Monday, March 23, 2009

The Forbidden City

When someone gives you two club level tickets to a professional hockey game, you go. It's the Forbidden City that we regular folks never get to go too. It's a world of people catering to your every need and private bathrooms. You go. So I said thank you, took the tickets and went.

I knew nothing about the Detroit Redwings and the St. Louis Blues though I did know a little about hockey having gone to a couple college games. The ticket gifter told me that the Redwings were favored to win the Stanley Cup this year and though the Blue weren't in contention, they were the home team crowd so it should be a good game. I wasn't interested in all this. I just wanted to go see the forbidden city of club level, world of glassed in leather seats with a bar, waiter or two, private bathroom with a guy sitting there to hand me a hot towel, and a view across the rink of other celebrities, filthy rich people and sports stars.

We had also gotten a free parking pass to some lot which I had assumed was going to be right outside the stadium so when we arrived at the completely full lot underneath the interstate a half mile away, I was a little disappointed. However, when I showed the guy the parking pass, he told me to just pull ahead and park by the concrete barrier right by the parking lot exit. There were cars in every available space, cars squeezed onto sidewalks and in-between rows of cars which was going to make getting out a nightmare but we were only twenty feet from the gate entrance with a straight shot and nothing that could block our way. Things were looking up.

I had absolutely no idea which way to go to get to the stadium so I do what I always do in that situation. I followed the other people who all seemed to be heading in the same direction. Ten minutes later, we were at the stadium and showing our tickets to the ticket taker and getting a free St. Louis Blues T-shirt. We had been told that once in the concourse to look for an awning covered set of carpeted stairs heading up. Of course when we founded it, there was an official guarding it until we proved we belonged there. We stood in line behind a couple other normal poor looking blokes such as myself and showed our tickets. I was beginning to suspect something was up.

The crowd of normal poor looking blokes got thicker as we approached the top of the stairs. To our right was a set of stairs heading up to the glass boxes with a waiter or two and to our left were some average looking stadium seats and right in the middle was someone checking tickets directing them one direction or the other. So when I showed my ticket and she pointed me to the left, I was disappointed. I had walked as close to the gates of the forbidden city as you could get without actually stepping foot inside and was denied entrance.

So we walked over to our seat and were pleased to see that they were at least leather-covered seats. We sat down just as the puck dropped and the game got underway. We could have watched the subtleties of the game and tried to learn the rules of the game but we hadn't eaten in a long while were starving. We needed some food. The first waiter, not an older person in a suit but a guy that looked like your standard hotdog hawker at a baseball game, came by but with a crate of bottled beer. People around us would hold up their hand with a number of fingers extended and the guy would hand them a beer. No money changed hands. My co-worker and I decided we must act now and held up our hands with two fingers extended and were soon rewarded with two icy cold beers in our hands and more importantly, the guy was walking away while probably a dozen or so of my dollars still remained in my billfold. SWEET!

Another vendor walked by with an insulated cooler strapped around his neck and we flagged him down. We asked what he had and he gave us a list but we were so overwhelmed by it all, we just heard chicken and soon each had a box of piping hot chicken tenders in our hand. We wolfed them down and kept our eyes not on the game but on the waiters behind us and soon another one passed by and stopped to our raised hands. From him we got bratwursts. Perhaps it was on the third pimply nosed teenage waiter that we finally heard him above the stadium noises and realized that every waiter, except for the beer guy, had exactly the same thing in their insulated bags. They all had hotdogs, bratwursts, chicken tenders, pretzels, peanuts, salad and ice cream. So we did what anyone would do in a situation where people were practically throwing you normally high priced food at you, we ate one of each and two of some.

Finally about half way through the second period, our appetites were sated and after flagging down the beer guy, we sat back to enjoy the game and another icy bottle of beer. The game was interesting to us since we didn't understand all the rules. When a game is played entirely on ice, what the h-e-double hockey sticks does the penalty icing mean? We did understand the one big fight that occurred but were mystified as to why the referees all just stood by and watched for ten minutes as the two guys elbowed, kneed, punched and generally beat the other person silly until they were so worn out that they could barely stand ten minutes later. It was then and only then that the referees stepped in and separated them to the penalty box where they had to sit for five minutes and think about it. In any other sport you would be thrown out of the game and fined millions. You have to love hockey.

