A Day with the Fighting Irish, Weather or Not!

College football is one sport I’ve never been a huge fan of. No special reason. I’m not a big fan of professional football either. Perhaps the fact that colleges basically serve as a free minor league for football is something that doesn’t seem quite right to me. The landscape is littered with college football players who didn’t become academic scholars. Or even close. Such is the way of the world in college football. But as I discovered this past weekend, there is a side to college football I truly enjoy.

Last Thursday, Chris Galloway and I took a group of 35 to Chicago for a “sports weekend” with celebrity guest host Kelly Brothers of KCRA-TV and KFBK Radio. The idea had been Kelly’s – a 4 day trip including both a Cubs game and the Notre Dame football home opener at South Bend. Throw in some sightseeing and great food (Harry Carey’s and Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket – a Route 66 landmark – it just doesn’t get any better!) and we were all in for a real treat.

On Friday, we watched the Cubs and the Pirates, two teams that were playing only for personal glory, inside the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. It was a hot, humid day, but we were seated behind third base, in the shade. Overall, a great day to soak up the old ballpark.

Saturday morning, we arose early for an 8am bus departure to South Bend, arriving around 11am eastern time. By the time we arrived, thousands had already set up camp around the outside of the stadium. Tailgating? Practically mandatory. Kickoff was still 4 ½ hours away, but the campus was teaming with activity.

First stop, the bookstore. It’s the best souvenir spot on campus and our gang supported the local economy in a big way. Just about everyone getting back on the coach clutched a bag in their hands, some were large bags. Next up, a tailgate party fit for a football fan. Italian beef (a Chicago favorite), southern fried chicken and all the trimmings. Unfortunately, we didn’t make a clean connection with our “beer wagon,” which was in a different parking lot, until we were on our way into the stadium. Best laid plans…

Kelly led a walking tour of the campus, which was filling up rapidly with fans. We paid homage to “Touchdown Jesus,” a massive mosaic on the side of the library. The nickname comes from the fact that the artwork can be seen from inside the football stadium, and Jesus has his arms outstretched over his head, as a football referee would pose signaling a touchdown. A bit irreverent, but it works.

This being the first game of the season, lots of parents were on hand to proudly root for their child’s new alma mater. Kelly, being a Notre Dame grad, was in his element, as he showed us around. A highlight was the story of his dorm, Zahm; and the obvious nickname for its residents (Zahmbies, what else). To say there was excitement in the air is an understatement.

As game time neared, the players, attired in coat and tie, marched to the stadium; followed by the band, after a pre-game concert. Once inside, it was obvious the excitement had come right through the gates with us. Professional sports have a certain aura surrounding them. College sports do also, but it’s a different vibe.

Fan’s investment in pro sports teams is in dollars and years of rooting for their favorite teams. College is different. The investment in college teams often comes from the heart and soul. Alumni who spent some of the best years of their lives working towards a degree have a tie to their school’s sports teams that borders on the fanatic.

As the game began, the stadium announcer informed us they were tracking thunderstorms 100 miles from the stadium, but expected no problems with the weather. Famous last words.

By the end of the first quarter, the storm clouds had begun to gather. Notre Dame, after an initial burst of energy, found itself down 16-0 to South Florida, a team they expected to beat handily. The stadium felt like the air had been pumped out. When your team is getting their collective hats handed to them, it’s hard to maintain your level of pre-game enthusiasm. Then came the announcement. Due to a major wave of thunderstorms headed our direction, the decision was made to suspend play at halftime.

The rains came, as advertised. The fans, many disgruntled by the delay (Don’t they play football in all kinds of weather?), grew impatient. Some left. But at least 85% of those gathered remained on the concourses for what became a two hour delay. When play resumed, the Fighting Irish lived up to their name, marching down the field to score. Perhaps the second half would be different from the first.

But Mother Nature wasn’t done. Another thunderstorm approached and with only 4 minutes to go, a second suspension was announced. This time, with the game seemingly out of reach for the hometown boys (23-13), most headed for their vehicles, hoping to beat the raindrops. BIG raindrops. Buckets of raindrops.

