Sometimes my job takes me on the road. For seven or eight months a year, I travel wherever the Utah Jazz go. I’m kind of like a groupie. Only I write stories about NBA players for a newspaper and get paid instead of hitchhiking, partying and throwing my bras at these celebrities. I should add that my professional stalking doesn’t include parts of their lives spent in Cabo or southern France. But this week it did take me to a destination that sounds just as glamorous and fun: an airport parking lot. And then to Los Angeles.
In retrospect, the airport parking lot might’ve been the highlight.
The above photo shows what could be the second-most thrilling part of this particular trip. That’s me on the right, smiling and wearing an old sweater that might make my wife throw her computer out the window in disgust when she sees this blog. I was excited to make my first-ever appearance on a live Jazz TV broadcast while at Staples Center. I’m with Craig Bolerjack, my broadcasting buddy on the left, and Matt Harpring, who used to play football but then became an NBA player, a color commentator and a bit handsy with a certain guest. As the hilarious tweeter @monilogue put it: “Breaking: @DJJazzyJody let Matt Harpring get to 2nd base.” Sometimes that’s just what we groupies do.
I know this trip sounds like a swell vacation in mid-October. Four days in Sunny Southern California! Living the life! “Another day in paradise,” a co-worker joked with me today, not knowing I’d already returned to Utah. Trust me when I say that my life on the road isn’t a vacation — and, yes, I’m writing that because my boss and wife might read this. It’s possible, however, that I am the most boring person in the world. This blog should convince you of that. If it gives any indication of how the week went, my first stop in L.A. was at a fast-food joint and the trip ended with me searching for the barf bag on the flight home.
Don’t let the fact that I’m kind of a drag scare you away from this edition of “Travailing With Jody.” Before you click that X, I included pictures of my rental car, my favorite L.A. haunts, broken earbuds and a fuzzy shot of the Laker Girls! Or maybe they’re just fuzzy.
Here’s what happened on this California adventure:
I took an 8:30 a.m. flight to LAX so I could attend Monday morning’s Jazz practice. But it got pushed back to early afternoon. That gave me time to kill in Tinseltown! I was hungry after waking up before my children — yes, THAT early. I had just enough time to catch my plane but not enough to grab a bite to eat on the way out of Utah. Because I was in one of the culinary hotspots of the world, I naturally stopped at, well, the first place I could find that had breakfast on Sepulveda Boulevard. McDonald’s! Not just any McDonald’s, though. A Mickey D’s in a gas station. I almost called somebody … anybody … everybody! … just to have this quick conversation.
Me: “Hello … somebody, anybody, everybody!”
Them: “Hey, man/husband/son/hard-working employee/friend/random person who called my 1-900 number, bet you’re having fun in SoCal! What ya doing? Soaking in the sun? Sightseeing at Venice Beach? Hobnobbing in Hollywood? Disneyland? Watching a car chase on local TV?”
Me: “Just getting gas at McDonald’s!”
Get it! Gas at McDon…oh forget it. Probably a good thing I didn’t call any of the aforementioned bodies.
Pardon me. I was a bit titillated earlier in this blog, for obvious reasons, so I forgot my favorite moment of this trip. This photo was taken at the Lakers practice facility. Hope Kobe Bryant didn’t mind that I did a belly flop (a graceful one, of course) on his hood.
Actually, this photo was taken at the Lakers practice facility, but it’s not Kobe’s car. I think. It was love at first sight when I spotted this bad boy (the car, not the hood ornament) sitting unattended at National. I didn’t reserve a muscle car, but this Dodge Challenger had keys in it and the police never found me after I left the parking lot. I’m sure nobody minded that I gave it a spin for a few days or used it for a Chunky Men of California Calendar photo shoot.
The guy on the right is sportswriter Aaron Falk, who is new to the Utah Jazz beat. You can tell he’s new because he dressed up in a tie, collared shirt and polished shoes for a casual interview session after a morning practice. It’s possible he was auditioning to be the suave star of a new soap opera or zombie show after shootaround. I forgot to ask. When Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin saw the two of us walk into the gym, he laughed and asked, “Is it beach time or work time?” The fact that he then talked about his basketball team, thus making us work, proved that he didn’t take my answer about heading to the nearby Pacific Ocean very seriously. (Photo credit: Derek Garduno, Jazz PR)
Speaking of taking my work very seriously, DOWN IN FRONT!
SECURITY!!! I can’t see the action! The other action!
