Jack Bauer eat your heart out. Jason Bourne, have a listen to this. The story behind my arrival at Qwest Field last Thursday night to call the Sounders v Union match for radio, is an epic tale that I don’t think I’ll ever exceed in my broadcasting career. The day was 27 hours long, it was exhilarating, exhausting and at times, just plain surreal.
Applying for a work visa for the United States of America is an intense process that requires extreme dedication and the stamina of an Olympic triathlete. Uncle Sam doesn’t make it easy to come to this land to earn a living, and why would they?
So once my visa had been approved, I still had to make a trip to London to hand over my passport, for the final rubber stamping exercise.
It’s 8:30am on Wednesday March 24th. Kick-off is 41 ½ hours away. I’m waiting patiently in line outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London. My plan is simple, I have to get my passport processed by the Embassy, and then try and persuade them to break with protocol, and allow me to collect it in person. That way, I could board flight BA49 from Heathrow to Seattle on Thursday afternoon. It was my only hope of making the game.
Once inside the building, I was called for my interview. “The Seattle Sounders?” asked the lady on the other side of the glass, “I’m from Seattle, aren’t they the Basketball team?” I politely explained that the Sounders were the Soccer team, assuming that she’d been away from the Emerald City for a while. I then asked her the big question; could I collect my passport in person tomorrow morning? “Ask at the couriers desk” she replied. That was very encouraging; it definitely wasn’t a “No”.
I marched over to the courier’s desk, to be greeted by a young lad. He looked at the form that I’d just filled out. “Aren’t you Arlo White from BBC Radio” he enquired, “I wondered where you’d got to”. This was great news, the guy knew who I was, and surely he’d be able to help.
Following his orders, I called the courier company at 8am on Thursday morning, just 18 hours before kick-off. “Sorry I’ve got no passport for Arlo White” said the voice at the other end. My heart sank. “Call back at 11:30 though, we might have it then.” 11:30 was no good to me. Even if they had the passport, I wouldn’t be able to get to the airport on time to make the flight.
I had just about given up. I packed my stuff and prepared to head home. At 10am I decided to give it one last go, and called the couriers again. What occurred next, set in motion and extraordinary chain of events. “Your passport has been processed Mr White” said Jackie on the other end, “it might be in this pile next to me. If it is, I’ll call you”. I couldn’t believe my ears, we were back in business.
At 10:25am, Jackie called back, “Mr White I have your passport in my right hand”. I punched the air. “You need to be at the hotel across from the Embassy by 11am, or I can’t help you”. I dashed outside the hotel, dived into a taxi and told the man to make haste to Grosvenor Square. My driver sped through a couple of borderline red lights, and we arrived at 10:55am. Jackie was waiting for me, with a cigarette dangling from her mouth, and she placed the precious document into my hand in return for a signature. It was now 11am UK time, the match would start in 15 hours time.
From a position of no hope, it was now mine to lose.
It’s 2:15pm, 12 hours and 45 minutes until kick-off. Having arrived at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5, I’m about to board flight BA49. I handed my boarding pass to the nice lady from BA. “Oh Mr White” she says, “It’s your lucky day”. ‘You don’t know the half of it’ I thought, before she announced that I’d been upgraded to Business class. It was like being told that I’d made the England World Cup Squad.
Despite taking off 45 minutes late, Flight BA49 landed at SeaTac Airport right on time, at 5:00pm PT. There were less than 2 hours to go until kick-off. What could go wrong now? The immigration line was very small. I confidently brandished my new visa to the officer as the desk. He just happened to be a Sounders fan. Even if he wasn’t, I had a valid visa!
Once I grabbed my bag off the carousel, it was 5:30pm. The Sounders had arranged for a nice man named Brian to pick me up. Brian was talking about an accident that might slow us down near Qwest Field. “Wait a minute” he said, before dialing his cell phone. Moments later, when we pulled out of the car park, I noticed a State Trooper on a motorbike pulling out in front of us. “Here’s our escort” said Brian. I could barely believe it. The officer parted the traffic on I-5 like Moses and the Red Sea.
At 6:15pm, Brian pulled his car into the garage at Qwest Field. I was greeted by my friend Brian O’Connell from the Sounders Broadcasting department. We high fived, and then I bowed before him, so that he could place an MLS accreditation around my neck. It felt like an Olympic Gold medal. We’d made it. At 6:25pm I walked into the radio booth in the Gary Wright Press Box. The pre-game show with Matt Johnson, Alan Hinton and Pete Fewing was already on air. Moments later, I was being asked about my “keys to the game”!
It was a triumph of perseverance by all concerned. When I caught my first glance of Qwest that night, I was reminded exactly why I was so desperate to be there for opening night. So if I sounded a little extra excited when I called the Brad Evans goal in the 12th minute, now you know why…!