AUBURN UNIVERSITY VS. FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY
After the 2014 BCS National Championship, I missed my flight home, and spent what seemed like an eternity – nine hours, to be exact – in the Los Angeles Delta Sky Club, along with several sports beat writers. It was there that I discovered just how much guts these writers have to write and wait for a verdict on their work. You hit publish and it’s there… And so I wrote this travelogue about a weekend in Los Angeles for the 2014 BCS Championship. Some of the names have been changed. I did this to protect their innocence as well as their professional identities. So, without further adieu, this is my story.
Friday: Travel Day
On a freezing cold January morning, I leave Dallas for Los Angeles. My spirits are optimistic as I make my 11:30 a.m. flight. Oklahoma upset Alabama the previous night in the Sugar Bowl, and as I board my flight, I find myself responding to derisive texts from BIG12 fans.
It’s a three-hour flight. Before taking off, the flight attendant asks me to bring my seat to an upright and locked position. I never get away with this. What is the flight obsession with seats’ being upright? Who or what are they protecting with this rule? And why are flight attendants such fascists about enforcing this rule?
I arrive in Los Angeles early, and call Alex from my cell phone as I walk off the plane. Alex, my cousin, is a junior at Auburn, and he’s making his first Auburn bowl game with his dad, Bob. Bob is known in the family as “Budget Bob” for turning every family vacation into a series of personal victories in hotel, airfare, food, and transportation discounts. This is a man who knows the value of a dollar, and acts as if he isn’t sure when the next one might arrive. He’s the kind of guy who recycles his own dental floss. Of course, I have no actual evidence that this is true, but it seems like it probably would be. I could tell you more stories, but I’ll leave it at that.
Back at the airport, I have two hours to kill so I decide to go ahead and pick up my “full-size” car at the Hertz rental station. Outside, the weather is warm. I take off my Auburn jacket and hop on the shuttle bus to the Hertz rental lot. On the shuttle, I run into an old Auburn friend. We trade schedules and ideas for places to go over the weekend.
Around 8 p.m. Alex and Bob arrive from Ohio. I head back to the airport to pick them up, and the three of us head for the hotel. We’re staying in Downtown Los Angeles, which is about a twenty-minute train ride from the Rose Bowl. In all the confusion over finding my relatives in the LAX airport, I realize that I haven’t eaten all day. As we drive, I call my friend Woody and give him our hotel address. Woody was a scholarship defensive back at Auburn and played for the 2010 National Championship Auburn team, and we’ve planned on having a late dinner tonight in Hollywood.
We arrive at the hotel around nine. Immediately upon pulling up to our hotel, I’m incredibly nervous. Our hotel, the Super 8, vaguely resembles Angola Prison. My friend Tyler would later refer to it as “Super 8 – Downtown Fallujah.” He and his fiancée are spending the weekend in Vegas and then staying with us after the game on Monday. And for those asking, the reason we were staying at a Super 8 was because Bob found a coupon for a free night. Of course.
At the hotel, there is only one elevator, and the doors have curse words scratched into them. We have two rooms. Alex and I are sharing one. Okay…I’m willing to make do with everything until I walk into the bathroom and turn on the shower. The showerhead seems to be clogged until it explodes and water soaks the entire bathroom and me.
Yes, this really happened.
This is an issue…
I’ve been here for fifteen minutes and the Super 8 has already deprived me of functionally running water. I change my shirt and head downstairs to the front desk to discuss the issue because no one answers when I call the front desk. Complete shocker.
My friend Woody is now outside waiting while I try to remedy the situation with the manager as this conversation ensues:
Manager: “Okay, I’ll get someone to fix that tomorrow.”
Me: “Maybe I’m wrong, but is that too much to ask?”
Manager: “Someone will fix it tomorrow.”
It’s like a Beethoven symphony of stupidity all around me right now.
Travel Lesson: A Super 8 will get the job done, but you don’t want to stay there very long. (Or, maybe letting Bob book the accommodations is not such a good idea)
Minutes later, Bob, Alex, Woody, and I head to Hollywood for dinner. Dive bars are a Los Angeles staple, which makes it nearly impossible to tell which ones are restaurants. We park alongside the Hollywood Walk of Fame and head to a strip of restaurants. As we walk, Woody notices the star for ‘Woody Woodpecker’ and takes a picture beside it. In order to fully experience the fine culinary delicacies of Hollywood, we settle for Buffalo Wild Wings. Yep. Our quest to find a local establishment has failed, and it’s now close to midnight. Day one is in the books.
Saturday: Tourist Day
About eight in the morning I wake up and head downstairs for breakfast and to read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Now that it is daylight, I discover the upside to our hotel: We have a perfect view of the Hollywood sign from our room door and then I realize that we are within a few miles from almost every activity this weekend.
By 10 a.m. we’re off to Muscle Beach, a landmark in the world of bodybuilding and home to the Venice Beach Boardwalk. We’re meeting up with my older cousin Nick. Woody is also joining us today.
We park outside a Gold’s Gym and make our way toward the boardwalk. Today everyone gives us a hard sell for something that we don’t want. Pets are everywhere and it’s the kind of place where every stereotype seems to fit. A distinctly foreign place with its own rules, rhythms, and way of life. And I’m a little out of my comfort zone due to the fact that I didn’t bring a skateboard. We see everything from break-dancing to broken glass walking.
It’s lunch time so we stop at Danny’s Bistro & Bar near the boardwalk. Woody and I buy two slices of pizza each. Our waitress is in disbelief over the number of Auburn fans that are invading the boardwalk today.
Sometime after 3 we head to Nick’s house only a few blocks away to watch the early NFL playoff game. We watch the Colts rally to turn a 38-10 Chiefs’ lead into a 45-44 victory and then we head to Rodeo Drive to kill time before dinner. Later, we’ll drive past huge palms trees and expensive and trendy retailers like Gucci, Valentino, and Christian Dior. (At least I’m told by my cousin Anna these places are expensive and trendy retailers. I really have no idea.)
(Interlude: My cousin Anna will be joining us for dinner tonight. In 2010, during her junior year in high school, Anna was cast in an MTV reality tv show called Taking the Stage. Two years later, Anna moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. Since then she’s made a few local commercials and also appeared in a skit on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. She has her goals set high.)
It’s 7:30 and we make our dinner reservation at El Compadre (“The Godfather”), a restaurant in downtown L.A. that is less than a half-mile from our hotel. Inside, El Compadre is dim, with dark wood, Diego Rivera paintings and padded red booths. I feel like I’m on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland (minus the water and pirates). Before we order, Woody and I have a “flaming margarita” as a mariachi band serenades all of us at our table. The food is great and the servings are massive. The only drawback is that our waiter could not speak English, but then again, we’re about 110 miles from the Mexican border and at a Mexican establishment.
After dinner, we head to a gastropub on the Sunset Strip called Mohawk Bend. Mohawk Bend, a two-story pub that appears to be a converted theater features live music, a great beer selection, and everything is from California. The place is packed tonight and it’s difficult to move. On the outside, the place probably looks like it did sixty years ago.
Soon I find myself surrounded by hipsters and facial hair. California must have a different breed of hipsters. Even the restrooms are clean. According to hipsters in the South, the best bar in town is whichever one you haven’t heard of that can only fit four people inside. Every city should have a Mohawk Bend – a place where hipsters and people who watch universally loved movies can share a popular watering hole for an evening. Everyone seems content to drink beers and listen to music.
We’re back at the hotel just after midnight. Thirty minutes later I get an incoming text message: “Come to Emerson in Hollywood. Johnny Manziel is here.” I punch the pillows. Dang, I should have been there. Instead, Alex and I watch college football bowl game highlights on our 1996 Zenith hotel television in Downtown Fallujah.
Sunday: BCS Championship Eve
Sunday starts early. I’m meeting my cousin Nick for a hike in the Hollywood Hills and Runyon Canyon Park before today’s NFL divisional playoff game. The trail overlooks Los Angeles, and I’m able to get a great view of the Hollywood sign. Nick tells me that the Hollywood sign originally, in 1923, spelled out “Hollywoodland” because it was designed to advertise a subdivision. He also tells me that this trail is one of those places where people go to “see-and-be-seen.” I notice another Hollywood landmark at the bottom of the hills below me – the Hollywood Bowl. After about an hour, we head back to the car. I take a panoramic photo.
After the NFL game, we head to the Staples Center where the Los Angeles Auburn alumni chapter is hosting a pep rally. By the time we arrive, the place is packed. Unfortunately, you must have an orange wristband to enter, and tickets are no longer being sold; however, we do not accept defeat because Bob has brought an Auburn backpack filled with cold beer….
So we loiter outside the fence and begin our own tailgate near the entrance. Now, I would have thought that denying alumni entrance to a school pep rally would be a readily apparent fundraising flaw, but then, what do I know?
After about ten minutes, I see a girl rip off her orange wristband and drop it in a nearby trashcan. Ding, Ding! Like a bunch of 19-year-old girls trying to get into a 21 –and–over bar, Bob, Alex, and I all pass back the discarded single wristband via “over-the-railing handshakes.” (We are now the first males ever to sneak into a school pep rally.) We head straight to the Bud Light tent and meet up with several Auburn friends. My friend Eric, an accountant from Birmingham, has set up group texting through the GroupMe App. for most of us to stay in contact for the weekend. Approximately 95% of these texts are insults. The other 5% are location based.
An hour later, my phone buzzes with an incoming text message from my friend Bud: “I made it to the hotel. Are you sure we’re not going to get shot?” Bud graduated from Auburn in 2011; he is an Alabama native and a lifelong Auburn fan. In fact, he hasn’t missed an Iron Bowl since he was six years old. Bud has arrived at our hotel from a weekend trip in Vegas and is wondering as to our whereabouts.
As the pep rally ends, we head back to the hotel and pick up Bud for dinner. Soon Bud, Alex, and I head for dinner on the Sunset Strip in the “full-sized” rental. We leave Bob behind tonight. It’s a perfect California night.
Saddle Ranch Chophouse, a restaurant in West Hollywood suggested by Anna, is our destination and we get there by eight. We valet our car at the Laugh Factor Comedy Club for the advertised price of $2.25 and walk to Saddle Ranch. Saddle Ranch is a Western-style restaurant that features a mechanical bull, dozens of outdoor stone fire pits, pool tables, and an oversized bar. Shortly after we put our name on the list for a table, the hostess invites us to the bar to take a round of free shots with her before she seats us. Needless to say, it’s an amazing place.
Our waitress, Ashley, is a 17 on a scale of 1-10. I debate extending an offer to Ashley to go out with us tonight, but Bud assures me that I will be shot down. Sigh. But she did offer us another free shot. (FYI: I did not take any pictures. This is because I’m now at the age where asking random girls to be in pictures with me is borderline creepy. Plus my camera has a flash. Which is very noticeable. Or so I’ve been told.)
Back on the Sunset Strip, we head to ‘Lure,’ a Hollywood nightclub, for the Auburn Alumni Association party. Lure has been turned into an Auburn beacon with the clever name “TIGER Takeover” tonight, and my GPS tells me it’s also less than a mile from our hotel. Tickets are $70, which includes all drinks, but, you guessed it, we haven’t the slightest idea how we will be finding tickets tonight. We pick up one of Bud’s high school friends, Dee, on the way and try to brainstorm a Plan B if all else fails. At this point, I’m open to all suggestions. My only idea is to get close to a decent-sized group, don’t make eye contact with anyone, and pretend we belong with them.
We needn’t have worried… As we walk down a hallway to purchase “club tickets,” a woman grabs my shoulder and hands us three free passes to the TIGER TAKEOVER. Certainly this was an omen for the night. We’re in. (Dee is the only one that is forced to buy a $70 ticket. He still has no idea.)
Inside Lure, everyone, and I mean everyone, is having a good time. There are flat screen televisions showing highlights from each game of the 2013 Auburn season, lounge chairs, bottle service, and some lighting system where these balloon-type balls drop from the ceiling and move up and down with the music (or as FSU fans would say “the beat.”) Alex is mesmerized by the surroundings, “This is every Florida State fan’s dream…brah.” In front of me, the main television is playing highlights of the 2013 Iron Bowl. Every time the “Kick Six” play hits the screen the entire club goes crazy. This will happen approximately every 30 minutes for the rest of the evening.
After about an hour inside Lure, I take a seat at a table with my friends Carson and Cody and several other Auburn grads. I text Bud, “Bottle service, brah.” We soon make conversation with a pack of current Auburn girls at a table, and they try to convince us to take whiskey shots with them. No dice. This seems like a very bad idea and a recipe for a complete disaster. Carson shakes his head, “They do know kickoff is fifteen hours away, right?”
As the night continues, I pass the DJ and stop him to compliment his creative use of Auburn highlight videos. He gives me his business card, which reads, “DJ MisterE: one of the most sought after DJs in the world.” He then returns to his turntables, lifts his index finger skyward and begins to awkwardly dance. I move in the opposite direction.
Fast-forward three hours, I meet back up with Alex, Bud, and Dee. From here, it’s like running through an Auburn car wash: you say hi to everyone, keep moving along and meeting new people. Auburn fans are consuming beers and reveling in the anticipation of tomorrow’s game.
We all miraculously find the main entrance amidst the club’s laser show. Leaving Lure, I’m completely shocked that there are no hot dog vendors or pizzerias outside. So we head straight back to the hotel. Everyone is in bed by 2:00 a.m.
Part two will be up Wednesday morning.