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Texas trip report

Another great Cal trip under my belt!  For those of you who have never done a big Cal road game trip and have the means to do so, I highly recommend it.  The fans are always nice and as long as you go with the attitude that even if the Bears lose you’ll still get to watch an enjoyable football game, you’re sure to have a good time.

As for me, my wife and I flew out of Sacramento for San Antonio at 6:30 AM on Saturday.  One of the upsides of a later in the day game is you can fly out the day of the game if you so desire.  After a quick stop-over in Phoenix, we were in San Antonio.  Your first question is probably “Wasn’t the game in Austin!?!”  Why yes, it was.  But San Antonio is only an hour and a half from Austin and we were able to save a couple hundred dollars flying into San Antonio, an airport that wasn’t seeing an influx of a bunch of football fans that weekend.  (For the same reason, our hotel reservation was in San Antonio.)

After landing, our first stop was of course the car rental place where as I stepped up to the counter I was greeted by a friendly “Go Horns!” and a hand sign.  Apparently he was getting off work in a couple hours himself so that he could go to the game.  He indicated that Texas was in an unusual situation being the underdog at home.  I said I was having a hard time believing Cal was really the favored team, to which he quickly replied, “Oh believe it!” and then he shook his head in disbelief of how much his beloved Longhorns had sunk.

Since it was only 1:30 PM and the game didn’t start until 6:30 PM, we checked into our hotel before making the trip to Austin.  We got a GREAT deal off of hotwire.com and were staying at the Hyatt Regency on the San Antonio riverwalk.  It is in a great location if you’re visiting downtown San Antonio, directly between the riverwalk and the Alamo.  (More on that later.)

By 2:30 PM we had checked in and were heading north to Austin.  We should have checked into places to eat, because we were starving.  Unfortunately we settled on a Denny’s that was staring us in the face when we made a wrong turn trying to get on the freeway.  The hostess/waitress talked me into sitting in a both despite request for a table in a crowded section that turned out to be hers, despite the fact there were empty tables in other sections.  It later became clear she was directing everyone to her section and didn’t want to seat me at a table because there were none left in her section.  I could have gotten over that, but she was overly busy and we weren’t getting any service at all due to the way she was seating people.  The end result was we left 15 minutes later after having never even having been asked our drink order.  We didn’t have time to sit there for what could have been a couple hours.  So instead, having lost 15 minutes to that debacle, it was drive-through burgers on the road.

We got to Austin at 4:30 PM and went straight to our prepaid parking lot.  The traffic was really light and unlike a Cal game at that point, it felt like the reason was because everyone was already there.  Every parking lot looked full from the perimeter.  We toured the campus for about an hour, walking by many pregame tailgates that had the appearance of winding down before making our way to the stadium.  When we got to the stadium lots of people were making their way to the gates.  That’s why we were surprised when we went in, got to the middle level to look around and poked our heads into the seating area to find it basically empty.  Where was everyone!?!  Frankly, I was never able to answer that question to my satisfaction.

After walking through the stadium and taking pictures from various angles, we finally made our way to our seats about 30 minutes before game time.

The band’s pregame show was fine.  Nothing spectacular.  They’re one of many schools that does the HUGE drum thing, but there was no real flair to it.  Perhaps if they had Bevo pulling it or something, but as it was, it was just a big drum that four guys pushed around.  Otherwise it was pretty ho-hum.  It was frankly surprising.  I mean, the alumni band there has over 500 active members (they were at the game and performed at halftime).  This is a school that cares about its marching band.  But overall, I’d put it behind most of the good marching bands I’ve seen, including Ohio State and Texas A&M (that will tick off Longhorn fans).

Oh, one more pregame thing… it was pretty warm.  I’ve experienced REAL Texas heat before and this wasn’t it, but it was warm enough that they were giving out hand towels soaked in ice water to try and keep people cool.  Luckily it wasn’t too far into the game when the sun got behind the rim of the stadium and things cooled down substantially.

I’ll cover the game itself in a different post.

As for the environment, Texas fans love their team, and the fans that were there (including actor Matthew McConaughey who was shown on the Jumbo-tron multiple times) were passionate.  That said, the stadium was not particularly full.  It’s pretty clear the fans aren’t too thrilled with how things are going and aren’t showing up in droves.  The stadium was never particularly loud and definitely didn’t have a direct affect on Cal.  They also left in significant numbers late in the 3rd quarter and early in the 4th before Texas made it a 2-score game.  From that point on, nobody left.

Maybe I should be grateful for that, because when the remaining 60-70k of us left at the end, it was a zoo out there.  There’s only one 3-lane freeway running through that part of Austin.  Getting to it was a mess and getting onto it was a mess.  To be fair, I’ve seen worse messes elsewhere, but this was in the bottom half of my post-game driving experiences.  I can’t imagine if 100k of us were trying to leave at the same time.

The result was we weren’t back at our hotel room in San Antonio until 1:30 AM.  That’s when my wife and I decided to splurge on something we haven’t done since our honeymoon… room service!  The prices were reasonable and we knew we were going to have a busy morning, so we put the room service card on the door to have breakfast brought to the room at 8 AM.

That helped us get out the door to the riverwalk around 8:30.  We made our way over to where they load the boats to get tickets, which opened promptly at 9:00 AM.  After waiting for the boat to load up until 9:15, we got our 35 tour of the riverwalk and all the historically significant buildings, trees, bridges, islands, walkways… anyone who’s been on a tour bus/boat knows the drill.  But it was interesting.  For those who have more time, I’d recommend the boat 1st thing in the morning and the spend up to a day walking it as well.  Lots of museums, restaurants and various sightseeing opportunities.  We didn’t have that sort of time however, with a 1:20 PM fight home pending.

