It’s time to dump the early bye week

Lost in yesterday’s 38-21 drubbing by the Atlanta Falcons, was the fact that at some point in the game, 80% of the Redskins starting offensive line was down with injuries.

Trent Williams, who suffered an undisclosed injury to his thumb during last week’s win over the New York Giants, was inactive after having surgery and is expected to miss the next month.

Left guard Shaun Lauvao played three snaps before suffering a season-ending ACL tear and leaving the field on a wheelchair.

Right tackle Morgan Moses went down with a knee injury of his own in the first quarter before returning to the game and is listed as day-to-day.

At his press conference this afternoon, Coach Jay Gruden announced right guard Brandon Scherff would miss the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Center Chase Roullier escaped the carnage and moved to right guard after Scherff went down, leaving ball-snapping duties to backup tackle Tony Bergstrom.

Unfortunately for the Redskins, there is no respite in sight until the offseason, whenever that may come.

After the Saints beat the Rams yesterday, it almost certainly eliminated any hope of Washington getting a first round bye to get healthy, should they hold on to win the NFC East and make the playoffs.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Redskins were dealt a critical blow to getting healthy in the second half of the season before playing a single down this year.

When the schedule was released in April, the Redskins and Carolina Panthers found their bye came four weeks into the season, meaning they would play thirteen consecutive weeks after returning from their bye.

No other major sport gives players time off as early or as late as the NFL, which scheduled byes from Week 4 to Week 12 during the 2018 season.

MLB takes a four-day break halfway through the season (July), while the NHL (January) and NBA (February) take a week off 60 percent of the way through their seasons.

Now it’s impossible to imagine the NFL taking an entire week off in the middle of the season – on or about Week 9 – like baseball, basketball and hockey do, but the league could do more to alleviate concerns that teams like the Redskins have.

When a bye week occurs early in the season, immense pressure is placed on coaches and players alike to pace themselves through a week of practices and then game day for an extended period of time without a rest.

Players complain. Coaches complain. No one is happy.

In addition, players who suffer injuries after an early bye usually spend the rest of the year trying to get healthy while playing through the pain, a recipe for disaster that usually leads to players having offseason surgery for worse injuries than the initial diagnosis they received during the season.

The fix is simple, stagger one team per division on a rotating byes from Week 7 to Week 10, meaning no team faces a bye before playing six games and no later than playing nine games.

The following season, a team that had a Week 7 bye would have a Week 8 bye and a team that sat out Week 10 would sit out Week 7.

It seems like a small price to play to make the game safer, keep players healthy and coaches happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Understanding humanity in baseball

Frustrated with Art Howe’s unwillingness to start Scott Hatteberg over Carlos Peña at first base, Billy Beane traded Peña to the Detroit Tigers, forty games into the 2002 MLB season.

At least that’s how it happened in Moneyball.

After telling Peña he’d been traded, Peter Brant gave him the number of the Oakland A’s traveling secretary, and watched him walk out the door.

Baseball trades are a little more complicated than that, especially when you consider the humanity of baseball that turns players into fan favorites and teammates into best friends.

After Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar was traded to the San Francisco Giants this afternoon, thousands of fans expressed their sadness at the thought of Superman no longer roaming the outfield in the 6ix.

Like Russell Martin, Aledmys Diaz and Kendrys Morales, who were traded this offseason, Pillar no longer figured into the long-term plans of GM Ross Atkins and President/CEO Mark Shapiro, who are looking to lay the groundwork for future Jays teams to compete in the AL East.

But what often goes unnoticed is what a player and their family leave behind after they’ve been traded to a new team.

When J.A. Happ was dealt to the Yankees last summer, Kristin Smoak, wife of first baseman Justin Smoak, was hounded on social media after posting that she didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to Happ’s wife, Morgan, and that her daughter lost her best friend after the Happs moved to New York.

Cruel fans told her to dry her tears with her husband’s checkbook.

Today’s news opened up old wounds, and Justin Smoak choked up as he talked about his teammate these past four years.

“He was great man, I mean good teammate, Superman, whatever you want. He’s a guy you want on your team, so I’m getting emotional. He’s a guy that played hurt. He’s a guy we’re definitely gonna miss.”

Pillar got emotional as well as he looked back on his time with the team that drafted him in the 32nd round of the 2011 MLB Draft.

