Simple pleasures fill an 82-game void

As the NHL lockout rolls on, some things have struck me about the life that I live and sometimes miss out on when charging full speed into an 82-game season on the heels of a 162-game baseball season. I have tried to enjoy this down time, sprinkled with work and anxiety, as much as possible.

And that’s just it: Time.

There are simple pleasures that I had forgotten even existed on what has been a day-to-day basis.
 
For example:

I have been able to eat meals at home. I have even cooked some of them.

It’s hard to believe how many dinners I have consumed on a paper plate or from a serving line of some sort. I eat things in a media dining hall that I would never, ever even consider as an option at home.

I have been home for the holidays and special occasions. Home means home. It doesn’t mean running to a morning skate on Thanksgiving and then to the rink that afternoon at 4 p.m.
 
Home means home for Christmas, before during and after, not leaving at 5 a.m. on the 26th to get a game in after the holiday.

Seeing a movie hasn’t taken an act of Congress.

I have played tennis in the middle of the day just because I could.

I’ll get the groceries. I’ll run to the dry cleaner. I’ll take out the garbage. I’ll feed the dogs and get their food.

I won’t make the bed.

Not now, not ever.

A weekend really has been a weekend. That’s not something I have said all that often these last 25 years. And I get it. Always have. When aspiring broadcasters come to me for a bit of advice I always ask them the same questions, first off:

“Are you a sports fan? Do you want to stay a sports fan?”

You can do this job and be a fan, certainly. You have to. But there are great sacrifices made that nobody can understand until they walk a few hard miles in the shoes of a traveling sportscaster.

It is, as they say, what it is.

But still, as the lockout appears to be at critical mass phase, a few thoughts about
what I have observed along the way.

First of all, for some reason, I have come to relish driving around town, running errands, in the middle of the work week. I now can see and feel your day-to-day stress. Some of you have it, some don’t.

But now, at a red light or in rush hour, I can pick those of you who do have it out of a lineup.

You wear it on your sleeve. And, unless you are texting while driving, I can see it in the way that you drive.

Slow down. I did. And all it took was two speeding tickets in one week and a mirror to look at while I was observing you.

But there’s more.

There’s personal hygiene, for example. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have been brushing my teeth and washing my face and hands every morning and every night since I can remember, save a few random mornings in college where I couldn’t find my face.  And I am not complaining here, I love my job and probably should have embraced the medium of television about 18 years earlier in my career, but the whole “makeup” thing is a giant pain in the applicator. You have no idea how cool it is NOT to have to apply makeup to a male face every day. This isn’t a macho thing; it’s just annoying. And, as any cultured man knows, makeup is NOT cheap. At least the good stuff isn’t.

The joy has also trickled down to the lost art of a “shave and a haircut.” And trust me, the haircut is no longer “two bits.” It’s not that I don’t miss the kamikaze runs for a treasured parking spot at Leiden Mitchell Salon at high noon on any given day. That’s almost like an Olympic competition. And I really do like what they do with my hair, even though I push it and don’t go as often as I should. But there have been a few mornings that I have ventured in front of the mirror on the wall and just laughed.

I look like the Unabomber. I have not colored my hair, never will. Proud of the salt and pepper, more salt than pepper. My dad went grey in his 30s, and I recall that I started then, too. But, it’s the beard that is the ego destroyer. I remember when there was a few areas of the “distinguished college professor” look on my face. But now, since I don’t have to shave everyday, I am seeing a forest of grey. My neck hair is grey.

Clothing? Well, that’s been a treat, too. Dry-cleaning bills have dropped to next to nothing. I have made no secret of the fact that I cannot stand wearing a suit and tie, but I understand the whole “respect the game of hockey” thing. It feels right wearing the garb at the rink. My suits fit, on most nights, and I have a collection of ties from THIS century for a change, and, frankly, sitting next to Tyson Nash and Matt McConnell has a way of making you look better than you really are. (Hi guys. I’ll look forward to your tweets.)

