a fence around them. No one knocks on doors.
Eventually, Shepherd informed us that we would be leaving at 1:45 p.m. So the Dish and I slipped into the hotel restaurant and grabbed some lunch. I had a cod sandwich, she ate a Cuban. She said it wasn’t as good as the Cuban we had on Miami Beach. I was appalled. They can’t make a Cuban in Morgantown as good as the one in Miami? What’s the world coming to?
West Virginia is an interesting place. The towns are hidden by the freeways. You’re driving through mountains and you see an exit and there’s a little sign of life, but you don’t see much. But when we lifted off from Clarksburg, we could see much of the town and it’s a decent-sized place. Same with Fairmont, which we drove past. I know it’s good-sized. But we could barely see anything.
The state was beautiful, all snowed in. Heck, the whole country is frozen over. We flew from Clarksburg to Oklahoma City, and the ground was white-covered the whole way. I was ready to get home. I’m also ready for warm weather.
HOTEL WEST VIRGINIA
I neglected to mention this in yesterday’s travelblog, but you could have placed 21/2 New York hotel rooms into our room in Morgantown.
New York hotel rooms, even at high-priced hotels, are snug. But in Morgantown, we had a massive bathroom with a virtual hallway next to it, then a huge room with a bed area in one half and a sofa area in another.
If they make rooms like that in New York, they have to cost $700 a night unless it’s a suite in the Plaza. Then you can add a 1, in front of that figure.
MEETING THE SOONERS
The best thing about being imbedded with the Sooners was getting to know some people a lot better.
The relationship between the media and the people they cover has changed over the years.
I once knew virtually every assistant coach at both OU and OSU, football and basketball, and a bunch of other sports, too.
But things have changed. And some of it’s our fault. We’ve got more to cover these days. For instance, I don’t get to as many college basketball games as I once did.
But some of it is the schools, which have built walls around the media and the public. Particularly in football. That’s OU, OSU, almost every school I’ve ever dealt with even on a limited basis and from what I hear around the country.
Basketball is not really that way.
Kruger, for example, invites the public to his practices. Certainly makes the media feel welcome, too.
Overall, it’s a shame the relationship is splintered. We can tell better stories if we know people better. And the better you know people, the more human they are, the less likely you are to rip them. That’s just human nature.
Of course, we’ve gone well past that threshold in football. Those coaches aren’t tearing down any walls. They’ve got Armageddon State this week and World War Tech next week. No room for much humanity.
Basketball is different. Basketball coaches are normal people. Seriously. I discovered that 20 years ago. You can have a normal conversation with a basketball coach. Basketball coaches have seen a movie in the last 15 years. Basketball coaches know we’ve been sending troops to Afghanistan. Basketball coaches know what school district they live in.
So basketball coaches are quite bearable. I’ve told you the story of Travis Ford, how his Cowboy team was dining at my favorite restaurant, Garozzo’s in Kansas City, last March during Big 12 Tournament week. We came in with a group of seven or eight. Travis came over and chatted for awhile. Then he paid for our dinner unbeknownst to us. I didn’t like him paying for our dinner, but it was a nice gesture.
If that had been a football team, OU, OSU, just about any school, the coach would have had a different response. “What are you doing here? How’d you know we were here?”
The answers would be, a) I’m about to have steak modiga; and b) I’ve been coming here since long before you were coaching, so why’d you crash my place?”
But basketball is different. Ford and his staff are a bunch of friendly guys. No paranoia. And same with Kruger and his staff.
I think Kruger must make it a requirement of the job. Friendly, charming, personable. Steve Henson, Chris Crutchfield, Lew Hill, Shepherd. Great guys.
I talked with Shepherd about the Daddy/Daughter Dance I saw him at last year and which he has to miss this season, thanks to a 6 p.m. tip against Baylor. Talked to Hill about New York — he’s from Mount Vernon, N.Y., just next the Bronx.