So as soon as the boat ride was over we made our way over to the Alamo.  I’ve always pictured the Alamo as being out in the middle of nowhere.  The pictures of it always make it seem that way.  In practice, it is much smaller than the pictures make it look and it is surrounded on all sides by downtown San Antonio.  We only had an hour, so we walked through it at the “we only have an hour” pace, but found ourselves out of things to look at after 50 minutes.  What is there is nice, but it’s not a whole day place.  It’s barely a half-day place.  I’d recommend the morning if you’re going in the hot summer as there is not a lot of shade.

By the way, San Antonio (downtown at least) was more humid than Austin was.  I’m assuming that was because of the proximity to the river, but my sample size is a *tad* small.

In any case, at 11 AM we made our way back to the hotel and off to the airport.  There’s only one more anecdote to share…

At our layover in Phoenix there was a problem with our plane.  You have to give credit to Southwest for trying hard, but they were flailing a little bit and the result was we had the gate changed 3 times on us.  They were trying to find a plane we could use and kept pulling the trigger on the gate change before it was confirmed.  By the last time the whole group of passengers was now in one group and it reminded me of the movie “Airplane!” where towards the end of the movie the plane is coming in too fast so they keep changing the gate it is going to arrive at:  Gate 14 (skreetch of brakes of plane in background), Gate 16 (Skreetch), Gate 18… and we all started “running” to the next gate.

Luckily it only totaled up to a 30 minute delay, so we were back on the ground in Sacramento less than 36 hours after we had left it, ending another kamikazi road-game trip, and a win to boot.

Go Bears!

Amtrak relaxation

image

Mostly just testing the blog app I just downloaded… having fun on the train… we’ll see how they are doing after midnight.

Off to Salt Lake City to watch the Bears

The train from Roseville to SLC leaves in less than a half hour, so I’m off with my two eldest boys. It’s a scenic 14 hour train ride (particularly with the first snows falling earlier this week)… however, it arrives at 3:30 in the morning. We’ll have most of Saturday to recover with the game starting at 7:45 PM local time and with temperatures expected to drop to near 40 by the end, we’ve brought warm clothes to bundle up.

Sunday we’ll do a little bit of touring, including going to see the Golden Spike and stop by the Great Salt Lake before getting on the train at 11:30 PM for the overnight trip back home.

More to come about the trip…

tOSU Trip Blog: final thoughts

A few things I didn’t comment on in my rush to get the blog posts out while hurrying around on the road:

The Ohio State marching band

Of course tOSU is known for their marching band and I was pretty excited to see them perform. One of the things I love most about college football is the marching bands and am impressed by the level of professionalism and musical talent I see out of so many different bands, particularly our beloved California Marching Band, but also UCLA, USC (as long as they’re not playing that one STUPID, STUPID, STUPID song) and others. Then there is of course the antithesis of talent, the Stanford band, but that’s a post for another day.

There were two things of note that made the tOSU band special in my mind. The first was how sharp their formations were. Everything was very precise. They were able to pull off things like two lines crossing through each other very well and without affecting other areas. I remember Texas A&M doing the same thing, but they did it by sharply sticking to 90 and 45 degree angles. tOSU was able to do it with lots of different angles and groupings. They made designs with broad arcs and curves as well as stellar straight lines.

The second special thing was how creative they were. Sure they started with the script Ohio that is their trademark, but they did a lot more, some of which was clearly a first-time thing for this game. Their halftime show was particularly impressive along this lines with their tribute to NASA and the various spaceships they made, again demonstrating their ability to have complicated designs with high precision.

Interestingly, the music itself was not as notable. While it was on the better side as far as bands go, it was also on the quiet side, which was surprising considering the size of the band.

In any case, I liked the tOSU band and very much understand why they are lauded. The script Ohio is a great tradition.

The Buckeye Bounce

If there is one thing I will never forgive tOSU for, it is “The Buckeye Bounce”. If you don’t know what it is, you can see a youtube clip of it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHrierJkGw0.

The reason I hate them for it is they played it ALL the time, and it got stuck in my head. It was like the above mentioned USC song.

To make matters worse, later that night I heard the same dang song at the Stanford game via the TV. Contain the virus! IT’S SPREADING!

I will give it this, it had a great effect on the crowd. Whenever the PA folks thought they needed to whip up the crowd, which was a lot, they busted it out and it worked very well. Along those lines, Cal could use their own equivalent. It worked much better than the dumb “Make some noise” meters they show on the jumbotron.

More about The Horseshoe

I didn’t really say all that much about the stadium other than it was cozy… It’s really two separate structures. Originally just the horseshoe shaped part was made, and then they added an entirely separate structure at the end of the horseshoe by the south endzone. This creates two walkways into the stadium, one for each team.

Of note: the students are in the endzone. Cal students, please remember how increasingly rare and wonderful your 50-yardline seats are.

The stadium actually has 3 level for concourses even though it is only a two-deck stadium. Being so used to poor stadiums, I thought the bottom concourse would be the only one with food, but later found out they had concessions on all 3 levels. Which was nice from the upper deck.

The upper deck was pretty steep as far as upper decks go. We were pretty high up off the field. Our view was fine, a bit like my 2nd from the top row seats at AT&T last year.

The stadium is showing signs of age, both in the seating area and in the concourses. I have a feeling a face-lift upgrade isn’t too far away.

The nicest part (or most notable depending on how you look at it) of the stadium was the entrance on the north end, the middle of the original horseshoe. Here’s a picture of it:
Entrance to Ohio State

You can’t really see it in the picture, but those three entry ways have some pretty nice stained glass pictures. The center is the “O” and the two outside ones are pictures of game action.

It was pretty nice. It had that same feel that the new Memorial gives you. Both nice and with a strong connection to our history.

tOSU Trip Blog: The flight home

After the game Saturday afternoon, we headed up to Cleveland. Let me say one last thing about Columbus… I’ve never had it so easy getting in and out of a stadium, which is particularly surprising considering it had 105K people there, none who left before the end of the game. There was no meaningful traffic leaving the stadium.