But now, there have been days where I have worn the same jeans, or the same sweats. Days. Consecutive days.

I am sure that most people have done this. But I haven’t. Not in a long time, at least. I love it. A few times I have taken off my jeans at night and left the belt in them. The next morning I just grabbed them, pulled them up, buckled and away I went.  I spilled coffee on a pair of jeans one morning. Then I spilled coffee again two mornings later. Same jeans, the same spot. It was almost like a chemistry experiment. The splash zone was nearly identical. And, yes, I couldn’t wait to pull them out of the laundry to see how it all came out in the wash.

I was alone when the spills occurred. I laughed out loud. When you laugh out loud in your own kitchen in the morning and there is nobody there to hear, does a bear poop in the woods?

I won’t even discuss under garments. Suffice to say, I have pushed the envelope of good taste and good hygiene. For that, I apologize.

I have also learned a few things about mindless entertainment. For instance, I always enjoyed a good game of UNO. Even when I was a kid and remember when it was INVENTED. (1971 for those of you scoring at home.) But now, when the cards are shuffled and we play, I could go for hours. I develop scoring systems and create championship series. And I cheat. Every hand. It used to be a passing fancy. But now? I deal from the bottom of the deck; I double cards as I lay them down. Sometimes I just casually throw a card down with the wrong color, but do it so brazenly that it just feels right. Works every time. What has happened to me?

Which leads me to the run away smash hit on cable television: “Storage Wars.”

“Hi. My name is Todd. I am obsessed with Storage Wars.”

“HIIIIIII TOOOOOODDDDDDD.”

I need a few weekly meetings to flush this out, I am sure.

I hate Dave Hester, and my grey hair stands on the back of my neck when he howls
“YUUUUUUP.”  Brandi and Jarrod are hilarious, and I don’t think they are acting. The “Gambler” and his son are like two peas in a pod, and Barry Weis is a star. I pray that they don’t jump the shark and turn Barry into a host or something, but I bet they do.

I know this show is despicable in many ways, but I am fascinated by it. I long ago shed the higher virtue of why the units are up for auction in the first place. It’s the stories behind the items of interest that captivate me. Which leads me to “Gold Rush” and “Ghost Town Gold” and now as I write this, “Auction Kings.” I am intrigued by this concept and wanted to pitch my main man, @joshkelman, an idea about the history of sports in the great state of Arizona. As I love to say, “there’s something there.”

But the most interesting television viewing habit that I have formed revolves around the NFL. The league used to be my obsession and passion and then my profession.

I haven’t been able to watch a full season develop since, oh, the last lockout. I am blown away by what hasn’t happened to me. I have no vested interest. How can you care about the Cardinals at this point? As I have said for many years, it’s easy to be competitive in the NFL nowadays. A .500 record puts you in the hunt. But going 4-12 or 5-11 on that bell curve is horrendous. It means that you are not adjusting to the movement of teams around you.

Accepting long, protracted losing streaks is an insult to your fan base.

I am still miffed at the league’s blackout policy. There are just some Cardinal games that I don’t care to watch. This was a great concept back in the day, but the sport is global, it is KING. Don’t feed us the local team when there might clearly be a more competitive game available.

Oh, and that Thursday night experiment, the one allegedly created for another round of gambling? It doesn’t work for me. I can’t tell you how many Thursday nights that I have seen a crawl go up across my screen and realized that I was missing a game, but in reality, was missing nothing.

But there I am, most Sundays, getting up to watch the pre-game shows, and I do, but by the first quarter of the first game I am drifting away from it. I might make it back for the final moments of game one, maybe the second half of game two. About the only time I really settle in is for the Sunday night game. I will tip my hat to NBC. They have helped create an event, and the players have bought into it. They have recreated the Monday Night Football phenomenon.

But, I notice that I still have that pit in the soul of my stomach when the game ends each Sunday night. Is it the same pit that I had when I was a kid, hearing the watch ticking on “60 Minutes?” It meant that the clock was ticking on the weekend and that school was literally hours away.

