Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Eh, What's a Little Wind?

Next weekend, the Steelers are playing their final regular season game of the year, in Miami against the Dolphins.  My brother and I are meeting our parents and our sister and brother-in-law there to attend.  We have great hopes that we will encounter none of the problems we faced the last time we saw the Steelers in Miami, back in 2004.  It was the first game that Ben Roethlisberger ever started, but it is better known as The Hurricane Game.

I was supposed to fly down for the game, spend a couple days in Ft. Lauderdale with my parents who where coming in from Green Bay, then fly to Cincinnati on the Wednesday to visit my sister and her husband, for the rest of the week.  It didn’t quite work out that way, as we ended up flying directly into Hurricane Jeanne; a Category-3 Hurricane that had went out into the Atlantic but buttonhooked back to disrupt our best-laid plans.

It occurred to me, as this monumental CF was playing out, that it would make a great story.  So I began taking notes, documenting each twist and turn of our strange saga.  There seemed to be an awful lot of “good news/bad news”, so much of it was written in that manner.  To keep things clear, I’ve used color-coding here: the good news will be in blue and the bad news will be in red.  As this is a rather long piece (about 10-pages on Word, including pictures) I’m posting it in 2 pieces.  This is Part 1 of the story.  Please come along on the ride for:

Our Long Strange Date With Jeanne
In retrospect, we should have seen it coming, and bailed.  You’d have to be crazy to fly straight into a hurricane’s path.  But then again, we’re Steeler fans.  We have a greater obligation. 

There were a lot of decisions made on this trip.  Some worked out, some led to disaster.  This is the travelogue of my journey to Miami for a Dolphins/Steelers game, with my brother Ed and our friend Bob.  Strap in for the ride.

Saturday 9/25/04
Upon coming home from a Friday night happy hour, I find a message from my brother Ed that our 7:40 am flight from Baltimore to Charlotte has been cancelled.  I had been automatically rebooked on a later flight.  Ed rebooked the rebooking to a 6:00 am flight.  This changes my wake up time to just after 3:00 am.  Maybe going to happy hour wasn’t such a great idea. 

We meet Bob in Charlotte, and catch a standby flight at 8:15, delivering us to Ft. Lauderdale around 10:00, rather than at 12:30 as originally scheduled.  Bob and I learn, while on the flight, that Ft Lauderdale airport will be closing at noon, in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Jeanne.  (I was hoping she wouldn’t show up.)  If we had remained on their original schedule, we would never have made it to Florida.  Now we would make it in just under the wire. 

My folks were scheduled to arrive at 2:30.  I said to Bob that if anyone can, my dad will find a way to get there.  I predicted that they would get on a flight to Miami instead, and rent a car.

Upon disembarking in Lauderdale, we learn that my parents will not be making the trip after all.  Miami’s airport was closing too, as were most of the airports in Florida.  They couldn’t even get out of Wisconsin.  As much as we realized we’d miss their presence and companionship during the trip, we’d also be missing all the game tickets.  My dad was still holding them all. 

But in speaking with him, we learned that he had access to more tickets, from one of the guys from the Fan Club delegation.  While our local Steelers Fan Club had organized a ticket/hotel/bus ride/tailgate party for the game, there would be many cancellations and therefore a surplus of tickets.  Getting tickets wouldn’t be a problem.  Having to buy them again was the rub

We caught a cab to the hotel, the Doubletree, which is right on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale.  The driveway was bustling with activity; in fact the valet greeted us immediately upon pulling in.  This is good.

We were immediately informed that the hotel was evacuating; in fact, all of the barrier islands were undergoing a forced evacuation.  This is bad.  We asked what the rest of the Fan Club had done, and were told that they scattered to the winds, like so many cockroaches when the light turns on.  (OK, they didn’t say that exactly, but that was our characterization.)

A quick note on the Fan Club: while they’re decent people, and have obvious taste in football allegiance, some of them are not the brightest crayons in the box.  Their leader, The Emperor, is known for negotiating preposterous rates for their events, and running his club like a little kingdom.  His insistence upon playing the old 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers Polka after every score reaffirms the perception that Steelers fans constantly live in the past. 

