The Boys In The Bubble - Part 1
The Happiest Place On Covid Earth
I’m on Spring Break this week, but The Sound Report continues, undeterred.
For almost six weeks in early 2021, I was “in the bubble” in Orlando, Florida shooting a series about “The Pathway, a new program in the NBA G-League. While there, we were restricted to our hotel at the Disney resort and the game-day facilities at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. We could neither leave the resort nor even stray from a prescribed locus within the compound, under pain of quarantine and possible legal action from headquarters. And we did get a talking-to by security and legal counsel more than once.
As you will read, this was a real endurance trial for the crew, both mentally and gastronomically. Reading back through this, it plays out something like the diary of a challenged polar sea voyage, recovered from the icy hands of the ship’s captain, years later.
Our saga begins when the crew has been released from a strict seven-day in-room quarantine…
Project: “The Pathway” - A documentary series following the G-League Ignite team
Location: Orlando, Florida
Where You Can Watch It: TNT
Cast of Characters:
Jim - Director
Brett - Producer
Sean - Director of Photography
Kevin - Director of Photography
Jordan - Assistant Camera
February 4, 2021
We made it through quarantine and after our scout day yesterday, we rose early in the thirty-degree weather and took the shuttle to the arena for our first live day with Team Ignite. We did not yet get clearance for placing mics near the bench, nor were we able to put a mic on coach (yet), so during practice it was mostly ambient sound of the team practicing. Now and then, I was able to get a conversation, when coach and the players were near our side of the court. Coach is a low talker. The team seemed rusty and in need of practice.
After practice, the team had their media content day and the players went from station to station doing stills, video hits, and social. All of this we got, focusing a bit more on Coach, Isaiah, and Jalen. Meanwhile, the Overtime crew scrambled around us...
Now for the food. The catering seems to get better and better since we don't have to eat from the parking lot quarantine tents. It's hotter and "fresher" according to Brett. Jim was the only one who made it to the early breakfast, which he claimed was "delightful." We all had lunch at the Arena. Brett described the shitake soup as "ridiculous." I had the rice and sesame chicken with the vegetables and Sriracha. It wasn't amazing, but certainly a solid attempt at Asian flavors. Better than Panda Express, worse than Joe's Shanghai. Shall we say they took the middle path?
Great first day! Onward!
February 5, 2021
Once again, we rose early and took the shuttle to the arena without the benefit of breakfast. Well, not entirely - after years of work on the road, I have perfected the in-room "Oatmeal a la Keurig" for just these occasions.
Practice had the team working harder, and with the allowance of plant lavs on the bench, we could actually hear what was happening across the court. The team worked fast, and hustled back and forth. We also learned about where we are allowed to be when in the arena.
After practice, we joined the younger players on the team for a zoom meeting about mindset and staying focused.
Lunch was a major disappointment today. I've picked this bone many times, but when you call something "Greek," as in a salad or in this case, chicken, I come to the meal with a set of specific flavor expectations. Perhaps lemon. Perhaps fresh oregano. Perhaps tzatziki. Perhaps feta... Alas, today's "Greek Chicken" was yet another affront to Western Civilization. It was drier than the floor of the Parthenon.
The other lunch choice was "Philly Cheese Steak" and I'm confident that were I to serve this in Philadelphia I'd be promptly assassinated. While Jordan seemed to enjoy his portion, mine was, in fact, rather hard and leathery in texture. I told Brett that eating it reminded me of the scene in Terrance Malick's "The New World" when the colonists are forced to boil and eat their belts from a lack of food stores.
Dinner was better. You can't win 'em all.
February 8, 2021
Useless Magical Items
After a day of rest and football, we were back on the clock, still in the first quarter. Practice was a scrimmage against "Team G." Sloppy playing, but the Ignite muscled their way to a win.
Our interview with Jarrett was fantastic, with real emotion coming to the surface as he talked about his kids and what's at stake for him as a player at this stage of his career. We all felt it.
We also felt the pain and joy of missing the lunch shift at the convention center. A mixed blessing, considering the offerings of late and the samplings from the WWOS Food Truck last night. According to Kevin, the truck has the unique ability to "mess up nachos." So, we ordered take-out from Rix's, the on-site bar and grill. Jordan was pleased with his nachos, but Brett said his Reuben tasted like a shoe. Kevin countered claiming that the veggie burger was very well prepared. Penultimately, Sean stated that his chicken "tasted like poo." I had the Caesar salad with grilled shrimp which was basically just that. Basic.
Dinner further confirmed suspicions that in the kitchen somewhere is a magical and wicked Disney item that removes flavor from any prepared dish. I mean, they were serving rack of lamb, but it was completely uncontaminated by seasoning. A wand of disappearing spice? An ancient orb of vacuous zing? Gauntlets of zest removal?
February 9, 2021
Just Like Home
Time to lock in for Team Ignite. Tomorrow is the big day; the first game of the G-League season. Jalen turned 19.
