- Posted: 2:44 AM, July 21, 2012
I was conflicted. I didn’t have a hotel, wasn’t sure if there were any buses nearby and I would be passing up a few days of streetball. Ok, so the last one was a positive, along with getting an extended look at the area’s top two 17U teams, New Heights and the New Rens.
I got up and my phone buzzed. It was New Heights and Xaverian assistant Chris Alesi. He wasn’t calling to rip me for my anti-Carmelo Anthony tweets -- at least that wasn’t the main reason -- but to tell me there was room in the New Heights van.
That put me over the top -- I don’t turn down rides. I quickly searched hotels, found the first somewhat affordable place -- the Raddison Hotel Valley Forge -- packed as only I can, by hastily stuffing my clothes in a duffel bag, and was off.
The trip to King Of Prussia with New Heights wasn’t what I expected. I imagined lots of banter, jokes, and criticism -- all at my expense. I’m not sure what has gotten into kids these days, but they were all very respectful. Quiet, too. Aside from the hip-hop tunes on the van radio and my conversation with coaches Jerel Cokley and C.J. Lipscombe about everything from the Knicks to the state of NYC hoops, it was a rather mundane trip.
This would never happen if I ever took a trip with Lincoln or Boys & Girls.
The biggest reaction I got was from George Mason-bound Jalen Jenkins, who we picked up on the way in The Bronx. When the gangly 6-foot-7 forward got on the van and saw me, he burst out, “Zach, you riding with us?! You’re part of the New Heights family now!”
“For a few hours, I am,” I replied.
If I had to pick the most outgoing member of the team, he would’ve been last on my list. Of course, I’m not very good at predicting anything, from sports to kids’ personalities.
My biggest surprise was yet to come. While New Heights checked into their hotel, I hopped a cab to mine. I figured I was in the wrong place -- the Raddison was a sight, a mammoth state-of-the-art hotel with concierge service attached to the Valley Forge Casino Resort. Yeah, that’s right, a casino smack in the middle of Pennsylvania. I didn't know that was legal.
My room wasn’t ready, forcing me to check in later. What I got later that night was more like a suite, to go along with a ridiculously discounted rate, the living room bigger than my apartment, the bathroom the size of my bedroom, and a flatscreen television like a projector screen.
Here I was expecting a roach motel.
There was one downside to the Raddison -- it was like a maze, multiple turns and alleyways every 25 yards. I got lost on my way to the room, given poor directions by two different hotel workers who guided me to the casino instead. Maybe they were trying to tell me something.
On my second night, I ventured into the casino. I opted not to gamble -- that’s for next week’s trip to Las Vegas -- as I still had work to do, felt being down a few hundred bucks wasn’t a good idea and ate a late dinner in the food court instead.
My trip home from King of Prussia wasn’t nearly as smooth as the one there. I called a taxi to take me to Philadelphia for the bus trip home. It arrived 15 minutes late and we hit such massive traffic it felt like we were on the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway. I reached the terminal at 7:30, perfect for the 8 p.m. bus. Only it was sold out -- I would take the 9:40 p.m. one instead.
I did have the option of trying to get on via standby. I was hopeful, until six people with tickets for the 8 p.m. couldn’t even get on it as it prematurely left the station. Realizing I was in the heart of Philadelphia, my mood improved -- I had plenty of time to get a cheesesteak. I found my way to Sonny’s, a few blocks away, and engulfed the fine food. I’m not sure there is anything more enjoyable than a good Philly Cheesesteak. To add to the enjoyable meal, I got to watch the Phillies implode as a few locals grew angry.
Rather than rub it in, I focused on my meal and bought a second cheesesteak for the road. I didn’t need to get beat up. My team -- the Mets -- aren’t much better, anyway. I got back to the bus station with plenty of time to spare and my phone dead.
I plugged it into the wall and went to the bathroom. It was gone when I returned. Before I could search everyone in the station, an officer said it was in his office and lectured me about the dangers of leaving it unattended. At this point, I was extremely punch drunk from the trip, so much so I dropped the cheesesteak on the way to the bus without realizing it until we left the station.
Too bad I wasn’t still with New Heights -- I’m sure one of their polite players would’ve picked it up for me.