When people find out I write about the Utah Jazz for a living, this conversation usually ensues:
People: “They pay you money to do that!?”
This Person: “Define money.”
People: “What a cool job! You go to every game?”
This Person: “It usually is and, yes, most of ’em.”
People: “You travel with the team? Fun!”
This Person: “Define fun. Kidding! But even dentists performing root canals must eventually feel like they’re working, right? Anyway, yes, I go to almost every road game, but I have to get there on my own. (Cue sad violin music.) While the millionaire athletes travel in luxury on chartered planes with free WiFi, catered food, a traveling massage therapist and get pampered in five-star hotels, lowly beat writers have to fly commercial, endure regular encounters with TSA agents, stay in 2.5-star hotels and …”
This is when People usually interrupt This Person’s sob story and ask about meeting Kobe, LeBron and Gordon Hayward. Or try to get free tickets. I’m interrupting myself to begin the first of a series that will be called “Travailing With Jody” (name subject to change if/when I think of something more clever or after more than 17 people tell me I misspelled traveling).
ITINERARY: Salt Lake City, Utah to Boise, Idaho (Oct. 11-12)
REASON: NBA preseason basketball game between the Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers
MODE OF TRAVEL: Rental car
LENGTH OF TRIP: 20 hours, 50 minutes
(Quick background: I normally arrive in cities the day before a game. This allows me to wrap up advance stories, try to get a decent night’s sleep at the hotel, wake up when the neighbor’s alarm goes off, stash mini shampoos in my suitcase, eat mushy hotel oatmeal and get to the arena for interviews after the team’s morning prep session. The “shootaround” takes place about eight hours before the game is played.)
This Boise trip ended up being one of the more bizarre excursions in my Jazz-writing career. Admittedly, most pain was self-inflicted. I can’t even blame Siri or TSA agents for my well-intended-but-sorta-insane decision to drive 366 miles to the game, cover it and then turn around and drive right back home, all in less than 21 hours.
Here are some nitty-gritty details — not to purposely bore you, but to give insight into what made this a weird whirlwind:
My oldest of four children, 8-year-old Ethan, started playing lacrosse this fall. Unfortunately, two of his team’s six games happened to fall within this trip’s window. One game was Thursday at 6 p.m., which is about when I’d normally be settling in fill-in-the-blank NBA city. The other game was Saturday at 11:15 a.m., which is about when I’d normally be en route to a different NBA city following a Friday night game.
I love watching my kids in action. Honestly, I worry/wonder how much of their young lives I’ll miss if I continue this travel-intensive job. That’s why I decided to do everything I possibly could to watch both of Ethan’s games. This decision complicated my first NBA trip of the year and set the stage for a wild 20 hours and 50 minutes, which included a matching set of all-day and all-night drives.
I decided that if I drove to Boise instead of flying, it’d allow me to watch the lacrosse games and save my company money. I figured my son and the bigwigs’ bonus fund would appreciate that. My original plan was to make the five-and-a-half-hour drive to Boise after watching Thursday’s lacrosse game, leaving at about 7:30 p.m. (instead of early afternoon when the other beat writer in town, the sane one who turned down my carpooling invitation, left SLC). If I got drowsy on the drive, the town of Burley, Idaho, about halfway between SLC and Boise, would make a swell spot to hunker down for the night.
Problem? I spent Thursday morning writing a blog entry thanking my wife for feeling like a cow. This pushed back my other duty of writing a fun feature for the newspaper on the blossoming odd-couple friendship between Jazz rookies Rudy Gobert, a Frenchman, and Ian Clark, a Tennessee native. I finished my Jazz story just in time to scramble to get to the lacrosse game. Packing didn’t happen, so I had to return home after the lacrosse game. That set me back a couple of hours, which I was OK with because I was trying to be Husband of the Year, Daddy of the Year and Jazz Fun Feature Writer of the Year.
But instead of leaving Salt Lake City at 9:30 p.m., I opted to sleep in my own bed and take off early the next morning. The bigwigs’ bonus fund had to love saving one night of hotel fare.
Fast forward through about five hours of sleep, and I decided that leaving my house at 5:30 a.m. to get to Boise for the 11:30 a.m. shootaround might not be the best idea. This meant, however, that I’d miss the morning interviews and would have to work harder that night. But more sleep!
It also meant that I had to:
A) Drop off my 4-year-old son with blue highlights in his blonde curls (CRAZY HAIR DAY!) at preschool on the way out of town after leaving my house at 9:30 a.m.
B) Pick up a rental car but not one with a Satellite radio because they apparently don’t have any vehicles that new at the Salt Lake International Airport.
