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Tramel Orlando travelblog: Kansas City Monarchs & Giordano's pizza

Flying in December is not as comfortable as flying in October.

In October, Trish the Dish and I flew to New England, and it was a relatively easy experience. Neither the airports nor the Southwest jets were crowded. Only two-thirds of the Southwest seats were sold, so social distancing was easier.

But now Southwest, and all the other airlines, are filling up their planes, and between Christmas and New Year’s, travel is robust across America.

Monday, Scotty Wright and I flew to Orlando for the Cheez-It Bowl. The airports in OKC, Houston (our connector) and Orlando seemed as full as the old days. Both flights were jam-packed.

I felt relatively safe going because I’m recovering from COVID-19. Got out of isolation 11 days ago, and the doctors say I should be neither contagious nor at risk of contracting the virus again anytime soon.

And give airports and airlines credit. Few places have their commitment to mask-wearing. The percentage of knuckleheads is miniscule, unlike, say, the grocery store.

I have missed traveling. You meet all kinds of people. There wasn’t much talking on the airplane -- as in none -- but walking through the Houston airport, we were stopped by a young man with a cool story.

I was wearing my Christmas present. The Dish got me a Jackie Robinson Kansas City Monarchs jersey, purchased from the Negro League Museum in KC. I don’t wear jerseys or team memorabilia, but I make an exception for the Negro Leagues. Always been fascinated by its history and its stories -- good on baseball a couple of weeks ago for voting to lift Negro League history to major-league status -- and I’ve collected a bunch of Negro League stuff. A Chicago American Giants jacket, a Birmingham Black Barons cap, a New York Cubans sweatshirt, a Josh Gibson Homestead Grays jersey.

And my Monarchs jersey drew the attention of a young man.

He was sitting down when Scotty and I walked past and paused, trying to figure out which direction to go for our gate. The guy said he liked my jersey and said his grandfather played for the Monarchs. Fellow by the name of Larry Williams.

Later, I looked it up, and sure enough, Larry Williams played for the Monarchs in 1954-55, past the heyday of the Negro Leagues but still good baseball. And that’s the beauty of things like a Jackie Robinson jersey. A conversation starter.

Scotty and I had another good conversation with our Uber driver from the Orlando airport to our nearby hotel. The fellow spent seven years in Oklahoma City, mostly attending Oklahoma City University as a business major, from 1985-92. He remembered all kinds of streets and places; played soccer with his pals at OCU.

Orlando is not a place with which I’m too familiar. I was here for the 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl (now the Cheez-It Bowl) between OU and Clemson. Never been here for Disney.

Orlando is a sprawling place. A metro population of 2.3 million, with America’s 13th-busiest airport. In 2018, Orlando drew about 75 million visitors, courtesy of conventions and the Disney empire.

Disney World opened in 1971, SeaWorld followed in 1973 and Disney added Universal Studios in 1990. In many ways, Orlando is an American mecca.

But travel is down, even with the crowded airports. Our uber drivers have said tourism is picking up but remains far below normal. And the hotel prices between Christmas and New Year’s, usually a killer, are downright affordable. Less than $100 a night for our Courtyard near the airport.

But we won’t experience much of Orlando. We landed after dark and went only to dinner -- at Giordano’s, the Chicago-based pizza joint that I love. Scotty hadn’t tried it, so he was introduced to deep-dish pizza, which is superb. Takes about 45 minutes to bake and can take that long to eat, if you try to get through all of it. About two slices is enough for a hearty meal, though in full disclosure, I had four.

We watched the first half of Bills-Patriots at Giordano’s, and I like traveling East for work. The ballgames start later (8:15 p.m. for Monday night football) and the mornings arrive earlier (if I wake up at 7 a.m., it’s just 6 a.m. back home). Out West, it’s the opposite. I wake up and am behind. I get finished working, and the ballgames already have started.

We returned to our hotel, and I watched the rest of Bills-Patriots, then dialed up the Thunder-Jazz replay. Excellent ballgame, and strangely enough, the Orlando Magic are in OKC for a game Tuesday night, while we’re in Orlando.

So I’m getting ready for game mode, OSU-Miami at Camping World Stadium, and a little bit of normalcy in a very abnormal year.

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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 ›