A Liberty Stalking Tour Tale: June 24 – June 31, 2004

The Leaving

While it seems it was oh, so many moons ago, a mere month has gone by since our Fair (as in artificially blonded) Haired Fan (F.H.F.) embarked on her West Coast gallop to follow her suddenly struggling New York Liberty. Having looked at her team’s schedule, she’d noticed a vicious loop through the fearsome West: Phoenix (where she’d been in 2000 during the Brandy Reed and SUUUUEEE All-Star game), Seattle (which she’d heard about, but didn’t really believe existed) and Los Angeles (the place where she’d witnessed the #*&$(()@+#$Nikki Teasley Three) and she just KNEW her team needed her. And yes, to those sticklers in the audience, there WAS a fourth possible venue, Arco arena. But having visited there a while back only to see her team manhandled by the Monarchs, our F.H.F. had no real desire to return to the site of that disaster. Much less revisit the post-game embarrassment – albeit private – she endured when her crack sense of direction took her out of the Arena and somewhere close to Canada before she realized she was zooming towards the wrong city. (sigh.)

As F.H.F. packed for her adventure, she committed the classic mistake of a traveler: she packed to her limit. Perhaps her biggest error was the decision to lug her laptop along with her in the profoundly optimistic hope that she’d be able to figure out how to get online outside of her house. Why, you might ask, gentler reader? In order that she might post pithy and jealousy inducing posts to her friends at wnbayahoo groups. (And, though we’re sure she’ll never admit it, the competitor in her hoped to continue pursuing the most excellent A. Lamanna in the VGM contest.) Of course, in hindsight (and if she’d asked us, we would have warned her), her beloved computer turned into a big ole pain in the butt mistake, since all she did was haul the sucker around and worry that she’d drop it or get it stolen. But nothing ventured nothing gained. (If ONLY she’d consulted us. But we digress). Let us return to our F.H.F. as she is packing for her great adventure.

She’s actually thinks she’s doing quite well towards meeting her goal of getting to bed at what mothers would call “a decent hour” and yet, somehow, only manages to get two hours of sleep. (Is it a WONDER people find travelling exhausting? Do they really believe they’re going to use those extra hours at the end of the flight for SLEEP?). So, wired with coffee, off she flies, landing safely in Arizona through the miracle of the Wright Brothers, reveling in the joy of going backwards in time. Having rented a car, she enjoyed the longish ride to the car parking lot, and passed the time chatting up a total stranger.

(NB This particular “habit” has been noted by many acquainted with F.H.F. It has been described as a “disease” by those nearest and dearest to her. While we are still reserving judgement, at times we do wonder at our F.H.F.’s almost pathological need to strike up 30-second conversations with total strangers. Yes, it can be charming, but it also can be hell when you’re JUST TRYING TO GET SOMEWHERE! But we digress.)

 

Phabulous Phoenix

So, there she was, our F.H.F., chatting up a stranger. Imagine how pleased she was to discover the gentleman knew of Diana Taurasi. “What do you think of our sweet D?” he asked. Needless to say, our F.H.F. was wise enough to lavish praise on the young lady and, of course, encourage the gentleman to “GO TO THE GAME.” Interestingly enough, there was some input into this conversation from another gentleman – Detroit his hometown – who put in his two cents concerning the Shock and their Championship. Buoyed by the fact that the WNBA wasn’t a complete mystery to the rest of the world, our F.H.F. plopped herself into her rental car and, much to her surprise, managed to find her hotel of residence with only four or five wrong turns.

She relaxed for a few hours, foolishly allowing herself to be lured from her nap by the Siren Call of Cable. Honestly, will she never learn that there is NOTHING ON cable! But we digress.

So, off went our F.H.F. into Phoenix traffic (where DO they all come from? There seems to be no one IN Phoenix except IN cars) out to Scottsdale to pick up young Samantha, the daughter of SuzyQ, once upon a time a yahoolist member F.H.F. had met up with during the 2000 All-Star Game. Our F.H.H then successfully returned to Phoenix and, after one false turn, gratefully arrived at a Phoenix parking garage where she flashed the hot pink “I’m a season subscriber please let me in for free” flyer that PhxListMemberMarylin had so thoughtfully sent her. Having safely deposited their vehicle, our F.H.F.. and Silent Sam (she IS only 14 and was in the company of a virtual stranger) trod through the heat to meet at Majerle’s. (Honestly, let no one try and snow you with their Phoenix “Dry Heat” mumbo jumbo. Heat is heat – and Phoenix heat is like standing in front of a dryer exhaust… But we digress)

So we arrive at Majerle’s (which our F.H.F. quickly learns is pronounced MAR-LEES, as in Scrooge’s dead partner) and are greeted by a bevy of Phabulous Phoenix Phans. Of particular pleasure to our F.H.F. was seeing Cindy – who had teamed up with Maria of HoopHag fame to make our F.H.F.’s trip to the Final Four in San Antonio beyond memorable. (Just ask her about the bunny ears.)

