Some are still under the impression that this is just another blog, that I'm sitting at home and ranting about mid-major basketball from my couch. That is definitely not the case. TMM Mobile HQ is very real, and has already logged over 22,000 miles and over 90 games this season. Put that
in your parents' basement and smoke it.
In the last D.I.Y. entry
, I explained how The Mid-Majority's trips are planned, one at a time, all the way back in October with an early draft of the composite season schedule from Basketball State
. For each trip, which generally last about a week long, there's a base airport that I fly into then out of; that's where I rent the car that will take me to games around that region before it's time to roll to the next episode.
For example, here are the 12 trips that I originally planned for 2008-09: ten regular-season trips and two for conference tourneys and the NCAA's in March.
|# ||Dates ||Base ||Games |
|1 ||Nov 10-24 ||Providence ||16 |
|2 ||Nov 25-Dec 11 ||Providence ||22 |
|3 ||Dec 13-20 ||Indianapolis ||8 |
|4 ||Dec 21-Jan 5 ||Dallas ||10 |
|5 ||Jan 6-13 ||Nashville ||5 |
|6 ||Jan 13-23 ||Cleveland ||6 |
|7 ||Jan 24-Feb 2 ||Omaha ||4 |
|8 ||Feb 8-10 ||Little Rock ||3 |
|- ||Feb 11-12 ||Indianapolis ||0* |
|- ||Feb 13-15 ||St. Louis ||1 |
|9 ||Feb 16-20 ||San Jose ||4 |
|- ||Feb 21-22 ||Raleigh-Durham ||1 |
|10 ||Feb 23-Mar 3 ||Nashville ||6 |
|M1 ||Mar 4-13 ||Houston ||16 |
|M2 ||Mar 14-23 ||Columbus ||? |
Nothing is totally set in stone in October, of course -- travel requires both planning as well as room for unexpectedness and spontaneity. Number 8 was supposed to be a week long, but I ended up being invited to the *NCAA Mock Selection
back in November, so I had to figure out a way to get to Indianapolis as well as a way out. The February trip to North Carolina was for the BracketBusters. I had originally left that open-jawed with an exit door in California and a re-entry in Nashville... because my previous mega-gig had always sent me somewhere and paid for it. Until, then, you know
Once the calendar is set, it's time to string all these trips together. To do that, what's needed is "travel instruments."
For anybody who needs to hop from one place to the next, and operates outside the traditional round-trip paradigm, Southwest Airlines
is great. And you get a free roundtrip after 16 flight segments, which I always try to time around the annual west coast excursion. Note that I've always paid for 95 percent of my own travel out-of-pocket, and angles like this always help save some big dough.
When I'm planning my season, I always make sure that my base cities are those served by that airline, except in extraordinary cases like last month... SWA doesn't serve Charlotte, and the donors voted to send me to Butler-Davidson, so I had to fly into RDU and drive all the way to Curryville and back. It was no big whoop.
Speaking of cars, there is no better method of rental than Hotwire
, a site I've used so much in the last four years that they shower me with special gold-plated Playaz Club membership cards and something called "HotBucks," which get you even more free travel. I've tried Priceline and some other 21st Century travel things, but the dotcom named for the illegal starting of an automobile is the only way to go. If you reserve far enough in advance, you can get an Avis, Hertz or Enterprise rental for about $13 a day. The only "catch," if it's one at all, is that you have to prepay and you don't know which company you're getting until you ploink the money down. Like there's a difference... unless it's Alamo, which generally sucks anyway.
Also, if you're like me and swore off credit cards a long time ago, Hotwire is a good way to get a car with a debit card. Because you prepay, the company already has your money. So when you pick up the car, they take your debit card and authorize $200 against it, which is much less than their official policies that state that you pretty much have to let them hold hundreds, even thousands, for up to two weeks -- this can be an inconvenient hassle, even for rich folks. I've found that the Hotwire authorizations disappear in about three days.
The downside of renting through Hotwire is that the counter clerks treat you like shit. I'm not kidding about this. Because they live off upsells ("You're tall. Sure you don't want an SUV? Can I get you a satellite radio? Insurance that's not really insurance?"), Hotwire is a dead end for them. You're paid up, there's little they can do to squeeze extra cash out of you, and I've had more than a few instances when I've reserved a compact but they try and put me in an economy (there is a difference) just out of spite. Hold the line on this borderline behavior. Print out your receipt, show them what you bought, trust me.
Because the worst thing that can happen to you is that you get stuck in a Chevy Aveo
. You must not let this happen. I'm convinced that this car has singlehandedly killed the American car market, as well as our standing in the world as a vehicle innovator. It's ugly, uncomfortable, and whistles at high speeds (that is, over 60). Every car rental company has a hundred of these on hand at any given moment. When the counter clerk is writing out your rental sleeve, and she starts writing the letter "A" in the "model" line, that is your cue to say, "I don't think so." Stand up for yourself. Stand up for what's right.
Another thing that Hotwire is good for is hotels: you can get a three-star joint for around 40 bucks a night. We'll talk about my infamous love affair with truck stops in the final segment of this D.I.Y. series, but I've started renting a hotel per week in 2008-09 for one reason only: the fitness center. Getting 12-18 miles on the treadmill per week has kept me alive this year. Two years ago, I gained 20 pounds on the road, and I still haven't lost it all. I used to be a marathoner, dammit, this sportswriting thing isn't supposed to kill me.
I have one rule, though: I only take a hotel on a day off with no games. I'm no miser and there are things I splurge on (computers and home electronics, mostly), but I don't see the logic in spending all that money on a room I'm only going to be in for six or seven hours. I'll go in at noon, get some writing done, get a run in, sleep, get a late checkout so I can do some more writing, then leave. Milk every cent out of that hotel room. This is a rental, and I'm serious about maximizing that contract.
So that's what TMM travel planning is all about. In the next segment, we'll discuss packing. Making sure you always have the right stuff for the job, yet still traveling light, is something it's taken me almost five years to get correct.
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