Home, Just in Time For Opening Day

Mar 28, 2019   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

Greetings from Woodbury, Minnesota. It’s a very special day, in numerous ways. While I was gone cat-sitting on Kauai, almost all the snow has melted. Not the super huge piles created by the plow guys in our front yard, but the back yard is 100 percent clear. It’s 53 degrees. But, the first thing I noticed when I reluctantly got up this morning was the sound. It was the familiar song of the robins and blackbirds, who signal the return of spring each year with their own return. The blue jays and cardinals, and all the little finches, have had the place to themselves all winter. There’s also the honking of the returning geese, but I’ll choose not to go there. They should just keep going to Canada and be quiet. Finally, though, it’s Opening Day.

Many of us think of it as a national holiday, hence our propensity for capitalizing the first letter in each word. It’s Opening Day. As tired as I was last night (extremely tired and jet-lagged) I watched at least three hours of MLB network on TV, just to dive into all the Opening Day Eve predictions and prognostications. I also hadn’t watched any TV in nearly two weeks, so there was that. And now, in just two hours, the Twins will host Cleveland at Target Field. It’s finally here. Gosh, winter can be long and grueling. Your football team plays once a week, and even gets a week off during the season. Your hockey and basketball teams play maybe two or three times in a week. And it’s dark. And it’s cold.

Now, baseball brings our dear friends back into our homes. The players for sure (this Twins club is an easy team to like, both on and off the field) but the announcers too. Dick Bremer, who does the Twins play-by-play on TV, sure feels like a friend although I’ve never had the privilege of meeting the man. His wonderful and humorous voice arrives in our home almost every day. Now, in addition to the one and only Bert Blyleven, Dick has a full team of color analysts who are all fantastic. Roy Smalley and Justin Morneau are priceless. I learn something from them nearly every time they are on with Dick.

162 games. From now at the end of March until early October, and then hopefully beyond. I’m 62, turning 63 in June. This has been going on my entire life. From Stan The Man, to Brock, Cepeda, and Gibson. To Ozzie doing backflips to Sutter closing games. To Jim Gott, Dave Stieb, and the rest of the Blue Jays when I worked for them. To Big Mac and Sammy. To those first Twins teams when we moved here and became instant fans. Torii, Johan, Corey, Justin, and of course Joe. St. Paul’s own sweet swinging Joe. To old old Busch, to new Busch, to Busch III. From Exhibition Stadium to SkyDome. From the Metrodome to Target Field. From Jack Buck and Harry Caray to Dick Bremer and his crew. From player introductions on Opening Day in Paintsville, Kentucky, to Lakeland, Florida, to Medford, Oregon. This, my friends, is life.

And, quite frankly, I need the jolt of adrenaline. I was really tired when I got home yesterday. I woke up this morning feeling like I’d been hit by a truck and failed to get the license plate number.

But back to the trip. It was a magical nine days on Kauai. It was proof that even I can slow it down and relax, clear my head and even do nothing. Then write. Then take care of Maxie and Biscuit (my Buster and Boofus stand-ins). And write some more. And see the island again. And not even mind the traffic or the rain. It’s no secret that it does rain on Kauai. As I tell those who haven’t visited the island or who are about to, “They don’t run plumbing up to the tops of those mountains to create the waterfalls. No rain, no waterfalls.”

By the end, Maxie and I once again did more than just bond. I bought them both a new brush, which Maxie instantly fell in love with. Biscuit, not so much. Biscuit would allow me to be in the room with him, and from time to time I could pet him and he’d close his eyes and purr. But anytime I had anything in my hand, he didn’t like that. The brush never touched him.

Maxie boy. My Kauai buddy. (Click on any image to enlarge)

Maxie, in his own way, let it be known that the brush was always welcome. Within a day, he was doing the same thing Buster does here. I don’t have to say a word. I just pick up the brush and show it to him. Buster then takes me to wherever he’d like his massage to begin, which is generally the middle of the living room floor. I say where it will “begin” because he gets so excited he keeps moving around. I’ll say “Hey buddy, if you keep moving I can’t keep brushing.” Finally, he’ll flop down and then it’s on. It’s hilarious.

