I’m not sure when the virus started and frankly I never paid too much attention to it. I was never warned I’d catch it but it started, gradually, over time. In Hebrew it’s l’dor v’dor — from generation to generation.
I never saw it coming, either. What seemed like entirely rational behavior in the 60s, 70s and even the early 80s, began to gradually change. I saw it happening in the 90s and now, entering life’s final quarter, it’s full-fledged manic. Its got me. Just like it did to Dad.
However, in spite of the afflication, I’m still going to the Alabama-Georgia national championship game Monday night but I’m not really sure why?
Not too many decades ago I used to enjoy going to ball games, but now the escape is far more important than the actual contest. Getting caught in the exit rush gives me recurring shakes. Planning my exit is much cooler than watching live a last second field goal, three pointer or base-knock. Leaving totally supersedes the event itself. Now, it’s officially become time for me to sign a lifetime lease with the futon on the patio so I can watch a game with no fuss, no muss, no traffic, no people. Sorta like going to a Miami Marlins game.
Tomorrow night in the ATL will be a clusterpuck of the very worst kind. Seventy thousand, not including all the President’s men, will converge on downtown Atlanta, half wearing Georgia red, the rest wearing ‘Bama crimson and after the first ninety minutes of the respective tailgates, nobody will be able to tell the difference. Or care. And then, just as the Centennial Olympic Park clock strikes midnight when Nick gets handed the trophy, sponsored of course by Dr. Pepper, and Minkah says he’s doesn’t know if he’ll return for his senior season but Tide fans know he won’t, 69,998 will converge onto one of the ninety-three interstates that lead out of Atlanta to get back to Tuscaloosa or Athens or points in-between or further away.
Not me. Those days are like a Dave Kingman blast– going, going, gone. Gone from the 60s and 70s when staying to the end of a Knicks or Rangers game at the Garden or a Mets or Jets game at Shea was expected of us kids. We caught whatever the next Long Island Railroad train was that left the city or sat in Queens traffic until we got home. There was no rush. We didn’t care, we had our whole lives ahead of us and really nothing better to do.
You know, I can forgive Dad for passing down to me his cardiac arterial blockage. He had bypass surgery in 2004; I had cinco-de-bypass last August. I got it honest as they say down here in national championship country. I’m not sure however I’m ready to forgive him for my premature exit syndrome.
Dad was a charter season ticket holder for the New York Islanders when they were born in 1972. They played hockey at the Nassau Coliseum, maybe fifteen minutes from our Long Island home, but the distance didn’t matter. For a long time, I never knew there were three periods in a hockey game; we were gone after two. Some nights I thought ‘Land of the Free’ was the last line of the national anthem because ‘Home of the Brave’ happened as we were getting back into our car to beat the rush, three hours early.
Now it’s caught up to me like five clogged heart arteries did. Maybe it was all the fretting about leaving games early that got me sick. Either way, a well timed escape route is now mandatory, healthy heart or not. It’s become more important to not be there anymore, than to still be there.
There are some places left that I still actually like watching a game but none of them involve driving and having to Mario Andretti-it out of the lot. I still like going to Madison Square Garden because I can walk the ten blocks back to the Westin on 43rd. Baltimore’s Camden Yards has always been a favorite when I stay in the Harbour. And Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is especially beautiful when I have a room key right across the street at the Marriott. I also like going to Yankee Stadium but know I have to head out in the fifth, maybe sixth inning to get on the D-train before the masses. Stay too long and the platform and train looks and jostles like a bunch of Tea Party Republicans fleeing from a Bernie-rally. If you can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd, I don’t want any part of it.
But, as the years passed, baseball games for me have gone from nine innings to now four or five and I’ve even left a game after one frame. Normally I can make it to halftime in football before leaving; rarely have I made the fourth quarter. A few years ago I went to Talladega, was the only Jew among the hundred grand on hand not getting tattooed on Bud Lite, and I left right after lap 100, halfway through. I was home on that futon to watch Dale Jr take the checkered flag. Or was it red? Yellow, maybe?
