Friday, March 10, 2006

"Another Thursday Night Adventure"; or, "Tarkki Sucks"

Part One: In Which I'm Stunned to Learn That Traffic Occurs in Houston

My good friend Will was kind enough to purchase tickets to last night's Houston Aeros hockey game. For those unaware, Houston has a minor-league hockey franchise playing in the American Hockey League (the hockey equivalent of AAA Baseball). In fact, this year, Houston's team leads the conference in several categories, and has a legitimate shot at a title. Very exciting. So, Will and I have made a point of going to a handful of games this year. Last night was just such a game.

I left work later than I needed to, and hurried home. I changed, and sped (as much as one can speed in evening-rush-hour traffic) to Will's house. Picked up Will, and realized that I was almost out of gas.

Estimated Time until Opening Face-off: 37 minutes.

I finally found a convenience store with working gas-pumps (apparently difficult to come by in Meyer Park). Was charged $2.35 a gallon for regular. I don't know how it is where you are now (and I'm sure you're all going to tell me), but I was paying pennies over $2 just a week or two ago. I tried to make a lame joke about it. "I miss the good old days, when they would at least look you in the eye when they robbed you blind."

Will, being a good friend, made little or no reply.

We took 610 to 59 (I'm pretending all of you who are unfamiliar with Houston transportation actually understand or care), and things actually progressed at a pretty good clip. Then we hit the jam. Apparently, in the Houston transportation scheme, performing construction on one lane at a time on a vital city highway is just crazy talk. So three or four lanes were shut down, and we were left with two.

Something to understand about Houston drivers: You know how there's those jerks on the road who will speed around the main-lane back-up on an "exit only" lane and then try to jam their way back into traffic, motorist-safety-be-damned?

They all live in Houston. Every last one of them. If you've seen them elsewhere, it's because they were on vacation. They live here the rest of the year.

So as each lane proceeded to shut down, there would be the one or two drivers who would conscientiously merge early, and then the rest who would rocket down that fast-closing lane, then slam their brakes, and shoehorn themselves into the adjacent lane, effectively stopping all forward progress of those in the back of that lane for ten minutes at a time.

ETOF: 17 minutes.

Finally, we got off at Main, and took Main toward the cluster of Midtown high-rises (completely disregarding that claimed to be pointing toward "Downtown" but was pointing east instead of north). I was able to point out the Continental Club, site of a previously-described Thursday adventure.

Will was getting fidgety, in the passenger seat. Will loves his hockey, and hates to be late. In fact, he'd prefer to be about 30 minutes early, so he can watch the warm-ups, scout which players used to be good and whose careers are now fading, and discuss how Houston fans compare to Wichita fans. (At last check: we weren't so hot. But we're improving...maybe.)

We made it into Midtown, and weaved our way through crazy alternating one-way streets toward the arena.

ETOF: 3 minutes.

Part of the deal on the tickets Will got was free parking. He was told to give his name to the person at the lot, and they'd let us in. Well, we tried two different lots at the specific corner we were told, and neither knew what Will was talking about. (As it turns out, one of the lots was the right one, but the person presiding over it was an imbecile. Go figure.) So we circle around (three blocks away, thanks to the freaking street layout), and find a "pay" lot. Fortunately, we don't have to. Pay. A lot. Ahem.

During this time, I tried to make the best of it, although I felt guilty for not starting this excursion earlier, or perhaps getting out of work earlier. I offer that perhaps our lateness is actually a blessing in disguise. That, had we been in our seats, one of us could have been struck by an errant puck and killed instantly. In fact, that our lateness actually saved one or both of our lives.

Will, being a good friend, didn't strangle me right then and there.

[Ironically enough, it would be later that we would defy death.]

ETOF: -12 minutes.

We walk up to the "will call" window. Getting the tickets takes a little longer than it probably should have. Will makes a disgusted grunt or groan or something. I look over. We were handed the parking pass with the tickets. You know, the one we didn't need, if we just gave his name. Ugh.

Finally, we enter the arena. Will proceeds to the seats. I grab a hot dog and meet him there.

Part Two: In Which It is Indisputably Established that Tarkki, In Fact, Sucks

The tickets were as close as I have ever legally sat during a hockey game. (The only other time being when Daniel Gertson and I snuck down to the seats right up against the glass, during the third period of a game against... either Orlando or Manitoba, I can't remember. I think Manitoba. They were right next to the opposing bench, so we picked a certain player to taunt every time he left the ice. The most thrilling moment was when he heard us and hit [actually, tapped] the glass with his stick as he skated by.)

This time, Will and I sat in "fifth" row (in actuality, Row 5 was the third row up, in our section), about seven feet from the glass. The game was thrilling. It's so much more tense when you're close up. You can see the players talking to each other, opponents trading unkind words, teammates encouraging or sharing strategy; you can see their facial expressions. It seems a little more real, because they're not all tiny-looking. As one would expect.

We were close enough that I was actually cold. That never happens. My feet were cold the entire time. That was so rad.

The section next to ours was filled with obsessive screaming fans who were apparently season-ticket holders. They all knew each other and were decked out in Aeros jerseys and shirts. The Super-Fans, basically. And they all had these big cowbells, with handles, covered with the Aeros logo. When the animated scoreboard demanded, "More Cowbell!", those folks went nuts with the cowbell. We're talking, deafening tumultuous cowbell. I told Will that I was waiting until they were done, just to be able to start hearing my ears ringing.

