A Chilly Weekend
“Merry Christmas, we’re sending you to Cleveland……..in February.”
--A message from my wife, my parents, and my in-laws this December.
So, I’m an odd duck. My wish wasn’t to head to Hawaii or Mexico. My wish was to be sent to northeast Ohio in the throws of a miserable winter, to watch two basketball games. I would have enjoyed some company, but understandably none of the other people in my family who contributed to this “gift,” had much of a desire to tag along.
But the prospect of three nights alone in a strange city did not deter me. I’ve always wanted to see my beloved Cleveland Cavaliers in their home arena, and that desire has been magnified since Lebron James joined the team in 2003. If the only way to see him in the flesh was to do it alone, then so be it.
So the journey began. Little did I know that a true learning experience awaited me in the cold air.
Friday, February 9th:
7:30 a.m.: My wife had to leave early for work, so we had already said our goodbyes (to my dismay, she shed no tears) by the time my father-in-law arrived to take me to the airport. To my further dismay, he chose to chauffeur me in his old Buick LeSabre rather than his sparkling Lexus ES330. Apparently, he doesn’t like to take the Lexus out in in climate weather. Living in Oklahoma, that means the Lexus hits the road about 20 times a year. But beggars can’t be choosers, no matter how hard we try.
8:25 a.m.: Sitting at the gate, waiting to board my plane, I couldn’t help but overhear a juicy cell phone conversation the woman behind me was having. Trying very hard to listen, without appearing trying hard to listen, I surmised that she was having some sort of work-related affair that she was about to end “forever.” She was loud and descriptive, and her tale was much more intriguing than the book I brought along.
10:47 a.m.: I’ll never understand it. Oklahoma City is in the middle. Cleveland is up. Houston is down. So, why in the world do I need to fly down to go up? I think the airlines might do this just to make schmucks like me look stupid wearing a winter coat in the humid south Texas air.
5:15 p.m.: I seriously doubt the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce designed it this way, but my first glimpse of the city came through the windows of the RTA (Rapid Transit Authority) train that took me from the airport to my downtown hotel. From my seat, the city appeared dark, abandoned, cold, and lonely. Suddenly, it didn’t feel much like a vacation anymore.
5:55 p.m.: My spirits lifted when I arrived at “Tower City.” Cleveland made an intelligent move to build this sprawling indoor facility. The RTA station attaches to a three-story mall, which attaches to a movie theater, which attaches to two separate hotels, which attaches to the gateway, which attaches to Jacobs Field, and Quicken Loans Arena—my destination for the weekend. In short, I quickly learned that my heavy winter jacket may be totally unnecessary, as in theory, I’d never have to be outside.
6:15 p.m.: My parents took care of the hotel for me, and I was more than happy to take advantage of the perks all of my Dad’s traveling for work has to offer. The Downtown Renaissance was very nice, but what made it spectacular for me was when I learned I’d been upgraded to “club level.” I had a swipe-card that read “elite” and I felt as such every time I used it to access the “special floors” at the top of the building. My room was magnificent (thanks Mom and Dad). It had two beds, two lounge chairs, two televisions, and tons of extra room. Nevermind that my entire weekend’s activities in the room could be confined to one corner of one of the beds; it was there, and that’s all the mattered.
7:10 p.m.: Every time I walk into an arena or stadium for the first time, I feel like Ned Beatty in “Rudy,” when he finally sees Notre Dame Stadium. No matter how old, how sparkling, or how average the joint may be, I am always reminded of Beatty’s words: “This is the most beautiful site these eyes have ever laid eyes on.” That’s how I felt as I took my seat at the “Q.” My seat (notice the singular, not the plural) was in a nice spot (thanks Les and Nancy) behind the basket on the side where the Miami Heat would be sitting that night. I watched with eyes wide as Lebron, Dwayne Wade, Shaq, and the rest of the players warmed-up. I guess it’s all part of the kid in me.
7:58 p.m.: The lady sitting next me decided to make some sort of statement by refusing to stand for the National Anthem. Her boyfriend seemed embarrassed. I was going to say something, but decided that it’s a free country. We’re all free to be insensitive morons if we so choose.
8:05 p.m.: NBA teams more or less make a mockery of pre-game introductions these days, but I must say that the Cavs do it right. It’s quite a pyrotechnic display, and I noticed that I was grinning ear to ear when Lebron was introduced. Again, the kid in me—awed by someone seven years younger than myself.
10:00 p.m.: With the game well in hand, Lebron drives to the hoop directly in my line of sight, and absolutely crushes a dunk on Alonzo Mourning. It is the highlight moment of what was a fairly dull game. The Heat look unsettled all evening, and the Cavs are sharp, as Lebron outplays Wade and the Cavs win going away, 103-79.
10:45 p.m.: As I make my way back to the hotel, I am struck by a sense of disappointment I can’t quite finger. The Cavs had won easily, and I had seen Lebron put on a nice little show. But something was missing. It had been a long day, maybe I was just tired.
Saturday, Februrary 11th:
10:06 a.m.: My “maybe I was just tired” theory seems to have been proven correct, as I finally force myself to roll out of bed much later than is normal for me—even on a Saturday.
1:30 p.m.: I’ve been up for over three hours now, and I soon figure out why I may have been so reluctant to stroll out of bed this morning. I have absolutely nothing to do. I’m working on a fairly tight budget, so renting a car and driving to Canton or Columbus for the day is out of the question. And I’m not much of a sightseer, so the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame holds no real appeal for me. Plus, the wind chill is beyond brutal, and from everything I’ve read and heard from locals, there isn’t much to do downtown anyway.
3:30 p.m.: After another couple of hours twiddling my thumbs in my hotel room, I decide to go on a hunt for a taste of home. I make a few calls and find a sportsbar within walking distance that might be able to pick up the Oklahoma-Baylor game on satellite. As I make the walk to the bar, I am struck by how good the cold air actually feels after being bottled up indoors for so long.
5:20 p.m.: After a long search, the bartender is finally able to locate the game on the dish. The second half has already started, but I am comforted to see my Sooners in live action. The folks at the Winking Lizard are all very kind, and the food isn’t bad either. The Sooners pull out a close victory, but I wind up staying for almost another hour after that. I tell myself I’m waiting until a few other games end, but really, I think I’m latching on to the causal conversation and interaction with the staff.
6:45 p.m.: This time, the cold air on my walk back to the hotel doesn’t feel so good.
8:00 p.m.: Running out of options, I decide a pay-per-view movie might be a good way to kill the rest of the evening. I make my selection and push the buttons to finalize my order when I notice the $13.99 price tag. Are they serious? More out of principle than anything else, I decide to pass on the movie. I watch various basketball games and fall asleep with the TV on.
Sunday, Februrary 11th:
9:30 a.m.: Wanting to escape the confines of my hotel, I decide to have breakfast at the bagel shop I noticed the other day in Tower City. I get there, and it’s closed. Looking around, I realize that all of the stores and shops keep regular “mall hours,” meaning nothing will open until at least noon. So, I grab something to eat at the hotel restaurant and head back to my room.
12:05 p.m.: Still over three hours until the Cavs-Lakers game, but I’m sick of sitting, and decide to walk the mall. Unfortunately, I have been so ingrained to detest “mall walking” from my experiences with my wife and sister-in-law, that I don’t last long. I feel as if I’ve scoured every inch of the mall, but glancing at my cell phone, I notice less than a half an hour has passed. So I head back to the room.
3:00 p.m.: Finally decide to head to the game. I got to the game on Friday over an hour before tip-off, so I feel as if I soaked it all the pre-game stuff in pretty well. No need to do it again.
3:30 p.m.: I make my way to my seat and I am immediately struck by something. As I get to my row, I notice that every seat is occupied—every seat but one, smack dab in the middle of the row. As I shuffle past my row mates, I find myself feeling mildly embarrassed.
3:35 p.m.: Again, my seat is a good one (thanks Jennie). This time I am directly behind the basket and I know that given the right shot, I could very way get my mug on to national television this afternoon. During the pre-game intros, I am once again grinning ear-to-ear when they introduce Lebron.
5:05 p.m.: After the Cavs dominated the first half, the Lakers come out guns blazing in the third quarter. Kobe Bryant puts on a show. As I root for each of his shots to clang off the rim, I find myself in virtual awe of what he has become; no one wants to admit it, but Bryant is clearly the closest thing the NBA has to a modern day Michael Jordan. Kobe is a wicked defender, and he has formed himself into an unstoppable jump shooter. In addition, he can seemingly get to the rim whenever he wants. As much as I love (and prefer) Lebron, it is clear he has a long way to go before he reaches Bryant’s level (at least consistently). As Bryant’s made shots fuel my frustration, I am still happy to be able to witness such basketball greatness.
5:40 p.m.: Lebron is not having a great afternoon, but the Cavs bench is keeping them in the game. With less than two minutes left, the Cavs cling to a one point lead. The Cavs make a few clutch shots and Kobe finally misses, as Cleveland pulls away for a 99-90 victory. Just as on Friday night, Lebron puts an exclamation point on the win with a thundering dunk right in front of me. I watch him soar through the air and wonder if Lebron wasn’t thinking, “He’s come a long way, this one’s for Ed!”
6:30 p.m.: The crowd has left the building. The streamers have fallen and the players have given the post-game interviews on the giant Jumbotron. For whatever reason, I decide to stay in my seat. I am struck by two opposing thoughts: On one hand, I am truly grateful to have been able to witness my team and my favorite player win two games—the second of which coming in thrilling fashion. In many ways, I have dreamed of coming to this arena since it was built over 10 years ago. On the other hand, I am still sensing a certain emptiness. I’m not sure if I feel sad because my trip is over, or if I feel sad because I’m the only one that will have any memories from it.
9:00 p.m.: Re-packing my bag is always an adventure. My wife gets everything in there perfectly, and then I am somehow expected to recreate her masterpiece. I’m just lucky I can get the zipper zipped. It looks as if I have stuffed a human body into this carry-on size bag. I hope they don’t open it up, because the contents may explode.
Monday, February 12th:
7:00 a.m.: Back to the RTA. The station is full, but there is almost no sound coming from the crowd of people waiting for the train. It’s cold again, but now it’s snowing. The folks around me all appear headed to work or school. It’s Monday morning, and no one seems happy to be there.
12:15 p.m.: After the trip on the RTA, I waited in a long check-in line, which was followed by a long line at security. On the tarmac in Cleveland, we waited an extra half an hour while the plane was “de-iced,” which is still a term that gives me the willies. In Houston, I had to take the train from Terminal C to Terminal B, which was followed by a bus ride to the Express jet. Finally, I was in my seat and an hour from home.
1:45 p.m.: My father-in-law was there right on time as he always is. As we made our way to his Buick, I noticed how dark and gray it was, with a chilly mist falling all around. The air never felt so good.
So what did I learn from my trip? First of all, I learned how fortunate I am to have loved ones that care so deeply about me that they’d go to such lengths to make this trip happen. My hotel was wonderful, as were the seats at the game. It was equally wonderful to see Lebron and my Cavs win both games.
I learned that a thundering Lebron dunk doesn’t hold the same excitement for me when I can’t turn to my wife and say, “Did you SEE that?” It matters little that she couldn’t care less.
I learned that when you boil it down, I’d rather watch the games from afar with my loved ones, than watch the games from close-up, with my loved ones afar.