Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Without tension, there would be no story.

2016 May 08

     Waking up was easy. Today was going to be a fun day. Waking up at 5:30 was a problem.  I know it will be a late night and I need to sleep as long as and well as I can.  Not going to happen.  The first thing on the schedule is to meet with Tracy, the LA based travel agent in charge of booking our group.  I still lots of questions, but I knew she would have more answers.  That is not until 10. So, I wait for the hotel breakfast to open. The anticipation of working the fresh waffle maker is good enough to hold me until 6:30 when I head down.  The lobby is empty and so is the buffet. More for me. 

     Meeting Tracy went quickly, a small middle aged Asian lady with a bodyguard looking hubby. She has a FedEx envelope and two large boxes.  She tells me to deliver the boxes to Robert, our tour contact in China, and the team’s passports are in the envelope.  She left. Total meeting time 2 minutes. I assumed the brevity was due to detailed correspondence in the envelope.  I lug the boxes to the room with the envelope tucked under my arm.  I open the envelope. Just passports. Well, passports held together by rubber bands to be exact. A group of 5 and a group of 6. No itinerary. No boarding passes. Not the name of the airline even. That feeling of shock you just had reading the previous sentence; I had that also. A series of text messages followed and the details emerged, including a picture of a well outlined plan on company stationery the she, and everyone else, must have thought I already had. 

     With little situation done, I decided to nap a little. Not sure how well I will sleep on the plane, I could be sitting between two very tall guys. Just as I start to doze, the cleaning lady knocks. I tell her we have late check out and she seems satisfied. At 12, there is another knock, it is clearly the maintenance manager and she wants to know about this late checkout. I repeat about the team, and leaving later, and she asks me to check with the front desk. I go down to the desk and the guy informs me that 1 o’clock is ate enough and all rooms should be cleared out by then. Now I have yet to meet the team and they have been told the first thing on today’s list is meet in the lobby at 4. They could be anywhere. I text them the new reality and hope for the best. My things have been packed for hours so I make the two trips from 317 to the lobby lugging my suitcase and shoulder bag, then the two large boxes. I see a couple other bags in the area the manager agreed to store things for us, so I take that as a positive. 

     So, being evicted and on the streets of El Segundo, I decide to take a walk to the park and sit on a bench. Other than napping on a bench at the mall, which I have done, nothing say old man better than a walk to the park bench.  This was about 20 minutes away and had a great view of planes taking off at LAX. It was sunny, but not warm. It was nice to get a little exercise. I lasted there for a little more than an hour. Basically, if you have seen one plane lift off, you have seen them all. Back to the hotel.

     By the looks of it, the “basketball boot out” had worked well. There was a group of guys hanging out in the lobby and the patio area.  When I walked in, all eyes were on me.  I had to spill the beans about being coach.  The wait was worth it as one of my shuttle buddies got a broad smile and exclaimed, “Man, I have seen you about 5 times already and had no idea who you were.” I told him that I too had noticed him, and that our interactions had always been polite. To which he said proudly, “man, that’s why I am always careful about what I say, you never know who you are talking to.” To which I just smiled and completely agreed. The group watch the Cavs-hawks playoff game and then went to the practice facility.

     The receptionist was a smiley girl who informed me that practice was slated for 6-8, not 5-7. And we couldn’t start until the fee had been paid. See, there it is again. That feeling like some days are better than others.  I called the coach who is organizing the trip, he spoke with them and we were all set. Not sure what magic he pulled out of his hat, but we were back on schedule. 
How was practice? It was like a meeting your wife again for the first time. In my mind, I had played it over and over again. But to be standing at mid-court with 10 of the best players I have ever been charged with was exhilarating. Just for nostalgia’s sake, I started off with my middle school, introductions passing drill. With one ball, it’s laughable. With 4, it’s dangerous. With that, we were off. Passing, running, scheming, tweaking, learning, enjoying. Free of all that the world loads us down with. Lost for 2 hours of pure basketball.