C) Begin the approximate 366-mile drive to the Land of Spuds, stopping at a Willard Bay gas station about a half-hour into my trip to buy a sandwich, 44 ounces of caffeinated Diet Coke and some awesome sunglasses — awesome after tearing off the uber-sticky 2 for $15 price tag with my teeth, that is.
D) Rub my eyes, not because of fatigue, but because a billboard on I-15 outside of Ogden, Utah, advertised for something called the “Museum of Clean” in Pocatello, Idaho. My grandpa is from Pocatello and the town hosted one of my all-time favorite sports-writer experiences (it included one writer asking another writer, “When was the last time you had your ass kicked?” in the pressroom on deadline). But neither of those awesome facts ever enticed me to return to Pocatello like the draw of this new museum. Sadly, time was not my ally on this trip. Here’s hoping the Jazz schedule a preseason game in Pokey next fall, so I can explore clean artifacts.
E) Become a bit disheartened when I see “Boise” on a sign for the first time and realize that I still have 275 miles of road to haul. The only thing keeping me company at this point was thinking about the Museum of Clean and trying to figure out how to work the rental car’s cruise control, which is always the third-hardest part about the renting process. (The second-hardest thing about rental cars is figuring out how to open the gas tank. The hardest part, of course, is taking the newish car back and returning to my 11-year-old vehicle.)
F) Get confused to see that Boise is 237 miles away on a road sign about 15 minutes down the road from seeing a sign claiming Boise was only 225 miles away. Don’t mess with me like that, road-sign people! I’d ask Siri, but we’ve established the fickleness of our relationship.
G) Arrive in Snowville for my second pit stop a couple hours after leaving home. Bad news? I still haven’t made it to the Idaho border. Good news? There’s no waiting in the showers for professional drivers, according to the gas station’s loudspeaker.
H) Lose all radio stations in this endless sea of sagebrush except for one that plays — you guessed it — country music, one that is blaring the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” and another that, well, I’m not sure what it plays because it ain’t nothin but a mistake to turn the dial away from Nick Carter & Co.
I) Feel relieved to finally make it to Idaho but slightly overwhelmed with the volume of knowledge Gem State officials expect you to quickly learn while zooming by a slew of info-packed signs posted at their state’s doorstep. Upon entering Idaho, you’re admonished to not litter, to use certain numbers for reporting drunk drivers and wildfires, to be wary of frightening dust storms, to not park on the side of the road during said frightening dust storms, to be mindful of deer migration patterns, to avoid transporting “invasive species” into the state, and to not touch the potatoes. That last one was a joke — unless it’s an invasive species of potato.
J) Experience anxiety after reading the most disturbing sign: “Safety Corridor: Stay Alert, Stay Alive, 3 miles.” About one hundred yards later, see a turkey — OK, some kind of bird … maybe a pheasant or a grouse but not a duck, although I’m not a ornithologist, so what do I know, well, except that the bird on the road obviously hadn’t been alert and was no longer alive, or at least I’m assuming that because of how its feathers were pointing to heaven from the pavement. But, really? Could you frighten drivers more than posting a “Safety Corridor: Stay Alert, Stay Alive, 3 miles” sign? I blame Idaho for scaring my bird buddy (RIP) to death.
K) Wonder why the speed limit on these barren remote roads dropped from 80 MPH in Utah to 75 MPH in Idaho!? Is this a stay alert, stay alive thing? And how am I supposed to remain positive when Boise is taken off the roadside mileage signs in lieu of Twin Falls, Rupert and Burley?
L) Check out another depressing sign: “Rest Area Closed. Next Rest Area 97 Miles.” Adding to the downer mood in my rented Chevrolet Equinox, Depeche Mode is now singing lyrics a writer never wants to hear, “Words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm.” At least I survived the Safety Corridor.
M) Notice Boise is back on the mileage sign! Get so excited I didn’t see if Idaho pranksters were claiming that the metropolis was now 793 miles away.
N) Chuckle as my old Depeche Mode CD starts playing a track called “Clean.” This has got to be that Pocatello museum’s theme song, right?
O) Think that you — yes YOU! — are lucky my blog doesn’t have scratch-and-sniff sticker technology as I pass by several potent dairy farms off the side of I-84.
P) Throw a party in my rental car, not because Backstreet Boys were back on the radio, but because an oasis that proved to be the city of Boise emerged out of nowhere.
Q) Pull into the parking lot of the world-renowned Qdoba Mexican Grill, which, truthfully, might not be world-renowned, but it had a bathroom — yes, Pocatello, a clean one — and a pretty tasty steak burrito (not in the clean bathroom). Time on clock: 4:08 p.m.
R) Find the arena, park, do sports-writer duties, including interviewing Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, a few Utah players, a couple of former Utah players (Earl Watson and Mo Williams), see a couple of friends and their families (hey Diana and Jim!), watch some preseason NBA basketball, tweet jokes about potatoes and Boise State football’s eye-torturing blue turf, do more interviews, write a couple of stories and exit the arena. Also decide to drive all the way home overnight. Time on clock: 11:03 p.m.
