24 April, 2014


Finding a Coveted Connection with Home Three Thousand Miles Away

I’m 2,700 miles from home, my business is finished for the day, and all I want in this world at 3:00 Pacific Coast Time on Wednesday is some manner of sports bar within walking distance of my Orange County, California, hotel, one that will afford me a plausible shot at watching the Capitals and Penguins on the NHL Network. It’s non-NHL Network cable television in my hotel room, and at the hotel bar. I know that with my laptop I can purchase access to the game, but this is a big game, and I’m just not much of a hockey-watching-on-computer-screen kinda guy. I also want to roam a while out in the dreamy California spring air in pursuit of televised puck. And I want a big bar flatscreen rendering of it, and a pretty barmaid keeping me in puck sodas while I watch. And I really like the idea of taking in this game on the premature side of happy hour.

It’s a very weird thing to my very East Coast orientation to be pursuing a big hockey game in the middle of a weekday afternoon, but I relish the novelty. The concierge downstairs informs me of a joint named JT’s about two-and-a-half miles away. There’s a good chance of finding a specific sporting event among its satellite options, he informs. I have my mission, and I embark on it with optimism.

I have no rental car, though — an office colleague is arriving in the evening with one for us to share — so at 3:00 sharp, armed with excellent directions for the bar, I begin hoofing it. I like the mildly long journey required; it’s symbolic of my devotion for hockey, I tell myself. If I write about this experience, I decide early on in my walk, I will wildly exaggerate the paradisaical conditions: my miles-long march will be under a searing and unrelenting Pacific sun, rather than the skin-caressing, soul-rejuvenating, I-just-may-not-board-that-return-flight-home, seduction-spring-scented air washing over the pedestrian all the time out here.

In truth, it was a long walk to the bar. But it was wondrous. I passed Lady Gaga look-a-likes and recreation junkies who remind me on every visit to the Golden state that so many seem to prosper here while spending so little time in offices. As I drew closer to JT’s I grew impatient with traffic lights that halted my progress. At last I turned a final corner and spotted, off just ahead, the big bar. I could have called ahead to inventory the TV options, but for some reason I wanted to preserve ignorance as part of the drama and allure of this project.

Inside JT’s an expansive bar area is empty, a lone, California-attractive, twenty-something barmaid looks bored, and above her left shoulder, mounted on a brick wall, is 50 inches of high definition. It was offering ESPN and college hoops minutiae upon my arrival.

“What can I get for you?” Samantha asked as I sat down immediately in front of the screen.

“Hockey,” I replied, “and I can make it very worth your trouble.”

“Call me Sam,” she returned, “and lemme see what I can do.”

Sam was exceptionally attractive, with long flowing sandy blonde hair and all natural curves in a region known for manufacturing them, and her bar’s menu, well populated by Pacific seafood and Kobe beef, well flirted with my lunch-missing tummy. But the nourishment needed by my hockey heart wasn’t going to endure ESPN and hoops at such a critical hour; if need be I was going to cab it back to the hotel and have a matinee date with Steve Kolbe and room service.

Sam grabbed the sports section of Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times and scanned its televised sports listing. Then she disappeared from the bar. Maybe she needed approval from management, or perhaps she was going to attempt the channel switching herself. This was very much a sitting-on-eggshell moment for me. What if the Caps and Pens played another classic and I missed it?

Additionally, I’d awoken at 6 in the morning and gone at it hard in the hotel fitness center, and with the afternoon’s lengthy walk I was feeling my age. I really didn’t want to move, and I had the bar pretty much to myself. Sam was prepared to enthusiastically pour mini-pitchers of 20-plus varieties of drafts for me. JT’s boasted an impressive wine list as well. I had the perfect setup if I could just locate the game. I wondered if the Caps-Pens being on the NHL Network made my quest more or less longshot than were it broadcast on Comcast.

Suddenly the flatscreen above me began an exciting channels migration. In some back room Sam was puck-advocating on my behalf.

And she found it. Familiar NHL Network faces arrived on the screen and were apparently previewing the game with Penguins and Capitals logos emblazoned on the studio set. Sam returned behind the bar, and in that moment she appeared to me in possession of all the dreamgirl beauty of CJ Parker sunbathing at Laguna Beach.

I sent a text message to the Capitals’ Nate Ewell and Kurt Kehl: 3k miles away, but I’ve hockey-fied a SoCal bar with the game.

Technology was never more my friend than on Wednesday, and what a great game I saw. Sam seemed indifferent to it, but I didn’t care. The bar swelled during the 6:00 portion of happy hour, and when Mike Knuble completed the shootout comeback the drinks up and down the bar were on me. A coast and continent away I was very much at home.



