Friday, November 27, 2009

Driving Mr. Owens

I know I usually start my blogs with a negative about how it sucks that I am waiting to go play for what seems like an eternity, but today I am actually in a good mood. The reason I have a smile on my face is because it’s Thanksgiving. I don’t know how the rest of the world feels about this holiday, but I love it. Football, food and family. Again another holiday that a normal basketball player does not partake in.

Two years ago when I injured my knee and was out for a few months…a story for another blog…I experienced my first Thanksgiving since I was a senior in high school. That’s a nine year drought. Over that time I experienced Thanksgivings in Australia, Hawaii, Virginia and at various coaches’ houses. Despite the best efforts to make it as familiar as possible, nothing beats the comforts of home. I must admit that although times are tough, I have so much to be thankful for. I have a great family, a roof over my head and a beautiful loving wife…sorry had to get that out, I promise more jokes to follow.

Currently I am writing from the passenger seat of our car as we drive down to Virginia to see my in-laws. I can honestly say the comforts of our small sedan are a little cramped. I find that to be the norm for a seven footer. Unless you have enough money to customize a car, you’re stuck with the standard floor models. I find this is the case for pretty much every aspect of my life, clothes, cars, etc. Nothing is made for the taller gentleman. My wife and I recently took a trip to a local Chevy dealership to see how I fit in the new “gas efficient” vehicles. The one thing I learned was that if I want a vehicle that I am comfortable in, it’s going to cost me. I sat in the new Equinox thinking it’s an SUV that is amazingly efficient. But according to my wife I looked “ridiculous” in it. Maybe because my knees were above the steering wheel…I don’t know. We then sat in every model of car which increased in both comfort and price each time. I felt like Goldilocks. This car is too small, this car my head sticks out of the sunroof, this car is juuuuuuust right. Unfortunately that was before I saw the sticker on the 2009 Chevy Avalanche, which on top of being pricey also has the gas mileage of a Sherman Tank.

(That is not a knock on a Sherman Tank. I never sat in a Sherman Tank before, nor do I know anything about them. For all I know they could be as good on gas as a hybrid. I am just assuming that they are not great for everyday commuting. But what the hell do I know?)

Man I get off topic quickly. Back to the Avalanche. I really do like this vehicle. It fits me, there is room for the family we eventually want to start, and it is fairly badass. I just don’t want to worry about a bunch of hippies throwing paint all over me every time I drive to the grocery store because it’s not “good for mother earth”.

During my travels to various countries, the means of transportation has been interesting to say the least. The first ever experience I had overseas was in Poland. I walked off the plane not knowing what to expect and who would be there waiting for me. I was met by a man who spoke little English, and provided even less information during our two hour drive away from the airport. Once arriving in the team’s city, I found out this was the man who would be driving me everywhere I needed to go. Little did I know how loosely the term “everywhere” was used.

My fellow import and I quickly found out that the driver would drive us strictly to and from practice. Despite pleading with him in my pathetic attempt at Polish to drive us somewhere to eat, he would stay the course. Finally one day he dropped us off at a McDonalds. (I don’t know how I got him to stop or what I agreed to for him to stop, but I do know I will be staying out of Eastern Europe for fear of having my organs harvested, or some other form of torture like I saw in the movie Hostel.)

Once arriving at McDonalds we quickly ordered so we wouldn’t piss our driver off any further. However, when returning to the parking lot we noticed he was nowhere to be found. After a long day of practice we were forced to find our own way home, despite not knowing where the hell we were. I believe we eventually hailed down a cab and showed him a card with our address on it to get home.

The only other way we’d eat would be when our driver occasionally pulled out a menu of a local eatery and mumbled “What want”? I would just point to some random picture on the menu in hopes that it was something edible. About an hour after arriving back to my apartment, an even sketchier looking individual would bang on my door with a bag of food in hand.

Individuals like this were the main reason I stayed in my apartment and didn’t venture out to find food. Let me tell you eating and energy go hand in hand. I find having energy helps my basketball game. Needless to say I was back in NJ not long after I arrived.

Throughout my career I have had various forms of transportation. In Australia I learned how to drive on the opposite side of the car and the road. I quickly discovered how hard it was to turn. I don’t know how many times I made an American right turn only to be heading directly into oncoming traffic. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to blend in since my car was covered with my team’s logos. So if I did something stupid on the road, I couldn’t be very inconspicuous.

In Korea I was driven around by men who were, in my mind, training to be formula one drivers. The only problem being that they were driving buses and not race cars. My wife, who is prone to car sickness, became horribly ill for days after one such ride.

The story that sticks out in my mind about driving overseas comes from my last stop in Kosovo. My fellow imports Keena Young, Brad Jones and I were selected to play in the Kosovo All Star Game. Thinking that this was a pretty big deal, with a formal dinner prior to the game, I was expecting to ride in style. Now the game was about two hours from our city. We all met at our gym and started walking with our coach and captain towards the parking lot. I was looking around trying to figure out which of these vehicles would be taking us to the game. Suddenly a green minivan, circa 1984, pulled up alongside of us and we were encouraged to get in. I was hoping this beaten up old van would take us to our real transportation. I was wrong. I had a hard time accepting that this van, which currently had about seven tall guys sardined into it, would be able to make it to our final destination.

As we made it to what I can only describe as EXACTLY half way between our city and the all star game we decided to stop and fill up the tank. Now let me paint you a picture of Kosovo. There are cities located sporadically throughout the country. These cities are connected by empty roads…not highways….roads! This gas station was in a barren land surrounded by empty fields for miles. As we sat quietly, waiting for the attendant to fill up the tank, the silence was broken by loud arguing between our driver and the man attending to our car. The shouting only became louder and was quickly joined by the “owner” of the gas station and our coach. I asked our captain what was going on. He told me that the man pumping our gas had accidentally put diesel fuel in as opposed to the regular it requires. Now I am not a mechanic, but even I know that spells doom for a van, especially the one we were currently sitting in. (See photo, check out the poor attendant who looks mortified behind our pathetic excuse for a ride.)

The worst part, being halfway, it would take an hour and a half for anyone to reach us. I quickly surveyed the parking lot looking for ulterior modes of transportation. Nothing! I did see two bikes that I am guessing belonged to the two who were currently engaged in said argument. After seeing what we were currently driving, I wouldn’t be surprised if our coach made us hop on the bikes and ride to the game. Oh did I mention it was snowing? Long story short, after standing in the snow for about an hour they eventually drained the engine, refilled it and we were on our way. Needless to say we had a different ride home.

The only means of transportation I am waiting for now is a plane that will take me onto my next leg of the professional basketball tour. Hopefully it will be soon. I want to wish all my readers a very Happy Thanksgiving. Today be grateful for what you have and stop focusing on what you don’t. Until we meet again, I will be here waiting.


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