“It’s all I’ve ever known, you know? You know you spend a lot of time here. You spend more time here than you do in your home in the offseason, and I spend more time with the people here than I do with my own family. That part of it’s hard.”

The Pillars embraced their time in Toronto.

Kevin and his wife Amanda were active in the community, and he was the team’s nominee for the Robert Clemente Award in 2016.

Given annually to the player who exemplifies extraordinary character, community involvement and philanthropic contributions, in addition to their work on the field, Pillar worked closely with children’s hospitals across Canada, including The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

His Superman persona quickly led him to become a fan favorite, and #11 jerseys were easy to spot on game days at Rogers Centre.

In 2017, Pillar was suspended for two games after using a homophobic slur after getting into an argument with Braves relief pitcher Jason Motte.

What began as his lowest moment in a Jays uniform, turned into a valuable learning experience for the then 28-year old. He reached out to local LGBTQ organizations in Toronto in order to make genuine amends for his mistake, and used the experience to become a better person, player, friend, husband and father.

It’s hard to appreciate players for their humanity when you only see them in a stadium or on television.

It’s what makes a fan, a fan, and not a friend.

But when you realize players are like you, just trying to earn a living and provide for their families, it gives you a deep seeded appreciation for how connected they are to the city they play for.

If you need any further proof, watch this afternoon’s interviews with Pillar and Smoak.

Watch their eyes well up with tears and understand the fact that sports are played by humans who experience the same range of emotions you and I do.

Give me a break

As a fan of two teams that would need a Hail Mary and then some to make the playoffs this October, I greeted Opening Day the same way I do a dentist appointment.

It’s not the end of the world, but there’s plenty of other things I’d rather be doing.

As expected, the Orioles went up to New York and got clobbered by the Yankees, while recently acquired relief pitcher, Daniel Hudson, gave up a two-run shot to Christin Stewart in the top of the 10th inning, as the Jays lost their seventh consecutive home opener.

I however, was more interested in something else.

Not giant flags, new players or the sound of an organ playing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”.

No, I was interested in how many seats would be up for sale, and for how much.

A half-hour before first pitch in Toronto, there were still plenty of tickets to be had, some going for $70, just ten rows behind the dugout.

In case you haven’t bought Opening Day tickets in a while, that’s a steal.

The Jays announced attendance of 45,048, was 5,000 less than capacity.

When I moved onto the Orioles home opener, scheduled for Thursday afternoon against the New York Yankees, I was even more shocked.

Not that so many tickets are available, which they are.

But the insane prices people were asking for their seats.

Those same seats you could get in Toronto for $70, were going for over $200 in Baltimore.

Now, again, I don’t know how closely you follow baseball, but last season the Orioles did something they had never done before in their 118-year history.

They lost 115 games.

And that was with Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman, Darren O’Day, Jonathan Schoop and Brad Brach for half the season.

While most sports writers aren’t expecting the team to be as bad as they were last year, I’m wondering…how are they supposed to be better?

Instead of Machado at shortstop, the Orioles have Drew Jackson and Richie Martin.

Instead of Jones in center field, they have Cedric Mullins.

Instead of Schoop at second base, they have Jonathan Villar.

Instead of Britton, O’Day and Brach in the bullpen, they have Pedro Aruajo, John Means and Jimmy Yacabonis.

And instead of Gausman pitching out of the number-two slot in the rotation, they have Nate Karns “opening” for them this afternoon against the Yankees.

Unless this team has more saving grace than Doug Flutie had when he connected with Gerard Phelan in the back of the end zone against the Miami Hurricanes 35 years ago, this team will be lucky to win 40 games.

Which is why I couldn’t believe people were honestly selling their Opening Day seats for $200.

I get it.

The Yankees are in town, Yankee fans might pay more since it’s the same Opening Day pageantry against the same Oriole team they beat up on a week before, but give me a break.

Charging an outrageous price for a ticket is a product of supply and demand, and there’s plenty of supply, and little demand.

As of 4:30 a.m. on March 30, there are thousands of seats on Stubhub and Ticketmaster for Thursday’s game. With such a glutton of tickets on the market, even if someone did want to go see the Orioles or Yankees, why not pay $35 for good seat along the third-base line?

