Road trip into Madness (March)

Lauri and I road tripped out at 7 this morning to Spokane, WA, to watch the Stanford Cardinal in the first round of the NCAA tourney. It took about four hours to drive out there, covering about 260 miles. This all began when Lauri replied to an e-mail of mine on Monday, giving me some ideas on what to do in South America and ending with an innocent question about what I was doing Thursday. It hit me just then. Stanford was probably playing somewhere out West. A quick glance online confirmed they'd be in Spokane. Had to jump on it. Bid on some tickets on eBay and lost. Spokane Arena was sold out. Stanford's ticket office was all out. Rich could get tickets from friends at Dayton, but only for Session II. Stanford was in Session I.
Then I noticed that UConn was also in the bracket, also in Session I, playing BYU. UConn to Spokane. Very far. A quick call to UConn's ticket office confirmed plenty of availability. We were on our way.
About an hour into the journey I realized I had left my drivers license, car insurance, and main credit card back at home so I slowed myself way down to about 75mph. Later that morning, Dan, cruising past Ellensburg, got pulled over for speeding after getting clocked by an airplane. Dan had a rough day in store for him.
There isn't a whole lot to see on the drive through Central and Eastern Washington. In fact, it was almost comic because the occasional tumbleweed would roll across the highway, as in a bad western. I wondered, why do tumbleweeds roll around like that? Are they dead? Lauri, being the sharp girl she is, theorized that they were spreading their seeds. Turns out she was right. Tumbleweeds form a break at their stem when their seeds are nearly mature, and then they blow off in the wind, scattering their seeds everywhere. That's pretty cool, huh? I'll never look at another tumbleweed the same.
The drive didn't feel so bad having someone to talk to. 4 hours was plenty of time for us to catch up on all the crazy places we had traveled while in consulting, our trips to New Zealand and Australia, past years at Amazon, the sorry condition of Buffy episodes this season (please just end the show quickly), Iraq, fun undergraduate days at Stanford, our Oscar predictions and picks, future career goals, etc. Plus, snagging tickets from the UConn ticket office at the last minute and driving out to Spokane on a moment's notice felt like the kind of spontaneous fun which you had to seize while on sabbatical.
Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena holds about 12,000 people and is home of the Gonzaga Bulldogs basketball team (until they build a new arena for themselves), among other things. Parking in the lots outside was only $4.
I walked up to the UConn ticket window to pick up my tickets and they asked for photo I.D. Hmmmm. I had my wallet, but not much in it. I keep my drivers license and main credit cards in a small card holder which I had left at home in another pair of jeans. Then, I found my Costco card and it had a tiny black and white image of me on it. The guy gave me a look but accepted it and we were in. Everything seems more precious when claimed by such tenuous serendipity.
Not only that, but our seats were in the eighth row, behind the UConn bench. We could hear Jim Calhoun cussing out players on the bench or starters on the floor the whole game. That was excellent. We spent the entire game rooting for this guy on BYU who looked like Eminem. In fact, it wasn't until late in the game that we learned his real name, Travis Hansen. We spent nearly as much time shaking our heads at the terrible play of BYU's #55, Rafael Araujo, who had about eighty turnovers on several traveling calls and just missed passes. He'd post on the right block, back in, dribbling slowly, and because he was right-handed you knew he'd turn into the lane with a jump hook or jump shot. Emeka Okafor would just wait, wait, wait, and then as soon as Araujo went up Okafor would just swat the shot away. It happened so many times it was a running joke. The game was 26-26 at halftime, but by the time I got back from a food break at halftime UConn had a comfortable lead and held off a late surge to win. It was an odd college game because they shot so few three pointers.
By the way, I had a great cellphone coverage on AT&T's GSM network all the way to Spokane. Goodness.
Then Stanford was up, and Lauri and I were in hostile territory b/c UConn desperately wanted the University of San Diego to pull the 4-13 seed upset so they'd have an easier game in round two. The game started great for us. Before you could blink Stanford was up 9-0 and then 18-2 and 29-10. Life looked good, but PF Justin Davis and C Rob Little just can't stay out of foul trouble and as soon as they left the game, which was soon, USD's Jasons, huge center Jason Keep and forward Jason Blair, went to work on us inside. Stanford was in huge foul trouble both halves, putting San Diego on the free throw line over and over. And when Keep did get into foul trouble early in the second half, somehow we still couldn't defend Blair even though he was the only scorer left on the floor for them. They gradually pulled back, with the entire arena behind them as the underdog, and then took the lead with under four minutes to go in the game. Stanford looked nervous, tentative, afraid to lose. Lauri and I were losing our hair.
The refereeing in college hoops is terrible, at least based on the calls in this game. I thought pro NBA officiating was weak, but this was ridiculously inconsistent. The officiating is better in the corporate league I play in. A few bad calls helped Davis foul out with plenty of time left, and we had bad memories of the Gonzaga upset at Key Arena about four years ago replaying in our heads.
But give the boys credit, they pulled it out with a few clutch few throws from Julius Barnes, some tough defense and rebounding underneath against Keep, and a clutch three pointer by Matt Lottich from the corner. The great thing about March Madness? Almost every game except the 1-16 seed game is competitive, regardless of seeding. Admittedly, that's not always the result of great skill, but that doesn't detract from the drama of the desperation on both sides in this single elimination scrum. Survive and advance.
After the game we met Dan and Rich for beers and dinner at the Ram before heading home. It would have been a long, depressing ride home following a loss, much like the ride facing Dan and Rich tomorrow since their fourth seeded Dayton Flyers were an upset victim of Tulsa's Green Wave in the day's last game. This is after paying $179 to stay overnight at the Spokane Doubletree. Costly, painful day, Danny boy. Every hoops fan has been there at one point or another, and for every heartbroken fan there's another, equally elated fan somewhere across the arena.
Now I have a date with Lauri's husband Nak on Saturday for round two, versus the UConn Huskies. Another long drive out to Spokane, but I can't complain. You get an invite to the big dance, you just keep dancing until the judge taps your shoulder and directs you to the sidelines.