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Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Mighty Chicago Blackhawks and Me

The Mighty Chicago Blackhawks and Me

Entertainment?! Fun?! Who the hell ever said that’s what professional sports were supposed to be? Well, actually, I’ve said that very often, and I’ve frequently found a place for professional sports in my criticism. Yet, sitting there Monday night watching the Boston Bruins play against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals felt all sorts of things except fun. I had spent the majority of the day overwhelmed with anxiety – funny how I always manage to keep my priorities straight when my favorite teams royally suck – not just believing, but knowing within my heart and soul the Bruins were going to take the sixth game that night, forcing a seventh game which they would also inevitably win. My prediction seemed to spend most of the night coming to fruition; Boston’s Chris Kelly drew first blood about seven minutes into the first period. Chicago’s Jonathan Toews (who else?) finally got the Hawks onto the board about five minutes into the second period, setting off a stalemate.

Sometime close to the middle of the third period, it occurred to me that whichever team scored next was going to win the game. Much to my personal disgust, the next scorer was Milan Lucic of Boston, still one of the most hated men in Buffalo for what he did to Ryan Miller. (And, subsequently, the fact that the Sabres were exposed for what they really were afterward.) Although my blood started to curdle after that, it did a lot to take away the edge I had been feeling, and I could just sit down, resign myself to the inevitable game seven and the 49 heart attacks which would accompany it, and enjoy the remaining few minutes of exciting hockey. With under two minutes left, the Hawks pulled Corey Crawford, as I had been expecting. What I hadn’t been expecting was the unbelievable sequence of events that happened next: Bryan Bickell caught a pass from Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews right in front of Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, and smacked the puck into the net with a minute and 16 seconds to go in the game. 17 seconds later, Dave Bolland shoveled another shot behind Rask, and the Bruins’ 2-1 lead was suddenly a 3-2 hole. While my rational mind was desperately trying to remind me that there was still a minute left in the game – more than enough time for things to shift again, as Boston had just learned the hard way – I was still literally jumping up and down with joy for the next minute. The deflated looks on the Bruins’ faces told the whole story: The Chelsea Dagger had arrived at the last minute and totally gutted Boston. The final minute was merely a formality; the Stanley Cup was returning to Chicago.

Meanwhile, NHL fans everywhere apparently forgot they were supposed to be angry with Gary Bettman. We only got half a season, but what an epic of a half season it was. Especially for fans of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks had the kind of season which would, for casual fans, cement loyalties and create unbreakable bonds. They rushed out of the gate, played their first 24 games of the season – those 24 games being half of the season this year, which was 48 games – without losing a single game in regulation, playing damn near perfect hockey along the way. Their 77 regular season points netted the Presidents’ Trophy, the nice little door prize given to teams for bragging rights if they end up falling in the playoffs to some seventh seed team with no defense and a swiss cheese goalie. After beating the Minnesota Wild in the first round, they fell into a 3-1 hole against their archrivals, the Detroit Red Wings. After a roaring comeback which saw a seventh-game overtime, the Hawks then dumped last year’s Stanley Cup Champions, the Los Angeles Kings, in the Conference Finals. Finally, the Hawks became the first two-time Stanley Cup winner of the salary cap era after a series of games which gave me nails-in-the-armrest levels of anxiety.

After game five, I asked my mother if she ever had this kind of anxiety during the Bills’ Super Bowl years. Yeah, she had.

I knew I would be adopting the Blackhawks when I first decided to move to Chicago, because it might help me fit in with the local community. So what if they were unwatchable at the time? Well, when I first moved, I learned pretty quickly that the word unwatchable, as applied to the Hawks, was both literal and figurative. I try not to gripe too much about new Sabres owner Terry Pegula because I know just how bad it can get. Then-Hawks owner Bill Wirtz had a lot in common with Pegula: Both were generally highly regarded as good people and strong communal pillars, with sports acumens which could be described in the most polite possible manner as fucking godawful. Wirtz had blacked out home games while charging some of the highest ticket prices in the league and refusing to pay his stars what they were worth. When I first stepped off the train, the Hawks’ best player was a left wing named Tuomo Ruutu. Ruutu was a good, strong, reliable two-way guy who might be good enough to make the second line on a contender. He was never going to rise up and be either Fearless Leader or Mr. Clutch, though, so making him The Guy on the Blackhawks was effectively dooming them to Detroit’s doorstep. The team had basically destroyed its relationship with the community in every possible way. I had landed in Chicago hoping to use the Blackhawks as a point which would help me settle into the city among the townies better. Instead, what I wound up doing was reminding them Chicago had an NHL team to begin with.