No fan in their right mind should spend $200+ to watch the Orioles play this season.

It’ll be interesting to see if these fans lower their asking price before Thursday, but for the time being, they haven’t.

Word to the wise, if you’re dead set on spending $200+ at Oriole Park this year, buy a ticket to the Billy Joel concert in July, you’ll have a better time.

It’s time the Redskins signed Colin Kaepernick

There is no doubt Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder loves his football team.

He grew up a diehard fan, and after a series of successful business ventures, Snyder bought the team in 1999.

Since then, he has often been a polarizing figure, not just in the DMV, but across the NFL community and nation as a whole.

He has proclaimed that so long as he owns the team, they will remain the Redskins, drawing the ire of some in the Native American community as well as various organizations that have picketed the team both home and away.

He has drawn the ire of Redskins fans, who have witnessed losing season after losing season and only three division titles since Snyder took over as owner in 1999.

Personnel decisions, namely hiring Vinny Cerrato and Bruce Allen as general manager, have turned a once proud franchise into the laughing stock of the NFC East.

For a decade, Washington was better known for overpaying veterans were well past their prime, including Deion Sanders, Adam Archuleta and Bruce Smith.

After the team hired Coach Jay Gruden, it looked as if the Redskins had turned the corner, securing their first playoff birth in three years in 2015, and their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1996-7, a year later.

But the team has faltered down the stretch in each of the last three seasons.

After a 6-3-1 start to the 2016 season put Washington in position to secure its second consecutive playoff birth for the first time in nearly two decades, the team stumbled, losing four of its final six games.

Last season, the Redskins looked as if they could contend for a playoff spot until a disastrous November put those hopes to bed.

This year the team got out to a 6-3 start, and led the division by two games until freak leg injuries to starting quarterback Alex Smith and backup Colt McCoy derailed Washington’s season.

At 6-7, in the middle of a four-game losing streak and coming off a humiliating 40-16 loss to the division rival New York Giants, the Redskins are miraculously still in playoff contention, and sit 1 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot currently occupied by the Minnesota Vikings.

If the Vikings lose to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football (they’re currently 3.5 point underdogs), and next week at home to an upstart Dolphins team that knocked off the Patriots, Washington could potentially reclaim the 6th seed with a win over a Jaguars team that looked as if it gave up on their season weeks ago.

That isn’t to say Redskins fans should start booking reservations and tickets to the big game in Atlanta, after all they finish the season at Tennessee and home against the Eagles.

But if the Redskins are going to get to the playoffs, and not squander a strong start to the season for a third year in a row, they need a quarterback.

Mark Sanchez who was signed to back up McCoy on November 19, and took over after McCoy broke his leg against the Eagles a week ago, is clearly in over his head.

Against the Giants, he threw two interceptions and was benched at halftime, down 34-0, with a quarterback rating of 1.0.

We’re bordering Nathan Peterman territory folks.

While his backup, Josh Johnson, performed admirably in leading the Redskins to 16 points and salvaging some dignity against the Giants, he too is clearly not the man to lead this team if it wants to make the playoffs for the first time in three years.

A late game interception when the Redskins were driving deep into Giant territory made that abundantly clear.

Which is why, regardless of what Coach Gruden, or the Snyder/Allen brain trust running the show believe, it’s time to sign Colin Kaepernick.

This team is at a critical juncture moving forward and as ESPN’s Redskins beat reporter John Keim tweeted after the game, “What do you want to be and become? Hard questions need to be asked internally. They risk losing more of the fan base.”

There was a time when the waiting list for Washington Redskins season tickets was 20-years long.

Those days are gone, and on any given Sunday, FedEx Field is just as likely to be occupied with visiting fans as it is Redskins fans.

The stadium, once the largest in the NFL with a capacity of over 91,000, has eliminated 9,000 of those seats, and it’s clear to anyone who covers the Redskins on a regular basis, nowhere near that number are actually in the stands on game day

The team is pushing hard to get a new stadium to replace FedEx Field, which opened just two years before Snyder bought the team, and is considered one of the worst venues in the NFL.

The Washington Post reported late last week the team is looking to add a provision to the congressional spending bill that would make it easier for the Redskins to acquire the necessary land around RFK Stadium — home to the team’s glory year’s and likely to be torn down soon — for a new stadium project that would see them return to the District of Columbia for the first time since 1996.

