I've traveled to Beijing, Bangkok, Bali, Hanoi, Moscow, Copenhagen, Paris, London, Berlin, Sydney, Johannesburg, Shanghai, Casablanca, Warsaw, Prague, Jerusalem . . .
Come this weekend, my latest trip is taking me to a city to which I've never been — Bakersfield. And the big question is how many people from Los Angeles are going to join me.
"We don't know what to expect," said Roger Blake, associate executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation that runs high school sports.
Friday and Saturday, the high school basketball state championships will be held at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield, and the other day, I was asking players, coaches and fans during the regional finals, "Have you ever been to Bakersfield?"
There weren't too many "yes" answers.
The championships are usually held at Arco Arena in Sacramento, but it's unavailable because of an NCAA women's basketball regional.
So Bakersfield, the 11th-largest city in California with a population of more than 311,000 and known for having lots of oil wells, gets a one-year chance to play host to the event. It's about a two-hour drive from downtown Los Angeles if your car can make it over the Grapevine going up Interstate 5.
Rabobank Arena can seat nearly 10,000 and is used by the Lakers when they play exhibition games in the city. The community loves high school sports, as is clear by the way the state wrestling championship usually draws capacity crowds.
But what's the lure for Los Angeles residents? Many go to events to see celebrities, and with defending Division V champion Los Angeles Windward eliminated, there doesn't figure to be an appearance by Denzel Washington, the Wildcats' No. 1 fan.
Westchester (31-3) has its own Denzel, as in senior guard Denzel Douglas, and there won't be a more entertaining dunker on display than the Comets' Dwayne Polee Jr., who had 20 points Saturday night in Westchester's 71-63 victory over Santa Ana Mater Dei in the Southern California Division I regional final.
Luckily, a scouting mission of Bakersfield has been done, thanks to a couple of administrators at North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake whose boys' team played a playoff game in Bakersfield this month.
Audrius Barzdukas, the head of athletics, and former USC fullback Terry Barnum, the school's athletic director, said they discovered the No. 1 restaurant/hangout place in Bakersfield — Buck Owens' Crystal Palace off Highway 99 on Buck Owens Boulevard. It opens at 5 p.m. for dinner and is also a museum devoted to the late singer who had 21 No. 1 hits on the Billboard country music charts.
"When I go places, I'm always looking for the cultural icon of the community," Barzdukas said.
Added Barnum: "I had a chicken fried steak the size of a wall clock."
As for the basketball this weekend, the Division III boys' final on Saturday at 3 p.m. between Gardena Serra (33-2) and Oakland Bishop O'Dowd (30-3) should be a classic.
Bishop O'Dowd has 6-foot-9 sophomore Brandon Ashley, who's on his way to becoming a national recruit. He helped his team outrebound Sacramento, 57-28, Saturday in the Northern California regional final. Serra is loaded with top athletes.
The Division I boys' final on Saturday at 8 p.m. should be another competitive game. Newark (30-4) owns victories over Los Angeles Price and Woodland Hills Taft. But I've been saying for weeks that Westchester is the best team in the state, and I expect the Comets to deliver a sixth state title to Coach Ed Azzam.
Then let the partying begin at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace. It's open until midnight.