If poker, pool, and racecar driving are sports, then shouldn’t certain international flights qualify as well? These flights—and if you’ve been on one, you know exactly the ones I mean—require physical and mental stamina at least equivalent to flopping a full boat or driving in a circle at suicidal speeds.
I mention this because it’s taken me roughly three days to completely arrive at the home of the 2010 Laureus World Sports Awards .
The festivities are being held this year in Abu Dhabi—one of the United Arab Emirates shining jewels of modernity on the Persian Gulf. The other gem is, of course, Dubai, but that’s the last we’ll hear of the “other” major city in the UAE.
There is apparently something of a rivalry brewing as each tries to establish itself as the primary tourist mecca in the Emirates and far be it from to insult my collective host. It’s a little bit like Los Angeles versus San Francisco except the tools of competition are skyscraping cranes and hotels that are so nice, they require new categorization.
That and the UAE economy isn't an eyelash away from Armageddon like California's. My trusty cab driver told me Abu Dhabi hasn't even felt the Recession and, judging from all the construction, it hasn't.
To illustrate the competition, the Laureus’ award ceremony will be held at the Emirates Palace, which I’ve been told is the world’s first seven-star establishment. Having been there already to pick up my media credential, I can assure you it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen and that’s just based on the “lobby.”
We’re talking acres and acres of marble floors, bathroom doors that look like gateways to luxury suites, precious metals and jewels everywhere, and an official entryway that looks like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris (or at least the pictures I’ve seen).
Sadly, my cab driver told me the Abu Dhabi version can only be used by the ruler of the country so my profusely sweating corpus (it’s really hot here) didn’t qualify.
Maybe next time.
But back to the flight—wheels were up on my Lufthansa flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt, Germany at about 2:30 in the afternoon on Saturday. From Frankfurt, I hopped another plane for the final leg to Abu Dhabi and alit at roughly 8:30 at night on Sunday, local time.
By my time-zone-addled calculations, that makes 18 hours in transit since Abu Dhabi is 12 hours ahead of the United States’ Pacific Coast. Now, you can’t quote me on any of that info (I do think it’s accurate) because—though my body arrived in about two days—my mental sanity is just now catching up.
And it’s Monday night.
In my defense, an innocent snafu during the reservation process prevented me from checking in early—Laureus put the ticket under my middle name rather than my surname so I got shuffled between United and Lufthansa before threshing out the problem. Consequently, I got plopped in a middle seat for the trip to Frankfurt, which is almost a catastrophic development for someone who goes 6’3” and about 215 pounds.
Forget sleeping, eating becomes a mess of elbows and knees, and drinking must be avoided lest you constantly harangue your seatmates for trips to the loo (I’m International, baby).
Fortunately, Lufthansa hooks you up with free movies so I didn’t lose my stuff entirely.
Unfortunately, two of the movies were “Old Dogs,” starring Robin Williams and John Travolta as old-ish parents for a few weeks, and “The Informant,” starring Matt Damon as a bumbling whistle-blower. I expected the first flick to be an abomination (it was), but I’ve been wanting to see Damon’s effort for a while now because the trailer looked pretty funny.
As is so often the case these days, the rest of the movie was confused schlock to seemingly fill in the gaps between hilarity that’d already been leaked through promotion.
The third feature—“Everybody’s Fine,” starring Robert De Niro as a father who’s recently lost his wife and is trying to re-establish connections with his four children (three of whom are played very well by Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, and Kate Beckinsale)—was a moving, if predictable story. But it was also a HUGE downer—not really what you want to see when you’re stuck in an aluminum tube at 35,000 feet for 10 more hours.
Nevertheless, they got the job done because I survived my middle seat and got an aisle one for Frankfurt-to-Abu Dhabi.
However, a new wrinkle entered the picture in Germany.
Unsurprisingly, the last leg of the flight to a Muslim country featured quite a few heavy beards, burkhas (not on the same person), robes, and checkered headdresses. In other words, at least half of the passengers were rocking America’s idea of standard issue accoutrement for The Bad Guy.
Obviously, fearing everyone of Middle Eastern descent wearing Middle Eastern attire as a potential terrorist is as ignorant and weak as assuming every hip-hip fatigued black man in America is a strapped thug or every white man in a three-piece suit is a thieving Wall Street banker.
Possibly more so based on pertinent populations to which I’m not privy.
Yet, the constant media bombardment in the States makes that first “uh-oh” almost involuntary. Especially when it's a young kid in his 20s bending down to fiddle with his carry-on in the seat ahead of me. Which means, more than once, I had that involuntary spasm of anxiety followed by several minutes of self-loathing as penance for my weakness and stupidity.
So I had that going for me...
This was followed by an hour in customs that could’ve been a scene from some slapstick travel comedy. New lines kept opening up and, whenever I switched spots, the one I left immediately started moving such that I must’ve jumped lines four times and not once did it help.
All in all and moaning aside, it was actually a small price to pay for the all-expenses-paid opportunity to cover what is becoming the foremost international sports award and foundation.
For those unfamiliar with the Laureus World Sports Awards and Foundation—I’ll do my best to start reversing that trend (particularly in the U.S.) over the course of the next week.
As a very brief primer, it is essentially a truly global Espy’s Awards with a conscience.
Instead of merely celebrating the already celebrated, Laureus is on a mission to leverage the unifying power of athletics to manifest substantive humanitarian progress across the planet. In other words, Laureus is trying to turn the trivial into the profound.
Less than a decade into its existence, I’d say Laureus is doing a damn fine job.
Something I hope to show through the interviews that start on Tuesday and continue right up to the culminating ceremony on Wednesday evening (which is actually like a Thursday here since the weekend is Friday/Saturday).
And if that’s not enough for those Americentrists in the audience, the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Yankees are nominated for Team of the Year, and even the Ol' Gunslinger got a call.
Yep, Brett Favre got a nomination for Comeback of the Year.
So stay tuned.