MORGANTOWN — Let us begin this morning with an apology, for the scope of this column really will not allow us to do justice to what follows, for this is a tale that demands a big screen, a director with a human touch and the backdrop of the city that is New York.
It could be taken as a coming-of-age film, but it is something more, for this no teen flick, but instead the story of how a West Virginia Big East championship and trip to New York can take a person from the carefree days of early adulthood and allow him to experience the meaning of life itself.
Our central character is Bryant McCarthy, an affable manager at the Boston Beanery on Patteson Drive in Morgantown who celebrated birthday No. 30 this past week. A native of Weirton who lives in Grafton, his wife, Jenny, is expecting the couple’s second child but, as he puts it, “so kindly gave me a hall pass” to join his friend, Jeremy Bragg, a local attorney whose wife, Emily, also is expecting their second child, on a journey to New York for the Big East Tournament.
McCarthy, as you might guess, has the map of Ireland drawn across his face and he’s something of a maverick, a Boston Red Sox fan heading off into a New York Yankees world. His brother-in-law is Cameron Gallaher, one of the area’s greatest all-around athletes who wrestles at West Virginia after having led Grafton to a state football championship.
“The idea,” McCarthy said of the boys trip to New York, “was to have some fun now because I have the chance to do it. With a second child on the way it probably will be another 20 years before I can do it again.”
While there are those who would try to picture McCarthy as a small-town West Virginian just getting out in the world, this would not be completely accurate, for he has lived previously in Charlotte and Phoenix, but he had never ventured into New York City and could not imagine what marvels lie ahead.
“New York is amazing,” he said and as he does you can almost picture the camera panning in on him as he stands in front of Grant’s Tomb or Central Park. “You come in, you see the Statue of Liberty, the skyline. It is huge, all those different people.
“Then there’s the smells,” he continued, and you can almost feel the camera switching to an Italian neighborhood or a Greek neighborhood or a …
“Every other block there is a different smell … pizza, hot dogs, Mediterranean food. And the sounds. People talking different languages. There’s just nothing like it.”
This was a basketball trip, a sightseeing trip. Pizza by the slice, corned beef sandwich from a deli, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, evenings in a bar and basketball.
It was a happy time, dampened only by an endless rain that had McCarthy change clothes three times in one day, and a strong winds that whistled down the skyscraper canyons of the city.
But as happy as it was, there was also a sobbering trip to the foot of Manhattan, to the World Trade Center site.
The scene now grows dark and the rain is falling in big, sad drops like so many tears.
“Goosebumps,” McCarthy says, when asked what he felt.
He sat there and looked at the sight, at the construction that is still going on, trying to replace the steel and glass but that will never replace the memory of the buildings and lives that were so terribly erased that clear, warm, sunny morning.
“There’s this little museum,” he said, “and the place is silent.”
It sits there in the midst of this loud, maddening city, silent still to this day.
“You look at it with reverence,” he said. “You are playing your respects. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
The camera now swings to midtown Manhattan, across the street from Macy’s, to Madison Square Garden.
“It’s huge,” McCarthy says. “It’s not like Mellon Arena. It sits there and there is so much going on around it. People, ticket scalpers, everyone rushing.”
McCarthy and Bragg went to New York without tickets, expecting to pay a price for the seats they bought, but on the way up a friend contacted them and told them he had scored two tickets for all sessions and he passed it on to them for free.
It’s nice to be the birthday boy.
“You get inside and you realize immediately this is ‘The World’s Most Famous Arena,’” McCarthy says.
He looks around. There’s Bill Clinton, the former President, sitting there taking in the game. There’s Spike Lee just two sections away.
And all around, on the finals night, there’s West Virginians, Mountaineers who travel well. More than half the garden is filled with WVU people, nearly everyone except for the whacky guy dressed in orange running around yelling ‘The ‘Cuse is on the Loose.’
They also had been dispatched long before.
McCarthy finds himself sitting in front of a guy from Elkins who scored his tickets from, let’s just say, an official from Marion County.
The crowd is electric, the beers are flowing. McCarthy is there watching Notre Dame play Pitt, knowing he wanted his Mountaineers to play the Panthers in the next round but just unwilling to root for them, so he helps root the Irish home.
And then the Mountaineers play three magnificent games to the championship, Da’Sean Butler doing heroic things. It is more than McCarthy or Bragg can imagine, more than they ever expected for these are games West Virginia just normally hasn’t won during their life experiences.
They party deep into the night.
The camera now switches to a car driving through the rain on Interstate 78, it zeroes in on the two men as they pop another Advil. All you hear is the motor and the rain, then a sudden clap of thunder.
They look at each other and smile, and begin singing “Country Roads.”
Fade back to real life.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.