Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Drunk Hockey: Bad. Old Friends: Good.

"Dude, did you punch me in the ribs last night?", I asked, only half-jokingly.  I was still in a bit of a beer haze at 8:00 AM Central Time.  I rolled over to get up and found that my right leg hurt quite a bit as well.

"No, but I wish I had some video of you skating, it was sweet!" he said as he let out a laugh.  "Let's go, we're supposed to be over there soon".

Ah, the laugh.  That's the Reid.  Justin Reid. Todd if you piss him off.  Laser if he's skating.  He moved next door when he was 4 and I was 6.  We've been good friends ever since.   He's been in Minnesota for the past 16 years so we haven't seen each other a lot, but in recent years we've picked up the activity.  He came to California last year so it was my turn to go to Minnesota this year.  We deliberately chose January because it figured to be prime hockey time.  We both learned to skate a little over the years but never had the chance to play hockey together.

"Over there" was the pond rink we spent two hours flooding the night before, which caused my drunken state, which led to sore ribs and a mammoth contusion on my right leg.  His buddy Brad recommended we flood it to get rid of the snow and slush on top to make it "smooth" for the next morning (*1).  With that in mind Justin picked me up from the airport and we went straight to the rink. 

When we got to Brad's house we put our winter gear on and went about getting the hose hooked up and down to the rink.   I studied hydraulics in college so I know a little bit about this kind of thing.  Let's see 300 feet to the rink, 4 GPM hose, 3,000 SF of ice....

"Dude, that's gonna take a long fu%$in' time".  (I got a C in the class, that was the best I could muster). 

I was worried about losing skating time so I was a bit exasperated.

"There's a keg in the house, we should be good", he replied.

"Sweet!"  I used his word because it seemed so right. 

 Almost everything in life is "sweet" to the Reid, whereas I see most things as a pain in the ass.  Given any situation, his response will most likely be, "Sweet, let's do it."  I'll tell you 50 reasons why it's not possible.  He'll go solve the problem.  Completely different world views in that sense.

A view of the pond rink looking down from the house.

This is when I had an inkling  this flooding process would be long.  Good thing the keg is nearby!

Fire Captain Reid doing what comes naturally.  This is the corner where my skate fell through.

As it turns out, my calculations were correct and it did take a "really long Fuc%&in' time" to flood the ice (about 2.5 hours), but it was good for the soul.  We talked and laughed as if we were still 10 years old.  I completely forgot about skating. I was catching up with an old friend over a few beers and I didn't give a crap.   I must admit, though, I was a little concerned with the condition of the ice, seeing as how I have some expertise in this area (*2).   It didn't seem like what we were doing was right.

"You wanna go skate at the park rink downtown", he asked.

"Sweet, let's do it!", I said, knowing it would be ugly.  His optimism was already growing on me.

We went.  I fell down often.  My ribs hurt.  My leg hurt.  It was cold.  I went to bed.  I woke up sore. I remember texting Reid at about 2:00 AM, "When you wake up, please bring aspirin".

In the morning we rallied and headed down to the pond rink and nobody was there for our scheduled game.  I get the feeling these pond hockey arrangements are mere guidelines to suggest that there is the possibility a game may be played if people show up.  I'm pretty sure an affirmative reply isn't binding.

We put our skates on anyway and did the best impression of hockey players we could muster. Damned if I'm coming to Minnesota without skating on a pond!  As expected the surface was terrible.  The cracks didn't freeze over, it was bumpy, and my skate fell through up to my boot in one of the corners.  The laser was in good form, though.  He's known as a "straight line" skater with tons of heart and hustle.  Hands need some work.

We lasted about 5 minutes before we packed up and headed over to the park rink where the ice was perfectly manicured.  We managed to find a 3-on-3 game and were promptly schooled by the locals, including a 12 year old kid.  The laser was solid in goal, sans pads.  He managed to make a few glorious runs up the ice, despite the crease in his hockey boot.

"Dude, I can't turn left", he kept telling me.

"Let me see your skate", I said.  He handed it over and there were obvious creases near the ankle.

"You have zero ankle support, that's why you can't turn.  You need new skates".

"Sweet!", he said and vowed to get new skates and practice more than one time a year.

I was a little shocked at my inability to be effective in the game.  After all, I spent several hours breaking down the skating and stick handling of Peter Forsberg, but it didn't seem to translate to the ice.  I guess I'll break down Patrick Kane next time.  He's a more modern player.

"Laser" on the pond rink. 

A miracle photo because the puck immediately rolled and bounced away on the rough surface.

This is my absolute best impression of a hockey player.  This was at the park where the ice was incredible.

A small goal at the park rink.  There was a huge open surface and you can see the boards in the background where the hockey rink is.  The open surface is where I tried to commit suicide by skating.

After a couple days of skating we went indoors and played tennis.  This is the sport we spent hundreds of hours practicing together.   I did it for fun, playing only one tournament in my life (*3).  Justin played through high school.  He had moved away by then so I didn't get to see those matches, but as I understand it, "Todd" was known to appear during these high school matches due to frustration from losing.  "Todd" punched out Justin's car windshield one time after losing a match.  What a dick.

"What happened during those times?", I asked.

"I don't know, it just seemed like I should have been better than I was.  When it didn't happen, Todd came out."

"Todd" never made an appearance on the courts while we were playing.  It was pure fun and a lot of laughing and joking.  Justin's much calmer now and more mature.  Plus, he's a father of two and has to set an example.  He tells me, though, that his 14 year old has the ability to make "Todd" appear.  I guess that's natural.  That's what I hear anyway.

As we were saying our goodbyes at the airport I looked at him and told him that this trip was good for my soul.  Relationships are the only thing that matter.  I think we all come to this realization as we get older.

"Dude, we need to make sure we do this once a year", I said.  "How about you come to California again next year?"

"Sweet, let's do it!"

This is not "Todd".   This is Justin.

Jackson, his 14 year old son.

"Sweet, let's do it"

Lily, Justin's daughter.

(*1) This is my first experience with pond hockey, but I'm pretty sure there is no such thing as "smooth" ice on one of these rinks.   In addition to the uneven snow on top, long cracks in excess of 3/4" in width were clearly visible and the water we flooded it with remained unfrozen the next morning.  How the hell does water not freeze overnight in 20 degree weather?  Now I know why California friend Brian Peck, originally from that area' said, "Good luck with your blades" when I told him I was there.

(*2) When we first moved to California in 1998 I was in the prime of my hockey obsession.  I became a "skate guard" at the Vacaville rink because that meant I could play pick-up hockey for free.  As such, I got to drive the Zamboni at the end of the night so the ice would be ready in the morning.  The instruction I was given in regards to the operation of the Zamboni were quite informal, seeing as how they were given by a 15 year old.  I managed to steer clear of trouble for awhile but eventually got the auger stuck while on the ice and that was the end of my Zamboni driver days.

(*3) At some point I thought I was good enough to play a tournament so I signed up in a local USTA event.   My opponent walked onto the court with boat shoes.  The brown leather kind that were prominent in the 80's.  I'm not exaggerating one tiny bit.  He kicked my ass and that was the last tournament I ever played until I played USTA leagues at age 40.