In some cases, I mean that literally. Bill Wirtz blacking out the team’s home games did nothing to improve attendance at United Center. Instead, fans had responded in kind: They simply blacked the team out of their memory banks. Two of my earlier sports memories in Chicago are talking about my sports fandom with one curious stranger at an L stop who had spotted my Hawks shirt and took me through a list of crimes Wirtz had committed against the fans. The other happened at an underground gallery, when the subject of hockey came up with a girl I was talking to. She asked me if I was a fan of the Wolves, Chicago’s minor league hockey team. I said I guess, but I was more into the Blackhawks. She responded by asking me, without the slightest hint of irony, cynicism, or sarcasm, who the Blackhawks were. These days, when people jump on me for not suffering in the long run as a proper Hawks fan, my go-to response is that they didn’t either. Suffering with your team and blacking it out like a citizen of post-Hitler Germany are two different things. Plus, I had 24 years of Sabre-watching in my background. Yeah, just you try telling me I didn’t fucking suffer!

When Patrick Kane first laced up in 2007, there was a sense that the team was going to be competitive very soon. The Hawks managed to surprise most of the NHL by staying in competition for a playoff spot for most of the season. But the big news of the season happened very early on. Bill Wirtz succumbed to the cancer which had afflicted him. With all due respect to Bill Wirtz the human being and his family and friends, the Hawks might not be undergoing a resurgence if he was still running the team. The most striking thing about the way he treated the Blackhawks was what happened once his son, Rocky took the reins. Rocky had apparently learned about the ways to avoid running a hockey team, because upon his takeover, he started doing pretty much the opposite of everything his dad did. There were a few important things which brought about the team’s resurgence, but I think the most important was when they hired John McDonough, the PR master who helped turn the Cubs into a brand name. Flash quick, the Hawks were suddenly showing home games on TV again, throwing fan conventions, partnering with the White Sox, and welcoming their long-alienated legends – including Bobby Hull – back into the fold as team ambassadors. After years of coming off as the local oddball because my favorite sport is hockey, I was suddenly a pioneer and one of the lone straggling fans who never lost faith. After two Stanley Cups, I’m a genius.

I still hold onto the Blackhawks and wholeheartedly cheer for them. Upon their two Stanley Cup victories since I first started following them, I lost my mind. Chicago fans make fun of Buffalo fans – of course, people from Chicago have no sense of civic pride so they get off by bitching about other cities or making fun of them – but I seem to be the only one aware of the fact that, had it not been for South Buffalo native Patrick Kane, there’s a great chance the Stanley Cup drought from 1961 to 2010 still goes on. I love to shove that in peoples’ faces in Chicago. Kane scored the Cup winner in 2010 and won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2013, so it’s perfectly valid to question whether or not the Hawks would have succeeded without him. I’ve come to love the Blackhawks every bit as much as the Sabres.

You would think the recent success of the Blackhawks would quench my desire to see the Stanley Cup visit Buffalo without being brought in by a native on his Day with the Cup. It hasn’t. I’ve experienced a lot of joy with the Sabres’ successes, but nothing to ever match the feeling of two Stanley Cup victories as a Hawks fan. I was still in Chicago for the first one, and I was hit with a sense of such incredible jubilation that, despite it being 11 PM, 80 degrees and humid, and me being showered and ready for bed, I still threw on my clothes – my Hawks sweater and jeans – and ran around for a couple of blocks, stopping to talk – or shout at the top of my lungs, rather – with every fan I met on the way. That Championship means a lot to a franchise and a fanbase, no matter the team or sport. It can change the entire mindset of fans.

It’s safe to say the Sabres can now use the Blackhawks for a building model. In my years in Chicago, I watched a team which would be a forgotten backwoods team had it not been in the third-largest city in the United States rise from the ashes and soar; soar into not just success, but real relevance that it hadn’t experienced in a very long time. Meanwhile, I’ve seen my equally beloved Sabres go the opposite way: From being the pride and joy of Buffalo sports and on the verge of the Stanley Cup, they crashed and burned because their dumbass owner won’t get rid of his dumbass GM. They’ve squandered almost all the public goodwill they picked up during the Conference Finals runs of 2006 and 2007. In the meantime, I can still catch the Blackhawks regularly, since they’re a marquee team again and have taken a place among the true elite of the NHL.