It was when all the phans had settled in that our F.H.F. discovered the “error of her packing,” for she was lavished with all sorts of Phoenix Paraphernalia by the most generous Marilyn. Our F.H.F.’s only wish is that Ms.. Marilyn will dare to make the trip East, so she can return the favor. That, and to figure out how to strap the Mercury X-Factor license plate holder to her bike. (as in pedal.)

After a fine dinner filled with basketball conversation and general good humor, our F.H.F. and S.S. were escorted to ArenaWest which, if you haven’t been there, is quite a vision from the outside. Cindy took time out to track down the new owner, Kathy Munro, and drag her over to meet our F.H.F. Suffice it to say, our F.H.F. came away with a most favorable impression of Ms. Munro – she just exudes passion and enthusiasm for the game. Clearly, Phoenix Phans are in good hands.

Now, to the game. Knowing what indignities Phx Phns had recently suffered, it was incredibly heartening to our F.H.F. to see the energy and love the phans had for their team. And, while our F.H.F.’s extremely loud bellowing for her dear Liberty did cause one Phx Phan to eye her suspiciously, in general our F.H.F. found the Phx Phans gracious to a fault. Especially when their team came back to kick our F.H.F.’s team in the butt.

There was one moment during intermission that was what we’ve learned to call, “Classic Fair-Haired-Fan.” As our F.H.F. was touring the arena during half time, she passed a woman – an arena usher – that looked familiar. On her way back, she couldn’t resist the urge, and our F.H.F. stopped to speak with the usher. Wouldn’t you know it, it was a woman she’d struck up a conversation with in 2000 during the All-Star game. They’d even taken a photo together. It was a joyous and heartfelt reunion. Just a small example of the gifts the WNBA has to offer its fans.

Anyway, after depositing S.S. home post game, our F.H. returned to Scrooge’sPartner’sBar for a late night shooting of the breeze, and was glad to stagger home to her cable, for while it was midnight Phx time, her body still recognized New York time. And while we daren’t tell her mother, we must share that our F.H.F. has no will power when it comes to a remote and a cable box.

After an early morning repack to stash all her goodies, our F.H.F. ended her 24hrs hours in Phoenix uneventfully by returning the car and catching her flight (taking a moment, of course, to gently berate the Ramada for having a Diamondbacks schedule up, but not a Mercury schedule.) After a spectacular trip over the Grand Canyons and watching the land’s almost miraculous transformation from desert browns and reds to mountain greens and blues, our F.H.F. landed in Seattle. Now, when cornered, our F.H.F. will admit that while she can recognize the beauty of the Arizona desert, it doesn’t “speak” to her like the colors of the coast – East or West – and certainly Seattle immediately reminded her of her beloved Vermont and New Hampshire. And, the cool damp air was a blessed relief from the Phurnace known as Phoenix.

 

Savoring Seattle

After an extremely loooooong walk to the bus, our F.H.F proved once again that it is not only men who lack the good sense to ask questions about where they’re going because while she DID getting on the correct bus, it was going in the WRONG direction. Rather than be perturbed, our F.H.F. took it in stride, seeing it as an opportunity to get the lay of the land. She traveled out to Federal Way Transit Center (a place that will figure in this tale later) and waited for the return bus, earning herself a stunning view of Mt. Rainier in the process plus a close up view of the extraordinary structures that host the Seattle Seahawks and Mariners. What glorious odes they are to architecture and place.

By a combination of dumb luck and educated guessing, our F.H.F. found her place of residence, the infamous Green Tortoise Hostel, without incident. A word, if we may, about the Green Tortoise. It is a hostel where Woodstock’s sixties seems to have seamlessly conjoined with the 00’s — but without the mud. “How so?” you might rightly ask. Well, simply put, it’s “communal,” but it’s clean and modern. There are five computers with dsl access (free), a daily free breakfast of all the eggs you can prepare plus fresh fruit and endless pots of coffee, a Friday Baked Potato night with all the trimmings (and we DO mean all), and a Wednesday Hot Dog Dinner. Six to a room in bunk beds, individual showers and sinks throughout the floor, and beautifully lettered signage. (we appreciate detail work). The price of admission: $16. Sitting in the common room, you’re caught in the Tower of Babel, as German, French, Korean, Swedish, Japanese, English and Irish accents collide and sing. One can be as independent or interactive as one wishes. AND, on Friday’s, there’s a keg of beer. Can the Frugal Traveler really wish for more?

