How can we stand in the light of discovery and not act?
At 4:19 p.m. on January 17th, I received an email that was apparently from a Nike representative, reading:
Please find attached the Travel Form for your attendance at the NIKE HYPER ELITE PLATINUM LAUNCH EVENT, NEW YORK CITY, JANUARY 25, 2012 Please return completed form to firstname.lastname@example.org by WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 18, 2012
That was it. No description of what exactly all of this meant. No description of what would happen at the event. No discussion of why this was important for a Syracuse Orange blogger.
My initial instinct was that this was spam. A vague email claiming to be from a major corporation asking me to click on an attachment to meet some kind of time-sensitive deadline that was quickly approaching? I mean, come on. "Nike Hyper Elite Platinum?" You're just stringing random words together to form some kind of super-jargon. This has to be spam, right?
I deleted it.
Thirty seconds later, I opened it again and re-read it. There was something about it that was enticing enough for me to inquire further. So I emailed the person back, asking for more information and what Syracuse-related impact would be so big that it would require me to fly from Seattle to New York City to witness in person.
Wednesday morning, I got my answer. Nike was releasing a new collection of college basketball uniforms and Syracuse was among them. I was among a select group of bloggers invited to see the unveiling first-hand.
Curious. And this was before the news leaked that the uniform or one of the uniforms would be "gray."
With the work day soon to be over, I had to act quickly, though I imagine I still would have been allowed to submit my travel form come Thursday. I filled out the form, including my preferred airport destination (Newark), preferred time of arrival (early Tuesday morning) and t-shirt size (medium).
Between then and the trip (Monday 23rd), I had to figure out how to spend my time in New York. I would be there all day Tuesday and Wednesday through 5 p.m. The only problem is...Nike went radio silent on what was happening. Other than knowing there was an event between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Wednesday, I was in the dark on what was happening the rest of the time.
As it turned out, that seemed to be on purpose. And as I learned about what was awaiting me in the days ahead, that made me that much more concerned.
"Spared no expense."
In the six years this blog has been around, I remain baffled by the lack of a ceiling on what's possible and what can come out of it. Every time I think, "there's no way...," that thing eventually happens. And this trip seemed to be an extension of that.
Nike offered to fly me from Seattle to New York on short notice, put me up in a hotel and shuffle me from place to place so that my feet only touched the ground to throw shiny nickels at passers-by (maybe). When I was concerned that I might have to foot the bill for transportation from the airport to the hotel, they told me a guy would be waiting for me with a sign with my last name on it to take me. Classy, son.
The flight from Seattle had its good and bad. In the airport, I had to listen to people complain about the long line at security, as if that hasn't been ABSOLUTELY NORMAL FOR WHAT SEEMS LIKE FOREVER AND WE SHOULD ALL JUST ASSUME IT WILL BE THE CASE. However, Sea-Tac Airport has great, free WiFi, so that made up for it. (Not like Newark, which charges, and is a big airport jerk).
The plane was an older one with the tiny drop-down movie screens that look like you're watching a movie through bubble wrap from 20 feet away. Not that it mattered since the movie was some dreadful-looking Anne Hathaway film. Things could have gone south from the get-go when I realized I had the middle seat and both the window and aisle were taken. However, freedom and liberty prevailed when the aisle gentleman moved to an open row. Victory (and semi-comfortable sleep) was mine.
As always, I ordered ginger ale on the flight. Why? Because that's what I do. That's what I always do. Do I drink ginger ale in my regular, daily life? No. Never. So why do I drink ginger ale on planes? How was I conditioned to order it without even thinking? I see the drink cart and I immediately start salivating like Pavlov's dogs for ginger ale, which does not taste like ginger nor is an ale. Clearly I'm not the only one, either.
Oh and I got the whole can. "Amazing!"
Arriving at Newark, I was indeed greeted by a large gentleman with a sign that read "Keeley" on it in bright red ink. I realize as I'm descending the escalator that I don't know how to act. I'm still a good 40 feet away. Do I make eye contact the entire time? Do I wave? Do I look away until I get close while pretending I didn't notice him and then look up just in time to say, "Oh, hey, that's me, playah." Will he ask me to prove that I'm Keeley? Am I supposed to know a secret phrase like "the sparrow flies at midnight?"
