Spring Training

This may be a surprise to one or two of you who grace this blog with your occasional presence. Although the details have been finalised for some time, and the planning going on much longer, I’ve only got round to mentioning it to a few friends. This trip has almost crept up on me – the aforementioned planning and confirming seeming so long ago.

 

What is most remarkable is that this represents my third trip to the US inside a year, and I am very grateful to be in a position to be able to do that. Those Virgin Flying Club points keep rackin’ up!

First was New York with Kay, next was the “RTW” with me and a cast of thousands (and a few special co-stars!) and so this is with my brother, Nick.

The germ of a seed of an idea for this trip, for me at least, was sown many years ago in an episode of Aaron Sorkin’s masterwork, The West Wing  (a classic; “The Stackhouse Fillibuster”). If I tried hard, I could maybe find the clip on Googletube to share, but as we are at 34,000 feet somewhere to the east of New York as I type, that will have to wait. The scene is Josh Lynham, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, talking to CJ Cregg . Josh is trying to explain his enthusiasm for heading to Florida to see the NY Mets in Spring Training. “Will there be any actual games, like any games which matter?”, asks CJ. No, Josh replies, just the opportunity to watch the players training at close range. In answer to CJ’s understandable bewilderment as to Why On Earth….

JOSH
A weekend at spring training. Mike Piazza is going to be standing in the batting cage. (strikes a batting pose) He's going to turn and see me. He's going to say,'Dude.'

CJ exits, still bewildered.

Substitute the Boston Red Sox, and perhaps David Ortiz, and you have mine and Nick’s fantasy “Dude moment”!

[No, I didn’t memorise all that by heart, I’ve looked it up since!]

If you want a somewhat less flattering look at Red Sox Nation and Spring Training, fast forward to about a third of the way in to Fever Pitch (the US version of Nick Hornby’s book, starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore). All will be, shamefully, revealed.

I awoke at 05:20 this morning which was both good and bad. The alarm was set for 05:30, so it was bad that I only had Ten More Minutes of Ten More Minutes Time. Shower, coffee and on the road at 06:20. A relatively smooth run along the M1 & M25 with only as much start/stop you’d expect of a weekday morning, and we were at Heathrow for a shade after 09:00. Car parking was by “meet & greet” (a little luxury that cut out an awful lot of potential stress) and into bag drop. All the formalities were hassle free and we were settled in the No.1 Lounge at 09:45.

Unfortunately Nick’s tenure as a Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Gold member has come to a natural end, so there was no Clubhouse for us this time. The lounge we utilised isn’t a patch on the Clubhouse of course, but it was the fruit of Nick’s skilful use of credit card rewards and was much appreciated by me. A reasonable amount of free snap was had and it was much more comfortable than Terminal 3’s general waiting area.

We set up camp with a view out over the apron and the southern runway, but it was so grey and drizzly for most of the time, attention to people and activity in the lounge mostly occupied us. Nick had plugged his iPad into a nearby socket to charge at one point and was a little alarmed when a stranger seated close by picked it up. Turned out said stranger had knocked over a drink and was holding the iPad up out of harm’s way. So that was alright then, smiles all round.

We made our way to Gate 22 for boarding at 11:45, getting there just as the first passengers were called to embark. The aircraft is a 747-400 (“Mustang Sally”) and the ample crowd at the gate forewarned us the flight would be full. We were on board at 12:10, pushed back at 12:25 and wheels up at 12:46 for what we’re told will be a 9hr 17min flight. We are 41A&B, “extra leg row seats”, three rows back at the front of the Economy cabin. Nick has the window seat with a splendid view of the wing (hiding the engines, so proudly manufactured by Rolls Royce in Derby!).

The obligatory plane picture

As I type, it feels like a ninety hour flight, but that’s just me. We’re still 2hrs 10min away.

I watched Gravity with Sandra Bullock and some guy called George. Nick also watched it and wasn’t impressed, but I quite enjoyed it. It is certainly edge-of-the-seat tense in places and I must be honest and say I’m kicking myself now for not stumping-up to see it on a big screen. I also watched Planes, a long overdue omission rectified, and — please don’t judge me — The Heat, another Sandy B. outing. At least it has the redeeming characteristic of being set in Boston.

The in flight meal was Caesar pasta salad and las-ag-ne. My new found enthusiasm for things Caesar is such that I’d have probably gone for that anyway, but the las-ag-ne was Hobson’s as the alternative was “fragrant Thai vegetable curry”. Nothing against Thailand, but the ‘fragrant’ bit made it sound so much worse to me. Oh, or I could have had Coq-au-Vin, but….

Want to get off now, please.

Much, Much Later….

The rest of the tedious flight passed by. Eventually. Credit it where it is due, the cabin crew were through fairly regularly with various meal and beverage services, including an ice cream lolly at one point! High tea was a tiny cheese & pickle sandwich, which as Nick observed, probably coast a fraction of the very ornate packaging it was presented in! I did have the banana & toffee cup cake which was also in the box – I’m fairly sure the first time ever I have had a cup cake?

We landed at 22:10 UK time, 17:10 local. We were at the stand within only a couple of minutes of landing, which quite surprised me. As we tipped out into the Immigration Hall the queues weren’t too bad. Credit to Nick for the blistering pace he set on the route march from the plane (I swear if we took just one more moving walkway we would have ended up in Fort Myers already!), as just ten minutes later the hall was rammed with people as other flights arrived. It took us another half an hour to get through that and off to the Hire Car Center. Despite an unexpected extra charge for an additional driver which Nick will address with his ‘agent’ in due course, that went smoothly enough.

We went down to the parking level and were allocated a blue Ford Fusion on Louisiana plates, and a fairly hefty 54,320 miles on the clock. It was dark as we exited the garage and tried to find our way out of the airport – me driving and Nick doing his best to interpret what Siri was telling us. A combination of the ‘canyon effect’ making the GPS signal bounce around, and some fairly substantial changes to the road layout, meant that we had an unplanned additional circuit of the airport. Once out in the right direction, more road reconstruction and some stunningly awful road signs – not to mention heavy rush hour traffic – made for a frustrating/stress inducing seven and a half mile drive to the Springhill Suites.

Once we got there though, the stress evaporated, helped by a very friendly welcome and the perks associated with Nick being a Marriott Gold Card holder! The room is well appointed with a small living area and kitchenette. Once we got organised and freshened, we jumped back in the car and headed east along NW 7th Street for a mile or so to a busy shopping area. There we hit a Publix supermarket and attacked the deli for our supper. Nick had a little mix up on the communication front and came away with a 12 inch sub rather than the half sub he intended, but he rose to the challenge in the end! I couldn’t help but go with the Sam Adams seasonal brew “Cold Snap” as my evening refreshment. I did offer Nick a bottle but he prefers his Bud Light. What can I say!?

Back to the room for a picnic and diary/blog with a variety of televisual entertainment – most of it written by Chuck Lorre it seems.

 

Not many photos to share – yet. Mostly too dark and/or unexciting. Though this works…

Sam Adams Cold Snap

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