Monday, 11 August 2014

Flight of the Valkyries [02/04/14]

As you can clearly see, I was packing (or trying to pack) well into the night before we were set out to travel. I remember thinking at the time, “I’ll get some sleep as soon as we jump on that flight”. Boy, I had no idea what a mission we had in front of us.

The alarm starts going off and I’ve had an hour’s rest give or take 15 minutes. I remember receiving an e-mail from the airlines first thing in the morning saying that there was going to be about an hour’s delay. Then soon after that I received the same again, adding another hour’s delay to our flight. I decided to inform the man with the plan – Rihan.

As it turned out, we weren’t going to make our connecting flight at this rate. So what was originally a 12:15 flight from London Heathrow to Philadelphia turned into a 3pm from London Heathrow to Dallas, Texas. The last time I had travelled a long distance flight was in 2007, and to my surprise Rihan was able to switch my tickets for the first flight, without me even having any say in the matter. Since we booked our tickets separately, I have no idea on how he convinced the airlines that we were flying together. But as Diamond Dallas Page says, in this situation, it wasn’t a bad thing, it was a good thing. Good for me, since all this rushing and last minute on the fly ‘calling the match’ doesn’t go very well when you’ve had no sleep. My original plan of having an easy stress free morning and jumping on the plane and catching some Z’s was slowly floating out of the window. The pressure seemed to ease off though once I had reached Heathrow.

I’m sure Shanks was actually the first one at the airport at Terminal 3, and I would shortly meet up with him after checking-in at Area F. He was wearing his yellow CM Punk ‘GTS’ T-shirt and I’m sure it was one of many because my dude buys T-shirts a dozen at a time. The last time I had seen Shanks was about a year back in April 2013, when we’d gone to WWE RAW at the O2 Arena in London. I remember talking to him back then and him telling me in a conversation we had that he had actually once bought tickets to WrestleMania in the past, but due to him sending off his passport for some reason he had no means to leave the country, resulting in him not being able to go. I remember thinking, “DAMN! That sucks” and we said that we should sooo go to a WrestleMania some day in the future. Now here we were a year later at Terminal 3, smiling from ear to ear – We were actually doing it. We were going to WrestleMania!

Soon after Rihan arrived in his WrestleMania XXVII T-shirt and blue hoody and checked-in, we made our way to the gates. As we walked past the number of each gate we tried to recall what had happened at the gate numbers’ corresponding WrestleMania. For example walking past gate 3 you’d probably mention that Hulk Hogan slammed Andr√© the Giant. Rihan also made some bold predictions about WrestleManias that had yet to come…

The flight itself seemed like it took forever to me, possibly because it had been so long since I’d been on a long distance flight and I had brought along my copy of Mick Foley’s “CountDown to LockDown” book which I would finally get to read. I never got around to it.

Although I didn’t get very much reading done during this flight to Texas, we actually got quite a fair amount of watching programmes done. Is that even how you say it? Watching programmes. Anyway, due to the flight being on Wednesday, and all the rushing around the 2 days prior to this, (whether it be trying to find a unlocked phone to use overseas which you don’t make use of anyway, or buying some last minute clothes which you only ever wear on holiday) none of us had watched RAW from Monday night that had just gone by. What a more perfect time to watch the last RAW before WrestleMania than on the flight to WrestleMania? As it happened, all three of us had RAW on one of our devices. On my right, Shanks had his laptop open watching RAW. I sat in the middle on my Samsung Galaxy Note 2, watching RAW. To my left Rihan had his tablet open, watching Monday night RAW. All of us with our headphones in, trying not to look at the screen to our left because whomever was watching there was about 5 minutes ahead. Rihan would have been the first to finish if it wasn’t for his rewind everything tendencies. Michael Cole would have been so proud of this sight :)

I’m pretty sure soon after that, the lights went dim – that time on the flight where they expect everyone to catch some sleep. Rihan and I used this time to catch the WrestleMania XXX press conference, which if you’ve seen already, featured some of the most bored looking members of the press you could ever find. Batista stole the show, no doubt – he was hilarious!