Our gang returned to the coach, the last few arriving as the skies opened up. We had called it a day. (The game did resume again after a 40 minute delay and ended up 23-20, in favor of South Florida.)

Some fans were upset, some confused, some were on the back side of a lot of drinking earlier. (Tailgating has to stop when the game starts, and no alcohol is sold inside the stadium, which certainly helps dry out the imbibing fans.) And if you didn’t know “the rest of the story,” you might have wondered why a football game had been stopped twice for thunderstorms.

Think back just a few weeks. At the Indiana State Fair, severe thunderstorms brought high winds, but the show went on. Unfortunately, the winds caused a stage to collapse, killing 7 people. Now think back to last fall. You might have missed the story about the Notre Dame Student Manager who was video-taping a practice at the stadium when lightening and thunder came. The young man, Declan Sullivan, was killed by a lightening strike, an event that deeply troubled the Notre Dame leadership, because they had not provided a safe environment for a young man in their charge. They were humbled.

So when the word came that 80,000 people were in the path of a potentially life-threatening wind and rain storm, those in charge of one of our country’s most venerable schools did the right thing. They acted with an abundance of caution and suspended play, getting people out of the elements.

It was an unpopular but well thought out decision. A football game is not worth anyone’s life or limb. Yes, a wonderfully exciting day had come to a less than glorious conclusion.  But the day was a success. I think the folks who went with us had a good time and got to experience a college campus on game day. Not just any college campus, Notre Dame. Thanks to a few thoughtful, caring school officials, we’ll all live to tell about it. Sometimes good decisions are not easy or popular. Even when they seem insignificant 24 hours later. Which I think is the point.

I’ll attend another college football game someday. I had a great time. The people at ND were super, Kelly was a terrific host. Next time though, let’s leave the thunderstorms behind.


From Donuts to Don’t Buy This

After a weekend exploring my favorite Farmer’s Market in Vancouver, Washington; and the Saturday Market in Portland; it’s back to Sports Leisure world for just a day, until a business trip takes me to Pittsburgh.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Portland in the summer, be sure to find room for Vancouver on your itinerary. Not Vancouver, British Columbia; Vancouver – just over the border from Portland. A quiet, beautiful little town, with a character all its own and a Farmer’s Market that might just boast one of the best selections of fresh berries, flowers, food and unique stuff found anywhere. Small but perfect in every way.

No visit to Portland would be perfect without a stop at famous Voodoo Donuts. Made popular (heck, made cult-like) by the weird shaped donuts they make (think parts of the male and female anatomy for starters) they make, the line at Voodoo is always 45 minutes to an hour. Having sampled them, I can assure anyone who is about to stand in line, they taste pretty much like any other donut….

We return to Sacramento Sunday evening, after a chance to pick fresh boysenberries, marionberries and blackberries at a small family farm. Always a highlight of our visit.

Then I’m back in Sacramento, putting on my Sports Leisure hat, and appearing on the Fox 40 Morning Show at 7:40am on Monday morning. They want someone to talk about how to avoid getting nickeled and dined to death while traveling. Happens to be one of my favorite subjects. Id’ be flattered if you found time to tune in. That from a guy who has a face for radio.

“Sacramento Bee Lays off 44 Employees,” says the headline…

Our once proud newspaper is a shell of its former self. When I saw this, the first thing I thought of was, “After all the layoffs, I didn’t think there were 44 people left in the building.”

I see this and I think of Marco Smolich the sports editor, and the guys upstairs who helped me when I was a snot-nosed 20-year-old with a semi-pro basketball team. (Yes, there was basketball in Sacramento before the Kings. The Prospectors played at Mira Loma High School the two years I was part-owner. And we never asked the people of Sacramento to do anything except come to the games and maybe buy a hot dog.)