We headed to Cleveland because I didn’t book by return trip from Springfield, MA, but from Cleveland. Unlike the beginning of the trip when there was a reason to over-shoot Columbus to see my brother, there wasn’t much of a reason to head back to Massachusetts just to get back on a plane. (Well, one small reason: to keep my brother company on the ride… oh well!)

What made this trip interesting flight wise, was I was never in the same airport twice. I went from SFO to Detroit to Springfield, then drove to Columbus, then Cleveland to Chicago to Sacramento.

Cleveland was a very stinky town. It didn’t help that we parked over a drain grate and the car smelled like sewage all evening. It was also more humid than the rest of the trip, assumably because of the proximity to Lake Erie.

As a side note, I’ve been to Lake Erie before, sailing in the Bemis youth national sailing championship out of Mentor Harbor, OH, which is just up the road from Cleveland. I almost took my brother there to see the site of the regatta, but we were running out of gas. That trip as a teenager also meant that I only added one trip to my list of state’s visited (West Virginia) this trip.

The 1 hour flight from Cleveland to Chicago continued the good trend of half empty flights, yet again getting a whole row to myself (nobody likes to sit next to me… I wonder why?). That good luck ended on the jam-packed flight from Chicago to Sacto.

Today’s flights were on Southwest and it’s amazing to me how much everyone has gotten on the check-in early bandwagon. I actually checked in from The Horseshoe the day before because I forgot at 8:30 AM, a full 24 hours before, to check-in. Nevertheless, it was only 11:30 AM, a full 21 hours before the flight and 110 people had already checked in (out of about 170 on this larger 737-800). Since Southwest has the first-come-first-served model, I was worried I wouldn’t get an isle or window seat, but I was able to get one in the back.

The worst part of said flight was not any of that but the delay. They came on the intercom shortly after they had started priority boarding (in other words the lady in the wheelchair had already been taken on the plane) to say they had a mechanical problem and they were going to try and fix it. We may need to change planes (which we all implicitly knew meant it could be a long delay). Stay put and don’t leave the gate area!

That not leave the gate area was the frustrating bit. There weren’t nearly enough seats and they came back every 10-15 minutes to tell us the same thing. Over an hour later, when we could have all gone to the nearest restaurant/bar/whatever to relax while we waited, but instead were sitting patiently with seats for only a third of us, the finally boarded us.

Not exactly the worst disaster ever, but still a bit frustrating.

I did take the layover opportunity in Chicago to record a OTRH podcast, so look for that either later tonight or tomorrow morning.

The flight got into Sacramento at around 1:45, just over an hour late and I was pretty tired, still being on Eastern time feeling like it was nearly dinner time. I also was feeling more on the positive side of the ledger of whether it was a missed opportunity or a positive sign.

Overall a good trip and I’d recommend a trip to Columbus when the opportunity presents itself to all Bear fans.

tOSU Trip Blog: Game day

One of the things that has me traveling the country to watch the Bears, despite the fact that they’ve disappointed so many times, is that I get to see so many nice places. Ohio State was no exception.

First of all, we’ve all heard some bad things about Ohio State fans. I saw ZERO sign of them. Before the game we walked to the stadium from about a mile away. We ended up walking most of the way with a group of recently graduated, and quite drunk I might add, Ohio State alums. They were talkative and let us know about a number of interesting traditions, including one where all the freshmen jump in this pond on campus the night before the Michigan game every year.

We didn’t hear a single taunt before the game. We walked all around the stadium taking pictures and all the fans were friendly. Two fans even wanted to take their picture with us. We walked past the student section and the body-painted students wanted us to take their picture. I guess there was one guy there doing a little bit of trash-talking but nothing major.

After the game we heard a few taunts, including one from behind where he said, “Go back to Berkeley you pot smoking hippies!” (if only he knew me) About 4 other guys, all tOSU fans, quickly interjected to tell us to ignore them and that they were impressed with Cal’s play.

When you combine that with the nice fans we met the night before and at the hotel, it was a very pleasant fan experience.

As for the towns, Ohio State has a very nice campus. Lots of brick buildings. It’s big campus, with lots of high-rise buildings.

The stadium is big, but it feels very cozy. Frankly, I don’t know if it’s much bigger than an NFL stadium, but they pack them in, kinda like at Memorial but with a little bit more leg room, so the attendance figures are much higher (106k) for the same size stadium. The concessions were standard affair.

Columbus is a much larger town than I imagined and a pretty nice place. It was a LOT nicer than a lot of the places we drove through in Pennsylvania. Actually, all the way across the board, minus Cleveland which we are in now, Ohio is a pretty nice state (in September anyway).

One last trip blog post after I get home tomorrow afternoon.

tOSU Trip Blog: The actual road trip

Today we headed out from Springfield, MA at 5:15 AM. It is a 12 hour drive to Columbus, OH. But yet again, why just do the drive when you can add a bunch of other things to the trip? We had the following stops in mind:

  • The Tri-State marker (New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania)
  • Penn State in College Station, PA
  • Flight 93 memorial
  • Cal U. (more on this later)
  • Monroeville Mall (site of the “Dawn of the Dead” movie)

We left at 5:15 AM and we had a limitation on what we could do: We HAD to make it to Columbus, OH by 8:00 PM so that we could get our free T-Shirts at the Cal event at Golden Biersch. We fully expected we wouldn’t be able to go everywhere on the list. Monroeville was the most off the direct path between the two end points, so we fully expected that would be the one we dropped and perhaps one other one.

The Tri-State marker was fun, but very quick. Just snapped a couple pictures after finding it at the end of a cemetery on a peninsula between two rivers. As such we were ahead of schedule early.

Penn State was interesting (boy do they have a BIG stadium and LOTS of athletic facilities in addition to a nice campus in a quaint town). But we didn’t get out of the car. We just took pictures from the car and got a flavor for the town. Thus we were even further ahead of schedule.