Our F.H.F. filled her time before the game wandering the streets of Seattle and admiring the unique blend of old and new architecture, the contrast between the bright orange cranes of the shipping docks with the soft majesty of Mt. Rainier, the wide open glory of Puget Sound with the oh, so modern paragliders drifting across a brilliant blue sky. It goes without saying that Pike’s Market is a wonder – even if one is NOT a fan of fish, and the flower market is a riot of floral glory.

Game Day in Seattle meant, actually, Game Day in Spokane. Initially flummoxed by the changed venue, our F.H.F. was rescued by the generous souls at stormfans.org who alerted her to a Fan Bus which would leave from FEDERAL TRANSIT WAY (sound familiar, dear readers? It’s 45 minutes outside of Seattle) at 11:15am, arrive at Spokane Arena some time around 5:30pm, then leave after the game some time around 10pm, to arrive back at FEDERAL TRANSIT WAY close to 3AM. Well, our F.H.F. had realized this could be “an issue” while also wondering, “Do any Seattle fans actually LIVE in Seattle proper?” Needless to say, she had no real plan with which to deal with this problem other than a very, VERY good book. And here, gentle reader, is where her so-called “illness” came in handy.

Dressed, as she was, in her SUUUUEEEEE t-shirt, our F.H.F. instantly struck up conversations with her fellow travelers (no, McCarthy fans, NOT communists) as well as the bus drivers, laughingly mentioning her 3AM dilemma, desperately hoping some kind soul would take pity and offer to drop her off. Well, who should step up but the bus drivers themselves! “We have to deliver the bus to the yard. We’ll drop you off.”

Giddy with her good fortune, she greeted each new wave of Storm fans (there were two pick-ups) with a loud “GO LIBERTY!” Fortunately, the gentle StormFans didn’t pummel her within an inch of her life, so during the five hour trip to Spokane, she was able to enjoy the Storm 2003 video that was shown, partake of the goodies the Storm Staff had brought (chips, Gatorade, water and candy) and snag an autographed Anne Donovan bobble head (more packing trauma!) by answering a trivia question, further endearing herself, we are sure, to those hardy StormFans.

Here we must insert a “scenic” note. Though interminable, the trip up and over and down into the plains is stunning. The pleasure our F.H.H took in it was further heightened by her amusement at the Settle fans who looked out the bus windows as if it was a foreign land. After conversations, she discovered it WAS, in fact, considered a foreign land because of the rivalry between “Seattle as the Seat of Power” and the rest of Washington State. Who knew?

Our arrival in Spokane meant a quick beer beforehand, where our F.H.F. put the serious kibosh on the Storm. One of the very wonderful StormFans had an irresistibly cute Storm Rally Monkey. Before she knew it, our F.H.F. was draping it in her hand-embroidered Liberty jean jacket and VOILA! ye olde Rally Monkey was transformed into a Liberty fan. Which was, of course, fortunate for our F.H.F. since she was one of four Liberty fans in the arena that night and needed all the support she could get. Unfortunately for the Liberty, she was seated directly behind the visiting bench, and so they were subjected to her powerful bellows and endless words of advice. One call in particular : “NICE FREE THROW DEFENSE!” drew a, “Who the heck IS that!” look from K.B. Sharp. Equally unfortunate for coach Richie Adubato’s future was the presence of GM Carol Blazejowski in the arena. We believe everyone now understands the significance of that visit.

While her cheering did amuse the Liberty bench and some (we stress SOME) of the Seattle faithful, and did earn our F.H.F. some momentary photographic fame on the Stormfans.org board (as “That Crazed Liberty Fan,” we understand), her fellow travelers managed to be quite gracious in defeat, resisting the urge to put gum in our F.H.F.’s blonded hair. Instead, email addresses were exchanged, the bus driver dropped her within a block of the hostel, and our F.H.F. staggered into bed sometime around 3am.

The next day, our F.H.F. played the good tourist. She walked down to the water, found a diner that served delicious omelets named after Hollywood stars, and drooled at buses covered with pictures of LJ and Sue Bird (The girl next door has a killer jump shot). She then continued her travels towards Key Arena. After purchasing a Storm hat with which to torment her Los Angeles friends, she then wandered behind the arena to explore the outdoor M.I.L.K. photo exhibit (amazing), the amusement park (regretfully, she was not accompanied by enough friends to successfully partake of the BUMPER CARS!!!), take artsy shots of the Space Needle, and observe young children squeal with glee as the wonderful fountain exploded with water timed to music.