I think of the days I delivered the afternoon Bee in 110 degree weather, when even the dog wouldn’t chase the paper boy down the street it was so hot. I think of the ways The Bee has been a part of the cultural arts in Sacramento, how we wouldn’t have a Music Circus without the late Eleanor McClatchy and the support she so willingly gave to the arts in our city.

A newspaper is a reflection of the community it serves, they say. So what does this say about our community, other than that we are broke. The Bee didn’t respond well when the newspaper business started to go south a number of years ago. Now, they have an on line presence, but they are forever playing catch up. Maybe they will make it, maybe they won’t. No one seems to care any more. Can you imagine what it must be like to work someplace where the ax falls every three months and the person next to you disappears?

A city loses its most public voice and what happens? I guess those of us in Sacramento are about to find out. Because while The Bee is not gone, only life support keeps the heart beating for now. The stories are written by people who live elsewhere, or are pulled from wire services. We haven’t had a newspaper for several years really. We are fast becoming a city without a face.

Just one man’s opinion…

Reflections on a week in paradise….

I never tire of visiting Hawaii. For all the commercialism that has come to the tourism industry there, there is still a sense of wonder and discovery. You can still find places and things others have overlooked, or just walked past too fast to really see. Hawaii is changing, becoming more self-sustaining and friendly to the planet. The Hawaiian people have always had this mantra and it has served them well.

On this trip, we combined a lot of business with a little pleasure. On the Big Island of Hawaii, we made a pilgrimage to Drysdale’s Two, the burger joint named after the late great Los Angeles Dodger pitcher. Don loved the Kona Coast, and while this is not the original Drysdale’s location (hence the “two” in the name), the burgers are still 5-napkin classics. Seriously, this is in the burger hall of fame, in my opinion. The open air eatery is in the Keauhou shopping center. Not a lot of Hawaiian atmosphere, but didn’t you come for the burgers? Or maybe the baseball memorabilia that lines the walls? There a drink on the menu called The Suffering Bastard. Rumor has it if you drink more than two, you’ll find out how if got its name.

We stayed in Waikaloa at the Hilton Hotel. Huge. Really huge. 20 minute walk from our room to the parking lot. 15 minutes to the front desk. Unless you take the tram or the boat. No kidding. Nice rooms, way overpriced everything, sorry but I can’t recommend a stay there. (Try the Marriott next door. Way less drama and a very nice resort.)

Up the coast of the Big Island, on a road most people never travel, is the little village of Hawi (pronounced Haa-vi). The Bamboo restaurant is a wonderful place to get a real Hawaiian meal and across the street is the best ice cream store in town. It’s also the only ice cream store in town. Tropical Dreams ice cream is the best. I think. More testing could be in order.

Old Hilo town is just that, a throwback to the Hawaii of 50 years ago. We made a quick stop at the caldera that is known as Kileauea. It’s still smokin’ and bubblin’ and snortin’. The historic Volcano House Hotel on the rim is closed for renovations. Sure hope it comes back. It’s a glorious place to stay, on the rim of an active volcano.

Next stop, Oahu, where we found something new and rediscovered an old favorite. Coming soon to a blog near you…and so it goes….

Giving My Regard to Broadway…Doubleheader Style!

Give my regards to Broadway!When I left the Hilton on 42nd Street at 1:30pm, it was snowing heavily. Wow, I thought. Eight blocks in this mess to the theater. Theater on the Square is a smaller venue, on the round, adjacent to the Gershwin Theater on 50th St. off Broadway. It took about 20 minutes to navigate the snow. Not too difficult when it’s fresh you know. I shook off my coat, stomped my shoes and settled into my seat.

When you enter the theater for the performance of Lombardi, youcan’t help but notice there is a different feel. For the first time in memory, people were taking pictures in the lobby, which is covered with Green Bay Packer memorabilia and pictures of Coach Vince Lombardi, the man who made the Packers a legend.