It was also Taco Tuesday in the mess hall for lunch, and I went for the soft tacos, loaded with chicken, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, and salsa. It all kind of worked for me, perhaps due to the tabasco I added on top for good measure. Brett, however, had the "mixed taco meat" in a hard shell and claimed it tasted "strange." Jordan was over the moon about the tomatillo sauce and said the tacos were "just like mom used to make," but then qualified that his mother was not Mexican. It was also reported that the tostones "tasted like bricks." Well, it worked for me.
Dinner was freshly carved striploin with demiglace and we all agreed that it was tasty. But then the idea was floated that perhaps the meal was leveled up due to the arrival of Shareef, president of the G-League. I'm not saying it's a conspiracy, but... Is it?
February 10, 2021
Ignite came up with a win, but it was a close game. Dinner was brought in for the team in celebration of Jalen, Daishen, and Mara's birthdays.
Since our schedule precluded making it to the meal room for lunch, we ordered in Chipotle, much to Jordan's delight. Apparently, he can order it with his eyes actually closed. Kevin, however, may have missed a step in the process and his veggie bowl came up with only beans and rice. I had a salad with chicken and true to Chipotle I promptly nodded off after the meal. There's something in their food that makes me feel like I just gavaged an entire thanksgiving dinner. Am I alone in this bloated goat-like experience?
When I awoke, I was reborn on the inside. Back to work.
February 12, 2021
Late call, but with lots of security and health excitement. Jordan and I have officially swapped rooms now. Breakfast included frittatas, bagels, steel-cut oatmeal, and fresh fruit. I had the oatmeal and made a sandwich to go as I feared we would be stranded at the arena come gametime. But, as it turns out, there WAS food to be had over at the VISA center. Brett came back with a plate of "Chinese" food in celebration of Lunar New Year. He reported that the soup tasted like "warm sink water." Well, so much for thousands of years of cuisine. There were chopsticks and kimchi to go at dinner.
February 13, 2021
My Big Day
We started with a little birthday present reveal for Daishen in the Team Room. As Coach said - when you get older you look forward to getting shirts, socks, and belts as gifts for every occasion. The game went off without a hitch, making it the third win for Ignite and Daishen got his real present with a half-court super-basket. Huzzah!
It was also my birthday, and I celebrated with dinner from the Visa center, which I ate at halftime. Tepid beef with plantains and a side salad, all served in a plastic takeout dish. Proper.
Let's keep the streak going!
February 15, 2021
Roll Your Own
And that's four wins for Team Ignite!
We had lunch at the Visa Center and I opted for the all-vegetarian options as the "butter chicken" and "seafood creole" looked suspicious. Jordan remarked that the chicken "looked like it had flavor" and Brett had some of the "small shrimp" from the seafood dish.
Dinner was another thing. As usual, there was salad (although it was pre-packaged this time for some reason) and two vegetable options - green beans and a butternut squash thing which was actually tasty with hints of ginger and something else I couldn't quite place. Spices! Hallelujah! The mains options were a meatless beef tip melange, shepherd's pie and salmon topped with bacon, leeks, and olives. Well, I make a pretty good shepherd's pie, so I went for the salmon.
The salmon was completely acceptable, even with the strange choice of toppings. Not overdone, and well portioned. Sean, not knowing that the meatless beef tips were actually devoid of meat claimed that it "might be the worst thing I've eaten here so far." But he liked the shepherds' pie. Not so for Jordan, who when polled simply shook his head and said "Seven-Eleven." Brett went even further and simply placed the lid on his container and ordered take-out Chinese food. Pavel from Overtime, however, thought it was "pretty good."
Oh, and there was dessert, so that made up for everything. Except that I was perplexed by the name - Blackberry Doobie with Ice Cream. I'm a city kid - grew up in Brooklyn and the only doobies I've ever known are rolled up in Bambu papers. Looked like a cobbler to me, but I'm just a Yank. Yummers!
Back to practice tomorrow!
February 16 2021
We got into the film session, with Coach Shaw mic'ed up! Great setup for tomorrow's game against the Bayhawks. Later, Rod and Rasheed gave us very thoughtful and insightful interviews.
Lunch was a PPB&J sandwich eaten on the way from practice to the courtyard for our interviews since breakfast was on the later side. But, as it today was Mardi Gras, everything was "Cajun" or "New Orleans" style at the mess hall.
I enjoyed several mini king cakes. But, as usual, there were split opinions on the main course, which tonight was gumbo. Sean thought it was "very good." Brett said things that are not reprintable in a family publication like this, but in summary, he was displeased with the fact that there was no sausage in the gumbo and was appalled that it featured duck and shredded pork. According to Brett, gumbo requires sausage, shrimp, and maybe crawfish or chicken. Jordan didn't seem to be bothered, claiming that he "didn't care what kind of meat was in it, as long as it tasted good."
There was a lone crawfish in with my halibut, which was overall very bland.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
February 17, 2021
Ken The Impaler
Rough day for the Ignite. The Bayhawks just played a better game. But, they were also there for a tussle, apparently.