Snyder has courted current D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in hopes of getting the team a new stadium, while also dealing with her personal opposition to the team’s moniker (Bowser has said the team should change its name).

As you can tell, a lot is at stake for this team, and they’re mired in a quicksand of negative publicity.

Which is why it’s team to sign Colin Kaepernick for the remainder of the season.

According to ProFootball Talk’s Mike Florio, Allen has made it clear that as long as he’s with the team Kaepernick will never wear burgundy and gold because of his activism.

As Proverbs 16:18 says, “pride goeth before destruction.”

Allen has been given numerous chances within the organization, first as general manager and later as team president. His father coached the team to a Super Bowl in the 1970’s which is the likely reason Allen has had more lives than a cat, despite his inconsistent track record with the Redskins.

But there is only so much losing owner Daniel Snyder will tolerate before pulling the plug. Outside of Gruden, no coach has lasted more than four seasons, with five of eight lasting two years or less.

If for the third straight year Washington misses the playoffs, this time because it decided to put “high and mighty principles” ahead of winning, heads will roll, possibly Allen’s and/or Gruden’s.

You may disagree with Kaepernick’s activism, but if — as he says he is — he is in game ready condition, there is no doubt he represents an enormous upgrade over Sanchez, Johnson and the other quarterbacks the team has worked out since Smith went down with a broken leg against the Texans.

If like Gruden says, the “team considered signing him but needed a quarterback who could come in and be ready ASAP,” why did they sign a quarterback whose last pass came in December 2011, regardless of his familiarity with Gruden’s offense?

Why did they sign Sanchez, who has bounced around the league like a pinball since being released by the New York Jets in 2014?

Why did they think Kellen Clemens, Landry Jones, T.J. Yates, E.J. Manuel and Ryan Mallett were good enough to come in for a work out over the last two and a half weeks, but Kaepernick wasn’t?

This was a decision made solely because of Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem.

And if the Redskins wanted to join the rest of the league in not bringing him in for that reason fine, but then why did they sign linebacker Reuben Foster three days after he was cut by the 49ers for domestic violence AT THE TEAM HOTEL THE NIGHT BEFORE THEIR GAME AGAINST THE BUCCANEERS?

Allen’s argument that Kaepernick doesn’t deserve to play for this team because he protested racial injustice, while Foster does after three separate incidents dating back to his physical exam at the NFL Combine nearly two years ago, doesn’t add up.

Gruden’s argument that Sanchez, Johnson, Clemens, Yates, Jones, Mallett and Manuel have the wherewithal to come in for a work out and be game ready any more than Kaepernick doesn’t add up either.

If this team has any hope of making a late season three-game win streak to sneak into the playoffs, it won’t be on the backs of Sanchez and Johnson.

And after nearly two decades with Snyder and Co. making blunderous decisions that consistently hold the franchise back, you have to wonder how much more Redskins fans are willing to put up with.

Now maybe Kaepernick wouldn’t work out.

Maybe he isn’t as ready as he says he is.

Maybe he’d throw an interception or two and demonstrate his playing days really are behind him, and that the league was right in signing other quarterbacks instead of him.

But after yesterday’s beat down, could he honestly be any worse than the quarterbacks  on Washington’s roster?

 

 

 

 

Can we give the Redskins some credit?

Following their 16-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s time to start taking the Washington Redskins seriously.

I know, I know, they failed to score a touchdown during a humiliating loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2, gave up 43 points to the New Orleans Saints on Drew Brees’ record breaking night and Washington’s secondary, a.k.a. the “Flight Marshals,” were humbled by an Atlanta air attack that put up 38 points a week ago.

Just yesterday, Ryan Fitzpatrick torched Redskins defensive backs for 398 yards.

But no touchdowns.

This same Bucs team hung 48 points on the aforementioned Saints during a Week 1 shootout at the Mercedes Benz Superdome.

The bend but don’t break Redskins have played with their backs against the wall in nearly every victory they’ve had except for a 24-6 seasoning opening win at Arizona.

Washington led Dallas by ten points with 1:38 left in the 4th quarter before Dak Prescott ran the ball in from a yard out. Following a three-and-out drive by the Redskins, Prescott gave the Cowboys a chance for overtime before Brett Maher missed a 52-yard field goal off the left upright.

