Everybody is waiting for 8:23 p.m., and they’re waiting in a variety of ways in downtown Lawrence. Here’s a look at some sights and sounds from downtown as folks prepare for tonight’s National Championship contest between Kansas University and Kentucky:
• 3:50 p.m.: Thank goodness for lost and found.
About 15 people are lined up outside of Liberty Hall at Seventh and Massachusetts streets, doing their best to hide from the sun under umbrellas that Liberty Hall employees pulled out of the lost and found bin.
High temperatures in Lawrence are expected to be near 90 degrees today, creating an unusual hurdle for basketball fans waiting for the game to begin.
Liberty Hall began handing out 650 tickets for folks to get inside the building for the balsam at 11 a.m. By 11:15, they were all gone. Now, fans are lined up to get the first crack at the best seats in the building, which will show the game on their big screens.
Taylor and Christ Scott were first in line, having staked out there spot at about 3 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m. Both said they didn’t have to think long about making the trek to downtown.
“We were both students in 2008,” said Taylor, who works for a campus ministry program at KU. “Being able to be a part of two National Championships is exciting. It is something you don’t take lightly.”
• 4:20 p.m. How bad do you have to go? I would guess pretty bad if you are actually willing to get in a Porta John restroom with 40,000 screaming fans running about Massachusetts Street. But if nature calls, there are at least three locations in downtown Lawrence that have the temporary restroom facilities in place — the southeast corner of Seventh and Mass., the southwest corner of Ninth and Mass., and the southeast corner of Ninth and Mass. There may be others, but those are the ones I noticed as I walked about this afternoon.
• 4:25 p.m.: Yes, Mike Helvey does know how to play "My Old Kentucky Home" on his banjo. And no, he doesn’t think he’ll make much in tips playing it tonight. But Helvey set up shop at the corner of Seventh and Massachusetts street to play a little bluegrass music just hours before the Jayhawks get set to play the boys from the blue grass state. KU fans hope Helvey will be in better tune than the Wildcats.
• 4:30 p.m.: Where is everybody parking? It sure isn’t on Massachusetts Street. Actually, if you needed to get your hair cut, run into Weavers for a new pair of socks, or go see your downtown attorney, it would be a piece of cake to get a parking spot along Massachusetts Street this afternoon. There are multiple spots open — more so than on a typical Saturday afternoon. Folks apparently are catching on that leaving your car on Massachusetts Street during a massive celebration may not be the best strategy.
I made a quick check of the parking garage at Ninth and New Hampshire street at 4:30, and there still were spots available — although it was filling up quickly.
• 4:45 p.m.: Every table at the Red Lyon Tavern, 944 Mass., is filled, but there is still standing room space inside the building. Doors opened at 4 p.m.
At the tables there was plenty of talk about game strategy — keeping Withey out of foul trouble and stout defense seems to be how the game plan is being drawn up on the tavern chalkboard. But there also is a strategy to successfully sitting in a bar for four hours prior to tip off and still being in a state to remember the game once it starts.
“You have to stay hydrated with something other than beer,” said George Conforti, who took a sip of beer as he delivered that piece of advice.
“Don’t worry about us,” he said as he noted the contradiction. “This isn’t our first rodeo.”
• At 845 Mass., the game is already on. A group of guys associated with the temporary art gallery at the location have hung from an awning frame a piece of plywood attached to a bottomless plastic bucket.
I told game participant Paul Flinders that if had been a peach basket James Naismith would have been proud.
“I think he still would be proud of us,” Flinders said. “But somebody is always walking by trying to dunk it.”
Flinders estimated they’ve had to repair the bucket and backboard about 15 times.
• 5:45 p.m. Keep your pants on people. Really, keep them on. Journal-World reporter Alex Garrison called in with some excitement in the 1300 block of Vermont Street.
Garrison reports that at about 5:30 p.m. a man began walking in the middle of Vermont Street without his shoes or shirt, and then eventually removed his pants as well. The man, it appeared, tried to break into a house on the block. The police were called and the man was detained, Garrison reports.
I believe this incident may have started around 11th and Mass. We heard on the police scanner a report of a shoeless man running in the middle of the intersection at 11th and Mass.
• 6:10 p.m.: Less than an hour now before CBS goes on the air with its coverage, and downtown is starting to swing into full party mode. There is even a five piece band playing in the 700 block of Mass (in front of Signs of Life.) There’s a keyboard, an electric guitar, a bongo drum, a trumpet, and a flute. That’s right, a flute. Now the party can begin.
• 6:15 p.m. The corner of 7th and Mass smells like a suntan lotion factory. Folks have been standing in the sun since at least 3 p.m. this afternoon waiting to get into Liberty Hall, which will show the games on their big screens. Some folks, though, are getting a break from the sun. The line has stretched all the way into the shady alley between New Hampshire and Massachusetts Streets.
• 6:20 p.m. There are plenty of chances to be on T.V. tonight. At least four satellite trucks from area news stations are parked in downtown.
• 6:25 p.m.: I’m still amazed by the parking situation. Mass. Street parking spots are getting emptier by the minute. There were some reports of significant vehicle damage after Saturday’s victory, and motorists evidently have taken notice. I counted 16 parking spaces in a row that were empty in the 800 block of Massachusetts Street. Some brave souls, though, are undeterred. There is an old Chevy pickup truck in the 900 block of Mass. with speakers mounted to the hood, Jayhawk heads covering the big lights a top the cab and about a dozen very enthusiastic KU fans in the pickup bed.
• 6:30 p.m.: A brand new bar has essentially popped up along Massachusetts Street. The vacant lot between Einstein Bagels and the Allen Press property in the 1000 block of Massachusetts Street has been converted into an outdoor beer garden — complete with tables, umbrellas, and a large refrigerated truck full of beer.
• 6:35 p.m.: It may not be an overly kid-friendly environment later tonight, but kids are out and about this evening. And some are trying to use their cuteness to sell some KU merchandise. About a half dozen Broken Arrow and South Junior High students are selling homemade Jayhawk headbands for $5 apiece in the 900 block of Mass. I asked nine-year old Nola Levings the strangest thing she had seen thus far this evening.
“A shirtless man with really hairy arm pits running down the street yelling ‘Go KU,’” she said.
Oh, I have a feeling that is just the opening act.
• 7:30 p.m. Almost time to tip, and definitely time to move that truck. There’s a pickup truck parked in the 900 block of Massachusetts Street that has a logo with “Wildcat Construction” on its doors. In case you have forgotten, Kentucky’s mascot is the Wildcats.
• 8:00 p.m. Crutches were not going to slow Caroline VanSlambrouck down on National Championship day. The KU women’s soccer player was the only person I saw today hobbling down Massachusetts Street with an ankle cast and a pair of crutches.
VanSlambrouck had surgery for a broken foot on Friday, but she said there wasn’t any question she was coming downtown to take in tonight’s festivities.
“I wasn’t going to miss this for the world,” VanSlambrouck said. “It is amazing.”
VanSlambrouck actually was downtown on Saturday night, just one day after surgery. VanSlambrouck managed to hobble along Massachusetts Street well enough, but she said the crutches did create one problem.
“Everybody was trying to give me high fives,” VanSlambrouck said. “But I was like ‘I’m on crutches. I’ll fall over.’”
Less than a half hour to go. We all may fall over tonight.