The day ended with our F.H.F. taking a Ride on the Ducks. No, NOT sitting on some surprised Oregon player, but on a vintage WWII vehicle. For history buffs who’ve seen footage of the troops landing on D-Days, the Ducks were part of the transportation that could float on water AND drive on land. The name comes from the military initials and the unfortunate fact that for the troops, the Ducks were often sitting. Ducks.

In Seattle, though, they are allowed to enjoy their retirement driving tourists around the streets and into Union Lake while their Coast Guard Certified captains share bits and pieces of Seattle history. Nothing like driving into a lake to make our F.H.F. sit up and take notice.

 

Last Stop, L.A.

Our F.H.F.’s exit from Seattle was almost foiled by Alaska Airlines, which turned a two-hour flight into a five-hour wait BEFORE the flight. While there is nothing like a long wait in an airport to annoy the heck out of our F.H.F., her real source of concern was that she was to be picked up by a friend and her 21/2 year old baby. Fortunately, Alaska Airlines offered delayed passengers “Sorry we’re pi$$ing you off” care packages that included 10 minute calling cards. Unfortunately, one one-minute call to LA ate up the entire card. Needless to say, our FH.F. was NOT amused, but was relieved to finally get through and cancel chauffeur wanna-be Shelly. Miraculously, the plane DID take of, and her fellow passengers were so NOT rude that the aircrew actually thanked them for their graciousness. (note to the League: at no time during the wait did our F.H.F. think, “Gee, if our dear Liberty were trying to get from Seattle to LA on this flight, they’d be EXHAUSTED by the time they get there. Wouldn’t it be cool to have charters for these killer road trips?” We mean it. She NEVER thought that.)

Staggering in to LA around 10:30, the cheery “Welcome to LA” crew directed our F.H.F. to the SuperShuttle which, while less expensive than a cab, managed to add to the growing exhaustion-hysteria of the day by slooooowly making two loops of the airport through sloooooowly-moving traffic to pick up other passengers. Our F.H.F. was sure she had seen some of these same cars in Phoenix, but there was no way to confirm her theories. The “tour” did allow for up close and personal views of the “Alien Space Invaders” control tower that rules LAX. Pretty cool, if she does say so herself. Eventually, our F.H.F. arrived at the Great Western in Chinatown (now THAT’s a meeting between East and West) and collapsed at the end of 12 hours of “travelling.”

The next day, chauffeurJanna (another dear friend from the yahoogroups) escorted our F.H.F. to VERY elegant dinner amongst LA friends new and old. It did our F.H.F.’s heart so much good to see a healthy MariaHoopHag in the flesh she can barely explain it. Add that to the general goodwill and fellowship around the dining table, and it reminded F.H.F. once again of what a blessing women’s basketball has been in her life.

While our F.H.F. might not admit it out loud, there was no doubt returning to the Staples Center, the “scene of the crime,” filled her with a certain dread. That dread was heightened when she was greeted by the news that not only was Tari out, but now CRYSTAL was out too, thereby turning that dread into “We are SOOO going to get our assets kicked.” To distract herself, she ventured to find her friend chauffeurShelly’s partner to get a peek at the 21/2-year-old (who she’d last seen before “THAT GAME” two years ago) While our F.H.F.’s search proved fruitless, it DID also prove that there are as many pompous and pissy arena guards on the West Coast as there are on the East Coast. Of course, this did not prevent our F.H.F. from giving a total stranger wearing a Rebecca Lobo uniform a hug. Really, we sometimes worry about her sanity.

After our F.H.F. returned to her seating area, she again indulged in her 30sec shtick – which promptly netted her a seat ON THE FLOOR next to two kind season subscribers. We noticed that even though our F.H.F. was quite busy making a spectacle of herself encouraging her Liberty during warm-ups, she did take a moment to yell “Hey, Spoon!” To which Spoon, seeing her and the SUUUE shirt, gave a wave back – which made our F.H.F. momentarily melancholy. That quickly passed as she then spent the first half bellowing with glee as her undermanned Liberty gave the Sparks all they could handle.

The second half found her an aisle’s-width off the court, close to her assigned seats. (No, gentle readers, not because the season ticket holders had grown disgusted with her outbursts, but because the owner of the seats she was sitting in had arrived. What, did they think they were at a Knicks game they could show up half way through?) The second half continued in the same vein as the first – a glorious display of basketball at its best. Neither team gave and inch, nor did the fans (except for the two latecomers sitting next to our F.H.F., doing their best imitation of Getty Museum statues on display. But more on that later.). And here, gentle readers, is where we must reveal how our F.H.F. put the kibosh on her own, dear Liberty.