The week before against Panthers, Washington got out to a 17-6 lead before almost squandering it late as Cam Newton drove the Panthers down to the Redskins 16-yard line with 40 seconds remaining.

Against the Giants in the Meadowlands, Washington entered the 4th quarter only up seven before a late Adrian Peterson touchdown run put the game away.

In each case, the Redskins may not have won in the “prettiest” fashion, but as any NFL coach will tell you, “a win is a win.”

And when Washington’s offense has struggled to get going early in games, the defense has given them a chance going into the half (within two scores) in every game, including the New Orleans and Atlanta debacles.

They picked off Eli Manning twice, sacked him seven times and limited the Giants offense to a 1-4 afternoon in the red zone.

Dak Prescott was sacked four times and the Cowboys turned the ball over twice, including Ryan Kerrigan’s strip sack that was returned for a touchdown by Preston Smith.

Cam Newton was sacked once, threw a critical interception to former Panther Josh Norman and fumbled the ball on the second play of Carolina’s next drive.

While giving up 398 yards through the air to a struggling Bucs team isn’t ideal, it’s not exactly a backbreaker either.

Through Week 10 do you know which team leads the league in yards passing per game?

Tampa Bay.

But while numbers never lie, they don’t play football either.

Currently the Jacksonville Jaguars lead all teams in pass defense, allowing only 200.6 yards passing per game, followed by the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals.

Their combined record?

12-25.

Meanwhile the top four teams in yards rushing allowed per game – New Orleans, Chicago, Minnesota and Pittsburgh – are a combined 25-9-2.

Washington is 5th in yards rushing allowed per game, and 25th in yards passing allowed per game.

Over their remaining seven games, Washington faces only one team currently in the top ten in yards passing per game, a Week 14 matchup at home against the Giants.

Their remaining opponents rank everywhere from 11th (Philadelphia) to 30th (Tennessee) in yards passing per game.

As recently acquired cornerback Ha Ha Clinton-Dix becomes more comfortable playing in a new defensive scheme alongside fellow corner Josh Norman and safety D.J. Swearinger, the potential exists for Washington’s secondary to get better at shutting down opposing teams air attacks.

If they do, combined with a front seven that held A-list running backs Zeke Elliott, Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley to an average 30.3 yards rushing per game, Washington will not be a team opponents want to see on their schedule as we inch closer to the playoffs.

 

My Greek Adventure: Day 2

London, U.K. — I had always wanted to visit the United Kingdom since I was younger.

I have this weird fascination with the Royal Family, which coming from someone who lives in a country that spent eight years and 25,000 lives to get rid of the Royal Family is incredibly rich.

But I’m a sucker for the “special relationship” between the United States and United Kingdom.

We speak the same language.

We exchange tourists, students and businessmen/women on a daily basis.

Suffice to say the USA and UK are BFFs.

After the plane landed at Heathrow and I gathered my bearings, making sure I didn’t leave my passport or wallet behind because wouldn’t that be a great start to my month in Europe, I proceeded to make my way down the steps to the airport’s tarmac, the cool British air putting me at ease after spending the previous two weeks in the August sun and humidity that comes with living near the Chesapeake Bay.

We then boarded a bus to the terminal, passing planes arriving and departing other gates with their array of colors and logos passing by: QANTAS, British Airways, Air France, Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific, etc.

Since I flew business class I arrived at Heathrow with a “Fast Track” pass to make my way through customs faster. Unfortunately, that British Border Force officer was slow, and the ticket was useless.

He may have been thorough, but my luggage had been screened and as I later found out, rummaged through by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). I had TSA Pre-Check and a electronic passport.

Seriously, beep-bang-boop, welcome to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Instead…

“Where are you from?… How long will you be staying in the United Kingdom?… Are you meeting any friends you chat with online here?”

Baltimore. 12 hours. Nope she was busy in Scotland.

Anything else Charles?

No?

Good!

Passing border security with around 10 hours to explore one of the great cities in the world I made my way to luggage storage, which believe me is worth it, you don’t want to carry a bag around the busy streets of London, wasting precious minutes in line at baggage storage facilities that dot the various landmarks across the city.

I grabbed a ticket for the Heathrow Express.