The show was brilliant, a look at a fascinating man, the players he coached and the times they lived in (the play takes place in 1965). As a sports fanatic who has a moderate interest in football, I was absolutely mesmerized. 90 minutes later, I had wiped tears from my eyes twice, laughed a hearty laugh a number of times and learned a lot about The Coach. It was one of the best investments of an hour and a half in recent memory. If you are a football fan over 45, you simply must see this show.

When I left the theater, the snow had stopped. The air was crisp. The walk home over eight blocks was a little tougher, as the snow was coated in ice. Time for a cup of soup, a quick look at e-mail and a nap at my hotel before the evening half of my entertainment doubleheader.

By 7:15pm, the snow had returned with a vengeance. Except now is was freezing rain. The theater was…you guessed it, eight blocks again. (How did I manage that twice in one day?) With the sting of the rain in my face and the sidewalks becoming increasingly slick, I was glad I’d brought my gloves, boots and winter scarf.

At the Winter Garden Theater, the curtain was about to go up on Mamma Mia! While I’ve seen this show many times, I love the music and I don’t care if it’s the corniest story since Oklahoma…it works. It still works, nearly a decade after it moved into the Winter Garden after Cats! finished its record-setting run. The songs of Abba, the story of a young girl trying to discover which of three men is her father before her wedding is light and fun. The audience still loves the show, after it’s been in every theater and on every screen in the country. Because it’s Broadway. It’s spectacular. It’s the best of the best. And I love it all.

When they threw open the doors after the show, a winter wonderland appeared. It had snowed several inches while we were inside, and now, New Yorkers were presented with an interesting challenge. No taxi cabs were in sight. The look of panic on many faces was unmistakable. I made my way back home on foot, through Times Square, dusted with a fresh blast of white powder. It was so beautiful the eight blocks flew past. New York has never looked better.

God, I love Broadway.


For more on my Broadway doubleheader, and my thoughts on the controversial Spiderman show I saw Thursday evening, listen to The Travel Guys, Sunday at 2pm on KFBK 1530AM.  Visit The Travel Guys online at www.travelguysradio.com!

Comin’ Home….

Mark and FlowerI’ve been to Kansas City, Chicago, Pontiac, Springfield (IL and MO), Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Amarillo, Tucumcari (New Mexico, in case you didn’t know), Albuquerque, San Francisco (twice), Needles (home of the best chicken fried steak you’ll ever eat), San Bernardino, Santa Monica, Kauai, Honolulu, Kona, Montreal, scouting for next year’s Christmas Lights Mystery (sorry, can’t tell you the name of that one), Pittsburgh, New York City, Miami and Key West since we last gathered in this corner.

So what have you been up to? Just kidding. It’s been a busy last couple of months, traveling back and forth across the country, escorting groups (Route 66, Hawaii, New York) and finding and finalizing great destination for next year. Finally, in a couple of weeks, life will slow down a little. I promise to come back and tell you abou the Sea Horse Ranch, or the revival of the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, MO, or the name of that restaurant in Needles with the chicken fried steak that will make you smack your lips double-time (one of Clayton’s favorite sayings). One day in Sacramento and then back on the road. What a lucky man I am to be able to be in this business of making people’s dreams come true. It’s an amazingly blessed way to make this journey. Thank you.

“Live from New York, it’s theater night”

In New York city for a brief scouting trip, checking out our Flushing hotel for our upcoming baseball tour, and taking in a performance of Promises, Promises, our Broadway theater selection for our Thanksgiving in New York tour.  One of the reasons I made the trip is because the reviewers didn’t really care for the show and I needed to see it for myself.  Nothing like avoiding a bomb with a little homework.

You know, it’s been my experience that the critics don’t always get it right.  This is one of those times.  Promises, Promises is based on a 1960’s movie called “The Apartment.”  It stars Tony-nominated Sean Hayes (of Will and Grace) and Kristin Chenoweth, and features music by 1960’s and 70’s iconic composers Hal David and Burt Bacharach.  It is a “period piece,” in that it is set in the 60’s.  It fits the music.  Sean Hayes, in his first Broadway leading-role, is terrific.  He’s funny, he can sing (although his voice is a bit thin in spots) remarkably well and he can act.  Did I mention he’s funny?

