I was not raised to be a frequent flier. There were no airports in my childhood. I grew up in rural Groton, and Logan Airport might as well have been Cape Canaveral, with John Glenn piloting Friendship 7 as part of Project Mercury. For the first 18 years of my life, I never heard the words “please put your tray tables in the upright and locked position.”
My first flight came when I was 19 in January 1972 — Boston to Newark for $12 as a student standby passenger on Eastern Airlines. In midflight, a flight attendant (known in those days as a “stewardess”) wheeled a small cart down the aisle to collect my 12 bucks. Cash money. A sawbuck and two ones.
I may have enjoyed a Coca-Cola on the trip. There was certainly no Diet Coke, only Tab.
I remember the distant, awesome sight of the brand-new World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan when we touched down in Newark.
Flying in planes became a major part of my life when I first started traveling with big league teams in 1977. Conservatively guessing, I have taken more than 2,000 flights in 45 years covering teams and games.
And now, for the first time in a half-century, I have been grounded for more than a full year.
My last flight was Friday, March 13, 2020 — Fort Myers, Fla., to Boston on JetBlue, departing at 8:19 p.m. and landing in Boston at 11:25. A chaotic week at JetBlue Park had come to an end after we interviewed pitcher Nate Eovaldi and manager Ron Roenicke outside the Red Sox spring clubhouse on Thursday, and all sports were shut down as we entered the new world of COVID-19. It was time to get out of Dodge.
A year has passed. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died. Thousands of businesses have been forced to close. There has been unbearable suffering and hardship. Gatherings ceased to exist.
In our little corner of the entertainment world, sports went on the shelf for several months, then came back in new, hollow form. Games were played in empty stadiums and arenas. Commentators sitting in off-site studios, often thousands of miles from the action, delivered the play-by-play. After the games, players were interviewed on Zoom.
Life went on. Sports talk radio kept feeding the beast, and here in the Globe’s toy department, we delivered commentary and analysis of the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins. From our safe distances, out of an abundance of caution, we have done our best to keep you in the loop on your local teams.
But it is not the same, and it may never be the same. When Tuukka Rask left the NHL playoff bubble in August, there was nobody there to ask the Bruins players what was really going on. When the Patriots had their COVID-19 crisis in October, there was no way to uncover the real story. We got team-sanitized Cam Newton-With-COVID-In-Context. Nothing more.
Similarly, Peter Abraham and Julian McWilliams couldn’t deliver a colorful portrait of new Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo because they never had a chance to watch Verdugo interact with his teammates in the clubhouse. Our baseball reporters were unable to tell you how Sox players felt about management giving up on the 2020 season. The COVID-19 freezeout enabled ownership groups to dodge accountability in the name of caution.
In contrast, when Celtics players cursed and threw furniture after losing a playoff game in the bubble, nobody would have known about it if the Globe’s Gary Washburn, on site in Orlando, hadn’t been standing outside the room. It was just like in the old days when we got on planes and told you what was going on.
This is the nature of Sports Bubble coverage.
So now we start Year 2 of life with the coronavirus. The population is slowly being vaccinated, and 12 percent of fans can come back to games in Boston at the end of the month. There is hope that someday we’ll again be able to tell you what the players are like and what is really going on with your teams.
If we get back to that, put me on the next plane to London, the midnight train to Georgia, or the last train to Clarksville. It would be nice to get back out there and be the eyes and ears of the fans again.