by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments



OK. So what am I doing here? It’s a fair question. And I promise to answer it. In a second. First, I have to tell you this story:

I fly into the Rome airport Sunday after, what, 10 hours in the air, and I walk through the arrivals gate, and there are all these Italian women hanging over the railing, wearing sleeveless dresses, and the Italian men, with tailored shirts and cigarets, and I find a guy to help me with my bags, and he asks me, in broken English, where I am from, and I tell him Detroit, and this is the first thing he says. And I am not making this up.

He says, “How are dee Ti-gers do-ink?’

And I say, “First place.”

And he says, “Reee-ly?”

And I say, “Are you sure you’re Italian?”

Which brings me back to my original point. What am I doing here? Rome? Isn’t there a pennant chase going on? Isn’t there baseball fever?

Yes. There is. And I am taking a break from it. For seven days. Because these are the World Track and Field Championships, damn it. And besides, it was this or a road trip to Texas. Have you ever had the pasta in Texas?

No, boss. Rome for me. The lure of the lira

Now, normally I would have sought your approval before flying over. By coincidence, you were on vacation. And when the office told me that, I said,
“Oh, really?” And immediately left for the airport. Of course, I meant to call, but I didn’t have your number. I looked real hard.

But I’m sure you would have approved. Already, we’ve had a world record in the 100 meters here, and today Edwin Moses is racing Danny Harris, the guy who finally beat him in the 400- meter hurdles, and there’s Daley Thompson, the Olympic decathlon champ, and the Russian pole vaulter, Sergei Bubka, and .
. .

All right. I confess. Here is the real reason I came. The money. Not the money you give me. Ha! God knows. No. The money they give me at the currency exchange.

I love this. You hand them a $1 bill, they hand you 1,290 Italian lira. You hand them a $10 bill, they hand you 12,900 lira.

Is this great, or what? I have something like four million lira in my pocket. A guy carried my bags to the bus, I peeled off a cool hundred.
“Here, my man,” I said, “a c-note.”

He called me something I cannot repeat here.

But I don’t care. I am a millioliranaire. There is a 50,000 bill in my wallet. Yesterday, Johnette Howard and I had dinner? Cost 80 grand. Wait’ll that shows up on the expense account.

“How much for that peach?” I say to the woman behind the fruit stand.

“Three thousand,” she says.

“No problem,” I say.

It was a some peach. A chance to see the best

So I hope you understand, this was one of those things you just can’t pass up. A chance to see the two best sprinters in the world. A chance to watch the strongest shot putters and javelin throwers. A chance to spend 15,000 on socks.

Baseball will survive for one week. The Tigers are in good hands. The Tigers are in good shape. The Tigers are . . . Hey! How much did Monaghan pay for the Tigers? Fifty million? Wait a second. Let me cash a travelers check.

Ha! Just kidding, signore.

Oh, yeah. Which brings me back to that guy at the airport. His name was Paolo, he lives in Rome, and he has cousins in St. Clair Shores. He visited them two years ago, he said, and they took him to a Tigers game, and he had a great time, even though the Tigers lost.

“Who was pitching?” I asked him. “Walt Terrell? Jack Morris? Frank Tanana?”

“Yes,” he said.

Well. Maybe he needs a few more games.

Anyhow, let’s face it. Can you get this kind of color back home? Can you get this kind of bank roll back home? Why am I asking you? You’re 4,000 miles away. I can’t hear a word you say.

I will answer. The answer is no. This is a unique sports experience, and I will experience it to the hilt, and file reports. And before you know it, I’ll be back, ready for the stretch run at the pennant.

OK? Buono? Good. Hope you had a nice vacation. Sorry about your desk. The beer spilled.

Weather is here. Wish you were fine. Your faithful employe, Mitch P.S. Enclosed is 10,000. Buy something nice.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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