His refusal to play the Steelers radio broadcast, featuring legendary broadcasting gnome Myron Cope, instead of that of the regular network schmoes, is based on his insistence that because he did it once before and the Steelers lost, it is bad luck, and should never be allowed again.
Myron Cope with Ed in Miami, many years earlier.

Obviously this is an insult to all who are knowledgeable and passionate about football and know that the broadcast that is heard has no effect on a game’s turnout.  The jersey that I wear on game day does.  But I digress… 

This time the Fan Club service was pretty good, which was to get us a $79 rate on the Doubletree rooms, and a $40 bus ride to the stadium, and tailgate party.  But all of this is of dubious value now, as we have to scramble just to find a place to hole up for the night, and wonder when or if the game is going to take place.  The Doubletree gives us a handout listing about 20 area hotels, which are undoubtedly filling up fast.

As we hadn’t given up the cab yet, we piled back in and regrouped.  The cabbie graciously offered to take us around to look for a hotel vacancy.  He did not graciously offer to turn off the meter.  Ed realized that Dad still had a car rental reservation, so we decided to go back to the airport and rent our own vehicle.  That’s how it came to be that we took a $40 cab ride from the airport, to the airport.  Shrewd, huh?

We rented a Blazer, and proceeded to sit in the parking lot where Ed worked his phone from the front seat, and Bob worked his from the back.  Marriott tells Ed there are no rooms in any of their Marriott family of hotels within a 50-mile radius.  The first 9 hotels Bob calls turn him down.  Ed suggests working the list from the bottom up.  I suggest calling 1-800-hotel, whose flyer I’d picked up in the car rental office.  Phone agent there seems lost on what to do.  After about 10 minutes, he informs that it’ll be hard to find any vacancies because there’s a hurricane coming.  Ed thanks him for the news flash, and hangs up.  

We begin driving west, continuing to make calls, getting answers of “no, no, no, no, hell no, no, and no,” and continuing to get laughed at by hotel clerks.  We try asking in person at a Renaissance Hotel and get laughed at in person.  Suddenly Bob gets a bite; they have a room in Coconut Grove.    Bob is exchanging information with the hotel as his cell phone cuts out.  He calls back immediately, and the room is gone.  We continue heading west.

Ed calls Marriott again, this time looking for a place outside a 50 mile radiusNow they have one, a Marriott Courtyard in downtown Miami, about 15 miles away.  Then Ed’s phone cuts out.  He re-contacts, and by some Divine Intervention, they still have the room.  Room has 1 king bed with a rollaway.  I brace myself for having to spoon with my brother for the night. We book it for one night.  We find our way there, and check in.  Finally, a break!  We can breathe again.
The view our our window of the downtown Miami Marriott.

Up in the room, we catch a crawl on ESPN saying that their reporter Hank Goldberg says the game will be postponed until 8:30 Sunday night.  This is great news, because that will allow Ed and Bob to catch their original flights home on Monday.  We head downstairs for a late lunch, and spot a crawl on a local channel saying that the game is cancelled.  A half hour later, there is another crawl that says game will be 8:30 on Sunday. 

Ed contacts Dad’s ticket guy, and arranges for 5 tickets for we three, plus our cousin Angela and her friend.  Angela is law student at the University of Miami, so since we’re “in the neighborhood”, we thought she should be included in the festivities. 

Our plan, assuming the hurricane damage in minor in South Florida, is to contact the Doubletree in the morning and try to book there for Sunday night, hoping to still get the original $79 rate. 
Ed and Bob killing time at the Marriott.

After our meal, we walk to a carryout down the block, through some pouring rain, and buy 12 Miller Lites and a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke, for $17.  I receive $3 change in quarters.  We consider calling the Florida Anti-Price Gouging Hotline.  (Yes, there is such a thing)  The rest of the night unfolds in a kind of “good news/bad news” manner.  Or maybe more like a “good news/bad news/more bad news” manner.

About 5:30 pm, Jeanne is upgraded to a Category-3 Hurricane. 

