What a difference a year makes.
If there is one axiom in covering sports in this area, it is: the state wrestling tournament is exhausting.
Last year, I returned to our land of ice after the weekend in St. Paul and promptly broke a fibula.
During that six-month recovery, in which I missed the end of the basketball season and the beginning of baseball, I swore, literally, a bunch of times on a big blue couch.
I also postulated that this year things were going to be different.
I was holed up in a Coon Rapids hotel room all day Saturday, March 2, trying to complete the tasks that would normally be done in 2-3 days, so that I might catch my flight to Spring Training during Spring Break early Sunday morning.
I figured one bad break deserved a good one and this trip was going to be far less damaging to my appendages.
For the travel buddy, I enlisted former Focus photojournalist Paul Gregersen. We have similar mindsets. Some might say we are completely out of ours.
Our initial research led us to a starting date in Jupiter, Fla., where the Twins were meeting the Cardinals in a Spring Training game.
Paul’s Twins two-hit my Redbirds and won the game 7-0. Spring Training superstars, those Twins were.
Both of us had acquired media credentials and we had big ideas of covering the game. Paul shot from the Twins dugout and while I had a roving pass that gave me access to the entire field and stadium, I was distracted by a large man holding a cooler full of 24-ounce Budweiser pounders. For $10, I acquired one and by the end of the third inning, with the Cardinals hitless, I put away the scorebook and worked on a tan and more pounders.
Entering the stadium complex, we noticed a lone man on a pickup tailgate listening to his tunes and having a beer. Before anything started, we made him slide over and let us tailgate, too.
Our O’s and the other nuances of the Minnesota accent gave us away, along with our art school-pale skin quickening to red.
I was forced to explain my accent and the Cardinals garb I was wearing. This always leads to a few stories of my summers spent in Lake St. Louis, a town west of St. Louis.
Turns out, Mr. Tailgater was from Lake St. Louis.
My uncle used to be the mayor.
I qualified my knowledge by asking if the lake was still brown.
Next thing I know, Paul is taking a family photo, me included. As word spread that Homeboy was sitting on the truck, relatives popped out of nowhere.
I was introduced to the wife, the immediate clan and then, “Bob, this is Bob.”
It is, indeed, a small world.
If you are in the market for a quiet night in Florida, Jupiter is for you. Paul and I were baffled by a Sunday 11 p.m. last call. But with big plans for South Beach the following day, it was for the best.
Continental breakfast was spent talking baseball with Cardinals fanatics. It was a perfect moment for an out-of-state fan out of state.
We hit the road and South Beach came and went in a blur and a slur.
Bleary, the remainder of the trip was to be spent in Key West.
The lengthy drive to the seven-mile bridge, the aromatics of the mangroves and the hundreds of retirees on bicycles sped by.
The longer the trip went, the more extravagant were our accommodations.
From a $149 Comfort Inn in Jupiter to the $202 Hotel Marseilles in South Beach, we landed in the Lighthouse Court in Key West, right across the street from Ernest Hemingway’s old pad.
It cost us three bills per night for our two-bedroom, two-story Isabel’s Suite and it was worth every penny.
After a few days of late night shenanigans, even two pals need their own space.
Hitting up Ernie Hemingway’s joint for a little culture and a place without alcohol was a nice break.
The weather was perfect.
We were VIPs at Irish Kevins.
It was Spring Break, you can imagine the crowd.
Minnesota felt a long way away, and for the first time in a calendar year, I didn’t notice the chunk of metal still keeping my recuperated fibula in place.
Now, if I could just figure out how to trade places with this huge man who spent two whole days sunning himself at the hotel pool.
It was like it was his job.
A Key West lifestyle would soon turn me into a portly, huge man and in a few years my skin would become accustomed to the equatorial sunshine.
I could pull it off, but there was a voice in my head that missed home.
So much so, I made the 2,100-mile trip back to Minnesota just in time to see the final 90 seconds of Perham’s playoff victory over Frazee with the skin flying off my sunburned nose.
Having left Key West at 6 a.m. sharp, Big Blue the Couch was a welcome sight when I finally got home, minutes shy of 10 p.m.
In that first moment home, I was hit with the common thought of the vacationer at the end of hiatus: “Man, I need a break from this break.”
Just like last year.