Last year, for the national college football championship game in Tampa, I met my match. Or maybe my idol. Medjet colleague and partner Mat Whatley, a devout Alabama alum, invited me to fly over privately on his charter. There were six of us and I was going to meet my son Scott, coming in from LA. Scott, who went to UNLV, is a ‘Bama fan because if you go to UNLV you have to have someone to root for.
With ten minutes to go in the game, Alabama up by seven and driving, Mat said it was time to go. Everyone in the group sat there stunned but I got it and frankly, I loved it.
He reasoned he didn’t want to get stuck on the line of private planes leaving TPA after the game.
It’s good to be Mat. We got to the hanger just as Clemson scored to win. We were the fourth plane in line for take-off. It’s hard for me to believe there were three parties more meshugana than Mat Whatley.
Now, my favorite venue and what little sports passion I have left, is rooted in my Birmingham backyard at UAB’s Bartow Arena, where I’ve attended college basketball games for the last 18 years. UAB plays in Conference USA, a one-bid mid-major, where the caliber of play may not be what it once was, but it doesn’t matter. I can easily justify trading quality for convenience, which is probably why I’ll go to Zaxby’s and not two miles further to Chic-fil-A. After all, that’s why God made Pepcid isn’t it?
UAB is my sports safe-house. I’ve gone from ‘The World’s Most Famous Arena’ on Seventh Avenue to Bartow, just off 19th Street. You know you’re getting old and been in one place too long when you personally knew the gentleman whose name is on the building, late legendary coach Gene Bartow, then his son Murry, and now his grandson Alec. I’ve had the same seat, in the same spot, in Bartow for sixteen years.
On the floor, what they call Gucci Row in LA is Pennyloafer Lane at UAB. I’m on the end, closest to the basket with no interest in moving toward center because more people are in my way. Leave me where I am. I have unparalleled access to the restroom. And the real kick is there’s nobody that can get to their car any quicker than me with the one seat in the 9,000 seat house that’s closest to the exit. Plus the valet kids pull my car up to the door at halftime. Despite all this, I rarely make the final buzzer. It’s nirvana.
And no matter how early or late Mr. Whatley wants to leave Monday night, though he says he will stay to the end if Alabama is winning, it’s still even money that Scott, who is coming in again this year, will be sitting alone when it’s a wrap. My favorite satirical columnist, Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal, said Friday that college football games last longer than college itself. Which means, even with two running teams shortening the clock, it will still be too long for Mr. Whatley to make the final gun. That of course means, if I want a ride home, neither will I.
Of course nothing Mat does can match my earliest potential exit ever, four hours before kickoff, just over a year ago when Alabama played Washington in the playoff semifinal, also in Atlanta. Andi and I were maybe five, six miles outside of Birmingham for the two hour ride to the dome. My Verizon ping sounded with an email from StubHub that my tickets for the game just sold. ‘SHIT,’ I screamed. I forgot I had listed them, thus had no reason to remember to take them down. I found the first Waffle House on I-20, pulled over on two wheels and told Andi to drive. “What happened,” she nervously asked. When I told her what I did (or didn’t do) she of course said, “no problem, we can go home and watch it. You won’t want to stay long anyway.” I didn’t particularly appreciate the wise-ass editorial, so just for spite I got on StubHub and found two seats, closer to the Georgia Dome roof than the turf, and only paid about a hundred bucks more than the profit on my original seats. We almost made it through the third quarter too.
If I wasn’t certain this exit neurosis was passed down in our family from generation to generation, l’dor vador, I found out for sure last Sunday. Our oldest son Jason, who also lives in Los Angeles, went to the Rams-49ers game at the LA Coliseum. He left at halftime.
Simultaneously, both his grandpa and dad beamed.