 After the press conference Rihan had episode 3 of season 2’s Total Divas which we decided to watch, right before business was about to pick up.

Let me set the scene for you. We’re sitting on the middle row of a dimmed out plane, and we turn the overhead light on, like a spotlight as Rihan pulled out his blue Money in the Bank style folder. This folder contained the blueprints and itinerary for the trip that Rihan had pieced together. What was going on, at what time, and where. Also what else was happening at the same time so we knew our options. Most of the important planning that we’d done and tried to get organised would be for Saturday. Saturday was going to be WrestleCon. It would feature superstars, legends and a complete who’s who line-up from the crazy world of Professional Wrestling. We had to make sure that we would be making the most of our time, because there was a strong possibility that we wouldn’t get this chance again. Goldberg would be in a Q&A session, Colt Cabana was hosting a live podcast, Mickie James was scheduled to be performing some of her songs along with a load of other happenings that would make any wrestling fan feel like they had died and gone to heaven. And there was a Superticket. This Superticket would GUARANTEE us to meet and talk to some of the most influential names in the business. But we’ll get to that.

After agreeing on the details, we thought it’d be best if we tried to get some rest. By this point Shanks was already fast asleep, and we would try to do the same. I have a habit of falling asleep in front of my laptop or a TV screen, so naturally I tried watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Twice. The keyword is tried. I’m sure it’s a great film if I ever give it the right time of day.

As we were set to land at Dallas’ Fort Worth Airport, the air pressure really seemed to be messing with my ear, making me feel slightly deaf – but I was sure it would pop soon, and I would be fine. I could half make out the song that was playing as the plane began to slow down to an eventual halt. It sounded familiar, and the light bulb went off in our heads at pretty much the same time. It was the theme tune of popular American series Dallas. CoOoL :)

We were finally on American soil. For me, it was the first time, but the first hour in America wasn’t exactly a pleasant one. After spending what seemed like 20 minutes at the baggage claim conveyor belt, I noticed a huge plastic carrier with what looked like a suit case that had broken inside it. Surely this couldn’t be mine? The others had gotten their bags and were waiting on me, and most of the people who had been waiting to claim their baggage there had already done so.  I leaned in to take a closer look…

SON OF A BITCH! What the f*#%?! It was my bag! I was outraged, as I pulled it off the belt and tried to look at it even closer. It’s like one of those stories that you hear about, happening to other people. You never expect anything like this to ever happen to you. I got emotional, as I said it had been a long time since I had travelled such a long distance, and on top of that I was in a foreign country with my shit all over the place – this was all new to me. Show me who, and I would Batista Bomb the hell out of whomever was responsible for this atrocity. I didn’t know what to do first, complain and be pissed off was my initial reaction, but at who?! Some asshole working for the airports might have just decided to throw my bag on board or something, resulting in it breaking open from the lock? Had someone forced open the lock? I was still trying to figure out exactly how this had happened. We went to seek out the baggage desk. Some of the workers at the airport whom I asked for help said that they couldn’t really do anything yet and if I would want to make a claim I would have to wait until I reached my final destination, and kept repeating the fact that it had “looked like the zipper had broken” in the most leisurely tone – which frustrated me even more. They just didn’t seem to care. Eventually they would instruct us to locate another desk that could help me out. Inconveniently, it was located at what seemed like the other side of the airport. We had just under an hour to make our connecting flight out. Time was not on our side.

The two women working at the desk we finally made it to, seemed to be a lot more helpful, and gave me a contact number to call in case I found anything missing from my bag after it had somehow opened – and they even gave me a brand new suitcase. God Bless America. Rihan and Shanks quickly helped me repack everything (which was all over the place) from my broken suitcase to the new one, we were reloaded and ready to go. We had to jump on a monorail of some kind to reach the correct part of airport, from where we could take our connecting flight. . There was no time to mourn my dead suitcase. It’s probably rotting away right now somewhere in Texas.

