Have you ever traveled somewhere in the pursuit of journalism, chicken or adventure?
Let me back up.
Ohio’s membership in the Mid-American Conference is a blessing for me, if for no other reason than the fact most road games are a feasible distance from Athens.
As a men’s basketball writer for The Post — alongside Jimmy Watkins and Andrew Gillis — I’ve taken part in some fun day trips that spill into the night, typically culminating in 2 a.m. Steak ‘n’ Shake stops on the way back from Toledo, Bowling Green, Akron or elsewhere.
On Saturday, the Bobcats played in Buffalo at 3:30 p.m., and we decided to go cover the game in person. Carl Fonticella, a Post photo editor, came with us.
Disinterested in spending our own money on a hotel, we decided to make an epic day trip out of the ordeal — and grab some tasty food at Duff’s Famous Wings, a popular joint in the city, in the process.
I chose to document our travels, so here you go. We watched basketball and ate chicken, but we did quite a bit more, too. Enjoy.
Saturday morning (departure and drive)
5:22 a.m. — My initial wake-up, without assistance from an alarm, after a mere two hours of shuteye. Gillis, Jimmy and I had stayed until last call at The Overhang the night before, which I can now admit wasn’t a wise idea.
7:19 a.m. — Awake again, for real this time — about four hours of sleep acquired. I take a long look at my bed. We won’t be seeing each other for a while.
7:57 a.m. — Gillis picks me up, and we drive to Jimmy and Carl’s place. Carl comes out to the car and says Jimmy hasn’t woken up yet. Gillis and I walk into the house, nearly swinging the front door into the head of a guy in jeans and a North Face jacket, lying facedown. It isn’t Jimmy, but rather his friend Kevin. He’s a nice guy and, thankfully, wasn’t pissed we woke him up at such an ungodly hour.
When we find Jimmy, he’s still in the same red t-shirt and black sweatpants from the night before. His hair is stuck to his head in a messy wad, and he refuses to stand up to get to the car. “I want the vehicle to stand on its own before someone sleeps in it,” Jimmy says in a slurred, groggy voice. We were supposed to leave by 7:45 a.m., so this isn’t a great start.
8:07 a.m. — We escape Jimmy and Carl’s house. But Jimmy left his bag at my apartment, so we have to retreat there. I mention that it would’ve been time-effective to have had this information earlier. “I’m sorry,” Jimmy says. “I was unconscious.”
8:15 a.m. — Jimmy’s bag is at my place. His laptop is not. He was certain it would be in the bag, then realized he left it at his house. “I’m an idiot,” he admits. I'm glad someone said it.
8:22 a.m. — Under the guidance of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” we finally leave Athens. Mark it down. Chisel it into the stone of eternity. “This might be the dumbest thing we’ve ever done,” Gillis says.
10:25 a.m. — It’s been raining the entire drive so far, picking up noticeably in the past half-hour. There are flood advisories in the area, which should be of some concern. Classes at Ohio University have already been cancelled for Monday due to predicted floods. We pass a golf course that is mostly underwater.
10:45 a.m. — We stop for gas and a quick bite at McDonald’s. Jimmy informs me that he cannot locate his wallet, which means I’m “Venmo guy” for the day. Wonderful. Oh, and he used the women’s bathroom because the men’s was in use. Emergency circumstances, I guess.
11:55 a.m. — “Stronger Beer” by Tim Hicks blares through the speakers of Gillis’ Honda Civic. If you don’t know it, look it up — the quintessential road trip sing-along.
12:08 p.m. — The rain is gone, and my opportunity to take over the aux cord, a grand responsibility, has come. Nothing against Gillis for his mix of The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen and the like, but there was a noticeable dearth of J. Cole.
2:43 p.m. — Arrival in Buffalo. The easy half of the driving is behind us. Gillis and Jimmy both disrobe in the parking lot, changing into pants and collared shirts. Jimmy admits he’s taken a two-week hiatus from working out at Ping Center. It shows.
Saturday afternoon (the game and the grub)
2:59 p.m. — Buffalo’s Alumni Arena is a real circus. In search of will call to grab our media passes, an arena attendant tells us to go outside and walk to the opposite end of the building. We oblige and end up in the main concourse. No one checks our bags or gives us a second look — talk about a security breach. “Remember, if there’s ever a sick concert here, we know how to get in,” Jimmy says. We circle back to will call, grab our passes and dash to the media room for food.
But a few minutes after we start piling burrito ingredients onto paper plates, the Buffalo coach and a player enter the tiny media room for a press conference. We’re trapped, staring at a wall and waiting for it to be over. In silence, I stare at my plate, knowing the chips will be too crunchy to eat. More than 10 minutes pass before I cave to my stomach’s plea and chomp down on a double-wrapped tortilla with beef and peppers spilling out the side. Finally, the interview concludes, and I dig in shamelessly.
