I remember those college days when the NCAA tournament meant a long weekend of basketball, crowds, and loudly cheering for my teams (yeah, plural, I have a couple that I rank in the following order: 1. USC 2. UK 3. IU). Years later, this is still one of my favorite weekends of the year, but my priorities have changed slightly.
For example, I agreed to spend the weekend in LA to hang out with not one, but two pregnant friends who would very much like to do anything that doesn’t involve basketball. Thankfully, I had some allies in one of their spouses and the other single friend in our group, Vince, of Copacabana Beach t-shirt fame.
Vince has had my basketball-loving back all weekend, from the moment I got off the plane right as tip off for the Kentucky-Kansas state game. I hopped in the car and we headed straight to find a place to watch, though that did not come without a little deliberation.
“We can go back to Qs where I was,” Vince offered. “But there are so many people. And the parking. And so many people.”
Rather than pick a happening place, we decided to stay close to the airport, as Vince lives near Westwood, home of my least favorite college in the country, UCLA, whose game was tipping off at pretty much the same time. Which is how we ended up at the Fox Hills Mall.
I don’t really know if people still call this nearly 40-year-old mall the Fox Hills Mall anymore. They’ve definitely gussied the place up a bit since I lived out here, including installing several restaurants like a Lucille’s, a BJ’s Brewhouse, and an Olive Garden. If you thought we would beeline to BJs, the most sports bar-esque of the three, you would be wrong.
Vince runs through our options, then asks, “Do you think Olive Garden has a bar with TVs?”
“They typically have bars,” I said. “And I am definitely on board with soup, salad, breadsticks, and some cheap vino at the OG.”
That’s right—we were both genuinely excited at the prospect of a night of OG and basketball. I really like breadsticks, not gonna lie.
Unfortunately, the OG does draw a classiness line somewhere in the sand and does not put TVs at their bars. We proceeded to Lucille’s only to discover all their TVs were on a single circuit. Knowing we would be outvoted by Bruin fans, we bolted to the crowded BJs and managed to secure a table in the dining room where I had a view of a TV with the game, though it was a good 30 yards from my seat. The Jess of a decade ago would not have been okay with this arrangement, but contemporary Jess thought, “well the game isn’t close and oooh flatbreads on the menu.”
Then we turned in early because, well, we had a brunch to be at in the morning. Yeah, I didn’t go celebrate a UK victory because of a breakfast date. As Jason Segel’s character on How I Met Your Mother notes though, you can’t really beat the awesomeness that is brunch. This brunch, at Gjelina in Venice, was particularly delicious, but it was not a quick meal precursor to a day of basketball. Instead, it was a precursor to a day of walking around, having some casual drinks, and playing some trivia.
My friend’s husband Matt has done some trivia in his time and very kindly put together a game for us, which was awesome. This is how I like to pass my afternoons, answering trivia questions, keeping an eye on the scores and turning it on when there is a close game. We watched the first half of the Wisconsin-Oregon game, as Matt had to cheer on his alma mater. Even then though, we missed most of the second half, eagerly watching the GameCast on our phone because we walked to our dinner reservations at C&O Trattoria in Marina del Ray.
At dinner, I was more than happy with our agenda of the day though. As I swayed my wine glass singing along to “That’s Amore”, toasted my pregnant friends, put away some garlic knots, and split some delectable linguini with Vince, I realized a couple of things. First, that food appears to be my top priority in my traveling these days, which is both disconcerting and awesome all at the same time. Second, that things have changed a lot in the decade since my college days in LA, but so far the important stuff, like seeing these friends of mine on a semi-regular basis, remain. Finally, that missing out on some of opening weekend of a tournament just isn’t as big a deal to me at 30 as it was at 20.
That being said, this was how we parted last night:
“Y’all do whatever you want, but at 11:45am tomorrow, my ass will be firmly planted in front of a television showing the Kentucky-Wichita State game. You can leave me behind, meet me later, or watch with me. I don’t care, but this is what I am doing and it is non-negotiable.”
I mean, friendship is friendship, but there is nothing, not even food, that compares with watching the Wildcats in March.