S) Ask myself if my son will really even care that I made the effort and crazy 730ish-mile turnaround trip to watch his lacrosse games but decide to forge on anyway because I care, and, oh yeah, remember to remember to fill up the gas tank so I don’t get stranded near a potato patch in the middle of this frigid night.
T) Notice Idaho isn’t as funny at night, although the bright gas station sign advertising “Free Parking, Free Internet, Free RV Dump, Free Horse Stalls” did amuse me. Not enough to exit the freeway. This does remind me, however, that I made eight total pit stops for my bladder, which acts like it belongs to a 6-year-old girl who drinks way too much Diet Coke.
U) Think while driving through Paradise Valley that I need to learn the Secret Headlight Flash Code that truck drivers do on the freeway at night. I remember once being nervous about an email claiming we shouldn’t drive around the city with our headlights off because gangs were doing initiations and would kill motorists that either absentmindedly didn’t turn them on or forgot to buy new bulbs. In high school, we used to either punch a friend or kiss a girl, being careful to not mix those two up, while driving if we saw a perdiddle (only one functioning headlight). These truckers have mysterious light-flashing rituals that intrigue me as much as the secret menu at In-N-Out. When they flick their lights off and on when you’re passing them, does that mean, “Come back over to this lane” or ANIMAL STYLE!?
V) Pass by the last hotel in Idaho at 1:48 a.m., basically committing myself to continue driving through the pitch-black no-man’s land until getting back to northern Utah. My eyelids feel about 10 pounds heavier after passing that Burley exit. I start thinking this might not be my brightest idea, which is saying something.
W) Decide to adhere to the message of the three consecutive bright signs outside of Snowville encouraging drowsy drivers to pull over. Time on clock: 2:42 a.m. Fall asleep in my locked car in the parking lot of a gas station only to be awakened by a door slamming right next to my head. Imagine that the two guys in the white truck next to me are mass murderers who escaped from prison — and helped the little dog in the front seat escape from his cell as well — so I skedaddle out of the parking lot. Seriously, why would they park next to me when there were multiple empty stalls to their left? Did they want to kill me because my headlights were off? Did they want to dump me off in the dark desert and steal my awesome new sunglasses and beef jerky? Not wanting to find out, my drive home resumes at 3:50 a.m.
X) Feel much more alert — and alive — but do think it’s strange and rudely deceiving that a sign for the tiny town of Howell looks like it says Hawaii when it’s illuminated by bright headlights and your heart is still quickly racing while you escape the clutches of meandering murderers in the middle of the night. Mental note: Convince Jazz to schedule a 2014 preseason game in Hawaii (not Howell).
Y) Drive, keep eye(s) open, pee/refill, drive more, return the rental car with a full tank of gas and remember to grab my CD and awesome new sunglasses with sticker residue on the handle. Find my 11-year-old car in the airport parking lot and head for the 23-mile homestretch.
Wife: “Did you drive all night?”
Me: “Sorta. I took a nap in a parking lot in Snowville and almost got killed …”
Wife: “You look horrible. You look tired or guilty.”
Me: “Well, I did speed through most of Minidoka County.”
Wife: “Oh my gosh! It’s 6:30. You’re crazy!”
Details get fuzzy after that, but I remember hearing my wife grumble that she didn’t get the whole king-size mattress to herself like she was planning on … and then, Zzzzzzzz.
Three hours later, I was on the road again, driving the five non-lacrosse players in the family to a park on the other side of the Salt Lake Valley to watch Ethan’s game, which started about the same time I normally would’ve been leaving my hotel to return home after chowing down on the hotel’s free breakfast.
I really enjoyed watching Ethan’s team rally to score four straight goals and beat a team whose best player, a 9-year-old boy, is nicknamed “Sexy!” I sure hope that’s his nickname.
The fact I drove all night and narrowly escaped my doom in that scary parking lot only made me appreciate watching my son play even more. What did E-Dog think of my efforts? “It’s nice.”
And the rest of the day?
Yes, I did get another nap, bringing my sleep total to about 6.25 hours, if you count the Snowville snooze. As the life of an NBA beat writer goes, I then had to leave to do more sports-writer stuff at a Jazz game that night in Salt Lake City. I finally arrived back home Saturday at midnight, with two lacrosse games, two NBA preseason games, 825 miles and 352 ounces of Diet Coke refills under my belt.
As far as I can recall, my wife didn’t complain about me taking up a portion of our bed this time.
Then again, all I can remember after my head hit the soft pillow was the sweet sound of not driving through Idaho.