Jenni Carlson, Erik Horne, Brett Dawson and I podcast early Thursday morning. (Photo by David Morris)
We touched down at Salt Lake City at 5:35 p.m. Mountain time on Thursday. It was easy to know what city we were in. It was not easy to remember what day it was.
Such is life during the NBA Playoffs. I left Chesapeake Arena at 1:40 a.m. Thursday, and less than 10 hours later I was back at Will Rogers World Airport, waiting to board a plane for Denver, where a plane to Salt Lake would await.
Seems like we just left Salt Lake, which we sort of did. Erik Horne and I flew home from Salt Lake on Tuesday, landed at Will Rogers at 2 p.m. and less than 48 hours later were making the trip again, this time for only one game, Game 6 of the Thunder-Jazz series.
We actually had been in Salt Lake for less than 80 hours in covering Games 3 and 4, but time often stands still on the road. So it’s starting to feel like Salt Lake is a second home.
It’s a cool place. Its biggest attribute is also its biggest problem. It’s in the American West. That means it’s odds of being a unique, fascinating place go way up. And its starting times for ballgames are way late.
Our tipoff times for the games in Salt Lake were 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Mountain time, which means 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Oklahoma time. And Game 6 is another 8:30/9:30 affair. Since Game 1 in Oklahoma City, which started at 5:30 p.m., all five Thunder-Jazz games have ended after our regular deadline.
But the Thunder is important to our readers, so we get extra time and get the games in the paper. But it’s tight. My deadline for Games 2-4 were basically as soon as the game is over. Have my column written, hit the button. Maybe five minutes, but no more, to give it a read-through. Game 5, I had about 15 minutes, which is good because there were three games played on Wednesday night in Chesapeake – the Jazz blowout, followed by the Thunder comeback, then the fourth quarter, which started all square. So I had much of a Thunder obituary written, then here comes the comeback, but that was hard to write up early, because the comeback followed by a victory is far different from a comeback followed by a defeat.
I’m not complaining. In some ways, that’s the fun part of the job. I don’t do a whole lot things all that well. But I can write moderately well on the quick. If you need me to sing a song or fix a carburetor or talk smooth to the ladies, I’m out. But I can write a coherent piece on sports in whatever amount of time you give me. It’s sort of like what Red Smith when asked how long it took him to write a column. His answer? “How long do I have?”
So it was back to Salt Lake on Thursday – I think it was Thursday – and it was a different trip. Got home at 2:20 a.m., got up around 7:30 and had a ton of work to do, plus pack and do a few chores. I knocked out a Baker Mayfield blog and worked on a project about the Thunder comeback – reconstructing that remarkable third quarter, when the Thunder trailed by 25 points but caught the Jazz by quarter’s end. I finished most of it by 11 a.m., but then it was time to leave for the airport.
Fortunately, it’s only about 22 minutes from my house in northeast Norman to Will Rogers, and security lines are short in the middle of the day, and I was sitting in the terminal by about 11:35. I got to finish that project by the time we boarded.
The flight to Denver was sort of fun, because there were a bunch of Thunder fans on the flight, some still giddy over the unlikely victory.
I got a little work completed on the Southwest plane, then when we landed in Denver, Erik and I faced a 2-1/2 hour layover. Which was perfect. Denver has great Wi-Fi. We grabbed a slice of pizza, sat down and got to work. I was able to send in that comeback project, and send in a quoteboard, too, and write a Mason Rudolph blog.
All that was left was my column, so I wrote that on the flight to Salt Lake City. One problem with going West is that you’re an hour behind (Mountain time; two if it’s Pacific), so you’re naturally pushing deadline. On non-game columns, I really need to have my stuff in by 5 p.m., 6 at the latest, though sometimes I push it. We landed at 5:35, which is 6:35 Oklahoma time. So while rolling on the tarmac toward the terminal, I fired up my Wi-Fi hotspot, got connected to the Internet and sent in my column. No reason to make our editors wait until we got all the way downtown.
When you write on the fly like, mistakes happen. Which is why we email our stuff to the entire staff, so all kinds of people can give it a read before it publishes. Or even after it publishes. My Rudolph blog? OSU beat writer Scotty Wright caught a couple of errors I was able to fix. My column had a missing stat; night editor Scott Munn called to get clarification. It’s a team effort.
Erik and I hopped into a Uber, and somehow, both of us had completed our work for the day. Modern technology isn’t all bad.
We zipped into downtown – on this trip, we’re staying at the Courtyard across the street from Vivint Smart Home Arena – and got checked in by 6 p.m. Utah time. In our rooms before the Browns made Baker Mayfield the first pick.
We watched probably 75 minutes of the NFL Draft, then decided to get some dinner and follow the draft via iPhones. Erik texted the Salt Lake Tribune’s Tony Jones for dinner recommendations, and he gave us a Chinese place in south Salt Lake. So we hopped in another Uber and went to Sampan, an unpretentious place that wasn’t busy at all but was doing a fairly brisk takeout business.
We sat near a television, watching Bucks-Celtics and following the draft. I had some seafood dish in white sauce, Erik had orange chicken and Sampan had the coolest idea. Our server brought a bowl of small wonton chips with sweet-and-sour sauce. Incredibly good. The Chinese version of chips and salsa. Only better.
Our next Uber driver took us back downtown and shattered the stereotype I had formed that female drivers tell you their life story but male drivers are stoic. This guy told us all about growing up in Utah, going to California but returning after awhile, like 90 percent of the Utah residents who head West. He said he was a Realtor and told us all about the real estate market in Salt Lake – cheaper than California, more expensive than Oklahoma – and the various sides of the city. I like that kind of stuff.
Back in the room, I was beat, but as the soon as the draft was over, HBO’s new Joe Paterno movie came out. Al Eschbach had told me how remarkable Al Pacino was playing Paterno, and I was curious, so I stayed up to watch it. Really interesting. Pacino was good, but the story was even better. The last few days of Paterno’s 46 years as Penn State’s head coach was stunning drama. I don’t have HBO at home and never wish I did have it, but it’s nice on the road to catch something like Paterno.
At midnight, I crashed, hoping to wake up Friday morning knowing what day it is.