Road Trip: Louisville – From the Bird’s Nest
The overlap between sports is difficult from a personnel standpoint. Whether it be in the fall as football collides with basketball or in February when basketball and spring sports coincide, the games need to be staffed.
This year, football and men’s basketball had two conflicts. The first was in mid-November, when basketball had a two game trip to Arkansas and Baylor while football traveled to Georgia State. The second was this past weekend.
For the last three seasons, I’ve missed the final football game of the season to do basketball games. With two conflicts this season, Steve made the first basketball trip and I made the second. It just so happened the basketball trip was to the defending national champions.
It meant an early alarm Friday morning, as I had a 7:30 flight out of Baton Rouge. In order to make sure I could get home after the game, I flew U. S. Airways for the second straight trip.
The forecast for Louisville wasn’t good. There was a winter storm advisory, but I felt with an early flight, I should be able to get in.
Sometimes, road trips just work out. When I made plans to make the Louisville trip, I didn’t know my eldest son would be calling me from South Carolina to let me know he had taken a new job…..in Louisville. That meant I’d see Jason, his wife Amie and my two grandsons, Christian and Kristofer for the first time in a year and a half. And, fortunately, the weatherman hadn’t screwed up those plans.
We made plans to have an early dinner, as they had some things to tend to later in the evening. Jason suggested we go to Cracker Barrel (we did that more than once when he was growing up). He texted me the address and I said I’d let him know when I was on my way.
As the plane approached Louisville, the captain filled us in on the weather: Freezing Rain. 33 degrees.
The plane landed and I made my way to baggage claim. By the time I got there, the freezing rain had turned to snow. And it was snowing hard. I got my bag and made it to the rental car place. My car had enough ice to where the trunk was difficult to open and the back windshield needed to be scraped. I carefully made my way toward the restaurant.
Now, I may have grown up in the Northeast, but it had been a long time since I had driven when it was snowing that hard. I got on Interstate 65 where traffic was moving at about 30 miles an hour. What should have been a fifteen minute drive took over a half hour. Jason said he’d be waiting at the front door.
I got there. No Jason. I texted him and asked where he was. When he said the front door I knew there was an issue. He had texted me the address to a different Cracker Barrel. So he loaded his family in the car and started to my restaurant. It took them almost 45 minutes for what should have been no more than a 15-20 minute drive. But, it was a great reunion when they finally walked through the door.
We had a great visit. The boys had grown considerably. Christian, who is twelve, has really gotten into cooking. Amie said Kristofer broadcasts everything in play by play mode. God help him.
When it was time to leave, I looked at a map. The restaurant we had gone to was farther away from downtown than the airport was. And, by now, there was over two inches of snow that had to be cleaned off the car. We said our goodbyes and I headed toward downtown Louisville. It took nearly an hour.
Meanwhile I was concerned about the team’s ability to get into Louisville. They were about two hours behind me. But coach Neil Hardin texted me and let me know they had landed safely. (But as it turned out, they were stuck at the airport for about an hour and a half waiting for the charter bus to pick them up.)
We were staying at a Marriott and I checked in.
At which time I realized I had lost my major credit card.
I had used it at the airport in Charlotte. I either lost it there, at the rental car place (where my card was already on file) or it fell out of my wallet at Cracker Barrel. So I immediately called and had the card cancelled and asked for a new one. Meanwhile I had another card to get me through the trip.
It just kept getting colder and I just decided to stay in my room rather than explore the downtown area. The team went right to practice and then to dinner. By the time they checked into the hotel, I was asleep.
Saturday morning I went outside. It was 18 degrees. The wind chill was in single digits. I didn’t stay outside long. They had a Starbucks in the restaurant and I got coffee and a breakfast sandwich and went upstairs to do some game prep. According to the folks at Louisville, my credentials would be at Media Will Call and my name would be on a list at a parking garage for media parking.
Now, I’ve gone through that before. And, invariably, something has gone wrong. Either my name wasn’t on the parking list, or no one could direct me to will call or credentials weren’t there. But I had no issues at all with this bunch. I pulled up at the parking garage and after giving my name, was waved right through. I parked as close to the arena entrance as I could get and asked the attendant where the media entrance was. He had the answer. I walked just up the street to the entrance where a man saw me with my equipment and opened the door, welcoming me to the KFC Yum! Center. My credentials were waiting.
I was already liking this place.
I have to say, the KFC Yum! Center is the finest college facility I’ve been in. It rivals any NBA facility. I got courtside to set up. The stat monitor was already in place. There was a sign welcoming me and despite the large media contingent that covers Louisville, there were three seats reserved for me courtside. The phone line was there, labled with the number.
You think these guys had done this before.
Actually, Kenny Klein and his staff are some of the most respected media relations groups in the entire country. Their stat crew has worked Final Fours. They know what they’re doing there. And, unlike some “big time” places, they did it with no arrogance or sense of entitlement. We were made to feel welcome…just as our staff does at the Cajundome.
After setup I went into the media room where a meal was being served. And, since it was 11:30am, they were serving breakfast. Lots of it. I had already eaten something light so I didn’t go crazy but I was full when I got up from the table. I went back into the arena, which seats 22,000, and got ready for the broadcast.
When the game was over, it didn’t take long to get packed up. The team was on my flight back and departure was scheduled for just after six o’clock. I made my way back to the airport, returned my car and got checked in.
Now, the government has (finally) decided that people who fly regularly can get pre-screened and it has made travel easier. My boarding pass said I was pre-screened, which means I don’t have to take my laptop out of my case, I can leave a light jacket on and don’t have to take off my shoes. As a result, I was through security in no time. The team arrived right around the time I did and I made my way to the gate. WIth all that, we were still early, so I went to a sports bar by the gate to have a sandwich and a beverage. The televisions were turned to Texas-Baylor, but it wasn’t long before they switched to Missouri-Auburn. I got to see about a quarter of that and then found out our flight to Charlotte was delayed. We had a tight connection and I was pretty sure we would have to re-book once we got to North Carolina. That was a bummer because I had made plans for when I got back to town. But, fortunately, the pilot was able to make up some time and we made it (barely) to our connecting flight.
We got to Baton Rouge on time and, after getting bags, I drove back to Lafayette. I immediately went to the Wild Salmon. If you’ve never been to Steve Dimmick’s place, you’ve got to check it out. Steve is a big Cajuns fan and a great guy.
And, Bas Clas was playing.
Now, for those of you who are older and have been in Lafayette a long time, you might remember the band, popular in Lafayette during the late 70′s through the mid 80′s. I always thought the band should have been signed to a major label and, in fact, almost were. Brothers Steve and Donnie Picou, along with bassist Geoff Thistlethwaite and drummer Ted Cobena eventually went their separate ways, but a few years ago all got back together and played a couple of gigs. They play at the Salmon about this time each year. And, they’re getting back in the studio to record. The thing I always loved about these guys is, while others were simply cover bands, Bas Clas was almost all original music. Really. Talented. Guys. And good friends.
Bas Clas’ following was incredibly loyal. And, they still are. It’s quite a sight to see the 50 and 60 somethings getting up and dancing and jumping around like they were in their twenties again. (I do not dance. Or jump.)
Family…a great venue for basketball…a dose of rock and roll….It was a pretty good 36 hours.