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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Canceled flight can’t keep Zag fans away from game

Rebecca Nappi and Jamie Tobias Neely The Spokesman-Review

We are up at 3 a.m. Wednesday, in line at the airport at 4:30 a.m., eager for our 5:30 a.m. America West flight to Tucson, to the Big Dance.

Pat McFarland, a Zag zealot, stands in line, too. He says, “The flight has been canceled.”

We say, “Nice joke.”

The ticket agent, a pale young man who looks 14, tells us: “It’s true. But we got you on the 8:15 flight.” Good!

Then he says: “On March 18.” Two days from now.

We look around for the “Totally Hidden Video” cameras. No cameras. We say, “We’re covering the Zags. We need to get to Tucson. Get your supervisor.”

We like our almost-50 voices. We know you can’t mess around with stuff like this. The agent walks into a room behind the counter and 20 minutes later, walks out with a supervisor. We are rerouted on Frontier Airlines.

We move to the Frontier counter. We must go standby. The ticket agent who tells us this is quite stern. But we understand. We’ve spent much of our lives being too nice, but we feel crabby sometimes, too. We know the power of crabby women. They know how to get things done.

And that’s how we score the last two seats on the 6:40 a.m. flight to Denver. In Denver, the Frontier folks tell us we are not in their computer. Our luggage is already in the belly of their plane, but we are not in their computer. They take pity on us. They can get us to Phoenix, but not Tucson. In the gate area, waiting for the Denver-Phoenix flight, we meet other midlife Zags.

We meet Pam and Mike Senske of Spokane. Their flight to Tucson was canceled, too. They’ll rent a car in Phoenix. They offer us a ride with them. Yes, we say, yes.

Two other Zags, Rick Seefried and Tom Black, overhear the discussion. They say, “We have rented a convertible. We’ll give you a ride.” We picture the 90-minute ride from Phoenix to Tucson, the wind blowing our hair, sun beating on our faces, what an adventure. Yes, we say, yes!

We have done the teenage thing. We have accepted a better offer. We justify it. We say, “It will make for a better column riding in a convertible.”

We approach the nice Senskes. They say, “No problem.” Pam says she canceled an octogenarian friend’s birthday party just to see the Zags this week. She understands.

During the two-hour flight to Phoenix, we rethink our plan. This is the reality of middle age. We realize the story about the convertible ride will be better than the actual experience. The convertible men have warned us they must load two sets of golf clubs in the trunk. How will our bags ever fit?

At baggage claim, we switch plans again. We apologize to the convertible men. We sheepishly ask the Senskes for a ride to Tucson in their rented Explorer. They are gracious. Thank god for that canceled birthday party.

All week, we have been trying to connect with GU students via cell phone who might be driving in loaded cars from Spokane to Tucson. We have been unsuccessful and finally, Seth Urruty, a Kennel Club co-president, explains why. Not that many students are headed down.

He knows of only 20 to 25. Many drove home from the Santa Clara tournament last week. He estimates there were 250 to 300 GU students at those games. Now they’re worried about missing their classes, reluctant to drive so far again so soon, and too broke to pay for the tickets. WCC student tickets cost $7, but college kids pay $38 for tickets in Tucson.

Besides, they are saving their energy, time and good graces with professors, for next week, for the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, in Albuquerque. Some are hoping to save it for the Final Four in St. Louis. So Tucson Zag fans will mostly be middle-agers, like us, like the Senskes.

On the ride to Tucson with the Senskes, they share their life story. They own three businesses and they work most of the time. They are in their late 50s, childhood sweethearts who now mutually love the Zags, but who would never have come to this unless their grown son, Michael, had not called them Tuesday and said, “I have tickets. You are going.”

They decided, why not? Like the students, they too hope for another week of the Zags in Albuquerque and then onto the Final Four in St. Louis. But they know life doesn’t always give those next chances.

There is sun here in Tucson, and the saguaro cactuses that grow slowly, one branch in 65 years, look like noble sentinels.

We arrive in our Tucson hotel rooms 13 hours from the time we were looking for “Totally Hidden Video” cameras at Spokane’s airport. The trip should have taken less than half the time. But if not for the kindly Zags we met along the way, it might have taken even longer.

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