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Raving About Dunkin’ Donuts

Raving About Dunkin’ Donuts

For the city of Buffalo, the name Tim Horton is probably the most meaningful name a resident could know. For one thing, Tim Horton was a hockey legend. He was one of the big names and leaders of the final dynasty of the Toronto Maple Leafs, whom he helped carry to four Stanley Cups. He was eventually brought to the Buffalo Sabres during his later years, where he acted as a mentor to the younger players on the new team. He died in a car accident en route home after one game, and today his name is embossed in felt from the rafters of First Niagara Center along with those of Pat LaFontaine, Danny Gare, and The French Connection. Arguably the greater legacy of Horton is the donut shop he set up in his hometown. His shop, Tim Horton’s, not only grew, but blew way the hell up and turned into Canada’s version of Dunkin’ Donuts. Being a Canadian joint, Tim Horton’s is randomly spattered along the American border too, where it dominates Dunkin’ Donuts. The average Buffalo kid grows up adopting Timmy’s as his favorite pastry place of choice.

Timmy’s outnumbers Dunkin’ by a ratio of at least five to one, a number which is generously conservative if anything. So it’s very unusual that I profess to liking Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not that I have anything against Timmy’s; I eat there pretty regularly too because they have better coffee, a better sandwich selection, and by far the better bagels. The problem is that Timmy’s isn’t anything close to being my own personal secret. The place is so packed every time I go in that it’s tough to find anyplace to sit half the time. That’s why I give a bigger edge to Dunkin’ than most people in the area – the ambience is a lot nicer, the place is quiet, and it’s located almost right across the street from my local library. It’s also a pleasant reminder of my other home city, which is where I started becoming a frequent Dunkin’ Donuts customer. I think nothing of going in, ordering a quick snack and iced coffee to replenish my body – usually brutally ravaged from the bicycle ride over by then – and recovering by spending a half hour with my latest baseball tract or Star Wars novel. Also, most of the time, the customer service at Dunkin’ is a lot better. I have to make clout here for the fact that I’m a repeat customer the employees there know and like, and the fact that Dunkin’ in the Buffalo area usually aren’t stuck beating off winter shopping rushes with broomsticks, but still, they know me better than any of the Timmy’s I regularly visit in the city.

By now you’ve probably seen, or at least heard of the video. You know the one – the video of the customer walking into some Dunkin’ Donuts in Florida cursing out the poor guy behind the cash register. The employee, Abid Adar, certainly deserves the accolades he’s been getting for enduring a thunderous rant long after the point where Ghandi would have ripped her lungs out. The service I get at Dunkin’, though – or at least my location (Union Road, by Southgate) – is usually the exemplary service Mr. Adar gave his vile customer. It isn’t quite at the level of customer service I received at Potbelly, but then again, looking for Potbelly-type service everywhere would be asking way too much. When I started frequently Dunkin’ in Chicago (Timmy’s doesn’t exist there), the employees didn’t get to know me quite as well, but that was because there are about a bajillion Dunkin’ locations in The Loop alone and I chose to buy my late-day recovery coffee and sweet at whichever one I happened to be closest to that day. It wasn’t because the employees were any worse.

The media is giving a lot of coverage to Adar, which is refreshing because it brings a positive spin to the story and brings us a humane insight on a man who showed incredible grace under pressure. Does that make it wrong, though, for me to want to know a little bit more about his attacker, Taylor Chapman? Here’s the story I’m getting from her own words in her video: She drops into a Dunkin’ Donuts one night in Florida and is served by one of Adar’s co-workers, who says Chapman is entitled to free food the next day is she doesn’t get a receipt. Chapman abused the worker the previous night, saying that she was going to order the whole menu twice and calling the employee some names. Chapman got the food, though, and presumably went home and ate it. She then went to sleep, got up the next day, and thought to herself, I DIDN’T GET A RECEIPT! I’M JUST GOING TO VISIT THAT DUNKIN’ DONUTS LOCATION AGAIN, DEMAND MY FREE MEAL, SCREAM MY LUNGS OUT AT THE POOR KID AT THE COUNTER, POST A VIDEO OF MYSELF DOING IT ON FACEBOOK AND YOUTUBE, AND BE A HERO FOR EXPOSING THE ROTTEN WAY DUNKIN’ DONUTS CUSTOMERS GET TREATED!

That about cover it? Looking at the summary like that, I can’t help but mash my head repeatedly against my keyboard and wonder how the hell Chapman ever thought she would come out of this as the crystal rose. Dunkin’ Donuts has some particular policies on pampering customers, and apparently the one Chapman visited has a policy guaranteeing free food is there’s no receipt. And to be honest, I’m the kind of person who would abuse such a policy and order the entire menu twice myself. However, I would have been so polite and charming about doing so that Dunkin’ Donuts would have been happy to give me that same free order for the next year. Chapman’s behavior might just have destroyed her whole life – which, if Dunkin’ Donuts cares about worker abuse, will coincidentally be exactly how long Chapman is banned.