Will, being a good friend, laughed at my lame joke.

One of their more endearing group activities occurred at the end of every period. The rink announcer makes note of there being one minute left, normally. So just before, they would call out, "HOW MUCH TIME IS LEFT?" When the announcer replies, "one minute remaining in the period," they respond, "THANK YOU!"

This was their only endearing group activity, in fact.

Traditionally, whenever the Aeros score a goal, the fans shout in unison, "He shoots! He scores! Hey _____, you suck!" The blank, of course, being the opposing goalie's name. This is particularly entertaining when the goalie has a multi-syllabic Eastern European name. All manner of variations on the name are screamed out. The most important word of the cheer, however--the word to be most clearly emphasized--is the word "suck." There is no doubt in a single fan's mind that the opposing goalie, no matter the jersey or country of origin, sucks. He may be working a 50-save shutout, performing a veritable goalie clinic, and still, we the fans are certain beyound a doubt's shadow that he sucks.

Normally, however, this sentiment is saved for just the hometown team's goal-scoring. But not in the SuperFans' section. No, sir. They made it clear throughout the ENTIRE game that Tarkki indeed sucked. At no time did Tarkki, or anyone else for that matter, have any other inclination of how they felt about his performance. Throughout the evening, we heard a chorus of, "Tar-kki-SUCKS, Tar-kki-SUCKS"; "Hey, Tarkki--YOU SUCK!"; and the more advanced, "Hey, Tarkki--YOU STILL SUCK!"

At one point, Will turns to me and says, "Gee, Dave, I wonder if Tarkki sucks?" I assured him, "I think we'll have our answer in a minute or so." Fortunately, I was proven correct. The great mystery was solved; Tarkki sucks.

The only other notable non-hockey event was the between-period "entertainment." For that night, it was a glorified bar-band called "The Guzzlers." They sang such classics as "Pride and Joy," "Sweet Home Alabama," "Johnny B. Goode," and other such southern-fried standards. Sadly, they did not sing them well. At one point, they brought out the woman who sang the national anthem that night (we were told; obviously, I can't verify this statement) to sing some sort of country song. She fared little better than The Guzzlers. But at least she was better looking. -ish. I turned to Will, "So apparently it's Karaoke Night at the hockey game." He shook his head. "No, I'd be into that. In fact, all of my co-workers would come to that in a heartbeat. But this..." He didn't have to finish his statement. I felt the same way.

The Guzzlers sucked. Worse than Tarkki, maybe.

Fortunately, we were there for a hockey game, rather than a concert. So our disappointment was short-lived.

At the end of the night, the good guys won 4-3, and we returned to the truck, pleased and relieved.

Our relief did not last long.

Part Three: In Which My Bad Driving Nearly Causes Injury to Ourselves and Others on More Than One Occassion

Typical post-sporting-event traffic. I had the bright idea to "beat the crowd" (an action that has never actually happened in human existence, and belongs in the same category as Sasquatch and cheap big-and-tall stores). I turned away from the highway, a scant six blocks away, and tried to cut through the southern part of Midtown to catch US-59 near Main. The problem was that my grasp of the one-way streets was still pretty sketchy. Factor in that i haven't been gettin a lot of rest in the past week. And that I had fallen off the diet wagon, and my eating was irregular and unhealthy for the past 2 or 3 days. And I was coming down off the adrenaline high of the game.

The first near-death experience was when I turned the wrong way down a one-way road. Will began yelling, "It's one-way! It's one-way!" There was oncoming traffic just about fifty yards away, but the real issue was that I nearly hit a guy on a bike. He almost fell over, trying to stop, then screamed at me and made some sort of hand gesture. I tried to yell back, "I'm sorry!" Will shouted, "Just drive, Dave!" So I got back on the road we were on previously. Finally, we made it down to US-59.

Not only did the transportation powers-that-be have fun screwing up the actual lanes of the highway, but the feeder roads are now non-existent for a large stretch of the road. In their place is a labrynthine series of detours, some of which made an actual circle (four left turns). I had trouble following (or even seeing) signs. Fortunately, Will was there to let me know which signs I was passing.

Finally, I decided, forget this, I'm turning south. I was looking at signs, as I turned under the highway, and proceeded forward, until I heard Will scream "RED LIGHT! RED LIGHT!" I screeched to a stop at the "red light." Cars whizzed by, just a few lengths in front of us. Will fell back in his seat, grabbed his chest, and gasped some (clean) variation of "holy crap." He then proceeded to ask God if He was enjoying the entertainment. I hope so. Neither of us were.

Finally, thankfully, I found Main, and went south until I got to the Med Center, an area that I know well and that has NO ONE-WAY STREETS. On the rest of the way to Will's apartment, he good-naturedly teased me. I didn't take it as well as I should. I pouted.

Will, being a good friend, didn't scream and/or kill me for putting him through the experience.

I tried to assure him that this was just a bad night, and that he didn't have to worry about riding with me in the future. I'm still not sure if he believed me about that. I think he just told me what I wanted to hear until he could get out of the car.

For the rest of the night, all the way home, I was especially jumpy, and second-guessed EVERY SINGLE TURN on my route. At this point, I still don't relish driving anywhere this weekend.

I'm trying to think of a snappy ending for the story. Maybe a moral of some kind. I suppose I could BS something about pride, since I was bragging about being able to find my way back easily through the Midtown Maze. But really, I think the moral of the story is, if we need to go anywhere together, why don't YOU drive?

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