Maxie bounded into action by the second time I picked up the brush, and I used it as a way to get him to share the bed with me. He never did sleep with me, he was always just a few feet away throughout the night on his favorite pillow atop the hamper. But, if I sat on the bed and showed him the brush, there was no hesitation. And when a kitty lays flat on his back and shows you his belly, you’ve won him over.

It did get misty and rainy since I blogged last Thursday, but as I said above that comes with the territory. There’s the general Kauai mist, which is hardly a bother. On my last day, the morning began with the sound of a driving rain storm, though. Those tropical plants with the big leaves? Yeah, they’re like that to capture the water and keep themselves fed and growing. When it really rains, the drops make popping and splashing sounds when they hit those huge leaves. It’s kind of mesmerizing, and on the whole not a bad way to wake up.

A day earlier, I’d made the drive up to Hanalei. It’s a pretty drive, although the little two-lane road gets pretty curvy as you approach the town. There’s still a one-lane bridge to maneuver as well. The sign says “Local Custom is Six or Seven Cars.” That’s how many you should let go through. Then, those on the other side let your group through. That’s Kauai.

Traffic from Kapaa to near the airport in Lihue gets backed up every day. They even go so far as to move cones from one side to the other so that the heavier direction can get two lanes going. It still backs up, but that created the evolution of Kauai drivers. No one is getting anywhere fast when it backs up, so if a car is trying to merge, or cross traffic, it’s rare for more than one or two cars to go through before the next one stops and waves them in. You just do that. No honking. No trying to “swoop the line” to get around nine cars. No flipping people off. No dirty looks. Just a wave of the hand. And the other driver will almost certainly give you a “hang loose” wiggle in return, as a thank you.

Hanalei, with the mist in the mountains

I got a little wet in Hanalei, but I didn’t melt. I’d been to this restaurant before and was fortunate enough to get a table by the open windows. It’s a wonderful little town. I was going to get their marvelous fish and chips but for the first time I can ever remember the server said “OK, but just so you know, we’re out of french fries.” Out of fries. Remember, everything has to be shipped in. I guess you can run out of fries. I’ve never been to a place where they did, but I guess you can run out of fries.

So I had the teriyaki chicken on rice, instead. It was equally marvelous.

On Tuesday, I relaxed with the cats much of the morning. My flight to Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines was at 3:00. I stripped the bed and gathered the towels to do the laundry, like a good brother does for his sister and her husband. There are coin operated machines in each building. Once the bed was stripped, the suitcase came out. Maxie immediately got in it. He had the exact same look Buster gives me when he sees my suitcase. Not happy.

I put the whole load in the dryer once the wash was done, and inserted my four quarters for one 60-minute cycle on “high heat.” 58 minutes later, I returned to see if it was all done. Nope. Still soaking wet. The heater in that dryer apparently was on strike. An hour later, as it was getting to be around 12 noon, everything was fully dry in the other machine. An hour of my life on Kauai, and $1 in quarters, gone from my life never to be reclaimed. OK. they were Mary’s quarters.

I said my goodbyes to the cats, and felt really sad about that. Then I got in Mary’s car and headed for the airport quite early. I feared the traffic for good reason. I could’ve walked to Lihue just about as quickly. I parked the car, left the keys in our super-secret hidden place, and headed in to the Hawaiian desk to get my bag checked and get a boarding pass. This was a lesson learned from the last trip.

In December, I booked the long Delta flights first, just to get those out of the way and make sure we’d meet up with Barbara’s sister Kitty at LAX. Then I booked the Hawaiian “island hopper” flights to get us from Honolulu to Kona, Kona to Kauai, and Kauai back to Honolulu all on the Hawaiian website. But, that meant the two airlines couldn’t work together. They may “code share” as many airlines do, but if you book the tickets separately they don’t exist in the other airline’s system. So when we headed back to Honolulu, from Kauai, with more baggage than we’d arrived with, we couldn’t have Hawaiian transfer the bags to Delta for us. That was, as we call it, a long schlep through the huge Honolulu airport to go outside security, pick up the bags and then get them checked with Delta about a half-mile away, and then back through security. For this trip, I booked it all through Delta so that my bags would transfer.

