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New England travelblog: My first autumn vacation

Autumn means many things.

Great color. Great weather. Great aromas. Great feel. 

Autumn also means football, and that’s where I come in. For 42 years, my falls have been consumed by football. Football news during the week, football games on the weekend.

Football has never impeded my enjoyment of autumn, but it has impeded my mobility. Like tax season for an accountant, football season for a sportswriter sort of ties you down.

So I’ve never made it to the mecca of autumn. Never been to New England.

Until Tuesday night.

Trish the Dish and I landed in Manchester, New Hampshire, about 9:45 p.m., and a wild adventure began.

We’ve been married for 40 years, and she’s been a good soldier about autumn, even though she’s always wanted to see the fall foliage of New England.

And a year ago, I hatched a plan. With OU playing at Army on September 26, I scheduled a trip on the back end of West Point. We’d drive into New England for a few days after the game and check out the quaint villages and lovely settings.

The last week of September is a little early for peak season of foliage, but you take what you can get.

You know what happened. The pandemic hit, OU-Army was shelved and there would be no trip to West Point. 

Here’s the rest of the story. With the revamped Big 12 schedule, OU was off on October 17, and OSU was scheduled to play at Baylor. I didn’t even know if we’d be allowed in visiting pressboxes, and I knew if we were, Jenni Carlson, Scotty Wright and the gang were more than capable of chronicling from Waco.

So I told the Dish. We’re going to New England.

We scheduled in August, and here we are.

My first trip to New Hampshire (and soon enough Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts, too). My first autumn vacation. My first trip to an airport since returning from the Peach Bowl last December.

I figure this is the perfect pandemic vacation. We don’t plan to do anything except drive around and take in as much as we can of these four states. The only people we’ll be around are in the delis and diners we’ll stop in for a bite to eat.

I have no idea how many people are coming to New England during the pandemic, but maybe we can prop up the economy a little bit.

The travel industry has been decimated, and you can tell that at Will Rogers World Airport. I knew what to expect, but it still was stunning, to see most of the concessionaires shut down on the concourse.

The airport wasn’t vacant but clearly had a subdued feel compared to the old days, even for afternoon flights. Virtually everyone wore a mask -- I saw one guy, about 20, who didn’t wear one, though he had one drooping from his ears.

It’s hard for anti-maskers to cop an attitude at an airport. At the grocery store or mall, worse-case scenario, you get asked to leave and you make a scene and go to the next grocer or mall. Do that at the airport, and there is no next. 

I actually forgot to bring my mask, but never fear, Trish the Dish, like always, had me covered.

Southwest Airlines is selling only two thirds of its seats, so all middle seats can be vacant. When the pandemic hit, airplanes seemed like the worst idea -- a confined tube, with strangers sitting very nearby -- but the more I’ve read, I believe ventilation systems are important in how the coronavirus is spread, and jets generally have good ventilation systems.

Southwest boards passengers by 10, instead of the usual 30, so social distancing is quite easy. There was no crowding getting onto the plane or finding a seat.

Wearing a mask for seven straight hours was no fun, but the Southwest flight attendant pointed out that while he gets it, he’s also been doing it since March. “Do your task, wear your mask, hide your flask and I won’t ask,” the guy said.

We got his point. Suck it up.

Besides, masks are most bothersome in hot weather, and you can always open the vent to shoot cool air right at you. So it wasn’t that bad.

We had a two-hour layover in Chicago, during which I did my Sports Animal radio gig, we shared a pizza and I chatted with Lou Holtz.

Yes. Lou Holtz. He was sitting across from us at the Home Run Pizza bar, waiting on his flight to Orlando. I interviewed Holtz a few years ago when he came to OKC for a speaking engagement. He was quite friendly then and wrote me a nice note later. He was more detached Tuesday. Probably gets hit up a lot in airports, though I was surprised to see him. Holtz is 83 and was flying home to Orlando.

On the flight to Manchester, the Dish and I got on Southwest’s wifi and watched a good chunk of the Titans-Bills NFL game. Made the trip go quite smooth.

Soon enough, we landed in Manchester, a city of about 120,000 that is the largest in New Hampshire. The Manchester-Nashua metro area has about 406,000 residents, about one third of the entire state.

As for the colors, well, we arrived in dark of night, so I can’t comment on the brilliance of New England just yet. That will come tomorrow, when foliage, not football, takes center stage.

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Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›