Barry University sits in an unremarkable part of suburban Miami, flanked on all sides by one story condos and corrugated iron. But it looked pleasant enough in the strong morning sunshine as we arrived on campus to see a full England training session, rather than the 15-minute vignettes we've been allowed up to this point.
Police cars surrounded the area and any members of the public who dared to sneak a peek at goings on through the wire mesh fencing that surrounded the pitch were swiftly and regularly reminded of the consequences of such trespass by one of Miami's finest speaking through the bullhorn on top of his patrol vehicle, his red & blue lights flashing as an extra warning. I imagined he had no intention of getting out of his nicely air-conditioned motor with his kwaffee and box of Krispy Kreme's for company.
We were led through to the pitch and up onto the stands at the side that were reminiscent of the 'Summer Nights' scene in Grease - most scurried for the shade of the commentary box at the back of the stand as temperatures scaled 30 degrees with humidity above 60%. Ian Dennis & I resisted the temptation to launch into Travolta mode, preferring instead to trade off on our Graham Taylor/Chris Waddle voices.
'Do You See?'
We should never complain about being permitted to watch England complete a full training session, but with only a finite amount of space in the commentary box, most of the press pack needed the sunscreen, water and a hat to watch things unfold. It got a tad sweaty and uncomfortable for us as well as the squad - there's an image for you.
Spoke with Steven Gerrard after training in one of the study rooms at the university next to a whiteboard filled with algebra scribbles and calculations. "Those our tactics for tomorrow lads?" he instantly quipped with a smile.
You'll always find someone to the contrary (usually on Twitter of course) who'll not only disagree but also want you to die of some disgusting disease or other, but it's impossible to dislike the England captain. It's clear that his calm demeanour rubs off on those around him and he's a pleasure to talk to. He spoke well about Roy making him skipper and knowing he was valued as such, something he clearly thought wasn't the case under Fabio Capello. He clearly has his influences too despite being top dog - the stubble he's sported since being on this trip has a touch of the Xabi Alonso's about it. I'm pretty sure that isn't by accident. Steven had several years alongside the Spaniard at Anfield, who himself was calm, authoritative and had the most delicious range of passing I've seen in any modern-era midfielder. That has to rub off on someone as determined & dedicated as Gerrard.
That determination would have been tested 12 years ago where he missed his 1st chance to play in a World Cup thanks to a broken bone in his foot, so his comforting words to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should resonate loud & clear as the Arsenal man bids to be fit for some point in the group stages.
Sometimes in this job - at least from my perspective - you crave the social aspect of being with media colleagues, whilst at other times you prefer your own company. Last night was the latter for me, as I took a stroll down South Miami Avenue just near our hotel, found a bar with a decent menu & plonked myself down to people watch for an hour or so. We all need to switch off on occasion, and even though one or two groups of my peers walked past, themselves looking for a suitable place to relax, I didn't draw attention to myself, preferring instead to sip on a beer, try the local jambalaya and reflect on what's to come in Brazil.
I'd learned earlier in the day that the first batch of TalkSPORT staff who'd flown direct to Rio had received none of their luggage (including vital broadcast equipment) due to the mother of all technical cock-ups at Heathrow. That serves as a warning that not everything runs as smoothly as it appears to have in Miami, despite the odd technical FUBAR here too. Will have to keep my wits about me I imagine.
This is my first long trip away from home since World Cup 2010 as I've mentioned before, and I'm already missing my girlfriend and my family quite a lot. However, some in our party have had the most unenviable of schedules in recent years. One correspondent told me he hadn't been home for either Fathers Day or his wedding anniversary since 2005. I sat and thought about that and my mind then drifted to cricket reporters and commentators - most of whom are ex-players and have experienced enough separation anxiety you'd have thought - who spend 6 months of every year away from home working. That's a harsh reality to have to deal with for all concerned, although servicemen & women who regularly undertake tours of duty in dangerous locations know all about the much tougher sacrifices they make leaving their families behind for months at a time.
70 years ago yesterday, some young servicemen made the D Day landings on Normandy beaches in a bid to preserve the freedoms we hold so dear today. Many of those involved were frightened, unprepared and unaware of what faced them that morning as the boats sped across the Channel. Those incredibly brave men were commemorated here at a service in Miami just as they have been back at home.
We will remember them.
And I'm lucky enough to be going home in around a months time. So many never made it past their first few steps on those beaches 70 years ago, never mind making it home to their wives and children.
The jambalaya hit the spot, I must say - loved watching the world go by as I wolfed it down. The downtown area of Miami isn't as filled with the 'beautiful people' who cruise South Beach some 20 minutes from here - it's simply a lively yet restrained place where folks come to wind down rather than party on.
I'll have to come back
The medical adverts on American telly are priceless. Some case study for a pill to calm an over active thyroid gland (or something) is shown, whilst the Voiceover calmly states "This medication is not for everyone - it can cause heart irregularities, breathing difficulties, headaches, bowel irritation, hair loss...etc etc" Basically all the things you get in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it small print in our medical ads back home are slowly read out here, which usually means these ads last about 90 seconds! The irony of these ads being followed directly by ones for Wendy's, Applebee's, Taco Bell and other purveyors of calorific delights isn't lost on me.
Anyway, I'm off for raisin bran with added bananas & berries. I'd tweet a picture, but that'd be treading on Moose's toes, really. :)