After riding the monorail we had arrived at the correct location, and had just enough time to pay a quick visit to McDonalds nearby. That’s right folks, our first taste of American food came to us courtesy of McDonalds. God Bless America.

We all got a meal with a regular drink, and then Rihan and Shanks decided to get something out of the ordinary. If I remember correctly, it was called a McCafé Shamrock Shake which was only available for a limited time. It was a mint flavoured shake, topped with whipped cream and a cherry.

The dude working behind the counter saw that I didn’t get one and said, “Nah man, you can’t be rollin’ wit the crew and not have one..” in his Texan accent and he decided to give me one on the house, which was really cool of him. God Bless America. However what was about to happen next became the beginning of something iconic. For the split second that Shanks had put his shake down on the counter, Rihan somehow managed to clothesline the drink clean off the counter and straight onto the floor. The McDonalds crew that had been looking to close up real soon and were nice enough to give me a free shake, now found themselves in a position of extra work, thanks to Rihan. This would mark the first of many iconic botches he would make along this trip. But we’ll get to that…

The flight from Texas to New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International airport was fairly uneventful, and consisted of no further botches – and didn’t last fairly long either. We used this time to eat some food and enjoy the view. We would soon be in the Big Easy.

Upon arriving at the Louis Armstrong International airport in New Orleans, the feeling of WrestleMania began to sink in. It may have been because most of the airport was plastered in WrestleMania promotional material, which was awesome! I had never seen anything like this, for Wrestling, in my whole life. Everything that I had dreamt about up until that point was slowly materialising before my eyes.

We met the fourth Musketeer, Pradeep at the airport right before collecting our luggage. There were no problems this time around. God Bless America. We soon booked a shuttle bus that would take us to our hotel in downtown New Orleans.

The shuttle bus tour was pretty interesting for me, as we drove past the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on the way to our hotel and it was the first real glimpse I was getting of the Big Easy. I had heard so many things about this city, and here we were. We’re Here. That was the Bray Wyatt quote that we all said every time we seemed to arrive anywhere on this trip. It just went well with everything. As soon as we hit the hotel, “We’re Here”. The hotel was pretty damn nice too, but the first thing I did once we got up to the room was double check my stuff in the suitcase. I was so sure that there had to be something missing, the bag even felt lighter, but nothing came straight to mind. In addition to that, the fact that my ear still hadn't popped from the first flight rendered me disgruntled.

We all freshened up from our long ass journey, changed clothes and sprayed that good spray on before heading out into the New Orleans night. It must have been about 2:30 in the morning but we were determined to find something to do.

I’m one of those guys who goes on holiday, to explore. I love exploring and soaking everything up every chance I get – almost every chance I get. I don’t like sleeping in on holidays if I can help it, and I also don’t like calling it a night too early on the first night I arrive somewhere.

Night of the Valkyries

So we wandered the streets of New Orleans, going on hunches and at the same time trying not to think about ending up in a neighbourhood we would rather not be in. After about 30 minutes of walking (apparently in the right direction as it turned out) we stumbled upon this street. It was called Bourbon Street. The world famous Bourbon Street. We’re Here. God Bless America.

Now I’m pretty sure we headed into the first bar/club that we saw was lively, but what were the chances that inside this same venue, we’d bump into superstars from the NXT roster and the current RAW General Manager? Not very high I suppose, but I guess it was destiny!

