Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Puck Me


Tonight the hometown team beat an arch rival, one that has stalled Stanley Cup dreams for year after year, and finally tonight during sudden death overtime (no one actually died) of game seven out of seven the Canucks managed to win that fourth game and get the green light to progress to the next round.

And here’s the funny thing. I’ve only been to a handful of games, and those games have just happened to be against Chicago, the team the Canucks finally managed to shut down tonight, and Nashville, the team Canucks just happen to be about to square off against in elimination round two.

I know what you’re thinking, I still can’t believe Tennessee has a NHL Hockey team either, just shows there’s money in strip mines, coal, and country music. Of course no one on the team likely actually grew up in Tennessee, though I’ll bet a few of them can’t read English either.

My first ever hockey game, a college varsity game on the relatively new rink in Lexington during my freshman year of college, I went along with a fairly affluent girl from Texas that spends her summers competitively kayaking, something I hadn’t known actually was a sport until I met her. I think she eventually went to the Olympics, hope so, that’d been her big dream as I recall, doing the white water rapids competitions. She could bend rebar with her bare hands. Anyway, a fan of all wet sports, even when frozen, she dragged me to a game watch her pal play and stand behind the rival goalie to slap the safety glass, slosh beer around like spreading holy water on the anointed ones, and basically get our rowdy on. I remember that you could smell the gear bags from outside the locker rooms as I passed. It was a fun game however I’d been distracted by some social aspects of the company I had fallen in with, like the fact that they all had time for sports and sports cars and sporty lifestyles while I had become precariously close to a trophy for a girl that terrified most men and could bench press me single handed. I didn’t mind her well defined triceps, and I respected her passion for her sport. I just felt out of place like John Cusack in a teen angst comedy. Hanging out with rich kids watching a fun yet utterly alien sport with a woman happy to out drink me and punch me when I fell behind. We didn’t date again much after that night, left things tuned to the We’ll Be Friends setting, no harm done. Particularly to her Izuzu Trooper, thankfully, though that’s a post for some other day.

From 1988 until 2000 something I didn’t see another Hockey game until I got in on the passes list at Radical to attend a Canucks game. I picked the night the Canucks would square off with Nashville, full well planning to root for who I perceived (correctly) would be the underdog, the team from the land of my childhood, though I would be quick to point out East Tennessee and West Tennessee harbor similar rivalries to anything identified as East or West.

I’m from the East finger point end of the state, from the oldest town in Tennessee. Bluegrass during the summer, blue collar livelihoods, short buildings, loads of families that remained after the state volunteered and freed their ancestors, what weren’t freed already when the plantation owners fled with their carpet bags full of loot for the hills as the Union and Confederacy treated the fields of East Tennessee as a thoroughfare to other places to throw down. A place with minimal racism because everyone too broke to start putting on airs. And yes, I definitely have my rose colored glasses duct taped on here. My Dad could probably better reflect the realities of Eastern Tennessee, but let him get his own blog. From my memories as a kid growing up there, that is East Tennessee.

My impressions of West Tennessee are much different. One caveat, though. My other Dad and his better half live in Murfreesboro, another small town with a city square and long winded history like Jonesboro. Sort of city square where entering the Christian owned coffee shop with a short sleeve t-shirt on since it’s both summer and sweltering, such that my artsy full sleeves can be seen, causes all conversation to stop and heads to track. When I got my coffee, I noticed text on the side of the cup peaking up from under the java jacket. Once outside I slid the jacket down a bit and learned the smiling barista with the under-lip steel ball piercings’ name and phone number. Now that is hospitality! Although to be fair, southern girls are always happy to meet out of towners, means there is less likelihood of turning out related. So while I might make fun of West Tennessee, that’s not counting Murfreesboro, as my family there and the photography studio they operate that spends vast amounts of time and effort helping to restore, preserve, and protect the history of folks and their families in the region is a noteworthy thing, a good thing.

The rest of West Tennessee, from my life experience, is basically Nashville, a drive through down town at night with a bride’s made with hair that came mostly out of bottles to see the big landmarks, like the mall, and the parking lot behind the administration building on Vanderbilt’s campus until the cop came to tap on the glass and ask about why they were steamed up. Move along, nothing to see here. The motel on the edge of downtown where the bride’s maid had nothing else to say to me, where a pile of people down for the shotgun wedding were piled on the carpet and beds in the tiny room, someone else passed out in the tub, one stop shop for bachelor’s party and playpen. The tiny rental room in a lodge outside town where a couple dozen hung over kids, except the with baby bride, were standing around shuffling nervously and looking over sunglasses to see if the hung over parents were still glaring at them reproachfully. My only shotgun wedding, confirmed when I saw the bride’s uncle loading the shells into the shaft below the barrel before putting the weapon into is jacked up Camero’s trunk and folding a blank over it the texture and color of Pink Panther insulation. And why this didn’t alarm me at the time, I’ll never know. The place had a bar but the bartender never showed up, so I volunteered to put my restaurant bar back experience to use, making everyone White Russians since it’s the only drink I’d learned to make yet at Charlie Brown’s by the University of Kentucky campus.