The Flight 93 memorial was very nice and it’s going to get better over time as the trees grow in. Very well done and the right combination of mournful, respectful and hopeful. The names of the 40 who died were on white granite slabs at the end of a triangle shaped charcoal concrete patio. I’m not sure if this was intended, but the patio looked like a wing to the white granite body of the plane. We also made sure to make note of the former Cal rugby player who died (Mark Bingham) in the crash.

We had budgeted an hour and a half for that one, and it took a little less than an hour, so we were over an hour ahead of schedule when we left there. All of a sudden, my brother’s desire to make it to Monroeville Mall looked possible.

But first we had to go to California University.

I’ll put on my Cliff Clavin voice: “It’s a little known fact that there’s a town in Pennsylvania called California. And what’s more, there’s a college there named ‘California University of Pennsylvania’.”

Yes, it’s true.

We just HAD to go see it. And we were aghast to see that their colors were RED, yes RED, and black. How could that be possible!?!

In any case, we didn’t stay much longer than to take some pictures in our Cal gear in front of their entrance sign. Thus the trip to Monroeville was on.

From Cal-U, Monroeville is 30 miles to the north as the crow flies in a suburb of Pittsburg to the east of downtown. Cal-U is only 2 hours and 30 minutes from Columbus, Ohio. We had nearly 3:45 of time left, so we thought that was plenty of time.

Boy were we wrong.

That 30 mile trip took over an hour, winding our way through multiple small towns with lots of lights and a surprising amount of traffic. After 15 minutes in the mall at their little museum shop (which my brother realized was a waste when we got there), we got back on the road and realized that we had two problems: One, we now had to drive through downtown Pittsburg at rush hour. Two, even without any traffic, it was a nearly 3-hour drive.

All of a sudden we were AT LEAST a half-hour behind schedule. Long story short, we drove like mad-men to make up the time that we lost in traffic. Yet, we just couldn’t do any better than to get to the Golden Beirsch in Columbus by 8:25 PM. By the time we’d parked and got to the door it was 8:35 and they. were. out. of. shirts…

Ugh!

Well, we can’t win them all, and we did have one heck of an adventure.

The GB was JAM PACKED with Bear fans, which is a good thing unless you haven’t had any dinner and don’t really know anyone there. We ended up heading down the road to the next pub and ate there before heading back to the hotel.

The game tomorrow is at noon, and we hope to head out of here by 10:00 AM to head over there. Let’s hope the game is a good one!

tOSU Trip Blog: Flying out

(Sorry for the lack of posts this week. Monday and Tuesday were really busy at work, as any vacation shortened week seems to be.)

After missing the Tennessee game road trip in 2006, and hearing about how amazing their stadium and game day environment was, I vowed never to miss another road game at a big-name school again. With that as the goal, how can one even THINK about missing a trip to the Horseshoe?

The planning for this trip began in March, and it started with the search for a cheap flight. I’m somewhat good at it and I’m willing to fly somewhat unusual routes to make it happen. Leave from a different airport than I arrived at? Why not?!? Fly the red-eye? Of course! Multiple airlines? Whatever it takes.

Thus my trip began from SFO at 11:05 PM on a Tuesday night. I took the red-eye to Detroit. I had a hard time sleeping on the flight, which was a bit of a surprise. I don’t usually have a problem. It was even more surprising because the plane was half empty and I ended up having a row to myself. You’d think with all that room it would be easy to fall asleep.

Maybe I normally rest my head on the people sitting next to me and I don’t know it (because I’m asleep)?

In any case, I only got about an hour of sleep before arriving in Detroit.

Detroit is an interesting airport. It has one VERY LOOOONNNGG terminal for all of the full size planes. To facilitate movement through the airport, they have a tram that runs up along the ceiling of the terminal. However, not being familiar with the airport, and with signs explaining what the tram was for and where its stops were, I ended up huffing it down most of the terminal.

To add to the walk, the small commuter jets have a separate terminal as they do in a lot of airports. And just like most of those airports, it was a pretty long walk to get over to the other terminal. Luckily my gate wasn’t too far down that terminal.

Also of note for Detroit is that it is almost entirely a Delta hub and nothing else. I don’t know if I saw a single plane that wasn’t delta, and it was a bigger airport than I anticipated. In any case, I got to the gate with plenty of time to fly on to my final destination: Hartford, CT.

I know what you must be thinking, “Hartford!?! Doesn’t this bozo know that Connecticut is a long way from Ohio State which is in, you know, OHIO!”

Yes, I know.

But like all my road-trips I decided to combo it with another goal. In this case, to see my brother and my brand new from the factory nephew. Because my wife and I are both eldest children and we married young (at least by today’s standards), we were waiting for our first niece and nephew for a long time. Late this July, the first one finally came.

The plan was to fly out to see them in Springfield, MA for a couple days.

Also, because my brother was raised to be a life long Cal Bear fan like his brother, he’s aching to go to any Cal game within driving distance from the East Coast.

So this trip is a flight and THEN a road-trip. My brother and I leave for Columbus tomorrow morning early.

Road trips: Going to all but 3 games this year

Last year was a tough one for me, game wise. Not only did I not make it to any true road game (I’m not counting Fresno State or the Big Game) for the second year in a row after multiple years of going to most of them, I also missed two home games due to family conflicts (WSU and OSU). I guess 5 games is a fair amount when looking at it from some perspectives, but for me, it was a heck of a drought to get through.

That changes this year!

There was almost NO WAY I was going to miss getting a chance to go to the Horseshoe, even if the Bears get killed by Ohio State. Plus, my brother had his 1st child in July(a boy, to keep family tradition alive) and this new Uncle would like to go out an see him. Thus we’ll do like we did in 2008 with the Maryland game: combo a trip out to see him in Massachusetts with a can’t-miss football game. (Yes, I recognize it’s a long way from MA to Columbus, but it was a long way from MA to Maryland too and that didn’t stop us :) )

Then there’s the new Pac-12 teams. Now that I’ve been to all Pac-10 stadiums, I’m sure not going to let a couple new members poke a hole in my accomplishments. I knew the week they were announced as additions to the conference that I’d be making trips out there as soon as they were on the conference schedule.