The game comes down to the final possession. The Liberty are up by 3 and there’s a time out, LA ball. Our F.H.F. turns to speak with the fans behind her with whom (no surprise here) she’s had a running conversation throughout the second half and says:

“I set up Mwadi. She’s the only one hitting from the outside.”

“Really,” say the Sparks fans.

“Yup,” says F.H.F.

Well, CLEARLY, they were not Sparks fans, but SPARKS SPIES, for what happens next? The Sparks execute the play our F.H.F. has called and Mwadi ties the bloody game. Never mind that Lisa held Christon, did we not WARN HER that her endless yapping would get her in to deep doo-doo? Does she not KNOW the phrase, “Loose Lips Sink Ships? Does she listen? NOOOOOO. (deep breath) But we digress.

You, dear readers, know how the overtime went – the glorious win by the Sparks and the heart-breaking loss by the Liberty. But what our F.H.F. took from that game was the heart shown by her Liberty – undermanned, they fought tooth and nail – even in the overtime, when it looked like they were going to get blown out. It’s a simple reminder that sometimes “will” is more powerful than “talent.” And that the more you open your heart and commit to something, the greater the joy is – and the greater the pain is.

The game also reminded our F.H.F. of the phrase “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings!” – which suits the drama found in opera and of basketball. Something the Getty statues HADN’T learned, since they tried to sneak out before the rest of the crowd when the Sparks were down 3 with seconds to go. It was fortunate for our F.H.F. and her fellow basketball fans that they’d wiped the disgust from their faces as the statues scurried back to their seats for the overtime. Rookies! That’ll learn’em.

After the game, F.H.F.’s favorite chauffeur named Janna managed to snag her an autograph session card. Not that any self-respecting Liberty fan would WANT an autograph from a Sparks player (insert picture of large smile here) but, not wanting to seem ungracious, F.H.F. waited. This allowed one more exchange with MariaHoopHag that simply confirmed that she is a fan who – while there is NO doubt who her team – has a profound love and respect for excellence in women’s basketball, whatever color jersey the player wears. And no, she can’t have Becky or Baranova.

The ride back to Chinatown by chauffeurJanna was a gift of more “face” time with friendship born of F.H.F.’s membership in the fraternity of women’s basketball fans.

Which segues nicely into F.F.H.’s final two adventures. Her last day in Los Angeles was split between a visit to the Amateur Athletic Foundation Library and dinner with Shelly and her (finally) her beautiful 21/2 year old Kathy. The Library proved educational both to F.H.F. and a total stranger (male) who asked her what she was researching. Twenty minutes later, they were still discussing questions of the women’s game’s popularity vs. the early NBA, comparisons between the “best” of one generation vs. the “best” of another and if there are any great foreign players NOT playing in the WNBA and what about the ABLers. Ah, basketball, it does provide a lot of food for conversation.

Shelly, having been thwarted in her effort to be a chauffeur to F.H.F.’s arrival, was not to be denied escorting F.H.F to the LAX (though she probably WOULD deny it was done at the request of the Sparks management). Dinner with Shelly and Kathy at Venice Beach was a calm and gentle way to conclude the Stalking Tour of 2004.

A final word about little Kathy and the draw of the WNBA. Kathy attends Sparks games and has been brain-washed – AHEM, we mean “taught” – to say “Sweet” every time Lisa Leslie hits a free throw. This kid is a Sparks fan through and through. Which caused some problems the night of the Liberty/Sparks game, because she had been told she would be attending. Unfortunately, circumstances prevented either parent from attending the game, and they thought that Little Kathy would, being a 21/2 year-old, simply forget. No such luck.

As poor Jenny is preparing dinner, little Kathy says, “I want to go to the Sparks game.” Jen says, “After dinner, maybe,” hoping Kathy will forget. Of course, after dinner, Kathy says, “I want to go to the Sparks game.” Jen says, “After your bath, maybe.” After which, Kathy, the determined one, says, “I want to go to the Sparks game.” Jen says, “We need to get your pj’s on,” thinking Kathy’ll collapse soon. Hah! Of course, Kathy says, “I want to go to the Sparks game.” At a loss because it’s close to 9:30 and the game is almost over, Jen finally puts Kathy into the car and drives down to the Staples Center. Unable to find parking, they can’t go in, but they do manage to catch the overtime win on the outdoor screen. Kathy goes home a winner.

Thus endeth the saga of the F.H.F.

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