So, ill informed and under particular circumstances, my impression of West Tennessee is redneck living against a backdrop of unattainable opulence. I’ll stick with East Tennessee’s more middle of the road approach, and keep my rosy shades on as well, thank you.


So rooting for Nashville’s team with Jonesboro in mind, I watched the Canucks wallop a whole new song of the south out of those boys. Brutal. And so many vacant seats, like fans simply saw this as a foregone conclusion, like when you attend the Harlem Globetrotters, of course the other team is going to lose. Like those generic unknown wrestlers that show up in WWF matches to make the stars look good, since the titans can’t fight each other all the time, right? Secretly you know, just as you know it’s all staged, that those poor schmucks losing were paid to lose, paid to make others look good, and that while the generic names, jerseys, or masks and tights might change, it’s the same guys underneath, making a living out of taking the fall.

So to find out at the end of tonight’s game that the next round will pit the home team against Nashville is bit heartwarming to me. Not because I’m a big hockey convert or anything, I’m not that so much as I am a huge sucker for sports drama, for underdogs to root for, or people overcoming hardships, like how difficult it must be to get a rink to freeze in the summer in Tennessee. Surely won\t find any outdoor rinks there. And to learn Nashville made it to round two means they’ve gotten better, recruited better, raided more convenience stores for bags of ice. They aren’t Jamaican bobsledders anymore. Maybe they’re actually able to start charging for seats around the rink now, compel avid Nascar and college football fans, Go Vols!, to accept and embrace a sport that doesn’t involve engines or alumni booster scandals. Perhaps the physical contact and the way the players seem to go around and around the rink can find a resonance with the locals. 

Maybe instead of coming to town to a half empty stadium they’ll arrive to see a sea of blue peppered with acrobatic people in green body suits and college boys dressed as children’s television shop personalities. Maybe they’ll even win a few. Maybe even the whole thing. Maybe I should get a jersey, or would a burlap sack like the sort I wore as a kid be enough?

My next game after seeing the Canucks crush Nashville was a year later, versus Chicago, and Chicago won, also in overtime if I remember correctly, although after all that overpriced stadium beer from the tiny women staffing the White Spot counter, my memories might be a touch suspect.

Did you know if you go to a hockey game here the beer comes with a plastic lid, the sort that has an X to mark where the straw goes. I tried using a straw, wouldn’t recommend. Believe the lid is to help prevent sloshing your beer onto children as you climb over them to reach your seats because you didn’t know that if you’re sitting in Radical’s season seats you can waive and a person with a Tricorder will come by and take your food and drink order, return shortly after and accept payment with a credit card, preferably your own.

So the beer lid makes some sense, what doesn’t follow is that if you then order a bottled water, the staff removes and keeps the lid. This makes refilling the bottle awkward, because without the lid your neighbors will smell the pee. My insider expert pal Alex says it’s an insurance thing, so no one can huck a water bottle out onto the ice. I’d expect ice skating over a bottle full of Canuck fan pee might be pretty off putting. And slippery, though that wouldn’t really be an issue for this particular sport.

Hockey has certainly struck a chord with me, a few actually, considering Stompin' Tom Connors's greatest hits are on my iPod in the Rockabilly section all thanks to his beloved anthem for the game.

Not sure if this is synchronicity or not, Sting wouldn’t take my calls. What I do know is I’m excited about round two, genuinely, and since I’m not an enthusiast for the sport, this is a curious thing. Hard not to get swept up with the spirit a bit. Hard to have a choice, either. Get caught up a bit, or get aggravated a lot.

The town is ignited, all my local friends were posting frantically on Facebook at each major turn the game tonight took, and I can still hear the people shouting gleefully as Whoville and cars honking on the gentle evening breeze as I try to coax the utterly distracted dog to have a wee and come on back inside. Don’t make me get the water bottle, Boomer.

So I look forward to the next round, despite not knowing who to root for, really. I live here now, this what I consider the home team, though I by no means feel any part of my life is hanging in balance based on the successes of failures of this sports for profit team. They aren’t my prophets. Just entertainment, and that’s the affect living in the shadow of the stadiums has, especially when there is so much wonderful drama to see unfold. Take a pass on the stadium beers this year, enjoy what games we can after the baby goes to bed with the missus. And just as Tennessee’s governor waited for a sense of who would win to decide who to volunteer for during the Civil War, maybe wait until game four to decide which jersey to wear, what underdog to root for.

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