Lunch was a bit of a tussle too. At the Visa center, we tucked into what I assume is internally labeled as "Mexican Food Day" or "Burrito Wednesday" before the game. I passed on the eponymous burritos but went in for the turkey and cheese quesadilla along with some tostones and salad. I assumed this was a safe play thinking that an overstuffed rice and bean burrito bomb would put me to bed, and was therefore looking forward to some tasty pulled poultry with cheese nestled between tortilla goodness. But, alas, this was not the case. The bizarre mouthfeel and texture overpowered whatever else was going on inside that "quesadilla." Which is to say, if I were to invent "turkey paste," this is what I'd imagine it to be. Like spreadable turkey. From a can. Like peanut butter but turkey flavored. Are you with me? Total disaster.
What I should have done was go for the soup. Apparently it "made the day," according to Kevin and Sean. Brett claimed he'd like to fill his thermos with it and drink it all day. And with that, we went into the game...
Dinner was altogether forgettable, except for dessert. Dry chicken breast smothered in creamed corn chowder sauce alongside steamed broccoli and potatoes. However, Brett did hack the dressing conundrum, giving us an escape from Ken's third-most-popular evil salad dressing empire. He discovered the packets of "real lemon juice!" So those plus a packet of olive oil and a pinch of salt - just like home! Dessert was ice cream from Ample Hills Creamery, direct from my hometown, Brooklyn. Mangia!
Another back to back! Ignite!
February 19, 2021
Yankee Candle Windex Steak
Rainy day here in the happiest place on Earth. Jarret dropped some veteran knowledge and Isaiah spoke his innermost truths. It was real.
Lunch was en-suite with Disney's finest Greek yogurt and a PB&J sandwich. Dinner, of course, was a culinary adventure. Sean forewarned us with the missive that the sauce on the meat "tasted like Windex." Well, of course, we then all had to try it. It was also reported that the beef was so hard as to break the tines off the plastic forks we use nightly. This happened to me before, only I didn't realize it had happened and then my next bite was of hard plastic on my molars. Is there quality dental assistance on-site?
Thankfully, no teeth were broken for this meal. Jim's hot take was that "it's no Le Bernadin." The au poivre sauce did indeed have a strange flavor not unlike huffing some kind of propanone one might find in grandad's shed. Like aged shellac with a hint of polyurethane. Brett, despite selecting the rarest of cuts from the carving station, said it tasted like a "Yankee Candle Factory" and it was "like what you'd get at Golden Corral." Which got me thinking about other terrible places I've eaten. Like a Denny's in Atlanta.
So, Sean was right about the beef. It was bad last time and it was bad this time. I should've had the salmon. Fool me once... But he was also right about the mini cheesecakes for dessert. Yummers!
February 20, 2021
The Spice Will Flow
It was cool and sunny. Deceptively so, as Kevin, Sean, and I all got a bit too much sun on our faces, in all the weirdest ways. I look like I walked sideways past a blast furnace. We learned that everyone needs a "head coach," and all about the pitfalls of social media. And shoes.
Lunch was rushed so there wasn't a lot of time to take in the bounty laid before us. I opted out of the gelatinous ribs thing, but both Brett and Sean agreed that "it tasted just like a McRib." I'm not sure if that's a positive or negative review. I went for the veggie wrap which was solid and upon recall had Kevin rueing his own lunch decisions. The roasted chicken, however, was way too salty, but once relieved of its calcified skin did produce a moist and meaty interior. The roasted vegetable soup was completely generic and while slurping it I imagined the Sysco fifty-gallon drum on the loading dock labeled "soup" from which it was decanted. The Mickey-shaped macaroon for dessert was a consolation prize.
Dinner was forgettable. I was tempted by the freshly carved "oregano infused turkey breast," but then thought back to the poultry salt-fest from the afternoon. Brett confirmed my suspicion when he reported it tasted like "artificial oregano." Is that even a thing? I mean, how expensive would oregano need to be to have to resort to an artificial version? Anyway, I went for the Mahi in pesto sauce. Once again, we were in the presence of the magic of Disney. It was not overdone. No, it was moist and it also appeared to have a sauce on it. But, it was completely flavorless to the point of it being the absence of flavor. It's like I rode that great ocean creature right into the cold heart of outer space. I mean, If I didn't know it was supposed to taste like pesto, I would have thought it was quite nice. So, I'll just say the food went from mediocre to a pleasant taste-free void. Brett was right as he repeatedly said, "No other place in the world has something like this."
When it was all over, I looked down and saw a bit of rib bone from someone's lunch on the floor next to my chair. And then, when we were walking back through the convention center I also spotted some mac and cheese from lunch on the carpet as well. I wondered, has housekeeping dropped the ball this week? But then as we exited the convention center, I saw a custodian on a stool with a giant sponge trying to clean up another long-gone mess. They're everywhere at Disney. They are key to making it work...
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