The musical comedy is a bit slow in spots, but those moments are short and infrequent.  Tuesday night’s audience at Promises, Promises, apparently didn’t read the reviews.  The theater was packed and the audience roared their approval.  The show has star power with Hayes and Chenoweth and it highlights them well.  It is a Broadway night well spent.  The Tony Awards often determine a show’s fate, and they are three weeks hence.  But with a break or two, this show will enjoy a long run.  And why not?  It’s fun, musical and leaves you humming the tunes as you walk out of the theater.   Promises, Promises delivers on them.  Promises that is.  Big time.  Enjoy the show.

“The Travel Guys” debuts on KFBK, Sports Leisure comes to your radio

Indeed, at 12:06pm on Sunday, February 14th, a brand new radio program was born in Sacramento. At that moment, Tom Romano cued the board operator and the theme track for “The Travel Guys” was heard on the air for the first time. Tom and I will be co-hosting the show.

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to be back on the radio. (My first stint was as a sports talk host and commentator on KSAC, 1240AM, in the early 1990’s. I loved being on the air talking sports then, and I’m really looking forward to working with my long time friend Tom on our new program.) “The Travel Guys” will be heard every other Sunday to start, from 12-1pm. The next broadcast is this Sunday.

You can listen driving home from church or while you’re out and about or working around the house on a Sunday afternoon. The program will be light and fun and informational. “Info-tainment” is what describes our format best. We want to offer you information the traveler can use, whether you travel for business, pleasure or some of both. Things that are interesting, whether you are traveling there or not.

We want to update you when someone in the travel industry does something screwy (which means we’ll be talking about the airlines every program), or help suggest ways to make your travels more enjoyable. It won’t be a Sports Leisure infomercial, but we will liberally sprinkle the show with spots that highlight some of our favorite people and destinations. We have 30 years of experience on the road to share with you, and the radio is one of the best places to do just that.

Our first guest last week will be a regular. John Holloway, of Holloway Travel Outfitters, will be our travel gadget guy. Already he’s saved us from bed bugs, jet lag and poor circulation while sitting on a plane. This coming Sunday, we will broadcast live from the New York Times Travel Show in New York. Hope you’ll give it a listen.

The show will be funny and light and packed with news tidbits. When the situation calls for it, we’ll bring you real hard travel news. We’ll also ask your opinions and invite you to call in from time to time. You never know, there might even be a laugh or two.

Being on the radio has always been a passion of mine. It’s a joy to know I get to share that passion once again. I hope you’ll consider tuning in this Sunday, February 28th, from 12-1, on KFBK, 1530 on the AM dial. “The Travel Guys” can also be heard March 14th and 28th at the same time.

From time to time, Sports Leisure experts like Clayton Whitehead, Ramona Goodge and Scott Angeletti will appear as guests and tell us about their travels. Clayton will offer our frist “Road Report” on the March 14th show, sharing his upcoming trip to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

If you’re near a computer, the show streams live at www.KFBK.com. Just click on “listen.” On www.sportsleisure.com, you’ll find links to everything mentioned on the show, plus cool travel-related items that come across my desk from time to time. Go to our web site, and click on “Cool KBFK Radio Stuff.” As always, I invite your comments and suggestions. Sports Leisure Vacations has become a leader in the travel industry because of your input. I would like “The Travel Guys” to follow in those footsteps. “See” ya on the radio Sunday. Feel free to tell a friend.…

Regarding the Earthquake in Haiti

An incredible human tragedy is unfolding in Haiti. Like many, we are horrified by the pictures we see, and wondering how we can help. Our staff is exploring how we could best direct our personal and business resources.