As it turned out, we did have different bathrooms than those poor fools below us and those even poorer fools above the Forbidden City in the nosebleed seats so I went to check them out but they seemed just like every other stadium bathroom I had ever been in. Full of urinals with piss splashed everywhere and toilets you would never ever even in your most drunken stupor be foolish enough to sit on. The only difference that I could see was that there was less of a crowd using them than the ones down below. On my way back to my seat, I did notice a set of stairs that led up to another concourse with more vendors giving away food and pop to those in club level and could see the doors to each of the individual box seats where I'm sure their alcohol came in a harder format served in real glass instead of plastic bottles. So close and yet so far was what the face of the big looking guy standing outside the door with big tattooed arms and scowling at me was apparently mentally drilling into my head was saying.

I went back down the stairs, sat in my leather seat with a couple other hundred club level tickets holders and got some ice cream to go with my beer and forgot about the world immediately behind me, eight feet up and behind glass. The Redwings would go on to slaughter the Blues in a blowout. It was clear to me they were the better team and that the Blues tried to compensate for their shortcomings with intimidation, which is why there were lots of penalties on their part and lots of time spent thinking about it in the penalty box. It also meant that three fourth of the stadium was empty by the time the last few minutes clicked off the clock and by the time we got back to our vehicle, it was the only one left in the lot so despite our proximity to the gate, it didn't save us anymore time than had we parked in the farthest spot on the back sidewalk in-between two rows of cars parked in spots with painted lines. I didn't care. I had eaten and drank well over $100 worth of stadium food, got a free T-shirt on the way in and a free bag on the way out, and got to sit in a comfortable leather chair instead of a hard plastic one that was sticky from years of spilt beer. Most importantly, I came within a few feet and perhaps a broken rib or two had I gotten closer of the door to the Forbidden City. Maybe next time.


Sage said...

Free tickets are always the best, even if they're not quite in the forbidden city! I've never been to a hockey game (nor into those hollowed halls), but I've been to three NFL games and untold number of MLB games. When I was in school in Pittsburgh, I was surrounded by hockey fans. I never cared to go to a Penguin game (they were too expensive) but wish I had taken them up on the offer to drive over to Johnstown and see minor league hockey--with chicken wire protecting you from the puck and fights that spread from the rink to the stands, it sounded like fun!

TC said...

Next time you get free hockey tickets, remember your blog friends Murf and TC O:)

The Real Mother Hen said...

You make it sounds exciting. But I'm sure I still won't go to any hockey game.

I do want to go to Rugby Seven next year, however. At least in a Rugby Seven game it is fast and you get to see good-looking men in shorts shorts! :)

Ed Abbey said...

Sage - As you know, I'm not much of a sports fan but I rarely pass up free tickets.

TC - I didn't have that many tickets and only had a few hours notice. Next time I get free tickets to a Packer's game, I'll keep you in mind as long as you do the same for me!

Mother Hen - I probably wouldn't go to another game unless the tickets are free and now that I've had a taste, they must be on the club level where the food is free too. That was the best part!

Beau said...

It's a great game, but there's far too much fighting. Hard to teach about sportsmanship in that arena. Free tickets are a wonderful thing.

Murf said...

TC...I don't think I could go with a GUY who things Red Wings is one word. How about you and I just go and stare at those great thighs that all hockey players have and find the one hockey player who doesn't have a mullet?

TC said...

Murf: Well, that's what I was really thinking when I said he should remember us...

R. Sherman said...

Icing isn't really a penalty. It's a pass down the ice which crosses two red lines with the opponent's red line (across the rink in front of the opponent's net) being the second of the two. It requires a face off back at the other side of the rink.

BTW, I was at a game a few weeks ago, parked in Everest Camp IV. I think I liked the old Arena better. Too many lights, and bells and whistles which detract from the game, in my view.

Query as to your post-game hang-out?


Ed Abbey said...

Beau - Yeah, I've never seen another sport quite like hockey in terms of fighting.

Murf - Red Wings/Redwings, not much difference in my world.

Murf & TC - The one with nice thighs and no mullet also has no front teeth.

R. Sherman - I don't remember the name of our parking lot but it was right next to the river under a major highway. I had spent the day doing harder manual labor than I was used too as an engineer so my post-game hang out was my motel room bed.

Murf said...

Real front teeth are overrated. :-)

Bone said...

I had walked as close to the gates of the forbidden city as you could get without actually stepping foot inside and was denied entrance.

Wow, that was very Moses-esque.