I decide to make intermittent eye contact the whole way down and I start smiling with about 15 feet to go, which is the universal signal apparently. He drops the sign, shakes my hand, grabs my bag and then proceeds to POWER walk towards the car. I'm not kidding, dude was walking as if he was issued a directive to get back to the car thirty seconds from point of contact or a loved one gets assassinated. He didn't even look back to check and make sure I was following him. I did my best to keep up.
I made it into the car just in time and made the most of the free mints in the console. We sped from Newark into the city and made it to the Le Parker Meridian hotel. If you don't know, it's a luxury hotel just below Central Park. I wasn't told how much my room was but I was able to find their rooms usually go for $275 - $300/night. Nike isn't messing around here.
The hotel itself lived up to its trendy label. The check-in systems were on brand new Macs. The lobby included a "hole-in-the-wall" burger joint, an upscale coffee bar, a restaurant featuring a $1,000 frittata and a shaving shop. Old-timey silent movies and Tom & Jerry cartoons play endlessly on a TV in each elevator. Each hotel room has a doorbell.
I've stayed in some pretty low-rent hotels in my day and I've stayed in a few quality ones like this one. What I've always found so odd is the way the cheap hotel seems to go out of its way to load you up with freebies while the luxury hotel takes every opportunity to nickel and dime you (or in this case, ten and twenty you) without mercy.
Want internet? That'll be $16 a day. I ordered a hummus plate and Diet Coke for lunch, which, after required tip and room delivery fee, came to $40. Want to go work out in the gym? That's another $10 a day.
I mean, I get it. If you can pay that much for a hotel room, you probably don't even sneeze at a $16 charge for the Internet. And in this case, thank the lord, Nike was the one footing the bill so I didn't have to sweat it out. And let's face it, Nike paid for this whole trip by selling roughly 10 pairs of sneakers. But...come on now, guys.
(I should also mention that that burger joint, aptly named Burger Joint, is the perfect trendy absurdity to tie the entire experience together. It's tucked away in a corner so dark and mysterious that you 'd never see it if you weren't looking for it, evoking a word of mouth success story (say nothing of the PR reps who have trumpeted it to the moon with that message). It's cash-only, which is meant to give it a down and dirty, mom-and-pop feel, even though it's surrounded by business that eat credit cards every minute of the day. To their credit, the prices are reasonable ($7 burger), even if it's just so-so.)
Price complaints aside, I can't deny my hotel room was pretty legit. A two-room endeavor, the TV stand swiveled 270 degrees to give you coverage whether you were sitting on the couch, laying in bed or sitting in that random chair in a spot in the room where no one hangs out. The shower...I mean...I could have done some old-school break-dancing in there and never touched a wall. Not that I didn't try.
See, here I'm now sitting by myself, uh, er, talking to myself. That's, that's chaos theory.
After a nap, meal and shower, I sit in my hotel room, flipping between The Mummy and ESPN (Insert Skip Bayless Joke Here), wondering what's ahead of me. I really can't stress enough that even up until this point I have no idea what's happening tomorrow. I know we're going to see new uniforms and I'm pretty sure Syracuse will be wearing
gray platinum, but how many new uniforms and what else is in store, I have no idea.
It's hard to tell if this is deliberate or not, though it seems to veer that way. From the initial email through the actual event itself, I haven't known what was coming until it actually happened.
I also had to wonder if they actually knew who I was and what I would be writing. Were there guidelines? Would I have to muzzle myself? Would some access be withheld due to my blogger status? What if I hated the uniforms and felt compelled to be honest? Would a bill for $3,000 to cover airfare and hotel show up in my inbox by Friday?
I was pleased to find out that I wasn't the only one thinking this. I met Ian from Sox & Dawgs and Kevin from Arizona Desert Swarm for dinner and both confirmed a similar experience. We were all on a need-to-know basis and, for the moment, we didn't need to know.
By the way... we were the only three bloggers who came in for the event. Eight schools were a part of the Nike program which means at least five bloggers said no to an all-expense paid trip to New York City that included a nice hotel, chauffeurs, free food and the chance to see some laundry before everyone else saw it. They better have some good reasons.
Part II coming soon...