Since Salt Lake City is just up the railroad track from Roseville, it also provided a unique opportunity to give my boys a chance to do the long Amtrak ride they’ve been begging for, for years. Sure, the Saturday AM arrival time of 3:05 AM is a bit rough, as is the 11:30 PM departure time, but that sort of thing has never stopped me before. Plus, my kids deserve to see just how crazy their father is. The only question is whether we’re staying over Saturday night and making a side trip up to the Golden Spike on the other side of the Great Salt Lake from SLC.

(As a side note, did any of you know that less than 35 years after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, the section of track where the Golden Spike was driven was abandoned for a more southern route that had less curves and grade issues? They call it the “Lucin Cutoff” and it’s the reason Salt Lake City is even on the railroad route. Then in 1942 the original rails were pulled up for metal during WWII, so there’s not even an operating track at the site of the Golden Spike anymore.)

To add to my Cal Bear riches, there are no conflicts this year with any home games, so I will be going to all 7 of those. In total, that means I’ll be going to 9 of the 12 games, only missing 3. Heck, if the Bears are undefeated after the trip to Ohio State and USC looks vulnerable, I might not be able to talk myself out of doing the bungee trip down I-5 to the LA Coliseum. Although my sofa is closer to the nearest high-school field than the visitor seats at USC at to the field, so that’s always a downer.

In any case, I’m very much looking forward to getting back into the fall routine of going to lots of games.

Anyone else going to Ohio State or Utah?

Holiday trip report – postgame

(Thoughts on the game itself will be in a separate post)

After the game, we spent one more action packed day in Southern California. We packed up and left my uncle’s house, who had been hosting us the whole time we were in San Diego, at 7:30 AM yesterday (the 29th). This was no small feat considering we got back from the game at 10:00 PM the night before and mobilizing a family of 4 kids is no small task what with the portable crib and all the other stuff that goes along with a young family. Luckily, my wife who had come along for the trip but didn’t go to the game had gotten most everything possible packed while we were at the game.

The reason for the early departure time was two-fold. First, we were having breakfast with an old college friend of mine who had recently returned to San Diego, her hometown, after years back east. She had never met any of my kids and it had been over a decade since I had seen her. It was good to catch up.

The second reason was that we were headed to Legoland for the day. My kids had never been and with three boys between 8 and 4 years old we were told it was the perfect age for them.

Frankly, I was not all that impressed with Legoland, particularly in the middle of the day. They need to take the chumps who designed their rides on an extended trip to Disneyland an hour up the road and learn a little bit about how to design rides for a good flow. After spending 75 minutes in line for “The Lost Kingdom Adventure” with the kids and then spending all of 2 minutes on the ride itself, I was pretty ticked off. It was the last straw for me in a long day of ridiculously slow moving lines.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that amusement park lines can be long, but what was so frustrating was that in this case there was no reason for then to be. They just didn’t think through how to get as many people as possible through a ride as quickly as possible. Things like loading up more than one car at a time, putting more cars on the loop and instructing their workers on to move people through. Their convoluted rules on who can ride each ride (if you’re 48″ you can ride by yourself on most everything; for those shorter than that, some are off limits and some require an adult to accompany you or in other cases just another person over 48″; and then some rides have age instead of height requirements and still others had maximum weight limits that affected which parents could go on.) while they were well communicated, still caused lots of holdups as confused people didn’t understand the nuances.

I’ve sat in line for over an hour at Disneyland in a ridiculously long line and when I got to the front was amazed at how quickly they were moving people through. I’ve seen how efficiently they dealt with people who couldn’t go on the rides and helped those who could quickly get in their seats. None of that was the case here. These were short lines, sometimes only 30 families deep, that were taking 45 minutes on average to get to the front and each new person on the ride happened at an excruciatingly slow pace.

However, to give Legoland some credit, if they could solve that large problem, it would be an excellent park. The center of the park is a ridiculously awesome display of Lego creations including cities from around the country and a new Star Wars section. The kids spent hours looking at them. They also had plays and short movies that were very creative and well put together. The playing areas, particularly the “Hideaways” in the back of the park, where the kids can run around are really nice too. It actually would be even better in the summer as they have a lot of rides and play areas where getting wet is part of the fun, particularly in the pirate section.

So if you had asked me at 3:30 PM yesterday what I thought of Legoland I would have told you to run and never look back, particularly if you were going to go at a busy time of year (and all things considered it wasn’t that busy/crowded yesterday). However, by the time we left at 6:00 PM having seen a show to help me calm my nerves and spent a lot of time in the center of the park, it had risen to a ‘pluses and minuses’ experience. Having known what it’s like, I would have structured the day very differently and probably would have done my last set of the long line rides during lunch time and once everybody returned from their eating breaks and the park was at its fullest, stuck to non-ride activities. It would have made the day a lot better. That does excuse their poor designs however.

At 6 PM we left the park having seen most of what we wanted to see minus a couple of rides that had an over 1 hour wait. We stopped just up the road in Oceanside to gas up (thanks gasbuddy.com for the cheap gas prices) and get some drive-through food with the plan that the kids could wolf down some food and then fall asleep after an exhausting day for the long trip home. We actually had two contingencies based on how tired I was. We’d either stop at a motel once we got over the grapevine, or if I was feeling up for it, we’d push late through the night. As it turned out, because we left the park an hour earlier than expected and didn’t hit much traffic through LA, I was able to make good time and we made it home by 2 AM.

