We headed out for San Antonio on Wednesday and passed some familiar country. For good reason. We made this drive just last week.
Jenni Carlson (Jackie O.), photographer Sarah Phipps and I drove down in a rented SUV. The other guys went down a little earlier in the day.
Covering the NBA playoffs is a blast. Wouldn’t have it any other way. But it can wear you out.
We got home from Game 4 around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, then Jackie O. and I were back up at Thunder headquarters at noon Wednesday for interviews before picking up Sarah and hitting the road.
We drive wherever we can because we send so many. A team of six are covering the Thunder on the road, and the air fares have gotten ridiculous: $500 round trip, OKC/San Antonio. Buy them early and you can get something in the $400s, but for much of the playoffs, you don’t have a lot of advance notice on dates. Six people at $500 each is $3,000, plus rental car when you get there.
It’s a seven-hour drive, without stops, but flying is a hassle, too. So I don’t mind. I don’t want to drive to Miami or Indy, should the Thunder survive, but San Antonio and Memphis I can handle.
Besides, I like the people I work with. We generally have a good time. And we did Wednesday.
Turns out, Wednesday was Sarah’s birthday. It can be a drag to be away from home on your birthday. So we hatched a plan. Name your cuisine, we told Sarah, and we’ll find a cool place to celebrate. Truth is, we try to find a cool place to eat always, but this time, we’d make sure we were successful.
So Sarah tossed out Italian, and I got on the Internet to check it out.
On these trips, our cars become mobile newsrooms. Jackie O. usually does the majority of the driving — she likes it, for some reason — but we both had stuff to write, so Sarah drove. We had our wifi hot spots, so we had internet access, and we had electric adapters that plug into the cigarette lighter, so we had power.
Sarah drove all the way to West, a small town just north of Waco. We stopped there for a bathroom break, and I walked over to a Sonic next door and got us drinks. They gave me a drink carrier, and when I returned, I realized they had charged me for a Route 44 but given me only a large cherry root better. So I walked back and had it fixed. As much as I love Sonic, I’m learning their quality control is a little lacking.
We had been worried about traffic. The Thunder finished up around 1 p.m., which by the time we got away from OPUBCO headquarters, it would be 1:30 p.m., which would put us in Fort Worth around 4:30. I love Fort Worth, but that stretch of I-35 five miles north and five miles south of downtown is a traffic nightmare at most all hours.
But we actually got through it OK. Had some slowdown, but it wasn’t bad. That’s when I got to looking for an Italian joint. Didn’t find much in Waco. The place I like, Baris, Sarah had tried and wasn’t crazy about. It was her day, so I moved on to Temple.
Temple is between Waco and Austin. It’s the home of Scott & White Memorial Hospital, which is the primary clinical teaching campus of Texas A&M’s Health Science Center College of Medicine. Scott & White once had a great reputation as a place to come for serious cases, sort of a southern Mayo Clinic. That was back in the ’70s; my dad came down one time. I don’t know if the hospital still has that reputation, but Temple definitely remains a medical town. We saw a banner downtown on a lightpole, welcoming new doctors to town.
Temple is a city of about 66,000, close by Killeen and Fort Hood. According to a Yahoo story I read just today, Temple is one of the 10 most inexpensive cities (at least 50,000 population) in America. Norman, by the way, was on the list, too.
The Italian place we found was called Pignetti’s, in downtown Temple. Totally charming place. Somewhat elegant, but not too much, if you know what I mean. Excellent service. Interesting menu. Nothing too overpriced, though you could order buffalo tenderloin for $55. I’ve never had buffalo tenderloin, but I’m not in the habit of ordering $55 dinners. They didn’t have a full seafood pasta dish, so I had a pasta dish that included chicken, sausage and shrimp. It was good. Jackie O. had angel hair pasta with meatballs. Sarah had butternut squash ravioli, and she gave me one. One of the most unique tastes I’ve ever experienced. I wouldn’t order it, but it wasn’t bad. Hard to explain the uniqueness. I’m not good at describing tastes, unless comparing it to something else, and this didn’t really compare.
We topped off the dinner with cake — what else for a birthday?. I had red velvet, which led to a discussion of its origin. The girls seem to believe it’s a 1960s/1970s concoction. My mom made a mean red velvet cake. Jackie O. had Italian Creme cake, which I love except for the coconut. My wife makes a great Italian Creme cake but won’t make it without the coconut. But she gives me all the extra icing, which is the best part. Sarah had tiramisu. I liked the cake options. My problem with Italian restaurants is that their desserts are a little fufu. Not enough pie or cake.
Anyway, Pignetti’s was good. I’d go again.
We finished off the drive by listening to Indiana-Miami on the radio. Got the Pacers’ local broadcasters, and Bob “Slick” Leonard, the color analyst, was a hoot. In a bad way. Just cheerleading and moaning and groaning and generally being funny in a goofy way. Makes you sort of glad Matt Pinto goes solo for the Thunder.
The worst traffic we hit was construction in San Antonio, about 10:30, five miles from our hotel. Took us about 20 minutes to navigate through it.
But we got to our hotel, checked back in at the same Springhill Suites and settled in for a quick trip at a place with which we are most familiar.