Life on the Road
Life on the Road: One of those (bad) days
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A bad day sports writing beats working. Yeah, usually I subscribe to that one. But today was just a bad one, one that played on lots of my existential fears and angst and cynicism and occasional self-loathing.
I truly do think I’ve had a lot of personal growth in the last five years. I like myself a lot more than five, six, seven years ago. I generally feel like my better, younger former self. I have pushed some of my boundaries in that time, done things I never thought I could do. But today pulled me back into a mucky old ointment of self-pity, self-righteousness and, as mentioned, self-loathing. To cut to the chase, though: it didn’t last too long and I’m able to talk about it here without shame.
To narrate the day: Covered the game last night, didn’t sleep at all. Stayed at the apartment of National Hockey Now and Pittsburgh Hockey Now colleague Dan Kingerski. Flight at 9 a.m. out of Washington-Dulles to Miami. It’s approximately a four-hour drive from Dan’s place in downtown Pittsburgh to Dulles, one I did in reverse the day before.
I didn’t leave Dan’s place until about 2:45 a.m., and as I would realize about 35 minutes into the drive, it wasn’t a good decision at all to drive 275 miles with no sleep on dark, wet, slick roads. Rain fell for probably the first two-thirds of the drive, and it was chilly. I had to cut the speed back to about 50 mph. I definitely was drowsy. It was dark on the road for most of the drive, and a lot of it was on a narrow two-lane road with 18-wheelers to pass and feel surrounded by many, many times. I also have a really, really bad tendency to look at my phone when I’m driving. I’m definitely playing russian roulette with this.
To answer a quick question you probably have: why was I driving from Pittsburgh to Dulles at 2:45 a.m, when the next stop on the Avalanche road trip is Sunrise, Florida? Because I took a direct flight to Dulles for the start of the trip, the game against the Capitals on Monday, then did the math and saw it would be a lot cheaper to rent a car and drive back and forth from Dulles-Pitt-Pitt-Dulles than buy airlines tickets. I spent about $105 on the rental car for the (technically) three days instead of about $300 on a plane ticket. I’m four months into starting my own site, so $195 matters. Plus, doing the flight from Dulles-Miami at 9 a.m. meant I could go back to Dan’s place after the Avs-Penguins game, write a couple of articles (one for this site, one for Bookies.com, where I write regularly) and not spend on a night’s hotel.
About 65 shaky miles into the drive, I seriously considered pulling over and getting a cheap room. But I started to get all kinds of bad math problems in my head. “You got a United Economy ticket and you get zero changes on those tickets, unlike when you were a Premier Executive on that airline back in the good old days and could make any changes you wanted for free and, besides, it didn’t come out of your pocket anyway. Now, it’s on your dime and it might cost a thousand bucks for a new ticket and besides, don’t be a whiny little wimp. Push on, make your scheduled flight, you baby.”
So I pushed on. Around 5 a.m., I was told by my phone GPS (Waze) that I wouldn’t arrive at Dulles rental car return until 7:59. That would leave one hour and one minute to return the car, get on a rental car bus for the roughly 10-minute ride to the terminal, get checked in (because I had the El Cheapo, bottomest ticket with United, I had to check in with a live gate agent, because all I declared was a personal item (my entire laptop bag doubles as my bag for everything when I travel, there is no way in HELL I’m going to pay an airline to check a bag, never have, never will) and get through security in an airport that hasn’t had any renovations since approximately just after Lindbergh’s flight to Paris.
Now, I’m in a mild panic. I will have driven five hours for nothing. I’ll miss the flight and have to pay a thousand bucks to get a new flight and it’s all because I pushed it too close to the margins on my departure time, like I always do.
Once the sun started coming up a little bit over the hills of Virginia and Maryland, I got a bit of an adrenalized second wind. I listened to three podcasts as well, which helped take my mind a bit off the gloomy GPS math. The podcasts were the DNVR Avalanche podcast, with my old colleague A.J. Haefele discussing the Avs’ overtime loss to Pittsburgh. I liked the pod. A.J. brought his ‘A Game’ and I found myself agreeing with most everything he said, and even though Nathan Rudolph speaks in a cadence that sounds a bit too radio DeeJayish for my taste, I liked his takes too.
The other two podcasts were Adam Carolla-Dr. Drew shows. I like the Ace Man’s outlook on life. It is very similar to mine. We had very similar childhoods, it’s clear.
Traffic clears up a bit. Waze tells me I will now arrive at 7:46. Relief, but still lots of stress. Sure enough, I pull in at 7:46. I should be happy and relieved that I am alive, that I survived this rendezvous with fate. But no, that’s when my old, worst habits take effect for the next eight hours or so.