I remember at the time being a little concerned, maybe even worried, about the 90-minute layover they set me with up in Honolulu. But, I worry about all parts of travel. It’s a big part of why I retired to write after 40+ years of it. How will traffic be? How long will the lines be to check my bag? How about TSA? Where will my gate be? How long is my layover in Salt Lake? Or Detroit? Or Seattle? Those questions never ended, in my head, and I’m not even talking about rental cars and hotels, which carried their own sets of worries. So, I told myself 90 minutes was fine. The flight to Honolulu, after all, is only 35 minutes.

First and last Mai Tai on Kauai.

So at 1:00 I went to the bar to correct a huge oversight. I had not enjoyed a Mai Tai the entire time I was on the island. The bartender mixed me a perfect one.

I sipped it and raved to my server, for her fine effort. I was blissfully ignorant of what was to come.

A few minutes later, my phone buzzed as both Hawaiian and Delta were pinging me to alert me to “A change in your itinerary.”  My Hawaiian flight was now due to depart at 3:20 instead of 3:00. So my 90-minute layover was now 70. And the “island hopper” terminal is a long way from the Delta gates at Honolulu. I wasn’t too happy.

After my Mai Tai, I looked at the monitor and it still showed my 3:00 flight departing on time. Hmmm. Apparently, Hawaiian’s monitors need to be manually changed, and no one had done it.  So much so, that by the time I got to the gate to confirm the delay, I got pinged again. Now 3:35. And then 3:45. And still no change to the monitors.

I found as quiet a place as I could and called the Delta Platinum desk. We talked it over, and the guy was mostly like “Get on the Hawaiian plane. If they get out of there at 3:45 you should make it.”

I said, “But let’s be honest. I have no confidence they’ll leave here at 3:45. Are you sure I should get on it? I’d imagine I’ll be stranded in Honolulu if I do.”  He seemed more optimistic than me. Plus, there are worse places to be stranded than Honolulu, I guess.

Then I checked the monitors again, which also list incoming flights, and it was pretty easy to figure out that the incoming aircraft was now listed as arriving at Lihue at 3:46, magically time-traveling to arrive one minute before it was still listed to leave for Honolulu. The way my math skills evaluated it, even if it arrived at 3:46, the taxi to the gate, the unloading, the reloading, and all the other “stuff” that happens to get planes in the air, there was no way it would get to Honolulu until after my flight was leaving, on-time. This was not going to work.

I called the Platinum desk at Delta again. This time Gwendolyn took my call. She was pretty amazing. She looked at all of her screens and said, “You’re right. There’s no way you make that connection. Let me see what I can do…”

We looked into just moving my entire itinerary to the next day, but there were no empty seats. We looked at getting to other islands but it just wasn’t going to work out. Then she got creative.

“OK, how’s this? There’s a 10:20 flight, tonight, right out of Lihue direct to LAX. After a one-hour layover at LAX, you go straight to MSP. You’ll get home around 1:15 tomorrow afternoon. We have to make a decision, though. There’s one seat left on each flight.”

I said that sounded great. Do it! She then said, “I want to let you know that you’ll be in First Class on both planes, but it’s standard first class. You were booked in Delta 1 class on the nonstop from Honolulu to Minneapolis.”

That meant I’d be going to what would still be a nice First Class seat with all the amenities, but I’d be giving up my “Lie Flat” pod with all the sleeping and privacy advantages. I told her I didn’t care. Book it.

It all had to be done manually, so she got her supervisor on the line and about 15 minutes later I was getting pinged again with my new itinerary and boarding passes. And, Gwendolyn said, “This is really all Hawaiian’s fault, but we’re going to take care of you, Mr. Wilber. I’m working on a $500 travel voucher, but approving that is above my pay grade. I’m working with special services. Can you hold on another few minutes?” Sure!

When she came back, the voucher had been approved and then she added, “Plus, the fare difference going from Delta 1 to standard First Class is in your favor. I don’t know what that is yet, but give us a call in a day or two and we’ll get that put back into your account.” Thank you! The only thing left to worry about was my bag, which I’d checked with Hawaiian. I wasn’t going to sweat that. It was full of dirty clothes and my shaving kit.

