Sunday, April 7, 2013

Thank You For Participating In Grand Theft: Paycheck

Over the years, I would sometimes get assignments that were "late" (within 2 weeks of air date) and "local" (driving distance). When living in Kalamazoo, I used to love the call to get Michigan State taking on Coppin State or FIU, while I frantically rearranged my schedule to procure a convenient day rate.

I used to call these events "529 Games," meaning unplanned money that could go straight to the kids' college funds. Now I just call it stealing. As with any heist there's a certain amount of logistics that needs to take place, especially when curveballs pop up.

A couple of weeks ago I got the call to do a nationally-televised college baseball game: Liberty vs Coastal Carolina on April 7th. Great. I would get home from Spring Break, and drive up to Myrtle Beach on Saturday for a Sunday early game, hit the cruise control and drive home.

Right before my own personal family vacation, I got an "oops, my bad" from my boss. The game was actually Saturday April 6th at Noon. I could always have turned the assignment down - it wasn't my fault after all, but then I wouldn't collect either. One game check = a couple of family vacations.

So my Friday adventure began at noon in Kissimmee, Florida where I drove the kids 6 hours home to Savannah through Spring Break traffic and bad weather and lines at rest stops to get back before night time. Then I printed out all my work for the Saturday game, grabbed some producer clothes, paid a couple of bills, and got back in the car.

I hit the GPS for the hotel in Myrtle Beach and it spit out 3 hours and 45 minutes, or an arrival time of about Midnight. Then I would have a couple of hours of work to do, which would leave me 4 hours of sleep before my 6 AM call time. But unfortunately the road that takes me most of the way there was the same quagmire I was just on: I-95.

About 3 hours into the trip, some of it at a standstill, I was still 2 hours away from my destination and fading from mental and physical exhaustion. There were no hotel rooms in Santee SC or Manning SC. So I was stuck.

The network's emergency travel department was useless, as were my multiple furious efforts to find hotels on my own. Hilton Honors saved the day, booking me a Hampton Inn in Sumter SC - about 20 minutes the wrong direction off I-95. The hotel was right across from an Applebee's (of course it was) so I did some homework there with a cold one while the Friday night crowd got ready for karaoke.

All the cars at the hotel parking lot were covered in frost - it was a solid 40 degrees colder than when my day started. I slept from 1:30 AM to 4 AM, showered, shaved, and then took the 1-hour 45-minute drive directly to Pelicans Park in Myrtle Beach.

Game day was pretty run-of-the-mill. We got on the air OK and the game took a neat 2:30 though we had some tense moments when the game was tied 1-1 late and we were nearly certain we'd go extra innings. The Chanticleers picked up a 4-spot in the bottom of the 8th and painstakingly put the game away in the 9th 5-1.

When I walked out of the truck at 2:45 PM, the plan was to go back to the hotel, rest up and head home first thing in the morning. But it was too beautiful a day and too early. So on barely 2 hours sleep, I drove straight home while it was still daylight. I listened to the entire game as the Yankees got clobbered by Detroit. I stopped only for gas and ice cream. I laughed at the northbound jam-ups on I-95 as I cruised south.

I was home on my couch watching the Final Four, 23 hours after I had left the house. Syracuse couldn't steal a win though this Syracuse graduate stole a paycheck. Then I just had to steal a few hours sleep before the kids would be returning on Sunday.

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