6:00 pm, we see another crawl that says game time tomorrow is “uncertain”. 

We find a top rate lineup of college football games on TV.

There is no “go-back” button on the remote.

Every bar in Miami is closed, but for one live music venue.

The Diet Coke is aged slightly longer than good scotch.

Delivery menu slipped under the door from local Pizza Shop advertises “We Speak English”.  Dockers Pizza is open and delivering!

Two 1-item pizzas cost $27.  “Hello Price Gouging Hotline?

An hour and a half later, the driver is 2 blocks away, looking for parking “because it’s raining”.  We point out that covered parking is available at our hotel, which we expected them to know, because they had, after all, been here at least long enough to slip flyers under all the doors. 

ESPN now says the game is on “tentatively” at 8:30 Sunday.  We expect that’s as good as we’ll get, as the powers that be will no doubt wait until Jeanne has passed so they can assess the damage to the area surrounding the stadium. 

The pizzas finally arrive 2 hr after order is placed.  We discover that speaking English does not guarantee an edible pizza.  Apparently, sauce was optional.  Of course, being guys, we ate it anyway.

We spend the rest of the night with one eye on ESPN, and the other on local hurricane coverage.  It was amusing to watch when local anchors have to actually listen and react to live situations, as opposed to reading their Teleprompters.  And you have to feel for the poor schlubs that they send outside to cover the storm.  Our favorite was Jawan, who while clad in his yellow slicker, announced that “anyone coming outside now is going to get blown.”  When not sticking his mic out to arms length so we could hear what the storm sounded like, he was maneuvering about so that the camera wouldn’t pick up the skateboard punks playing in the background.  Apparently their presence was undermining the seriousness of the occasion.  I thought his slicker was doing the same thing.

The hurricane hit around 9:00 pm, landing about midway up the eastern part of the state, crossing through the state before turning north overnight.  What we had in Miami and Lauderdale was no worse than a bad rainstorm back home.  The locations directly in the storm’s path got hammered pretty good.  Still, as Bob hit his rollaway, and Ed and I climbed into our shared King, we wondered what we’d be waking up to in the morning.  I tried to remember not to put my hands in between any “pillows.” 

Sunday 9/26
Woke up to more “Good News/Bad News”

It’s 8:00 am. and the bathroom smells like ass.  Someone’s been up early.

Hit the breakfast buffet at the hotel.

They were out of bacon.  (Now that’s a state of emergency)

11:00 the evacuation of the barrier islands is lifted.  We head back to the Doubletree in Lauderdale, and wonder how we’re going to get to the game… where to go?  Where to park?  Is there a public transportation option?

We pull up as they’re taking down the plywood from their windows.  We’re told they’ll open at noon.  Lexi, the valet, directs us to a nearby Hooters.

Hooters is closed until 2:00.

Max’s Grill is also closed, but lets us loiter and watch the pre-game shows.  They don’t open until 2:00 either, but they give us free cokes.

We check in at the Doubletree, and learn that the Fan Club bus and tailgate party is back on.  Bus leaves at 3:00.  We’re back in the game, baby!
 Primanti Bros. in Ft. Lauderdale, right on the beach.

We are directed to a nearby Primanti Brothers establishment for some authentic Pittsburgh cuisine, featuring “The Pittsburger”.  (burger, fries, and slaw, all mashed together on Italian bread.)  We inquire about buying some of their spiffy Primanti Bros shirts.  They’re all out; we’re directed to Primantibros.com.
 The "Pittsburger."
Quote of the Afternoon:
They call the beerRed Stripe’ because that’s what it leaves in your underwear.”  -Ed-

The food is outstanding though, and the beer is cold.

Learned that Primanti’s stays open during a hurricane’s aftermath because they got their shop wired up from the grid that belongs to the Holiday Inn.  Counter guy says they had their boards off at 7:30 am and were open for breakfast.  Rest of the local shops didn’t open until 11:00.  Why did they take so long?  According to the Counterman, “because they’re all pu**ies.”

Primanti’s only had 1 TV.

