By HOWARD BERGER
SUNRISE, Fla. (Dec. 25) – I swear it was the price… it really was. Otherwise, I’d be in Toronto right now with my wife and kids.
Flying home from New York on Saturday – and then down here on Monday – would have wrenched more than $1,500 from my dwindling bank account. Conversely, a non-stop flight from New York to Fort Lauderdale on JetBlue ate up only $386. The two extra night’s hotel is chicken-feed.
So, here I am… stranded in south Florida; roughing it for a couple of days until the Leafs arrive late Monday for the resumption of their four-game road trip, Tuesday night, against the Panthers. I can look out my hotel window, beyond the Sawgrass Mills shopping behemoth, and see the BankAtlantic Center about a mile in the distance. All is quiet there, and around the National Hockey League, as players, coaches and executives pause for a couple of nights to observe the Christmas holiday.
You may think this is all glamour, but try finding a morsel of food on Christmas Eve. I actually called five pizza joints and all were shut down by 8 p.m. There’s a TGIF’s restaurant next to the hotel and it was bustling with activity when I gazed out the window. Phoning, moments later, to place a pick-up order (the bruschetta-chicken pasta looked so damned good), I was informed the kitchen had just closed. “But, why?” I asked, turning frantic. “It’s only 8:15.” The answer shouldn’t have surprised me. “We’re out of everything,” the man said.
Turning, as a final resort, to the front desk of the hotel, I was given more rotten news. “Nothing’s open… we’re not even offering room service. You better come down to the gift shop.”
Ten minutes later, I was stuffing a can of Chef Boyardee lasagna noodles and sauce into the microwave and washing it down with a bottle of blue Powerade. Glamour, huh?
The weather here probably sounds appealing to anyone north of the border, but I’m not big on 97% humidity. It was like a steam-bath when we arrived and I’m looking forward to joining a lawyer-friend of mine from back home at an oceanfront condominium later today. The flight here from New York was smooth and uneventful except for a wildly-eccentric woman in the middle seat between me and another man. This lady, probably in her late-50s, talked out loud – to herself – for the entire two-and-a-half-hour ride. Thankfully, I remembered to take a pack of silicone ear-plugs with me on this trip; they came in very handy, as did the Bose stereo-headphones worn by the man on the other side. At one point, the lady interrupted her own conversation to ask me why I was flying to Florida.
“I’m a reporter… I cover a hockey team for a national newspaper.”
“Ohhhhh, do you think you could get my son into your business in a few years?” she wondered.
“Why, is he finishing up at school?” I asked.
“No, he’s in jail and he still has time to serve.”
I stuffed the silicone back into my ear at record speed.
Join me now for a photo-recap of my Saturday travel experience. And, merry Christmas to you and yours; may the new year bring health, peace, prosperity… and lots of laughs.
THE NASSAU COLISEUM IN UNIONDALE, N.Y. (ABOVE) THE MORNING AFTER THE LEAFS BEAT THE ISLANDERS, 5-3. UNIONDALE IS ABOUT 15 MILES DUE-EAST OF MANHATTAN AND THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING IS VISIBLE ON A CLEAR DAY (BELOW).
DON’T EVER RECALL MAKING THE RIDE FROM UNIONDALE TO LaGUARDIA IN QUEENS WITHOUT GETTING HUNG UP IN TRAFFIC, BUT THE LIMO DRIVER DIDN’T EVEN SLOW DOWN SATURDAY (LOVE THE HOLIDAYS!). ADJACENT TO LaGUARDIA IS CITI FIELD (BELOW), HOME OF THE NEW YORK METS.
I WASN’T REALLY IN THE FLIGHT-DECK OF THE JETBLUE A-320; IT JUST LOOKED THAT WAY AS WE PREPARED TO DEPART OFF RUNWAY-4 AT LaGUARDIA (ABOVE). SECONDS AFTER TAKE-OFF, WE PASSED OVER THE EAST RIVER AND COULD SEE THE THROGS NECK AND WHITESTONE BRIDGES (BELOW), WHICH CONNECT QUEENS TO THE BRONX, NORTH OF MANHATTAN.
AFTER TURNING SOUTH, WE FLEW DIRECTLY OVER MET-LIFE STADIUM IN EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (ABOVE) AS THE NEW YORK JETS AND NEW YORK GIANTS WERE PLAYING A SATURDAY NFL GAME. JETBLUE OFFERS LIVE TELEVISION ON BOARD SO I WAS ABLE TO WATCH THE GAME FROM 36,000 FEET (BELOW).
THE PODS OF NEWARK-LIBERTY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (ABOVE).
MUCH OF SATURDAY’S FLIGHT WAS OVER THE ATLANTIC OCEAN – SCATTERED CLOUD (ABOVE) BECOMING MORE CUMULOUS (BELOW) AS WE NEARED THE HUMID SKIES OF SOUTH FLORIDA.
THE ATLANTIC COAST OF FLORIDA AND INTRACOASTAL WATERWAY (ABOVE AND BELOW), LOOKING NORTH TOWARD POMPANO BEACH.
TURNING EAST OVER THE PERIMETER OF THE FLORIDA EVERGLADES (ABOVE) FOR FINAL APPROACH TO HOLLYWOOD-FORT LAUDERDALE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, WE FLEW DIRECTLY OVER THE BANKATLANTIC CENTER IN SUNRISE (BELOW), HOME OF THE FLORIDA PANTHERS. LEAFS PLAY THERE TUESDAY.
ANYONE FAMILIAR WITH THIS PART OF THE WORLD WOULD BARELY RECOGNIZE INTERSTATE-95 HEADING SOUTH TOWARD MIAMI (ABOVE). WHERE’S THE TRAFFIC?
AS DUSK FELL ON CHRISTMAS EVE, THICK CLOUD PATTERNS DANCED ACROSS THE HUMID, SOUTH-FLORIDA SKY.