Again, an added expense that was well worth it.

In traveling, time is money.

I don’t have an hour and 40 minutes to wait for the Underground to get me from Heathrow to downtown and back.

Heathrow Express has only three stops: two terminals in the airport (four minutes away) and Paddington Station in downtown London, a short 15-minute train ride away.

I then took one of the traditional black taxis you see in postcard and films dotting the city to Buckingham Palace.

My driver was a delightful old man who told me how much he loved America and was glad I had decided to come into his city during my 12-hour layover.

He got me there in enough time to arrive at the gates outside the Palace for the changing of the guard, a ceremony I highly recommend, just not when it’s hot or crowded.

But if you’re tall, or can slip in and out of crowds to find a space along the fence dotting the outskirts of the Palace, it’s worth it.

You see the Welsh Guards in their tall bearskin hats and pristine red uniforms marching in front of the Palace crowned on top by a Union flag whenever Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is not in residence (she was at Windsor Castle), or her own personal ensign when she is inside, following in the footsteps of her forbearers dating back to George III.

The Guards saluted one another, with the retiring soldiers marching into a guard house at the right side of the Palace and the soldiers coming on duty marching to their positions.

After the pageantry of the ceremony, the musical corps began playing some music which was foreign to me.

Apparently I didn’t recognize the late Aretha Franklin’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T being played right behind the gate to the Palace.

The tribute to the late Queen of Soul went viral and was featured by various news outlets around the world.

After their performance, the soldiers, led by their musical comrades paraded through the Palace gates down the Mall, drawing cheers and claps from ongoing spectators who flocked to see them from around the world.

I had a 12:00 P.M. appointment to view the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, a privilege only available during the tail end of summer while the Queen is in Scotland or her beloved Windsor Castle.

After picking up my ticket, and a 4-pound (currency not weight) commemorative book on the Palace (photos are not allowed inside so they figure this makes up for it), I proceeded to make my way to the line of fellow royal enthusiasts eager to see the castle purchased and used by members of the Royal Family since the 1760s.

I don’t mean to be rude, but I was scolded by a teenager working a summer job in the pavilion outside the Palace for taking a picture NOT IN THE PALACE, but in the white tent connecting the street to the residence.

It wasn’t the Palace, I paid good money to view the rooms, and America kept Britain alive during the Blitz. If I want a picture of a picture Charles and Camilla, I am going to get my picture.

#GodBlessAmerica

Minus the snooty British girl who threatened to take my phone away if I didn’t turn it off, not put in my pocket, off, the Palace was wonderful.

You walk into the Palace State Rooms (located on the left side of the Palace if you are facing the famous front façade) and begin a walking tour with an audio guide (this was a good one, I know some can either be boring, useless or like ancient cellphones, require you to hold next to your ear).

The ornate rooms were filled with beautiful paintings dating back to the 16th Century including famous works by Rubens and portraits of royalty past and present, most notably George III and Queen Victoria.

The ceilings featured beautifully crafted designs and antique chandeliers, converted to electricity during the 1800s hung from nearly every ceiling; their shiny crystals twinkling in the light.

In honor of this 70th birthday, HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, selected his favorite pieces belong to the Royal Collection Trust (charged with preserving the legacy and integrity of various royal treasures and properties across the United Kingdom) for display.

These included works of art from Afghanistan from a charity he founded to preserve local art threatened in the wake of the War on Terror, portraits of his mother Elizabeth II, the Queen Mother, his two sons, William and Harry and his wife Camilla Parker-Bowles. Also on display were portraits of D-Day and Battle of Britain veterans which had been drawn in the last few years.

Proceeding through the halls I came to rooms where the Queen performed official ceremonies including the Knight of the Garter ceremony, state banquets, etc. In one room, fit for royalty, the mirror lined walls on either side of a red carpeted floor and intricate wood crown molding. On one end of the room was a large organ in the balcony used for the ceremonies and banquets, with official thrones of Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip 30 meters opposite.

As my tour came to a close, I passed through rooms with secret passages allowing royals to slip in and out of parties and meetings without drawing attention, as well as marble sculptures from Italy, including the famous “Mars and Venus” carved by Antonio Canova between 1817-1822.