An interesting note about the trip home was that the kids were unusually cranky. We expected them to be exhausted and thus sleep well, but they didn’t. Perhaps it was because it was the trip home and there was no longer anything to be excited about. Perhaps it was because we didn’t stop half way to let them stretch out like we did on the way down (which was at dinner time on the way down). Perhaps it was because it was the 2nd long trip in 4 days. Or perhaps it was a combination of the above. But I think it was because they were exhausted and thus were less tolerant of the lack of comfort of trying to sleep in the car.

Luckily, when I say they were cranky, it’s not what you think because we’ve been blessed with VERY cooperative and tolerant kids. There were no crying fits or melt downs or other tantrums that one hears about from other horror stories. They were just a little whiney, that’s all. And when we told them how long it was going to be they were great at toughing it out and doing their best to try to sleep even though they weren’t in the best of moods.

All it all, it was a good trip. It would have been a great trip if what happened on the gridiron had been different (more on that later) and Legoland knew how to design high volume rides (or at a minimum I had known in advance that they didn’t).

I’ll consider myself content and happy with a good trip.

Holiday trip report – pregame

We’ve got the family down in San Diego, well a suburb anyway. We drove down the afternoon of the 26th when the 5 month old went down for her afternoon nap. The one thing we didn’t anticipate was how bad the traffic on I-5 was going to be. Once the Bay Area traffic merged in at I-580 it was slow down after slow down for the next 100 miles. It was particularly bad at the point the San Jose crowd joins in.

We stopped for dinner in Coalinga, far earlier than expected because the slow downs had the baby up from her nap earlier than expected (and of course also we weren’t as far down the road due to the traffic).

To pile on to our misfortune, a bus load of people (literally, as in a tour group) were in front of us in line at the Burger King. Not being in a mood to stew in line, I checked the drive through line and noticed it was pretty short. I left the family inside, got into the minivan, got food from the drive through and brought it inside all before half the bus load was served.

Things improved dramatically from there. The kids got a chance to stretch out for a while and when we got back into the car the trafficked subsided dramatically. We made great time from there the only hiccup being my falling for the old cash price scam at the gas station. We got into San Diego at 11:30 PM, which is right about when we had hoped to, so we made pretty good time on the second half of the trip.

Yesterday we went to the San Diego Safari Park, not to be confused with the zoo down town. I think it is actually nicer than the zoo because of all the open areas for the animals. All 4 kids really liked it. We even saw some Texas fans dressed head to toe in Texas gear. I assume that was so they wouldn’t be captured and thrown back in the gorilla pen by mistake.

Today is game day. We’ll be heading to the stadium around noon with the hope of of having the tailgate fully operational by 1 PM.

As for the game itself, the more I think about it, I think it will come down to the quarterbacks. I don’t see either team establishing a run game if their passing game isn’t working. What I’ve seen of the Texas QBs and how I’ve seen Maynard improve gives me confidence that the Bears have a better than 50% shot at winning this one.

Battle Mountain, NV: driving center of the Pac-12

Let’s say you just graduated from Cal and you got a job where you telecommute from your home, so you can live anywhere. And you want to live somewhere that you can drive to all the Cal road games in your old 35 mpg compact car. Where do you live?

Battle Mountain, Nevada, of course! This rustic unincorporated town with a population of 2,871 and an elevation of 4,511 is half way between Winnemucca and Elko on I-80 and at the NV-305 junction (key to heading south). It’s a copper and gold mining town in the heart of… um… a copper and gold mining community in the middle of the high desert. Temps in the summer routinely reach 100 and it gets light dustings of snow in the winter. It’s also home to the “World Human Powered Speed Challenge” where the current world record for pedaling a bike was set.

Back to football, here are the driving times:
Arizona: 14:15
Arizona State: 12:34
Cal: 7:02
Colorado: 12:43
Oregon: 9:08
Oregon State: 9:50
Stanford: 7:47
UCLA (Rose Bowl): 10:12
USC: 10:18
Utah: 4:49
Washington: 12:58
Washington State: 11:05

You could setup shop in Winnemucca, but the extra hour of driving to Battle Mountain will cost you on what is already the longest trip to Arizona and push the Colorado and ASU trips up to the clear #2 and #3. On the positive side, you’ll save that same hour on trips the Bay Area, Oregon and Washington (the LA schools are a wash). So maybe with Cal being in the North division, particularly since you’ll be going to more home games at Cal than anywhere else, Winnemucca is your wiser choice. Plus the population of 7,172 will mean a few more friends to hang out with and it’s summer temps are about 5 degrees cooler.

But if you really want to be in the center of the Pac-12, with the shortest driving length to each school, Battle Mountain, NV is the clear and logical choice.

(and no, I’m not moving.)

ASU Road Trip Recap

I’m kinda known for my crazy road trips, even when it isn’t a Cal game (although all my most epic ones are). Usually it’s because I try to combo in something else beyond just the point of the trip that takes it from aggressive to crazy-insane. For the ASU trip, it was making the detour to the Grand Canyon on the way home while preserving my “take no time off work” pledge.

So I did 28 hours of driving in a 53 hour trip:
11 hours: Friday 3:30 PM to Saturday 2:30 AM – Roseville to Tempe
4 hours: 3:30 AM to 7:30 Sunday – Tempe to Grand Canyon
1 hour: In and out of car in Grand Canyon betwen 7:30 AM until 10:00 AM Sunday
12 hours: 10:00 PM to 9:00 PM (time change adds an hour) Sunday – Grand Canyon to Roseville

Click the link for the full rundown of my trip:
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Blogging the ‘Big Trip': Back home

I left from Maryland from the Baltimore Airport at 6 AM (waking up at 3:45 AM is no fun). After a stop-over in Atlanta I was home by 10:30 AM thanks to the 3 hour time difference. At which point my internal clock went haywire now trying to stay up until what was after midnight from an east coast perspective.

Overall, it was one heck of a trip. If only the Bears had won in Maryland, it would have been a smashing success, albeit a bit long and tiresome. My feeling this morning as I was driving into work is that I need a vacation after my vacation.