Now I won’t get into too much detail about what went down in the club but I will however share a few stories on here. This was also historic because it was the first time we got to try what American alcohol taste like. While ordering my Jack Daniels & coke I got a chance to talk to Xavier Woods at the bar briefly about the British wrestling scene, and told him about the blast we had at the Revolution Pro event not too long ago. Rihan talked to him about his PhD, and he also informed us that they couldn’t take any pictures inside the club. Must have had something to do with company image I’m assuming? I met a bunch of New Yorkers who had managed to get a picture with the USOs earlier that evening. Rihan seemed to be enjoying the club’s concept as they had someone up on stage that would sing along to the songs (not entirely sure what he meant by that to be honest) but that’s what he liked about it. He also took his chances at approaching NXT Diva, Emma. He attempted to spark up a conversation about the Ashes with her since he figured she was Australian. As it turned out she doesn’t watch cricket! I don’t know why but I’m LOLing right now, haha. I’m pretty sure I asked her to face me in a dance off or something similar at which point I mimicked her silly dance gimmick, but I ended up having one with Xavier Woods instead – Which is still pretty damn cool!

It was somewhat a surreal experience being around all these guys, within arm’s reach, partying it up just like everyone else! I must say that they seemed like a very down to Earth group of guys and girls. We also met superfan Frank the Clown, who was with his girlfriend (who someone later told me was Mick Foley’s daughter) and they both seem like lovely people. The longest conversation I probably had that night with any WWE employee was the (then) General Manager of Monday Night RAW. Brad Maddox was at the secondary bar when I approached him and he said that he couldn’t take pictures – I said I know and I didn’t want one anyway, I’d rather have some advice. I offered to buy him a drink, he ordered a double vodka and Redbull. I told him that I needed his advice on some things, and since this was my first time in the States, what he’d advise me to check out in the city of New Orleans. I remember also mentioning that we had traveled from all the way across the pond in London, and how this was our first night out on the town. I’m guessing it worked as a decent ice breaker since we ended up talking about the various haunted tours in the Big Easy, something Rihan had planned on that itinerary. I told Maddox that I wasn’t too sure about doing a booky voodoo joojoo trip like this right before WrestleMania, and we had a laugh about it and then he reassured me that it was worth checking out. As it turned out they’d gone on one just a day or so before then and he really enjoyed it. He seems like a really cool guy from that conversation that we were having.

The rest of that evening was mainly on Bourbon Street and all in all it was a great night of celebrating the beginning of WrestleMania week, especially when you get to spend it with some of the guys from the WWE locker room. God Bless America. :)
Though the travelling seemed gruelling, frustrating and tiresome at times, once we finally arrived it was all worth it. It was only going to get better from here. We were living the dream as by the day, WrestleMania was getting closer and closer. Oh and I guess technically Rihan’s second botch of the trip also occurred on this night. While Shanks and I carried Pradeep’s carcass back to the hotel at the end of an awesome night, Rihan was making his own way back to the hotel. Only to find out that he ended up at the wrong hotel. Haha. Botch number 2, and we’re just getting started… We’re Here!

Thanks for taking the time to read,
The best is yet to come!
Mau (11/08/14) 05:00

Public Service Announcement

It's been a minute, hasn't it? Well I just want to take another minute to thank anyone who has been reading these blog posts for joining us and vicariously living our experiences, through us on this Road to WrestleMania XXX. It has been a truly unique experience and I can say that I have lived and accomplished more than one of my dreams throughout this whole journey. What you may be wondering however, is why this minute has been so long. I'm about to explain that to you.

After returning from New Orleans, it took about 2 weeks to recover from everything we'd been through. We did 3 weeks of activity in just around about 1, as you'll soon find out. I wasn't kidding on the Facebook Page when I said I wouldn't know where to start, because at the time I just needed to catch my breath - as I would need it. Believe me it's gonna take a lot of breath (or maybe typing in this case) and energy to tell you everything. There are so many stories to tell. Memories that will span my lifetime.

On top of that I had some major technology downtime as I began to live like a caveman, in the sense  that my technology was failing me. Due to an incident with my laptop, which dropped with my charger still in it, I was unable to use it – and it’s still pretty dead sitting in the corner of my room. The laptop. The laptop which had all my tools, images and information on it. Mainly my tools which allow me to do what I do. That’s a pretty sucky feeling, and to add to that I had about 3 weeks with my phone in and out of repair from certain ‘internal software deterioration’ issues. You know how hard it is to meet up with people without a mobile phone? If you tell someone you’ll see them next Wednesday at 3pm, by the train station – you better be there! With no means of communication the only thing you have (as infamously pointed out by Tony Montana) is your balls, and your word.