From there I exited onto a veranda that is turned into an outdoor café for the few months the Palace is open to the public. You can order sandwiches, ice cream, scones, strawberries and cream, or in my case after dying of dehydration along a two hour tour, three cans of water and a strawberries and cream scone. The scone was delicious, water gone within moments.

After a half-hour of relaxation, I walked down through the gardens to the gift shop, perused the assorted selection of royal memorabilia and made my selections before walking around the grounds a little while longer.

I then moved onto a tour of the Royal Mews, the name for the residence of the royal carriages, horses and fine European automobiles, including a Rolls Royce, used for carrying members of the Royal Family around London.

I saw the state carriages used for marriages and coronations of kings and queens including the Ascot Carriage Prince Harry and Meghan Markle rode in along the streets of Windsor following their nuptials in May.

The tour concluded with a visit to the stable room where various horses Her Majesty has owned over the years, including some named for overseas visits (Sydney, Melbourne, Maryland). In the far room stood the most marvelous carriage I had ever seen. Designed for George III’s coronation in the 1760s, it weighs 4 tons, and is covered in ornate gold sculptures featuring ancient mythological figures.

Deemed the most uncomfortable ride by those who have ridden in it, the carriage easily stood 15 feet tall, allowing spectators a view of their monarch.

Rather than calling it a day, I decided to make my way around to the front of the Palace, posing for selfies, watching thousands of tourists from around the world doing the same, congregating either in front of the Palace gates or around the Victoria Memorial on the opposite side of the street.

I then proceeded down the Mall, feet aching, dying of thirst passing various memorials and monuments to fallen soldiers and past politicians, seeing London’s Embassy Row behind a tall stone security wall running nearly the length of the Mall itself.

After a decent walk I found myself unintentially at Horse Guards Parade, home of beach volleyball during the London 2012 Olympic Games.

My phone told me this was parliament, but anyone who watched London 2012 could tell you otherwise, thank you Apple Maps.

Seeing a giant Union flag flying above the city a few blocks down, I knew it must be parliament so I journeyed onward.

After walking past even more monuments and Whitehall, home to the British Government’s cabinet, I reached it. Britain’s parliament.

The seat of power for what was once the largest empire in the world. The place where taxes on tea, sugar and stamps were passed, leading to revolution in the United States.

It’s a beautiful building, but after recent terror attacks near Westminster, including one just outside parliament a few weeks ago, an increased police presence was surely visible with bobbies carrying automatic rifles ready to prevent another lone wolf attack.

My time in London drawing to a close, I had just enough time to walk across the street and through a few back alleys to Westminster Abbey. The final resting place of kings, queens, poets, politicians and soldiers alike, Westminster Abbey has also hosted royal weddings including Elizabeth and Philip, Charles and Diana along with William and Kate. The Abbey was also home to Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, and Diana’s funeral in September 1997.

I wasn’t able to go inside having arrived to late for a tour, and running short on time before having to depart for Heathrow, but I walked around the Abbey, stealing glances inside the open doors and gazing up at the magnificent architecture that has stood the test of time.

After some time to stop and stare at the people of London beginning to make their way home on a busy Friday afternoon in front of Queen Elizabeth II Centre, I caught one of the famous black taxis of London, which are much more special inside than a typical American taxi. There is enough space for five, and a delightful conversation is always to be had with an informed driver like I had who was pleased with how much I enjoyed visiting his city.

By the time I made it back to Heathrow and into the British Airways lounge I was beat. I had walked over five miles around the city, way more exercise than I had in a very long time. I was exhausted. My feet were killing me. I couldn’t feel my tongue.

So I grabbed a litre of Perrier, meant for a group of people I assume, a glass full of ice, sat down in a chair, plopped my feet up on the one opposite, put in my headphones and relaxed like a king on his throne.

If you want to know what an international lounge is like, one fly first or business class it’s amazing, second, it’s basically a gathering or the widest assortment of people you could imagine. Older gentlemen making their way from Heathrow to various cities around the world on business, decked out in their black suit and ties sipping a cognac at the bar. A mother, father and their three small children, trying not to knock over a table full of appetizers. A 26-year old graduate student on his way to a month long conference in Athens lounging in two chairs with sunglasses on listening to country music like he owned the place.

Finally it was time to go.