Just for the record, here’s a list of everything I saw (in order):

  1. Spokane
  2. Martin (WSU) Stadium
  3. Longmeadow, MA and Hartford, CT (briefly)
  4. NYC:
    1. World Trade Center
    2. WTC Cross
    3. Lombardi’s Pizza
    4. Empire State Building
    5. Times Square
    6. Rockafeller Center
    7. St. Patrick’s Cathedral
    8. Central Park (briefly)
    9. United Nation’s building
    10. Central Station
    11. Ellis Island
    12. Statue of Liberty
  5. Philidelphia:
    1. Liberty Bell
    2. Independence Hall
    3. Rocky Steps
    4. Pat’s King of Steaks (home of first Phili Steak Sandwich)
  6. Washington DC:
    1. National Archives (Declaration of Independence/Constitution)
    2. Washington Monunment
    3. WWII Memorial
    4. Vietnam War Memorial
    5. Lincoln Memorial
    6. Korean War Memorial
    7. FDR Memorial
    8. Jefferson Monument
    9. Air and Space Museum
    10. ESPN Zone DC
    11. St. Matthew’s Cathedral
    12. Dupont Circle
    13. Union Station
    14. Postal Museum
    15. Capitol Building (Congress)
    16. Supreme Court Building
    17. Library of Congress
    18. Arlington Cemetary (inc. Unknown Soldier Tomb and Kennedy’s Tomb)
    19. White House
  7. Byrd (U. Maryland) Stadium

Are you tired after reading that list? Because I am tired after doing it! All in all, although each stop lacked the depth I would have liked, I view it as a “survey” trip that when I go back with the family as the kids get older, I’ll better know where I want to and spend a lot of time. The only things I missed on my list was the National Cathedral, the Catholic Bascilica and 3 of the Smithonian Museums (Natural History, Holocaust, National History), all in DC.

It additionally more than doubled the number of states I’ve been to (not counting those I either just was in the airport or did when I was a kid too young to remember the trip) from 7 (California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Texas, Idaho and Ohio) to 15 (adding Washington, Conneticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland) . Woohoo!

In any case, it was also good to see the Bears play both their road games and I bet being in Maryland was a lot less frustrated seeing it (and having a good sense of what was going wrong as opposed to the limited view one gets on TV) than at home. Although I bet if I flew out just for the game I’d have a different perspective.

It’s good to be back home and expect more analysis posts during this bye week and my Maryland podcast by tomorrow morning.

Blogging the ‘Big Trip': In Byrd Stadium

Well, after the WSU game, a day of travel, a day of visiting with family and 4 days of sight-seeing, (Tues: NYC, Weds: NYC & Phili, Thurs: DC monuments, Fri: DC government) it’s finally gameday. Frankly, it couldn’t have come soon enough at this point. I’m ready for this trip to be over. I’ve been all over the place this week. I actually accelerated my arrival in Maryland just so that I could sleep in the same bed for more than one night.

It started raining yesterday afternoon. Something us west coasters just don’t know how to deal with is rain combined with heat. I broke out my ‘light’ coat when it started raining (I knew to bring a rain-coat) but quickly had to take it off because what I really needed was rain-protection and rain-protection only. My coat was just way too warm (and it’s really a light coat). Heck, I was hot even with the jacket off and soaking wet.

Today the rain is gone although there is rain in the forecast, but I don’t see how as there is sunshine in all directions. However, the humidity is WAY up from earlier in the week and I was sweating bullets in 70 degree weather walking around Byrd stadium.

The stadium is interesting to say the least. It looks like it used to be a 20K-25K concrete horseshoe that they’ve added to. On the north side they’ve added a very tall and steep concrete grandstand that doubles the capacity of the stadium. It’s pretty imposing and bet it will be even more so once the fan start yelling. On the south side they’ve added a narrow but long and tall pressbox (5 stories). Currently in construction are suites to the west of the pressbox. The steepness suggests that this stadium will do an excellent job of keeping the noise in, although the open ends may hurt that. The seating in the stadium is entirely aluminum bleachers.

My seats in the press box are very good again. 45 yard line, 2nd row. I think it’s the first time I’ve been in the 2nd row and not relegated to the “chump/small time reporter” 3rd row, if they have it. The height off the field is very good, a bit higher than at Memorial but still very good. The biggest problem I have in pressboxes is the laptop screen obscuring my own view. I generally have to lean it way down to see the whole field. I suspect if I was Riley’s height, I wouldn’t have that problem.

Look forward to live-blogging once the game begins. Jason will likely host and I’ll feed him my thoughts as the game goes on.

Blogging the ‘Big Trip': In Maryland

Well, my quick tour of the East Coast has already made it to its final destination: College Park, MD.

On Tuesday morning my brother and I left Springfield, MA for New York City. We booked a hotel in Newark, NJ because, well, we’re cheap and NYC hotels are ridiculously priced. So, we found a hotel (Comfort Suites for $80 a night) not far from Newark-Penn Station which is on the end of the commuter subway from NJ into NY (so the subway ride in was only $1.75) called PATH.

The other unexpected “upside” was that this was the rail that terminates underneath the World Trade Center, or at least used to. So, while tourists who stayed in NYC are straining to find a spot to peak through the covered fences and see what remains in the hole in the ground, PATH takes you right through the middle of the what left of the sub-structure. If you’re interested in getting a good view of WTC, that’s the way to do it. If you’re already in NYC, you’ll have to actually take a trip to NJ and catch the train back to get the view because it’s not visible on your way out.

Once we got into town around 1:00 PM (drive from Springfield plus commuting in took a long time), our first order of business was to have lunch at Lombardi’s, the oldest/first pizza joint in the US. It was a fine pie. Definitely worth the trip for those pizza lovers out there. From there it was to the Empire State Building (a horrible tourist trap), Times Square, Rockafeller Center, St. Patricks Cathedral (a very important stop to me), the UN (already closed for tours by the time we got there) and Central Station. (Have I mentioned I’ve never been to NYC before? Or was it obvious?) We made great use of the in-town subway too and their $7.50 all day pass.

