It was the best of times.
It was the worst of times.
Somebody famous (Snoopy, I think) once began a story that way.
For a group of sportswriters, who have spent much of the past 30 years holding reunions at various sporting events throughout the world, ranging from college football championship and NCAA Final Four games to the Olympics, Super Bowls and World Series, it began a year ago with the worst of times.
One of our own--Hall of Fame Associated Press national basketball writer Jim O'Connell-- had died and some of us had gathered at his funeral.
The consensus was that since most of us were edging towards (or already there) retirement, we had reached a stage in our lives where we would only be gathering for funerals.
So it began, the idea of a Jurassic Park reunion of sportswriters. We had been doing a mini-version of this with my TMG partners, Chris Dufresne and Tony Barnhart, as well as ESPN's Ivan Maisel, who is the main force behind the world wide leader's superb effort to celebrate 150 years of college football. Then we added on some other veterans from a golden age of newspapers: Malcolm Moran, formerly of USA Today, the Chicago Tribune and New York Times, Steve Weiberg of USA Today, TMG partner Herb Gould (living in Chicago), Chicago-based Ed Sherman (Chicago Tribune) and Gene Wojciechowski (ESPN).
It adds up to to more than 300 years of experience.
We picked Chicago because of its central location and the fact Dufresne and Barnhart had never been to Wrigley Field, which also dictated the dates for a gathering that would include a few rounds of golf, drinks, a couple of dinners and lots of story telling.
It came off flawlessly, with good weather for both golf and baseball--although it was touch-and-go for awhile at the start of the trip.
We also shared bonus moments of golf and post-round stories with outgoing Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who we had all known for the past 20 years. Kevin Warren, his newly named commissioner successor, joined us for a Cubs game against the Colorado Rockies on Thursday afternoon.
And yes, everyone stood up and sang Take Me Out to the Ball Game--or at least lip-synced the lyrics.
The logistics of putting this together were challenging, but worth it.
The Worst of Times
One thing I don't miss about being a newspaperman is traveling. I did it for more than 30 years, with my favorite companion being a soft red duffel bag with my initials, MAB, stitched on.
We have traveled the world together, from the British Open and Wimbledon to the Sydney Olympics and other assorted college football and basketball stops.
This was going to be a fun, no-worry trip, from Boston to Chicago, two hours and change going west and a shade under two hours coming back.
And my buddy bag wasn't going steerage this time. He was flying coach with me, where he could easily snuggle into a warm and cozy compartment above my seat.
But in this new age of travel, where more people travel with less amenities (it now costs extra to get an aisle seat), American Airlines provided an adventure, which makes me glad that I am no longer part of their American Platinum program.
Return trip: AA flight 1239 was overbooked for noon liftoff and the gate crew at O'Hare airport was looking for volunteers to take a 5:30 flight in exchange for $600 AA voucher. I mulled it over and passed (which was my first mistake).
Then the comedy act began, and while I hate to bring up President Trump in any context, the words " You're Fired" should have been uttered a few times.
As an infrequent flyer these days my status as a passenger has been severely downgraded. Planes board in zones now and I was Zone 9, which should tell you something.
The overhead compartments filled rapidly, which meant passengers boarding the plane last were asked to check their luggage, which usually works out plus it's free. They hand you back your luggage in the jet way after you land.
This did not happen with American 1239. All luggage, I was told, would go to baggage claim. I took my claim check and filed into the fuselage.
I was among the last passengers to board and proceeded to my MIDDLE seat, 23B, but still a seat, only to find it occupied by a young woman with the same seat assigned.
American Airlines, we have a problem.
I made my way to the front, where one of the flight attendants was explaining to the pilots and her co-workers how she had been yelled at by an irate passenger for the way the boarding process had been handled.
I waited and politely said, "There's someone in my seat.''. She smiled and went to seat 23B looked at the other ticket and then told me to wait in the back of the plane, while she figured out what was going on.
I thought that I had escaped when one passenger sitting in an aisle seat, volunteered to go to an open middle seat where she could sit with her friend.
""Stay here for now,'' the flight attendant told me.
Had I escaped?
Nope. The flight attendant came back a few minutes later and said, "We've got you in 7B.''
Still, the middle, but the first row behind first class, which means a bit more leg room.
Ok. I had survived, but not so fast...
The flight departed and even landed a few minutes early, pulling up to the American gate at Logan Airport in Boston at 3:30 p.m.
I breezed out of the plane, hands free and headed to baggage claim. Fifteen minutes later, the baggage from Flight 123 came out quickly. My bag buddy DID NOT.
Not a good sign. The bag was hand-checked at the gate and it had to go directly on my plane. It wasn't a late check.
So what was the problem? I looked at my baggage claim check and was stunned to see the final destination: HEATHROW AIRPORT.
That's in London.
What I had going for me was that that flight wasn't departing for 4 hours. There would be no quick off, quick on load.
Working against me was the fact British Airways operated in another terminal. I explained this all to the American agent handling lost baggage, who had trouble with the concept of me wanting the luggage now if I was going to London.
I explained I wasn't. She made a call and said thew would work on it.
The search-and-rescue process began at 4 p.m. At five, at wit's end, I told them the only way my bag was going to London is if I was going with it...in Business Class.
A few minutes later, I saw my red bag buddy being brought to me by an American agent.
The best of times, the worst of times.
Indeed. I can't wait--God willing--to do it again.
But I WON'T be traveling on American.