     Basketball players are notoriously slow to transition from sweaty to clean. All of our luggage was with us in the gym. I told them to take what they needed to locker room and I would stand guard until they had all come back to retrieve their luggage. They knew we were leaving for the airport right after and that our flight was at 1 am. The last bag was dragged out of the gym at 8:30. One player had his dad with him and let me know they were getting some food and he would meet us at the airport. I was nervous, but he is a grown man. When I got to the lobby of the facility, 8 of 9 players were lounging and ready to go. I called the missing player and he told me that he too had left and meet us at the airport. Again with the feeling, this is one persistent feeling.

     The airport traffic is insane. The airport terminal is equally insane. The line is the amusement park serpentine type. While we are in line, one of the guys asks if I still have his passport. I do, no big deal, I had it to him. It is then that I realize, I still have one of the self-driven player’s passports. That’s a big deal. I cannot pass through security with it, there is no way the counter guy will hold it, and there is no telling how long the player will be. Pass the Xantac please. There is a long line leading to security. I text and text again and call directly to the player. No response. I get into the line hoping he will arrive before I get to the point of no return. Nope. I talk the agent into allowing me to stand aside while gaining instant access when my friend arrives to get his passport. Standing there is probably against the rules but not the biggest I would break in the next couple hours. I wait until finally there is a call. The player say he expect to arrive about 11. It is currently about 10:15. I let him know the dire consequences of not being here. The other players have entered the gigantic security line and I alone waiting for him. I will wait until 11 and then I too will enter the line of no return.

     It was like waiting for dark to descend while waiting for the fireworks to start. Is it dark enough yet? No. now? Nope. What about…I call the player to say the clock has struck proverbial 12. I got in the line. He is having trouble find Tom Brady Terminal and I can hear him running and asking people directions as we talk. I am at mid-point of the pre-line and he arrives, like lost comrades in in a spy movies he is describing the building and I am giving him directions to me. He take his passport and heads back to get ticketed. It is really late now and I am not sure I will make the plane either. When I see the monster my heart is again panicked. I see the cluster of above average height people and they are just about at the scanners, quick calculation tells me this line is at least 1 hour and 45 minutes. I must have that traveler in the headlights look about me because a TSA agent starts to talk about airline employees who walk the line for straggling passengers to help them make their flight. A small relief but now I am watching these poor employees with handheld flight cards like a hawk. I get to the end of the first turn and the guys are waving at me to join them all the y up at the front. How’s your tummy right now? I wave back and they are emphatic, the absolute signal that I should duck under the tape barrier and join them.  Jesus take the wheel. I do it. I duck under the tape, and walk past at least 1 million people to the front. I am stopped as I duck under the second tape feet away from the scanners. “Hey, what are you doing!?” this voice had clear authority in its tone. I stop of course. “You can’t do that, get back in the line or you will create a situation and make it worse.” The people at the front of the line give me get-in-the-damn-line look and I do. 7 people from the front. Not another word said until I get to the TSA passport/boarding pass checker. Her only question was, “Why did you stop?  I told your players you could come right up.” Ahh, possible international incident, the wrath of million unsettled travelers, and deep intention to do as told. She smiled and checked off whatever it is they check off and wished me well on the trip.

     Once I my seat it was time to take a head count. I was shocked to see Mr. Late passport already in the plane, apparently he cut the line as soon as he had a boarding pass. And then there was Mr. Awol.  He was poor communicating so far and now that we were at the moment of truth it was no different. I didn’t know if was going to make it. As they made the announcement that the doors were closing, my heart sunk.  The player next to me open his texts and reads it out loud. I AM NOT GOING TO MAKE IT. My feeling just punched me in the nose, how about yours? And then, there he is. Walking down the aisle. He did make. The player next to me lets me know the text was about 10 minutes old. So while I feel like I was a nervous wreck, I am sure those two players felt even worse.

     A quick 14 hour flight to the other side of the world awaits. Talk with you from Asia soon.

(The names have been purposefully omitted to protect the guilty. I will only use names when something good happens)

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