The last thing of note that we found was the cross from the WTC. Many know about it, but here’s more details at wikipedia. Well, at the moment it is being temporarily stored next to St. Peter’s Catholic Church which is essentially adjacent to the WTC. But it’s in a pretty unremarkable location on the side of the Church by the sidewalk without anything of note pointing out that it’s there. In fact, I walked by it and only noticed it when I did a double take on why there was a piece of steel sitting there. In fact, it was only at the end of the day when I came back to take pictures of it (to be posted later) that anyone else who walked by noticed it.

It was pretty funny to see the chain reaction of people noticing it as I was taking pictures and then others taking notice of it because the previous people had taken note of it. For all of 5-10 minutes after I took pictures just about everyone who walked by stopped to take a look. But by the time I was out of view of the area, it returned to being unnoticed.

The next day, today, we did the ferry tour of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Since we were in Newark, we took the ferry from the NJ side, which was far superior as about 4 out of every 5 people who were on the islands were on the NYC ferries. So while our ferries had no lines and were half empty, the ones from NYC required waiting a couple ferries to get through the line and then be crammed in like sardines.

We continued our tour down to Philadelphia in the afternoon. We saw the Liberty Bell and tried to see Independence hall, but were unable to go in because they had finished tours for the day (notice a pattern here?). From there we went to check out the Philadelphia Museum of Art, not because of the art because it’s famous from the Rocky movies for being the steps that he ran up all the time. There’s even a statue of Rocky off to the side and foot-prints of Rocky’s feet on the top of the stairs.

Finally, before heading to College Park, we stopped at the home of the first Phili Cheese Steak. It was pretty mediocre and you can get just as good a sandwich at any respectable place.

From there we drove to College Park. I took far too many pictures and I won’t bore all of you with them. Tomorrow, we’ll head into DC and tour it. We’ll do more of the same on Friday. Then of course, the Maryland game on Saturday.

More to follow…

Blogging the ‘Big Trip': Back in Springfield, MA

I left Spokane this morning on a 6:55 AM flight for Chicago. Yes, Chicago, not Oakland or Sacramento or SFO. Before the season started when I was booking travel I realized two of the three distant road games (the third being Arizona) were back to back. I’ve never been back east and I thought it might be worth my time to take a week off of work and go see New York and DC. Plus, my brother had just moved back to Springfield, MA so I could also go see him.

After checking into ticket prices, it turned out a three-way flight was a bit cheaper than two separate round-trip flights to the two games. So, instead of heading home after the WSU game, I headed to New England via Chicago International Airport. From here, I’m going to drive my rental car down the coast catching New York, Philidelphia and DC over the course of the week before going to the Maryland game on Saturday. As an added bonus, my brother has yet to find a job back here (well, an added bonus for me anyway), so he’s going to make the trip down the coast with me.

More reports to follow…

Blogging the ‘Big Trip': At Martin Stadium

This morning I left the hotel in Spokane at 10:30 to head to Pullman. Did you guys know there is an actual town about 15 miles north of Pullman called Palouse? So much for Martin Stadium being the REAL Palouse… I know the truth now, and the truth will set the oak trees free!

I got into Pullman around 12:15 PM. They’re pretty serious about their speed limits in this part of Washington with the huge contingent of WSU fans making the trip down to Pullman, there were unmarked police cars up and down the route pulling people over making sure that they got their revenue for new roads. The quality of their roads indicates that they get A LOT of revenue that way.

After I got to the press parking lot next to the stadium (one of the best perks of the press is the parking) I decided to walk around the campus to take a look. The campus is a Washington attempt at looking like and Ivy League school and I say that being quite impressed. It was a very nice campus with all brick buildings and lots of trees.

The facilities for the football team are also very nice with a full sized practice field immediately adjacent to the stadium and next to some nice locker and training room facilities. In fact, the whole campus seemed to be in a boom of construction improving facilities for just about every department.

The stadium itself, although small, is also very nice. It’s entirely bleacher seats except for a small donor section by the 50. The majority of the bleachers have back-rests, except for the endzone. The pressbox is at a really nice height and the media pressbox is right at midfield. I’m at about the 43 of the east side, although on the third row. However, unlike USC and other stadiums, the 3rd row has very good visibility. Probably the best seats I’ve had at any game in the pressbox. I’ll post pictures later tonight.

Stay tuned for live-blogging when the game starts.

Blogging the ‘Big Trip': In Spokane

This afternoon I flew out from Sacramento International (I think there’s a couple flights to Cancun or something, either that or they don’t realize that Hawaii is the 50th state) to Seattle and from Seattle to Spokane. I got into town around 8 PM, picked up the rental car, got some dinner and settled into my hotel room. Tomorrow I’ll drive from Spokane to Pullman, a 75 mile drive that takes about an hour and a half for the game.

Spokane is a much bigger town than I realized, with a significant number of small skyscrapers (well, of the 10-20 story variety) and a fairly big downtown area. However, unlike California, there is nearly no sprawl on the outside of town. Coming into the airport all one saw was miles and miles of fields (wheat?) and a fairly densely populated town popping out of it.

More blogging on the trip tomorrow.

Big Game Tickets have arrived

Well, my Big Game Tickets came in the mail over the Holiday weekend. Everything looks good minus one thing: I’m in Row “C”. Now I can understand the whole lettered rows thing because lets face it, there’s a lot of rows and we don’t know how confident that a Stanford student can count that high. “‘C’ is for cookie”, that they’ll understand.

But assuming that A-B-C means I’m in what is normally called row 3, that’s stinking low to the ground. I’m also on the lower deck, something I thought was good until I realized I was in row “C”. Unless they’re counting in Hex, and wouldn’t that be awesome, I’m way too low.

Anyone know the details on the rows?