In the meantime, there are several ways you can help the situation in Haiti, one such option is by donating to the American Red Cross efforts in Haiti. You can do so by visiting them online at www.redcross.org and clicking “Donate Now” or by calling them at 1-800-RED-CROSS. Alternatively, you can donate $10.00 automatically by texting “Haiti” to 90999. Doing so should add your donation to your phone bill this month. More information can be found here.

Our prayers are with the people of Haiti, their friends and family.

Mark Hoffmann, Owner/Founder

Sports Leisure Vacations

A 12 Week Travel Odyssey Comes to a Glorious Conclusion; or, scratch one from “The Bucket List”

Back on September the 12th, I embarked on a tour to the Oregon Coast, highlighting the picturesque lighthouses and the wonderful seaside village of Newport.  I knew at the time, just from looking at the calendar, that the next 12 weeks were going to be busy.  They were.  Now that a pause in traveling has allowed time to reflect on the last three months, all I can say is, “wow.”  Here’s a recap…

From Oregon I made a quick trip to Kansas City to see my father, who is battling cancer.  Then back to Sacramento and off on a scouting trip to make final arrangements for our Paths of the Presidents tour and to explore some possible additions to The Lincoln Highway – Part II, slated for next summer.  Next was another scouting trip, this time for our Route 66 adventure next fall, finishing with a day of business meetings in Chicago.  After a day in the office, it was back on a plane, this time escorting the trip to visit the presidential libraries.  What a wonderful group we had and we learned much about our great country and our past leaders.

Back to KC to watch the first game of the World Series with dad on TV before taking off with our Real Hawaii group the first ten days of November.  It was an incredible trip and I hope you’ll consider joining us on this remarkable adventure when it is offered again in November of 2010 and 2011.  The night after I returned from Hawaii, I was back at the airport, flying to Klamath Falls to join a busload of Oregon tourism folks headed for the annual National Tour Association convention in Reno.  Since we do so much business in Oregon, it was a great chance to get some new ideas for next summer…and I did!  Watch for Organic Oregon, Just Newport and Mark’s Berry Special Weekend to be added to the schedule soon.  We also found the perfect destination for our annual Christmas Lights Mystery Tour in December of next year.  Not in Oregon though…

After six days of appointments and networking with our peers, it was back to Sacramento to pick up 34 travelers for our annual Thanksgiving in New York tour.  Awesome, as always, and the weather was kind to us.  We were even in the “audience” for The Early Show one morning.  (Yes, outside in the cold in the early morning, waving at the camera.)  From Reno, there was a speaking engagement in West Hollywood, then home again for a night in my own bed before more business meetings in Portland, Dec. 1-4.  Back to Sactown and off the next morning on the Mystery Tour, which took us to the Berkshires, the mansions of Newport and finally, to a spectacular Christmas with the Boston Pops concert on Friday night.

So now, high over the Sierra Nevada mountains, as we descend into Sacramento, there is a moment to look back on what might have been the busiest three months I can ever remember.  Two scouting trips, two business conventions, two visits to dad, Tour Director for four trips and a couple of speeches to tourism groups.  Not one cold, no H1N1 flu, no serious airline delays.  (I think I probably washed my hands at least 10 times a day.)  I estimate about 55,000 miles in total.  As Yakov Smirnoff likes to say, “What a country.”  From Honolulu to New York City, it was a grand adventure.

Five days home, then off to scout next year’s Christmas Lights Mystery tour. Christmas with dad and then (don’t tell anyone), a ten day vacation.  Not complaining, just sharing.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  It’s an incredible way to enjoy life’s journey.

So what does a man who takes people on vacation for a living do when he gets some down time?  He’s on the lookout for more great places to take you to, of course.

My special thanks to Ryan Quinn, who created this wonderful new web site, and served as a traveling companion for much of the last 12 weeks, as he learned about what makes this unique company tick, so he can take us gently down the technology road.  Thanks to my staff, who did all the work I wasn’t around to do.  And thanks to you, for reading this missive, for supporting Sports Leisure through the years, and for your friendship.  It’s been a great ride.  But maybe we could spread it out a little next time.  And so it goes…