13 Comments

  1. Drew wrote:

    The off-hours when it’s empty is one of my favorite times to pull up to a bar. As you experienced, the service much more personalized, you can have an actual conversation with the bartender (or not, if you’re so inclined) and the TV’s yours for the choosing. Happy to hear it turned out well.
    And for the times you can’t get hockey via the regular broadcast, if you travel enough it might be worth getting a Slingbox, that way you can watch your home TV (DVR’ed programs and all) on your laptop.

    25 March, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  2. dave wrote:

    I was in Phoenix the night of Game 7 of the Flyers-Caps series two years ago. When my trip was planned, the Caps had the worst record in hockey and the chances of a playoff game in April were remote at best.

    Fortunately, I was able to find a sports bar. I walked in, they said “Can I help you” and I said “Can you show the hockey game?” They had thirty TVs tuned to basketball and one tuned to hockey. I was thrilled although my enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by the fact that the other four people watching were Flyers fans, one of whom was actually from Philadelphia.

    Sitting in a bar at 4:30 in the afternoon, more than 2000 miles from home, in a city surrounded by desert, watching hockey with an equally rabid fan, albeit one rooting for the other team – it was quite the surreal experience.

    25 March, 2010 at 10:37 am | Permalink
  3. Jill wrote:

    I lived in SoCal for the 2006-2007 season and had Center Ice. Caught every Caps game with the help of my DVR. On weekends I could watch games and go out afterward. That being said, there are two NHL teams in SoCal (one right there in Orange County) – hockey is hardly a foreign concept to them.

    25 March, 2010 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  4. Hittman wrote:

    @ DAVE: The first time I met my wife’s parents we got dinner at their club and it happened to be the night of the game 7 that Dave just mentioned. Naturally, since they live in the Philly area, the game was on a TV over the bar. We luckily sat near enough to have a view of the screen, so I took a seat that faced the TV, not telling anyone that the game was on and I had an interest in it.

    Needless to say, the wife’s parents had the following reaction to me: “He was a nice guy…very quiet and a little aloof.”

    25 March, 2010 at 11:25 am | Permalink
  5. I love spreading hockey-love around the country — now that so many bars have a satellite package, it’s much easier to find a given game no matter how far one is from the team’s local market. And, as Drew wrote above, when a bar is mostly empty the staff is usually quite amenable to channel-surfing for a game. Gives ‘em something to do, and usually results in a bigger tip. :)

    25 March, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  6. Interesting and illuminating reflections, all. There really is a special feeling in making attempts to follow your club at great effort while on travel. And there’s a special exhilaration associated with its triumph under those circumstances.

    Jill, your observation about the SoCal market is apt; Wednesday’s Orange County Register prominently featured two hockey files — both on the Ducks — on its sports section front. And that was for a club that’s going to miss the postseason.

    And I loved Hittman’s anecdote of devotion. There isn’t a puckhead out there who hasn’t artfully and elaborately arranged a viewing of a big game in demanding social circumstances. I’m reminded of the Notre Dame adage about autumn Saturday weddings: to the extent that they’re patronized to begin with by alums — and Domers know better than the schedule their own weddings then — blackberries and other game-following technologies are well charged for the occasion.

    Incidentally, no one at JT’s left Sam a better tip last night than I did.

    25 March, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Permalink
  7. Kal wrote:

    Dude, you need a Slingbox! Watch wherever you are!

    25 March, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Permalink
  8. penguin pete wrote:

    so this blog has pictures of caps fans and penguins, real penguins no less, but it can’t get a picture of an attractive bartender from the left coast?

    come on!!!

    25 March, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink
  9. Penguin Pete makes a VERY strong point.

    25 March, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Permalink
  10. Catalyst wrote:

    These kinds of experiences are the best, excellent work sir and glad you were able to watch the game. cheers.

    25 March, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Permalink
  11. I appreciate Pete’s boundless enthusiasm, but in this instance it’s a tad creepy. There is a link for him in the file that ought to help, however.

    25 March, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
  12. SKINSCAPSTERPS wrote:

    Two other options:

    If the game is on NHLN, find the nearest Hooters, it is part of the Direct TV package they carry.

    From Philly north there is a chain called Champps Americana. They carry NHLN and Center Ice. It is spelled correctly. Rare that a “sports” bar carries Center Ice.

    25 March, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Permalink
  13. Melissa wrote:

    This will be me in reverse for the next 2 weeks. I’m carrying my Caps love to England and i will be watching 5 hours ahead. so i’ll be starting at 1230/1am and going til about 3. Dedication, we do what we gotta do.

    26 March, 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink