It’s been a whirlwind 30 hours that have led me to this point.
This point I’m referring to is the parking lot of the Harrah’s Lake Tahoe Hotel and Casino, where after a lonely night in the San Francisco airport, and a 6-hour, traffic-jammed jaunt to Lake Tahoe later, I’m happy to report I’ve finally made it.
It’s 11:07 a.m. local time, and despite all of the aforementioned roadblocks — both figurative and literal — I’ve made it in pretty damn perfect time.
As I walk around Harrah’s in search of the entrance, I’m captivated by the ambiance and magic of Tahoe’s beauty. Look over one shoulder and you can see skiers, snowboarders and tubers speckling the snow-dense mountain side of one of Tahoe’s five ski resorts. Over the other shoulder — at ground level — the look-of-the-day is shorts and t-shirts, or the apres ski half-taken-off-winter-gear look (think, people walking around in snowpants, short-sleeve shirts and a beanie, or exactly what you might expect to see at a ski resort bar around 4:30 p.m. after chairlifts have shut down for the day).
It’s about 50-degrees Fahrenheit at ground level of Tahoe, where just about every single facade along Lake Tahoe Blvd. is a bar or a casino. Mixed into the masses of ski bums, gamblers and vacationers are a few familiar NHL jerseys, mostly Golden Knights threads, though a few Philly and Boston Bruins unis can be found, and a couple of random ones — a No. 47 Alexander Radulov Dallas Stars jersey, and, of course, a few Chicago Blackhawks sweaters for some reason, even though their team is not playing at Tahoe, nor are they even on the NHL schedule today.
As I make my way to the front of the hotel, I can see Big Blue in all her massive beauty across the street, reflecting in every which direction the bright, 6,000-feet-in-elevation-intensified sun. The LED display outside of the entrance of Harrah’s reads “Welcome NHL Teams.”
I’ve made it.
As I walk in the main entrance, my nostrils are immediately greeted by that comforting casino smell of stale cigarette smoke and of the ash that has been well-grounded into the hotel’s velvet carpets. The air is filled with the muzak of rolling slot machines, loose change and loud-talking drunks. As I make my way to the concierge desk, I push past a man who appears to be in his mid-50’s holding a bottle of Coors Light and looking a little drunker than he probably should for 11 in the morning. But, hell, that’s life in the dipsomaniac playground — the degenerates’ jungle — that is a casino. I’d expect nothing less.
I find the concierge and ask if they’d kindly point me in the direction of the NHL media work area. Follow the red carpet around the corner and take the elevator to the second floor. You’ll see all the NHL signage up there, she says. Thanks!
I pick up my credential in one room and hear them calling out bus assignments. I walk up just as I hear Scott MacDonald in the roll-call for Group 1A to board the bus to the rink. Quite literally could not have made it in better time.
As we’re herded back down the escalator and to the valet area where the NHL buses are, I take my seat and finally have a spare second to reflect on the last 30 or so hours, taking mental notes of the many lessons I learned while trekking alone to Lake Tahoe. Allow me to share a few:
Life Lesson #1 – Book Your Flight Early
Although my timing couldn’t have been more perfect, I can’t help but think all of the anxiety and stress I’ve felt since landing at SFO at midnight could’ve been quashed completely had I planned a little better.
I should’ve booked that flight to the Reno-Tahoe airport a month ago when it was just $100. The reason I flew into San Fran was because it was a third of the now-$273 flight that would’ve taken me to the much more proximal Reno International airport. And, had I flown into Reno, my whole debacle at Fox Rent-a-Car would never have happened…which brings me to the second life lesson I learned.
Life Lesson #2 – Choose the Right Rental Car Company
Here’s a general rule of thumb I’ve found — and confirmed — while dealing with Fox:
If you have to take a shuttle to get to it — or it’s “off-airport” — you’re probably going to have a bad time.
Off-airport, you’ll find such notoriously cost-effective rental car companies, such as Budget Car Rental, Sixt Rent-a-Car, Thrifty, Dollar Car Rental and the aforementioned Fox. If it has words such as “thrifty” or “dollar” in its name, well, you’re gonna get what you pay for. And while their fares may be insanely cheap, you’ll find they average roughly 2-stars on Google, Yelp or other review sites. Fox, by the way: 1.5 stars. There are, after all, reasons for these low ratings.
In short, these rental companies will likely be more trouble than they’re worth, even if it means saving a few bucks here and there.
The rental car debacle, however, was admittedly part my fault, which brings me to #3.
Life Lesson #3 – Always Check Your Time Zones
As I was booking all of these things — flights, rental cars, hotels — thinking Nevada is only, like, one state over from Colorado, I failed to account for the time-jump from Denver’s Mountain Standard Time to South Lake Tahoe’s Pacific Time.
A one-hour time difference can make or break your trip.
So when planning things out, I set my rental car pick-up time for 7 a.m., thinking the game was at 1 p.m., not Noon. The four-ish hour drive would’ve given me plenty of time to settle into the hotel before puck drop. Upon realizing it was a Noon local game start, I’ve already lost that extra hour I thought I’d have, and therefore had to arrive at the rental car place two hours early to beg to give me a car earlier than my designated time slot.