Had to face the reality of leaving the United Kingdom for a month in a country I didn’t speak the language in, didn’t know much about outside of its Olympic history and ouzo and the fact I was one step closer to sharing a room with a complete stranger for an entire month.

No champagne on this flight, mostly cause, again, I was dehydrated from the night before and walking around London, but I met a mother and daughter (who was about my age, maybe a little older) and we started talking about everything from The Crown to Donald Trump.

We flew off into the dead of night leaving England behind, me for an IOA conference, them for holiday.

Little did I know I had absolutely nothing to fear about heading to Greece, and that the thunderstorms over the Balkans I saw from my window seat weren’t an omen of bad tidings, but a blessing, showing the worst would soon be behind me.

 

My Greek Adventure: Day 1

Baltimore, Md.  — As long as she raised him right, a man will always love his momma.

She gave him life.

She listened to him cry over a girl, or many girls.

And she’s usually the first person he hugs after he graduates from college.

At least in my house.

I have no clue how close you are to your mothers but I’m incredibly close to mine.

She’s had a rash of health issues these last few years, and since my sister moved to Indiana, I’ve been the only one around to take care of her.

I had already tried to back out of this trip as many times as humanly possible.
Why?

Not because I’m afraid to fly, or worried about going so far away.

No, I do not like the idea of being an almost 27-year old man sharing a room with someone from another city, state or country.

Basically, I like my privacy.

Interpret that for what you like.

So yes, I was willing to jeopardize a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend a month in Greece, almost entirely paid for (I had to supply my own airfare), because I don’t like sharing a room with someone.

If you had a great roommate in college, or a sibling growing up, then you have absolutely no idea what I am talking about.

But if you did, you know where I am coming from.

In my experience (a year at Southern California and six months in Queensland), I had two of the worst roommates you could ever imagine.

They wouldn’t wash dishes, they’d be loud.

You name it, they did it.

So I wasn’t keen on ever having a roommate again.

But, I was reminded, that I’m a native English speaker, leaving his home for a conference conducted entirely in English.

Imagine how someone from China, Croatia or Brazil must feel.

Eventually the Super Shuttle came.

Late, I might add.

It picked me up. It dropped me off. I checked my bags. I went through security. No turning back now.

When I bought the plane tickets in May, they were non-refundable.

Because at barely $2,100 round trip in business class, it was a steal.

Nearly a month after I booked the flight, the same seat cost some unlucky bastard over $5,000!

I’d never flown business class before, and so I didn’t know how awesome it could be.

If you’re nervous as hell about leaving your momma, jetting off to a country where English isn’t the first language and sharing a room with a complete stranger, you do one thing business class certainly allows.

Drinking.

So I sat in the lounge sipping champagne and eating finger foods while texting my friend Aly about how the Packers game wasn’t on in New York as I watched CNN pundits go back and forth on Donald Trump’s response to the passing of Senator John McCain.

Then it came time to board the flight, two champagnes and two seltzer waters along with god knows how many finger sandwiches and fresh veggies.

What’d I do when I got on board?

Ordered more champagne of course.
I had intended to binge a few episodes of The Crown I downloaded to my iPad the night before and then get a few hours rest before landing in London.

Well that didn’t happen.

I ordered yet another champagne, wiped my face with the hot towelette they offered me, sat in a “business class” seat that was smaller than the premium economy one I had flown on to and from New Zealand in 2015.

It did lay flat I will give British Airways that.

I had packed my iPad in my carry-on, which I wasn’t about to get up and rummage through.

So I sifted through what British Airways had to offer on a five-hour flight to London.

The Middle, no.

Big Bang Theory, no.

The Crown, no.

So I decided to watch the James Corden live action version of Peter Rabbit.

Quite cute I must add.

After the movie finished, I was like, “time for bed.”

Well you know that adage about how man makes plans and God laughs?

Welcome to my world.

I couldn’t sleep.

My throat was dry from the flight and so much alcohol with so little water.

The woman in her pod beside me snored.

I was stuck with the seat near the bathroom so all night long was a repeated soundtrack of the door opening, closing, a loud whoosh whisking the water away followed by yet another door opening and closing.

On top of all that, I couldn’t stop singing John Michael Montgomery’s “How Was I To Know” in my head.

Make.

It.

Stop.

Suffice to say I got little to know sleep.

But I didn’t care anymore.

I was about to land in London.