“Oh, your bag will find you, it’s just a matter of when,” Gwendolyn said. I was just happy to be getting home.

So, by then it was about 3:00. I sure didn’t want to hang out at Lihue Airport for seven more hours. Mary was due in, from Seattle, around 8:30 or 9:00. I considered taking her car back to the condo but could imagine all sorts of ways that could end up poorly, so I took a taxi. I got to hang out with Maxie and Biscuit for another five hours. That was just fine.

I texted Mary, knowing she was in the air and wouldn’t see it until she landed, and that’s how it worked. I got back through security and waited at her gate. She got off her plane, we shared another hug and some laughs, and off she went. I went and waited for my plane.

I slept a little on the flight to LAX, which arrived there around 6:00 in the morning. After my quick layover, it was another four hours to MSP and I actually slept quite a bit on that one. Lots of “head bobbing” going on. We landed right on time. Meanwhile, I had been getting funny updates about my bag being loaded onto different flights. It was never being loaded onto the plane I was on, but it seemed to be in motion and headed in the right direction. When we landed, the next ping informed me that my bag had been unloaded at carousel 3 about 55 minutes earlier. I walked down there, and lo and behold it was sitting right by the carousel, being carefully documented and scanned by a Delta baggage agent. I said, “Hey, that’s mine” and she replied, “Oh, Mr. Wilber, I didn’t think you were due in yet. I thought you’d be here around 1:15. Oh, well look at that. It’s 1:00 already.” So, after all that, my bag got to MSP an hour before I did. That’s magic.

I took a taxi home. Buster and Boofus tried to give me the cold shoulder, but I wouldn’t let them. I picked each guy up and gave them each a big hug and some rubs on the head. And then I went to lay down “for a few minutes.”  At 5:00, I woke up with Buster in my arms and Boofie between my legs.

I stayed awake until it was time to take a session with Barbara in the hot tub, and with the outdoor temp being around 45 with a nice breeze, that was about as perfect as it gets. Then I slept like a brick. When I woke up this morning, I felt like a brick. Starting to feel a little more human now.

Opening Day Update: Pregame show starts in 15 minutes. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll hold off posting this until Dick Bremer makes his first appearance of the 2019 season, holding his Fox Sports North microphone in the booth.

I’ll be back in a minute. In the meantime, there’s this diversion:

Still kind of smelly, but getting better

Before I left for Kauai I filled Barb’s car with gas. The snow melt was just beginning, so I didn’t pay much attention to how wet the concrete was next to the pump. When I got back in her car, it was obvious I hadn’t been standing in water. Or slush. Some sloppy customer had spilled quite a bit of gas next to pump, and the soles of my shoes stunk up the car something fierce. And these are currently my favorite shoes.

I took them home and cleaned the soles with dish soap. I sprayed them with 409 and scrubbed some more. Still smelled like gas. I put them in the washer and ran the cycle on hot. Still smelled. The day before I left, I put them out on the screened porch. They’re still there.

To be fair, the smell is about 80 or 90 percent gone, but it’s still there. I’m going to wash them again, but if anyone knows a “hack” to get the gasoline smell out of sneakers, let me know.

If it involves raw eggs, or the eye of a newt, or strange herbs, I might opt to pass.

Welcome back to our home, Dick Bremer and Justin Morneau!

OK, the pregame show is underway and the Twins are being introduced, one by one, on the first-base line. I absolutely love the pageantry of Opening Day. I have goosebumps. Watching the guys get introduced, you can’t miss how happy they all look. Baseball should make you happy. It’s a game. It’s supposed to be fun.

So I leave you with this. The dear friend I’ve never met, Dick Bremer, kicking off the 2019 season for Twins fans all through Twins Territory. Justin Morneau by his side, ready to dispense his wisdom as a former MVP.

I’ll be back next week. In the meantime, enjoy baseball! And if you liked this post, please do me a favor and click on the “Like” button at the top. Otherwise, it’s “Swing, and a miss.”

Bob Wilber, at your service and ready for 162 games.


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