Knowing I was in a rush, the shady Fox Rental salesman had all the leverage to upsell me on that more expensive Jeep Wrangler, giving me the ultimatum I had no choice but to make: Either wait until 7 a.m. and I’ll give you your Economy rental and you’ll probably be late to your little game, or take this Jeep off the lot now for $100 extra. Deal or no deal, kid?
For context, you can read more here on my spat with Fox and why I was forced to take the Jeep Wrangler.
Had it not been for taking my rental 90 minutes earlier than I was originally supposed to, I most definitely would not have made it in time. Speaking of…
Life Lesson #4 – Always Expect Traffic
It’s something quite a few Avalanche fans have become accustomed to with these outdoor games.
Just last season, some of us had to live through the nightmare that was North Gate Blvd., leaving the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. I won’t remind you any further about that hellish February night.
But this time, the bottleneck was the El Dorado Freeway heading westbound into Lake Tahoe, where it took me nearly two-and-a-half hours to traverse the final 25 miles to the Harrah’s parking lot. Could you imagine if fans were permitted to the Lake Tahoe game…
General Rule: If you’re planning on doing any mountain driving or heading to a ski resort, ski traffic, delays and accidents are inevitable. Plan for it. And, in general, wherever you’re traveling long-distance — mountain or not — add an hour to your time, just in case of, you know, traffic.
At this point, the NHL media bus has arrived on location at the Edgewood Golf Resort. Us media are unloaded and taken to the viewing platform on the far side of the rink.
Couldn’t have asked for a better day — much to the chagrin of the NHL — and the setting is idyllic. But as the game starts, Apollo rears his ugly head and his intense rays wreak havoc on the ice conditions.
It becomes clear, as player after player toe-picks and nose-dives onto the ice, that the immaculate weather conditions, ironically, are actually becoming a very legitimate and concerning problem. Us media point this fact out, talking amongst ourselves on our platform and beginning to speculate whether or not the game could continue.
We’re shuttled back to the media workroom in the team hotel and await the announcement from commissioner Gary Bettman. Selfishly, I was hoping they’d play. At this point I’ve been up for two days straight and I just want this damn game to be over with.
And then Bettman announces live on NBC the postponement of the game, which was now scheduled to resume at 9 p.m. local time…eight hours from now. The 30-person media cohort collectively sighs in breathy, weary gloom. I bury my head in my palms wondering how in the hell I’m going to stay up for an 8-hour delay, then two more periods of hockey and then postgame interviews and writing.
Some of us discuss what we’re going to do to pass the time. The consensus seems to be: head back to their respective hotels and hang out. Some decide to grab drinks at the many various bars and taprooms in the surrounding area. I opt for the latter. After all, I needed a drink.
I’m not going to lie to you. At this point, I’m not happy at all. I’m tired, wondering how I’m going to kill eight hours, dreading the fact that after all of this, I’m going to have to drive another hour-and-a-half to my hotel in Reno and somehow try and keep my eyes open the whole time.
I saunter down the escalator to the first floor, side step the same Coors Light-sipping drunk that I passed when I first arrived and work my way outside. As I trudge along Lake Tahoe Blvd., I have a moment of realization — and a bit of a spiritual awakening…which brings me to my final life lesson:
Life Lesson #5 – Be Present; Enjoy the Moment
I’m the type of guy to woe-is-me at the slightest of inconveniences. I’ve always hated that about myself, and this, presently, is one of those moments.
Something I’ve been recently trying to work on is recognizing these moments of inconvenience I may be having, and trying to make the best of it. It happened in traffic an hour ago, and I’m doing the dance again as I saunter around the tourist-filled streets of South Lake Tahoe.
But as a I look around, take in the sights and sounds of the surrounding area of Big Blue, something changes. I take a minute to reflect on the fact that I’m… I’m here.
“How crazy is this, Scott?,” goes the internal dialogue in my head. “You’re one of just a handful of reporters to be credentialed and make this trip. Why are you upset? I mean LOOK at Lake Tahoe, you idiot. How pretty is that! That in and of itself is worth the price of admission.
And no experience — good, bad or traumatic — is wasted if you learned something from it.
And it has been a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience — for better or for worse, I suppose. Memorable, for maybe some of the wrong reasons, but memorable all the same. I’m tired, sure, but if that’s really all I have to complain about — well then, suck it up, Scott. There are decidedly much, much worse problems to have in life than being tired, on your way to grab a beer, while taking in some of the best views I’ve ever seen.
And as I work my way through the ski village, I slump into a quaint irish pub — McP’s Taphouse Grill — on the shoreline of Lake Tahoe. I sit at the bar and order a craft pint from a local brewery.
I take in the vastness and natural beauty of Lake Tahoe one last time. I take a sip and smile.
Maybe this ain’t so bad after all.
If you’ve enjoyed any of my travel blog at all, as always, we at Colorado Hockey Now do have our Avalanche Travel Tip Jar…95 cents of every dollar goes to fund travel to Avs games — an unexpected rental car uncharges — and 5 cents goes to donations to the Thornton Food Bank. Link here.