Kruger’s support staff, same way. Managers, same way.
I sort of had an inkling about that. But I’m glad I got to see it first-hand. I’d like to see more.
BUS DRIVER DELUXE
I mentioned the bus driver yesterday, how the police escort actually slowed him down.
Super guy. His company contracts with many of the Big 12 schools to bus teams that fly into West Virginia.
He and his bus were waiting Tuesday night, when OU had the aborted landing at Clarksburg. And he was back Wednesday afternoon.
Went to the game with us, stayed in the hotel with us, everything.
I chatted with him at the game, and he complimented by scarf. I had not taken a scarf on the trip, and you need a scarf walking the streets of New York. The Dish fixed me up the first day, when I went to Media Day, with one of her scarves that didn’t look too girly. And I left at the PrudentialCenter in Newark.
She fixed me again the next day, then bought me a new one. Which I wore every day the rest of the trip.
But when we exited the bus to go board the plane that would take us back to Oklahoma, I put that scarf on the shoulder of the bus driver and thanked him for his help. He was one cool dude.
And he didn’t even get to go home. I forgot to ask if he’s based out of Pittsburgh or Charleston or where, but he had to pick up the Kansas State women’s team the next day. Hope the Lady ‘Cats have a smoother trip than did the Sooners.
ANOTHER SOONER INVASION
During the OU-West Virginia game on Wednesday night, the video board kept plugging the Mountaineers’ upcoming wrestling dual against the Sooners, scheduled for Feb. 6.
It made me think of all the sports teams that come to Morgantown. And all the West Virginia teams that have to go to our part of the country.
OU and OSU football have to go to West Virginia once every other year. OSU and OU basketball have to go to West Virginia once a season, per team. But West Virginia basketball has to go to our part of the country nine times a year. Football four or five times a year. West Virginia’s other teams dozens of times a year combined.
Is that sustainable? Is West Virginia in the Big 12 a viable solution to the problems caused to both by conference realignment? This was a marriage of convenience. Do marriages of convenience last? I don’t know what the data says, but I assume not.
Then Thursday morning, my boss reminded me of the wrestling match. THAT IT WAS THURSDAY! I’ve been gone so long, days and dates had lost their meaning. I hadn’t figured out that the Sooner wrestlers were competing in Morgantown the night after the basketball team.
One more option, I suppose. Wrestling coach Mark Cody lives in my neighborhood.
But we were sold out by this time. We were stick with the hoops squad, even if it meant arriving at Lloyd Noble Center 90 minutes before tipoff on Saturday night against Baylor.
UNITED SAYS IT’S SORRY
As we started our final descent into Oklahoma City on Thursday, the United Express pilot came on the loudspeaker and apologized for “the total chaos you’ve been through the last couple of days. We are embarrassed, we are sorry. Get you there safely, that’s about all we’ve been able to do on this entire trip. We wish you the best on the rest of your season.”
I thought it was a classy move. Good public relations. The guy must have been trained by Southwest.
What I learned Thursday is that OU’s delayed departure from Will Rogers on Tuesday was not weather-related — the Sooners were waiting on something airline-related, either the plane or the crew or something. If the Sooners had taken off at 4:45 p.m. instead of 9:45 p.m., they would have arrived over Clarksburg, W.Va., five hours earlier and might have been able to land.
I made no new states on this trip. So I’m stuck on 41. The Dish never had been to New Jersey or West Virginia, so her state total is up to 29. I’d like to get to 49. No desire to go to Hawaii.
At the Super Bowl, I sat by Michael Phillips of the Richmond Times Dispatch, who grew up in Wichita and went to KU. On his twitter handle, it says he’s been to 49 states. I didn’t get to ask him which one he’s missing.
And speaking of missing, I missed Oklahoma. Two hundred fifty hours is long enough. Before even going home, I went by to see the granddaughters before they went to bed, then I stopped by to see my mom.
Then it time to go home and a date with the washing machine.