Why I missed last night's game
I wasn't around for the 25th installment of the Wizards Road Woes, but it wasn't for lack of trying. I had a travel day that was akin to most of the Wizards' games away from Verizon Center -- a rough start, some questionable calls, some disappointment and a decent rally to make it interesting until the inevitable collapse.
By the time my plane finally touched down on Tuesday in New Orleans, ending almost 14 hours of being held hostage at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the Wizards were three minutes away from a completing a 97-89 loss to the Hornets.
I contemplated making a last ditch effort to hop in a cab and catch up with the team, but I'll tell you later why I changed my mind. Let me give you the rundown of an unexpected travel nightmare caused by inclement weather in Dallas.
In my nine years covering the league, I've had more terrible travel adventures -- including a trip this season where mechanical problems, a gas leak, weather delays and a late arriving flight crew meant that I got home 12 hours later than I was supposed to -- but I can only recall one time when I was forced to miss a game that unfolded without me in attendance.
It happened my first year covering the Wizards when a winter storm shut down nearly every airport east of the Mississippi and I missed one of the best games of the season, with Antawn Jamison hitting a game-winning floater as time expired in Indiana.
When I looked at the schedule, the last place I was expecting to have trouble because of a winter storm was during the back-to-back from Dallas to New Orleans. I know Dallas gets hit with bad weather from time to time, but I was more concerned about mid-January trips out of Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
But after waking up at 4:30 a.m., packing, getting ready, and driving to the airport through ice, slush and snow, I realize where I made a mistake: When it comes to handling bad winter storms, my folks in the upper Midwest are pros. They can clear 10, 12 inches and be ready for breakfast. Dallas, not so much.
I didn't see one snow plow or salt truck on the 19-mile drive from my hotel to the airport; just a bunch of cars and trucks driving about 30 miles an hour, clumsily trying to maneuver through make-believe lanes. It took me about 45 minutes to get to the rental car place, where the shuttles were shut down because, as the driver explained, "there's been a bunch of accidents and they don't want to give us clearance yet."
Realizing that I wasn't going to make my 7 a.m. flight, I called American Airlines to get booked on the next flight. After being on hold for about 40 minutes -- or by the time my shuttle driver got clearance to take us to our gates -- I finally got an agent who told me that my flight was canceled and they would put me on a 2:30 p.m. flight that would get me in around 4 p.m. I knew I had to get to the arena by 5:30 p.m. for pre-game interviews, so I tried to map out a way that I could get to my hotel, and change clothes so that I wouldn't have to cover the game in my Florida A&M sweatshirt.
Since I was running on little sleep, I found some leather seats and took a little nap. I woke up, had breakfast at a Mexican restaurant, wrote a blog post about Yi Jianlian, and decided to check on how my next flight was going. I looked up at the board and saw that it was canceled. I don't like to cuss, but I might have said something inappropriate at that moment. If I had made a John Wall agreement, I would've received a few $50 fines as well.
I ran to a ticket counter to see what was going on, and they explained that there was only one runway, so a lot of flights were being canceled. People around me were booking hotel rooms. One guy next to me had to "settle" for a $450 room at the DFW Hyatt. "They must have money to burn," the ticket agent told me as she tried to get me on a flight to New Orleans.
After checking her computer for a few minutes, she said she could get me on a 6:35 flight that would get me to New Orleans by 8. I told her that wasn't going to work because I'm a sportswriter and I had to get there to cover a basketball game at 7.
"They can't wait for you?" she asked, seriously, as she looked from behind square-shaped glasses.
"No," I told her, unable to contain my laughter.
The woman told me that there was a Continental flight that connected in Houston and would get me in by 6. I didn't have many options, so I told her to do that, realizing that I was likely going to have to cover my first game in a FAMU sweatshirt. She told me that she would have to call Continental to get me on, but in the process of waiting on the phone for an agent, the flight to Houston got fully booked, leaving me out of luck.
I suppose it could've been worse. A woman next to me started weeping uncontrollably when she discovered that she and her husband couldn't leave for their anniversary trip to Cabo San Lucas. It was pretty sad, since the couple was dressed in flip-flops and shorts on a day that it was 22 degrees outside.
But, guess what? I had to take the 6:35 flight and hope that I'd get to New Orleans Arena by halftime or in the third quarter. Just in case this was going to be the night that the Wizards finally won a road game, I wanted to at least be in the locker room when they uncorked the champagne bottles or had Gatorade showers to celebrate. Since I wasn't wearing a suit, as usual, it could work.
With a lot of time to kill, I ate lunch at a different Mexican restaurant, wrote a few more blog posts and waited anxiously. By this point, I was more determined to leave Dallas than anything else, as if seeing the Cowboys team shop everywhere I went didn't make me nauseous enough. I felt like Dwyane Wade in that T-Mobile commercial, "Get me outta here!"
We finally started boarding and I was beginning to calm down as I grabbed my window seat. Then, suddenly, the pilot made an announcement that our flight was going to be delayed for at least another hour: The lights on the only available runway had gone out. So they had to clear another runway, which made me wonder why that couldn't have happened earlier since it had stopped snowing before 11 a.m. One runway?
I was really upset at this point, because all I could think about was Jamison's floater. I just knew this would be the night when the misery would cease, because I couldn't make it, and it made me even more determined to get out of Dallas. We didn't finally get clearance to leave until 8 p.m., but I had to pump my fists as we took off, even after we rocked a bit on the way up. When I landed in New Orleans, I sent out a Twitter request to get an update on how the game unfolded from Wizards fans.
I got some good responses, and I had plenty of time to respond to those tweets -- because when I got to baggage claim, I found out that American Airlines never put my suitcase on the plane. I guess they didn't have enough time, since I was only at the airport for 14 hours.
Several other people didn't get their bags either, which forced me to wait in line for nearly an hour before I could tell them to ship my luggage back home to D.C. It also made irrelevant any thoughts of rushing for some futile attempt to talk to the team.
I had been looking forward to traveling to New Orleans for a while, because it is one of my favorite places to eat. I was wondering if I was going to get some beignets, a shrimp Po'boy sandwich, some shrimp or crawfish etouffee or maybe, some seafood gumbo and top it off with some bread pudding. I was ready to throw down. But despite bad weather keeping me down, I decided to order a Po'boy from my hotel room service. I ate it as I watched highlights of the Wizards' loss to the Hornets. The sandwich was great.
The Wizards, not so much.
So, you never got a game story from me, explaining how the Wizards let Jason Smith go off for a career high, or a post-game blog entry explaining how Keyon Dooling, Darrelll Arthur, and other unheralded players have done it before, so I apologize. Just know that I tried. And, like the Wizards in their first 25 road games this season, I failed (although it wasn't my fault).
I finally made it home, still wearing the same sweatshirt.
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