I get impatient at the security line. I huff and puff and sigh as an elderly couple ahead of me take what I feel is now far too much time in sacrificing their carry-on items to the conveyor belt. This is by far the worst aspect of my personality. I am very, very impatient, especially in lines. I am truly a despicable person when I am impatient, standing in line.
It’s at about this time that I start to feel my back seizing up on me. I most definitely have a herniated disc right now. It’s been bad for about two weeks now. I had to see a doctor on kind of a walk-in-clinic kind of thing, because the pain was becoming overwhelming. I got a prescription for the steroid Prednisone, plus the muscle relaxant Flexeril.
The Prednisone did wonders. I was virtually pain-free the first three days after getting my week’s worth of pills. Last night, before the Penguins game, I walked in with Joe Sakic. We talked about nothing else but Prednisone and taking care of a bad back. Don’t forget, Sakic’s career was essentially cut short from a bad back. He has taken the same steroids, too, and we talked about them and also the benefits of Pilates, which Joe is a devoted adherent of now. I said how great my back felt, which of course started a jinx that gradually started to build right around when I got into the rental car on Dan’s dark neighborhood street corner. (The night before, we dined at the Nepalese restaurant just up the block from Dan’s place, and we were the only two patrons the entire time, which caused me to reference the Seinfeld episode where Jerry encourages Babu to open a restaurant, only to earn Babu’s scorn for his being the only live customer).
Right about the time I got to the gate (at 8:42), the back was in voluminous pain. I trudged back to my 34D seat and nestled into a space that had approximately the leg-room width of a gnat.
The flight was on time, mostly smooth and drama-free, but I was in real pain the entire time. No matter the new position I squirmed my hips and back into, flares of fresh pain radiated throughout my entire body.
But we land, earlier than scheduled even. I can barely walk off the plane, but I am thinking as I get off “The worst is over. You’ll get in your rental car that you got for a good, last-minute Priceline fare and you’ll be in a reasonably-priced Marriott Towne Place Suites room in approximately 45 minutes. You pulled it off again, kid!”
Then came the line at the Avis counter, and it all went to shit from there. I knew it would be bad, too. I got a Priceline fare at Avis ($120 for everything, for, technically, four days, which is how the rental-car companies do their bullshit accounting – anything over one second counts as a full “day” in their madness methodology).
I would say there were seven total customers ahead of me in the line. I waited about 75 minutes to get to the actual desk with an actual clerk. The clerk was a lady of probably 75 or so. From approximately minutes 50-75 of my wait, I started to go into near meltdown mode. I put out a couple of sarcastic tweets ripping all of the Avis-Miami galaxy. I huffed and puffed in line. I did a mock cheer when one of the customers finally got their car, after about 20 minutes at the counter. The back was in a new phase of pain, one that I would label as “I can’t move, my entire back feels on fire, it feels like there is a serrated knife lodged firmly in there” kind of pain.
I got to the counter. I said to the older-lady clerk, “My god, why are you guys so slow today? What is going on here?”
She responded with, “I’m sorry.”
I said, “God, that was way too long of a wait.”
She apologized again, and said it was partially because they didn’t have enough cars available for new customers. Some kind of logistics problem.
I took that opportunity to get in a rude, dick-ish jibe, “Well, isn’t that kind of a problem, a rental car company not having any cars available, in Miami?”
I immediately regretted it. I mean, I think I had a right to be a bit upset over such a long wait. But, of course, it wasn’t this elderly lady’s fault. I took it out on her, and immediately hated myself for it.
I did say soon after: “I’m sorry, I’m in a fair amount of pain. Bad back, and I just have to get off my feet soon.”
(I soon heard from a friend, too, that all I had to do was give a call to this amazing company, the Party Bus Palm Bay, and I could have rolled in style for less than my rental car cost. Live and learn).
She took the higher road there and asked me more specifics about the back, and sort of intimated that she knew other people in her immediate circle who had suffered from the same thing. I apologized again after that, but I didn’t then and still don’t feel good about myself about that entire 75-minute episode.
I have heard from some of you and I agree: I need to just appreciate what I have and be grateful and get rid of any last remnants of an entitled, self-righteous, pampered self. That evil twin came out today, and all I can do is try and eliminate any more such appearances.
OTHER MOMENTS FROM THIS TRIP
I have a rule whenever I gamble, which is not that often: If I win anything that puts me in a surplus situation for the night, I take my winnings and walk away right there. No exceptions, no matter how small the take.
So, I pulled into this roadside casino on Tuesday in Western Pennsylvania. Partially, to just take a restroom break, but also to just pull the arm of a slot and say I once went there.
I walked in, put two dollars in the penny slot machine and, on my third deal, won a hand worth $5.10 and walked out. It was that fast. So, total expenditures: $2. Total winnings: $5.10. Here’s proof, and I can’t tell you how elated winning any money made me feel walking out of that goddamn casino.