I couldn’t help but be a little bemused when Chapman mentioned her business degree and her online reviews of the Dunkin’ Donuts location in question. According to her logic, the two run hand in hand, which I guess technically means I’m now free to begin advertising myself as some sort of prodigy. I’m going on 13 years as an online reviewer. My work has gotten me discovered by three websites with exclusive qualifications for their writers, although I admit it’s a stretch to say The Examiner is careful about who it picks up. I created a fourth review website, a personal blog called Lit Bases, where I review baseball literature and which has been spotted by at least four authors whose work I’ve reviewed. My belief that I can someday write professionally isn’t exactly farfetched, and everyone I’ve ever met seems to think I’m a brilliant writer. Damn right I’m a brilliant writer! I mean, I must be brilliant if I was able to somehow circumnavigate the apparently requisite Bachelor’s in business, right?

The weirdest aspect of the hissyfit is that Chapman didn’t seem to really care about the food so much as the damn receipt. She complained to some of the other customers in the line – who come off like they wanted nothing to do with her – that she knew the employees there would be spitting in her food, and that they had once pissed in her fries. (Dunkin’ Donuts serves fries? Huh. Not in New York and Illinois they don’t!) Therefore, she wasn’t planning to actually eat the food anyway – just give it to her boyfriend. I wonder how he felt about that one. That means the food wasn’t even the point. The principle of not getting a small piece of paper with her meal was the whole point of an epic eight-minute rant in which one apparently crazy ex-model wrecked her whole reputation.

I like Dunkin’ Donuts, and their employees have been wonderful. On the occasions I’ve had to return food, they always handled it well. And there are times I’ve screwed up on my order too. How much does a receipt for a donut really mean? Well, if I don’t get my receipt from a donut purchase, I always think of this routine from the great comedian Mitch Hedberg:

Roadblocks

Roadblocks

SUNY has some highly regarded psychiatry programs, and it’s easy to see why: The SUNY application process has the ability to drive applicants out of their minds. I don’t remember my application process for ECC going like this, which is ironic because ECC is a SUNY school. SUNY seems to enjoy building up suspense like a Hitchcock movie: An unnecessarily long buildup, followed by absolutely no payoff. When you begin to get comfortable with the pattern of being played like a fiddle, the curve comes and throws me right off.

I didn’t realize SUNY would be privy to send me so many mail notices for non-issues which could have been covered in the final letter. Everything I’ve received from them so far has been little more than a variation on saying, “Yep, we have your application!” I have no idea if the people at SUNY are busy making paper airplanes out of my applications or whatever else they’re doing, but every notice I’ve received has been a knife to my gut. I get the letter, sweat profusely, open the letter, and do a facepalm because whatever it says doesn’t mean a whole lot to me other than the fact that there’s going to be another issue for my counselor and me to navigate through. My latest notice from UB says my application process might be different because of the fact that I’m applying for the fall semester instead of the spring semester. To the layman, it’s nothing but more shameless bureaucracy.

This isn’t troublesome just because of the unbearable tension. I’m an older student and a returning student, which will leave me with a ton of work to do before the semester if I get accepted. The things I expect to have to do to prepare for the semester go beyond purchasing a few expensive textbooks. They’re not the kinds of things I can reasonably expect to start and finish within a week of the fall semester kickoff after getting a last-minute acceptance notice.

So far, the University at Buffalo has asked me for my college transcripts – which I’ve already sent – and my high school transcripts, which their admissions office plump admitted won’t contribute to whether or not I get accepted. Buffalo State recently got on my case about gaps in my academic career. What’s doubly insulting is that the main office of SUNY is run out of Albany, which is six hours from Buffalo. That means there’s an office somewhere playing the middleman, which intercepts information and interrupts a large chunk of the communication with forms and notices. I’m not exactly thrilled about dealing with the state government office because my academic future might end up becoming a big game of phone if we keep exchanging papers for too long.

I can only imagine the kinds of things D’Youville has in store for me right now. I sent them my application, complete with the essay that was my post a few days ago, except without the disclaimer assuring everyone that I wrote both the online essay and the one I sent with the application. I’m perfectly willing to write another one if I have to, and for now I’m erasing my last post until I hear from D’Youville. In retrospect, posting it before sending it probably wasn’t my brightest hour. That essay, which was about the effect popular culture had on my life, will be posted again once the discriminating eyes of D’Youville admissions are through looking it over.