Just so you know, I warned my wife that I was going to include a picture that she wouldn’t like in this blog. She guessed it had something to do with my lack of fashion sense. She wasn’t impressed when I told her it was a photo of the Laker Girls, even though they’re obviously signaling that she’s the No. 1 Wife In The World!
My wife then called me “kind of pervy.”
Considering that Matt Harpring moment, she might have a point.
This is a good time to remind you that I was in Los Angeles at the Staples Center and within 15 feet of the Laker Girls for business purposes.
It also is a good time to do what everybody else does at Lakers games: Gawk at people who look famous. By the way, this is the first time Andy Garcia has been spotted in public since he let Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon and those awesome brothers from Utah swipe $150 million and Julia Roberts out of the Bellagio on his watch. It’s apparent from how he tries to hide behind the redhead in this photo that he’s still not comfortable being seen.
I carpooled from my hotel to the arena 16.4 miles away for the Lakers game with a couple of other reporters. After the game, I was at their mercy because I didn’t drive The Challenger. One of the reporters — let’s call him Bill because he goes by that instead of William — was being given an impromptu welcoming party after deadline to celebrate how he’s now covering the Lakers instead of the Jazz.
I wasn’t quite wrapped up with my work in the media room, so they decided to begin the late-night fun without the boring guy who doesn’t drink alcohol.
“We’re going to a bar two blocks away,” Bill said. “I’ll text you the address.”
I was already in panic mode because my laptop crashed on me as I was trying to update stories with postgame quotes from the locker room.
“You want me to walk two blocks away in Los Angeles by myself late at night!?” I asked
“You’ll be fine,” Bill said.
“I’ll be killed. I can imagine the headline now: ‘MORMON REPORTER MURDERED WHILE WALKING TO L.A. BAR LATE AT NIGHT!”
They’d even do it in uppercase and with an exclamation mark for emphasis. A Los Angeles-based ESPN reporter calmed my fears.
“You might make it into an ESPN story if you get killed right outside of Staples Center.”
“That makes it worth the risk!” I responded.
Twenty minutes later, I put my laptop backpack on and started braving my way through gangs roaming the scary streets. Well, I didn’t actually see gangs. But I did see several people who were minding their own business but could’ve been undercover gang members.
The bigger problem was finding the bar where my ride went. Bill’s instructions: “Bar, 1050 S. Flower Street.”
Not to pick on Siri again, but my iPhone personal assistant blurted out “You have arrived!” and shut down the map when I was in front of a mostly vacant parking lot. I was going to ask a female walking by if she knew where this particular bar was, but it was a distinct possibility that she had orders to kill the first person that talked to her on the street for a gang initiation. No thanks. We weren’t right outside of Staples Center anymore. It would do me no good to get killed and not end up on ESPN.
I walked down the block, heeded the “Wrong Way” signs, walked down another street and … AHA! … found 1050 S. Flower Street. As shown above, that address led to the world’s only fire hydrant with its own address sign, but not a bar.
Neither reporter responded to my texts, so I mustered up the guts to ask a complete stranger on the sidewalk if he knew where this bar was located. Fearing that I was a gang member from Utah, he told me, “Right around the corner.” His directions were better than Siri’s and Bill’s, so I didn’t kill him.
When I entered the bar, Bill finally saw my S.O.S. text with the picture of the fire hydrant. “Sorry. Gave you the wrong address.”
After a 30-minute, two-block walk, I kind of noticed. But I made it alive and, better yet, his friend bought me a couple of rounds of Diet Coke. No complaints.
On Wednesday morning, reporters were leaving a Jazz practice at a ritzy athletic club when I spotted Derrick Favors sitting at a juice bar. I thought he was waiting for some food, but that wasn’t the case. Good choice on his part, too, considering the main ingredient at this gym’s bar was apparently wheat grass.
“I think your team is leaving,” I informed him.
The other 17 players and staff members had gone out a different exit than in previous visits to this gym and … just as we were talking about that, the bus pulled away for its 10-15-minute trek to the team hotel.
There have been several players over the years whom the Jazz certainly would have liked to have left at juice bars. Even more have “missed the bus” in other ways. Derrick Favors is not one of them. He’s one of the organization’s most promising young players. This NBA team likes him so much they recently agreed to pay him $48 million over the next four years. He could buy a fleet of buses with wheat-grass juice bars that’d always wait for him with that kind of moolah.
Derrick quickly made a call to someone who hadn’t been abandoned. Within a couple of minutes, the bus had turned around and had honked at him down the street. In that night’s game, the 22-year-old scored 24 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, so the Jazz might be tempted to leave without him after more morning workouts.