Why I feel this self-imposed agony is beyond me. I don’t have school Monday, much less the NHL.

But I do have my alma matter to fret over. And it’s been quite a journey. I really enjoyed the season that the UA put together on the gridiron, that on the heels of a national championship in baseball and as we speak, the basketball team is undefeated and third in the country. If there were a hockey season, I’d of course be well aware of all of this, but not with the background understanding of each team and each ebb and flow of their respective seasons. I had a chance to go watch a game in Tucson and cover the reunion of the fabled 1988 team for our website. During the last work stoppage, the UA was my “beat.” It remains one of the great years of my career. I knew it was going to be for one year, and I relished the thought of it. A new landscape in television in our state has changed our role, and I was saddened by that but didn’t want to try and jump this ship for another.
 
This is my job, and I’m very happy. But I won’t lie; it would have been cool to be there, up close and personal.

For years, with my unbalanced schedule, I was a master at multi-tasking. That switch has been turned off. I wonder how it will be when I have to fire it up again, and I will. I have made literally days out prepping for basic interviews or writing two-minute video packages. I won’t tell you how many times I have stopped and restarted writing this diatribe.

In fact, I’m probably going to curl up and take a nap in a minute. In hockey, naps are a part of the culture. A game day is split in half. Morning skate. Game night. It’s a long day. On the road, it’s even longer. So the ritual of the late afternoon-nap is accepted, understood and welcome. However, for me, those naps were pensive at best. I could never really shut down. Now, with Twitter and Blackberrys, forget it. But when I put this laptop on “sleep,” I will sleep. It’s cold outside under partly cloudy skies with more than a nip in the air. I have the blinds in the bedroom partially up, so I can sense the weather around me. There is a fire in the fireplace, too. Two cups of coffee and I still feel like I need a break. Even the dogs are starting to nod off. In fact, they do, every day, at just about this time. I know this because I have been here to see them slip into their midday coma.

But this weather, and the mood that it creates take me to a place that I love and adore and cherish. It’s a place that I have given 16 years of my life and times to.

God I miss slugging my way down to a hotel lobby to be one of the last people to board the team bus on its way to yet another morning skate. There is nothing quite like the arrival to a frigidly cold rink somewhere north of the border, realizing that the team that you cover is the talk of the town that you are in that day. I miss arriving a few hours before faceoff, watching hockey players kick a soccer ball or Mike Smith throwing his tennis ball, loosening up for the battle that is about to ensue. And I even the miss the shame that I feel as I walk into a locker room where most players are getting set to go ride a bike, AFTER they have just skated up and down a rink for three periods of hockey at its highest level. I can tell you with good certainty that most if not all of the media assembled in that room isn’t headed to the hotel gym later that night.

Mostly though, I miss the people. I have said and written many times before that hockey people are the best people in sports. I say this without fear of reprisal from any of the other sports that I cover. In fact, most people from those sports have asked me the same question over and over and over again:

“Are hockey players really the best to deal with?”

Yes, they are. I miss them, on the ice and off.

And I lament the fact that the Coyotes were coming off their greatest season ever and had a chance to corner the local market. Now they will have to jump-start and hope they get off to a good start. Timing will be everything.

This weather, those clouds, and this feeling can only mean one thing. It’s hockey season.
And there should be a game, somewhere, tonight. And there isn’t. And what the league and the players have long since forgotten, is that life moves on without them. Of this I am certain. I have lived it and have watched it firsthand for a few months now.  I wonder how I will feel when I sit back and read this, someday. Perhaps I will be in the middle of four games in five nights in three cities, happy and busy but longing for my home and my family and a few hours to enjoy both with. I wonder if I will be able to relate to the guy who went to Safeway THREE TIMES in one day for butter, then milk, then a fly swatter and didn’t blink an eye or even care.
 
I hope that I will remember this version of me. I sort of like him. I don’t want to forget him, either. Maybe I’ll pass him on the 51, or the 101, driving like a bat out of you-know-where, late to something, but now realizing what I have been missing all along.

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