3:25 p.m. — The media seating is almost non-existent. We climb stairs to a skinny table at the top row of a fan section. No power outlets. No Wi-Fi code. I feel confident in saying everyone in the crowd has more legroom than us. Our only companion is a Buffalo News columnist, who says student journalists are a rarity at games. It certainly doesn’t look like Buffalo is used to a group of out-of-towners.
5:30 p.m. — Buffalo incinerates Ohio, 108-82. That's the most points the Bobcats have allowed since a quadruple-overtime game in 2010 and the most in a regulation game against Ohio in the 21st century.
7:23 p.m. — “Bitcoin is dead,” a Buffalo student declares as I file my story.
7:35 p.m. — A former Buffalo wrestler and self-proclaimed wing expert named James says Duff’s is “trash.” He’s from Albany and cannot believe we travel so far to cover games while receiving little to no pay. He tries to refer us someplace else; we smile and walk away, unswayed.
8:26 p.m. — Twenty Duff’s wings are presented on a plate in front of me. They are crispy, spicy and magnificent.
8:55 p.m. — The wings are gone. I will never forget them.
Saturday night (the long, stormy ride home)
9:25 p.m. — Time to go. Toll roads — paid for by me — cut our travel time down to six hours. A$AP Rocky’s “Everyday” plays.
10:07 p.m. — Jimmy and I sing “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars — a magical, soothing moment. Carl, sound asleep in the coveted shotgun seat, misses the performance in its entirety. We still have more than five hours to drive. It’s dark but dry. The radar shows that we are heading toward a big ol' green glob of downpour, though.
11:10 p.m. — After gassing up at Sheetz, rain starts to fall. Still 4 1/2 hours from Athens.
12:37 a.m. — The rain is coming down at an irritating speed. Gillis voluntarily enters a heated debate about his Washington Capitals being the NHL’s best team in recent years despite never surpassing the second round of the playoffs in the Alex Ovechkin era. Jimmy and I put him in his place swiftly. Somehow, half of the drive remains. Carl appears to be falling into and out of sleep, certainly in no mood to debate hockey.
12:58 a.m. — We hit a couple skids of standing water as rain continues falling hard. The radar shows blobs of yellow and orange ahead, worse than the green blobs we’d seen before. Jimmy finally elects to buckle his seatbelt.
1:23 a.m. — The drive is getting progressively hairier. Gillis is leaning forward and driving 45 mph on a 70-mph-limit highway with his high beams on. “Is it OK to say I completely regret making the trip to Buffalo?” Jimmy asks. “No,” I reply. “Not until we get back.”
There has been discussion about stopping for a hotel, but we know tomorrow has the potential to be worse, especially with flood warnings for the Hocking River. We elect to forge ahead and beat the worst of the storm.
1:31 a.m. — Chippiness ensues within the group. Some expletives have been shouted, as well as some opinions about the speed of the vehicle. No rain, but there is plenty of water on the road. Gillis refuses to slow down for curves to the extent I want. “I’m going to go faster when it’s not raining to make up time,” Gillis says, attempting to defy Mother Nature. Still more than two hours to go, per the GPS.
2:01 a.m. — As G-Eazy’s “Nothing to Me” plays, Carl snoozes and Jimmy, mouth agape, snores. I’m far too wired to fall asleep, opting instead to lean forward and assume the role of backseat driver.
Poor Gillis. He’s patient with my repetitive “slow down” and “watch for standing water” instructions. I will buy him a drink when this is over. There are pockets of heavy rainfall that keep us from putting our minds at ease. “Other than the fact this trip is taking years off my life, it’s going well,” Gillis says.
2:07 a.m. — No rain at the moment. We’re driving 74 mph, and a sense of normalcy has returned for the first time in quite a while. “We’ll see how long this lasts,” Gillis says.
2:17 a.m. — Drake’s “Underground Kings” comes on, which includes the line, “Probably shouldn’t be driving / It just got so much harder.” Ha, ha.
2:51 a.m. — The rain has picked up again — we’re either in a yellow or orange radar area, if that gives you an idea. Childish Gambino’s “You See Me” is pretty much the only sound in the car. The GPS says we’re less than an hour away, but we’ll see about that. Also, we give Gillis’ Civic a nickname: “Hydroplaney.”
3:13 a.m. — Jimmy and I perform an encore performance of “When I Was Your Man,” perhaps more therapeutic than before and, this time, aided by Carl’s very capable vocals. Carl follows his performance by revealing we’ve already driven through a few red spots on the radar. Then, some advice to Gillis: “Slow down here, because I don’t want to hydroplane into the river.”
3:44 a.m. — Everyone in the car is well aware of the flood advisories. We drive past the Hocking and see that it is much, much higher than normal. “That’s going to flood,” Gillis astutely observes.
3:58 a.m. — At long last, a safe arrival in Athens. Big shoutout to Gillis for driving the whole time, approximately 13 hours. Jimmy and I head to my apartment to spend the last of our waking hours playing Fortnite.
— Jimmy Watkins, Andrew Gillis and Carl Fonticella contributed to this report.