The way Derrick hustled to the bus made me think I’d been wrong about something. This wasn’t just an elaborate ploy by him to ride in my awesome car.
The story reminded me of a couple of other bus incidents the Jazz have had in recent years. Last fall, the bus carrying Utah coaches and veteran players got stuck in L.A. traffic and arrived almost an hour late to an exhibition game that took place in Anaheim. There was also a time when a player named Jamaal Tinsley, a Brooklyn native, had to give a lost bus driver directions to the new arena in his hometown.
Road kill: It might be time for a new pair of earbuds. Shockingly, the black foam from a different set of headphones and plastic tape felt a little funky in my ear. I go through approximately 17,498 pair of earbuds to listen to interviews, cliches and coach speak throughout an NBA season.
On Tuesday night, I was in the Jazz locker room when a reporter from Turkey gave compatriot Enes Kanter, a young Utah center, a box of Turkish Delights candy before conducting an interview. I wasn’t about to buy Craig Bolerjack and Matt Harpring something with my own money and I didn’t have any American Delights candy, so I did the next best thing during my interview the next night when the Jazz played the Clippers. As a token of my admiration for them, I brought them free apples I found in the pressroom dining area as a thank you gift. (Photo h/t @monilogue and ROOT Sports)
When I wasn’t at gyms or heroically reuniting teammates, I was pretty much hanging out in my hotel room. No beaches. No tourist attractions. No star-studded parties. I went to three practices, two games and wrote seven stories. On my one free night, I watched a talent show on TV called “The Voice” and walked on the hotel treadmill. Which explains why that McDonald’s breakfast might’ve been my best meal. Strangely, I did eat three of these tuna fish snack packs over the course of three days in my hotel room. I also ate two dinners in the pressroom. Which might explain why my stomach was feeling queasy by the end of my trip.
My budget-friendly hotel and my sweet new ride. Could be a postcard. Give me your address, and I’ll send you one. When I rented the car, I told the customer-service guy at National, “I’m sure I’ll have a speeding ticket when I return.” Marvin and I then spent 10 minutes swapping stories about being pulled over by police. I somehow lucked into a Camaro last year and got pulled over by a CHIPs motorcycle officer (not Ponch or John). I should’ve been given a citation. He kindly let me off with a warning after I explained that I was from Utah and was returning to the hotel where my cancer-stricken grandma was giving her final farewell.
Marvin one-upped that story. He once passed five cop cars on the side of the road by an intersection in an L.A. suburb. He politely waved to the officer in the first car and then stopped at a red light. While checking his phone messages, he noticed the light turned green and drove through the intersection. All five cop cars pulled him over. The guy he’d just waved to came up to his door and asked, “Are you blind or stupid?” Marvin, thinking the answer was “neither,” was confused. “Why?” The officer was also confused: “You’d have to be either blind or stupid to run a red light in front of five cop cars.” He’d mistakenly gone straight on a green turn arrow. I then told him about the time I got pulled over by two cops at once for two different reasons and got out of a ticket, but we’ll save that for another blog.
If you go to L.A., you have to have a spot. A spot to be seen. To do stuff. To live the life. Maybe it’s Rodeo Drive shops or Yang Chow’s restaurant. Mine? The Manhattan Marketplace. This strip mall has my favorite El Segundo Subway, which my paper’s accountants will be happy to know I frequented three times on this trip. It also has Samurai Sam, which serves a mean and cheap (mostly cheap) bowl of teriyaki rice and chicken, and a CVS Pharmacy for toothpaste that someone forgot to pack. Warned you that I’m boring.
I love flying back to Salt Lake City, even if the bumpiness makes me wonder if I do need that barf bag on days like yesterday when my stomach was upset before getting on the plane. And even if I sometimes get chided by flight attendants for taking pictures during the final approach.
By the way, basketball fans might notice that I’m home earlier than the Jazz. Utah has one last preseason game in Anaheim tonight. Other reporters from my paper are arriving in the area for a Saturday college football game featuring Utah and USC at the Coliseum, so it was decided that they’d cover the Jazz-Lakers game. I was sent home — in part to give me a weekend night off to recuperate from my wild L.A. vacation, but mostly for financial purposes. It’s an insane business model, but we kill trees to print newspapers, not money.
Perhaps I’m jumping to an unfair conclusion, but it appears my wife did not read any of the articles I wrote while I was away on this adventure.