The 1 TV had Direct TV and by overwhelming demand, TV was switched to Ravens/Bengals game.
Digging the game at Primanti's.

We received delivery of our second package of game tickets and headed back to the Doubletree, to change into our game gear.  (the importance of which has been previously mentioned regarding correct Game Apparel Mojo.  Today’s choice: Hines Ward black game jersey, rubberized, water-resistant Steelers ball cap, screaming yellow cargo pants.)  

In the next installment, our heroes boldly set out for the game.  Also, the Exit Strategy goes awry!


JennyMac said...

that burger is crazy....leave it to Pittsburg to come up with that..haha...

and the Red Stripe quote? Thanks Ed.

bluzdude said...

It's unique, alright... I'd try it except I don't like cole slaw. But I'd be down with putting the fries on it.

This particular sandwich was born when truckers needed a way to eat their burger/fries/slaw while driving. Primanti's to the rescue.

Anonymous said...

I've heard that Primanti's actually serves that way because they had no plates or silverwear on the day they opened. Then they just stayed that way.

Must sub kilbasa for the hamburger though. But in a pinch after a hurricane, one must make do.

Have fun at the game. Wear black and gold and wave a towel around so we can tell which one is you!

bluzdude said...

We will be conspicuous, trust me. No point of going to an "away" game if you're not dressing the part. (*not including games at Philly or Oakland.)

I also anticipate a ton of fellow Steeler fans there. Not only were tickets relatively easy to come by earlier, now that the 'Phins are eliminated, tickets can probably be found laying around on the ground.

CrackerLilo said...

Oh, wow. Can't wait for Part 2.

You know it's not hurricane season now. In fact, the weather is beautiful. The anti-price gouging hotline is well-intended, but such a joke. And yes, you were *so* gouged, but you know that. I can't believe your flight was even allowed out.

Back in the late 1970s, my father was a huge Dolphins fan. (If you lived in Central Florida then, your choices were the 'Phins or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and they were called the "Suckaneers" for a reason.) My mom decided she liked the Steelers. We laugh about that now.

Hope this trip is much smoother and much better for you, and the game's a good one, too!

bluzdude said...

The funny thing is that 2 years later, I took a job that involves tracking hurricanes and helping our branches across the country prepare for them.

My brother-in-law, who is coming to the game with us this weekend, is also a Phins fan. We've never been able to turn him, but I keep trying. He and my sister go at it all season long. She's as big a fan as I am, but louder. It sounds like you have the same deal with your honey, regarding the Pens and Wings.

Not worried about the weather in Florida, however I am concerned about getting out of here. Even if there's no storm here at take off, a storm elsewhere could prevent our plane from getting here. We'll see.

one-eyed dick said...

You have to remember that hurricanes in FLA are like snowstorms up there--weatherman crack. Predict a hurricane, get some rain; predict a blizzard, get flurries. No matter, it keeps the gas stations and food stores in the black.

My daughter and new husband will be at the game. Tall guy, short girl wearing Steeler shirts--can't miss them among the other 10,000 fans that will be there wearing black and gold!

And that Primanti's on the beach: we make the 2 1/2 hour drive from Sarasota a couple times a year for lunch. Now that you've reminded me, I think we're about due......

Cher Duncombe said...

What a journey! I liked that you found Primanti's. At least it was a touch of home. I can't wait for the next installment either. You have quite an exciting life, bluz!

bluzdude said...

I'll keep a sharp lookout for your daughter and her husband. How hard can they be to spot?

I've often heard that whoever dies with the most toys wins... Well, I believe it's the one with the best stories, and have tried to live my life accordingly. Of course, a lot of stories are a lot more enjoyable in retrospect!

The Guy's Perspective said...

An adventure, whether good or bad, often leads to a great story.

I enjoyed the part about the emperor, and your quip about your jersey....

I'm pretty superstitious so that certainly spoke to me!

bluzdude said...

Just making lemonade out of lemons. It helps, as a writer, to look at everything that ever happens to you as prospective "material."

It was funny, too, how after I started taking notes on the experience, Ed and Bob began chipping in with ideas and observations. It became kind of a communal exercise in misery management.