Life as a small-town sports writer has its perks, or so I’ve been told.
All-access passes to sporting events, flexible hours, free dinners, and instant recognition within the community are all just part of the gig.
But I have only just begun to tap into the potential benefits of my press credentials outside Hood River.
Tuesday night (Nov. 6) I got my first taste of what a big-city sportswriter's life might be like when I traveled to the Rose Garden to see the Portland Trailblazers and Utah Jazz tip it up in this young NBA season.
Not only did I have a 20th row seat at half court to witness two of the finer teams in the Western Conference do battle, I discovered first-hand the beauty of the "media pass."
Being that it was my first experience behind the scenes at a professional sporting event, I was a little starstruck. I never understood how much respect a tiny press badge can garner an average Joe like myself.
Usually when I try to breach security at a pro sports arena, I am promptly turned away before I can even catch a glimpse of the court from ground level.
Not on Tuesday. Wearing that special media pass around my neck said I was officially part of the "in crowd."
It meant not having to park two miles from the arena -- although I was still gouged for the $13 media lot fee. It meant free food and drink in the media room -- an unexpected bennie that would have saved me the $7 I already spent on dinner.
It allowed me to walk down the same tunnel the players use when they enter the arena, and put me within an arm's length of NBA legends Karl Malone and John Stockton, as well as members of the new Blazer brass.
It reserved me one of the best seats in the house, right next to Brian Meehan of The Oregonian -- one of the most astute sports columnists in the Northwest. My name was also on the same seating chart as Jason Quick (The Oregonian), Jeff Mitchell (KPAM radio) and Blazer broadcaster Ann Schatz.
I also got play-by-play updates and box scores at the end of each quarter; my very own TV so I could keep tabs on my Sonics; and a lot of curious looks from people who wondered, "what makes that guy so special?"
Two words: Media ... Pass.
But I didn't realize the endless possibilities of this golden media pass until after the game.
When the final buzzer sounded and the fans made their way to the exits, I followed Meehan and Schatz onto the court, passing under the same rim that Rasheed Wallace had turned into scrap metal just moments ago.
I gazed up at the enormous scoreboard hanging from the rafters and squeaked my shoes across the hardwood, reveling in the idea that for just one moment, I was witnessing life through a pro athlete's eyes.
Convinced that life had never been more sweet, I walked past the hordes of security guards en route to the media room. I thought my moment in the sun had reached an end.
On the contrary, it had barely reached its climax.
As I exited the tunnel, I spotted Utah coach Jerry Sloan talking to the media outside the locker room. I peered over the security guard's shoulder, assuming that was the end of the line. But much to my surprise, he said, "thank you, proceed."
No way this guy was going to let me walk right up to Sloan and start talking zone defenses, but there I was, two feet away from the guy. Still feeling like a rookie, I didn't feel comfortable firing off snappy questions with the big boys.
But every comment I read in Wednesday's Oregonian echoed the words I heard out of Sloan's mouth. Unbelievable.
Then I walked farther down the hall to where the press was talking to Blazers' coach Maurice Cheeks. "Wow, my first press conference," I thought.
But the pace in that tiny corner of the arena was far too frenetic for this sports junkie, so I started to meander back to my car. As I proceeded down the corridor, a security guard stepped in my path and ordered me to stop.
While I waited, a mob of people in trenchcoats escorted Paul Allen out of his private quarters and toward his limousine. Everyone, including security, was asked to stand still.
All of a sudden, I was just another guy again. But for one night -- hopefully the first of many -- I experienced how the other half lives.
Maybe next time I'll challenge Allen to a game of one-on-one.