There are many things I love about March. The last snow, and the first whiff of spring. Firing up the grill for the first time in a few months. Getting back on my motorcycle. But most of all I love the NCAA tournament.
I was never a huge sports fan growing up. Watching games or talking about sports just wasn’t something we did in my house. Thinking about it now, I ‘m not really sure why. It may have been because I wasn’t very interested in sports as a kid (much like son Uno is today). But my father didn’t show any particular interest either. I just don’t remember him sitting around watching sports on TV either.
It all changed for me when I got to college. For some reason, basketball became one of my passions. I was at Duke from 1976 to 1980, right around when the basketball team began its ascent back to the top rank it holds today. Of course, it was under another coach, but who cares except for me and a few other fans?
I remember (and that in itself is a miracle. as I’m not known for remembering much of my life) walking into Cameron Indoor Stadium that first time. Cameron was, and is, a special place. Small for arena (maybe 9,000 seats), with the students having the best seats in the house. The traditional of taunting the opposing team with spontaneous unison cheers, the effort the players put forth, the closeness of the game and many other things, made it a special thing in my life that I have managed to carry with me 30 years later (damn I‘m old).
I’ve continued to be a college bball fan all these years, and for fans like me this is the best time of year. An orgy of basketball, spread over two and a half weeks, with diversions like bracket pools in case you get bored. Of course the fact that Duke has been successful hasn’t hurt my interest. I’ve gone to a few early round games, and watched even more on the tube.
One thing I had never done however was go to Las Vegas during those first four days. I‘d been asked before, and been and had heard the descriptions of the sports books with hundreds of televisions, fans. And money being tossed around like confetti. I felt I had missed something important.
But then a miracle seemed to occur. Wendy was asked to speak at a conference in Las Vegas, and I got to come along! And then I realized it was during those first four magical days! I got so excited I could barely contain myself.
And so here I am on board Southwest Flight #462 almost to Vegas and I’m ready to just scream. And not in a good way. Somehow, in all of my dreaming about this day I didn’t stop to think about my fellow passengers. Now, as many of you know we live in Maryland, the Terrapins have been playing well over the last few years — unlike those days when Lefty Drizell was the coach (when I was at Duke we all used to regularly make fun of that poor fellow by wearing bald wigs).
So Maryland is back in the group of 64 after several years’ absence, and a good portion of the plane is full of Maryland fans. Despite the manufactured one-sided rivalry between Maryland and Duke, I like watching Maryland basketball. (Please don’t tell Larry or Pam). This plane ride has made me change my mind. This idiot next to me, has been screaming and laughing like MACHINE GUN all flight long, fueled by bourbon and beer. And thanks to the poor judgment of the flight attendant who has been continually selling him drinks the entire way despite the rather obvious inebriated state that the moron was already occupying. I’ve gotten to the point that I fear for his safety and I’m praying for the plane to land so I can just get away from this jerk.
Did I mention he was incredibly loud and obnoxious? Well he was! Did I mention this was a FIVE HOUR FLIGHT?
But like a bad movie, this flight just keeps going and going. Maybe I should mention that there are 20 more like him behind us. But despite the fact that they would have seemed unbearable in normal situations, compared to this Bozo, they actually weren’t all that bad. Except for the occasional phrases that made me want to ask them if they kissed their mamas with those mouths.
Okay. Sounds awful. Right?
But like Ron Popeil says, “Wait, there’s more.”
The plane lands. This guy put his feet up across the aisle onto my armrest. Seriously folks, I’m not kidding here.
I had had enough. I pushed his feet off of me and he started to talk directly to me. If I’d had a match, I’d have lit it just to see if his breath was as flammable as it seemed. I told him I wasn’t interested in talking to him.
SIDEBAR: Wendy said she was very proud of me for not engaging and that I held my temper admirably. Just needed to point that out. This was not easy for me.
Back to the story. He kept on badgering me. I ignored him. It was time for our row to get off, but we decided to let the plane empty and we’d exit last. Those crazies can get off. We’re not in a hurry. But that guy.
He was so enraged that I wouldn’t get off before him – his isolated act of manners. We said we were waiting. But he stood there unmoving, waiting for us. Well, you can imagine the 50 people behind us were not happy.
Still. He stood there.
Finally, he called me an asshole and started to walk. I’m proud to say that Wendy called after him with a huge laugh, “Are you kidding me? You are calling my husband an asshole? Seriously, are you kidding?” A proud husband moment for me. She does love me.
On the way out, we commiserated with several passengers as irritated as we were. It was cathartic.
I just hope it hasn’t killed my love of this time of year forever.
(And I hope we finish our seminar in time to watch the Duke game on the big screen at Caesar’s’ Palace.)