In the midst of this I was also going through some serious considerations about the job I was in at the time. I’d spent over 5 years working for a bowling alley (with a glass ceiling) as a senior bartender, receptionist, and pretty much anything else they needed done for the same wage as Johnny-whats-his-face and I have some great (and not so great) memories there. At the end of the day I had made my mind up - I wanted to pursue my career, rather than continue working at a job. To be completely honest, after New Orleans I knew I wouldn’t stick around for long. After the wonders and possibilities I had seen, I could no longer remain in a place where dreams go to die.

Having said all that, I think that one of the main reasons for why I didn’t continue writing posts and complete the Road to WrestleMania XXX blog as soon as I could was because I knew that as soon as it was done, it would all be over. Something didn’t feel right about doing it, something in the timing was off for me, so I didn’t. Maybe I wasn’t ready? Maybe I had thought it would sound really rushed? Maybe you wouldn’t understand what I was trying to convey? Maybe I was going through a creative block? I couldn’t get it out for a while, nor find the motivation to force it out. But at the same time, I didn’t want to take so long that the memories would fade away from that HDD in my brain. Don’t worry people, I took notes ;) There’s always a plan B, because it’s Best for Business.

I hope that you as a reader, understand that I am trying to offer you an explanation. If you still don’t get it – that’s fine, but I’m not taking my apology back – because I offer no such thing in the first place. When this all started out, it was supposed to be a journal that I could go back and look at when I’m old and grey and say, “So that’s what I was doing that day!”. That somehow evolved along the way when I received praise on what I was writing, the wrestling fans were actually enjoying it! The pageview feedback was steadily climbing. Now the audience wasn’t just Rihan and I. Why not take everyone on our journey with us?

From meeting the nWo, to being inspired at a Diamond Dallas Page seminar, all the way to Rihan breaking the news of Sting’s first appearance after leaving TNA which spread over the internet overnight like wildfire (YES people. We broke the news here first) – We've had one hell of a ride (including everything in between those events) that if you would have asked me about even a year ago, I would have said you were crazy even to think that we would do such things. Yet here we here. *Blows out lantern*

Now it’s almost time for that journey to culminate. But before we continue, I must express the following things. The opinions and experiences you will encounter from here on out are our own. They may at times follow no particular order. They may at times have nothing to do with Pro Wrestling. I do however have every intention to make them either entertaining or informative, and in the best case scenario – both. Results may vary. You may have been in Nola that week and may choose to add more to what you read here, by all means feel free to leave comments about your own experiences. Especially if they compliment mine :)

Going forward, you can expect pieces of the puzzle to be dropped at 9pm (GMT) every Monday night. Ideally that should be enough time for you to check it out before RAW every week. The best part is, I won’t even be charging £9.99 for it! Completely free of charge. Why? Because it’s best for business. Which I might revise for WrestleMania 32. But we’ll get to that later…

Last of all, before I forget, I really do hope that if you enjoyed reading the posts up until now, and if you chose to continue reading – I really do hope that you enjoy reading what is yet to come, with the final instalments of this blog. Through our experiences, I hope you enjoy the conclusion of The Road to WrestleMania XXX Blog.

Maybe now, the time is finally right to tell the story…

Thanks for taking the time to read,
The Best is yet to come.
Mau (10/08/14) 02:50

Wait I almost forgot... If I'm not mistaken, I promised a little sneak peak of the custom T-shirts we had designed. We went with the Evolution theme, since there were four members of Evolution, and four of us going to New Orleans. A lot of time and effort went into creating these Ts, which is why when they were finally finished and I went to pick them up - I was proud as anything to discover them being displayed in the shop window :) Evolution had just passed you by.