Now that the Blackhawks’ season is over, I can share with you my most enduring memory of the playoffs. Because ESPN prohibits its employees from writing anything about sports for any other outlet, I trust my loyal following – you – will not let them know. I also trust that this blog is not big enough to be considered an “outlet.”
The day – last Wednesday, otherwise known as Game 6 — started out like any other. That is, I was running late.
I love that I don’t have to travel as much as I once did in my days as a beat writer. What I don’t love is the gradual loss of flight status to my current level, where you begin lining up for the security check outside the airport; sit so far back in the plane that the seats don’t recline and you have to hold your carry-on luggage on your lap.
I used to be one of the cool people. I would arrive roughly 12 minutes before my flight, stop briefly for my boarding pass and proceed directly to the VIP security line where I would breeze through with the other bigshots who knew how to pack and remove their laptops and shoes in less than 15 minutes. From there, I would stroll briskly to my gate — though still with an air of superiority over my fellow travelers — and would not even try to see if it was time to board. I just boarded, the flight attendants smiling and welcoming me to my seat up front with superior leg room.
If memory serves, I believe they also met me at those seats with a fluffed-up pillow.
Last Wednesday, however, I assumed the role I have had for the last year or so, one I am clearly not getting any better at. I walked into the airport dazed and confused, went to two priority security lines first – the first out of habit, the second because I’m an idiot – before slinking to the line that starts outside the airport.
I tried to talk my way into the priority line. “But I am Premier,” I argued. I mean, I had to be I thought, before whipping out my ID card from 2008 to no avail.
Exactly an hour before my flight was to depart, I was still in denial, formulating breakfast plans to kill time as I joined the line with my fellow steerage passengers. Soon I started looking at my watch, exhaling loudly in disgust though never really thinking I would MISS MY PLANE. All around me were people who clearly had been in this line before and therefore had flights that were scheduled to leave in three hours. They were calm, relaxed, chatty even.
I, on the other hand, was now tense, panicked and sweaty but sort of thought maybe my no-status buddies would sense my desperate situation and any minute now, the line would part for me. As my flight began boarding with approximately 75 people and seven strollers still in front of me, a friend texted that I should “CUT THE LINE.”
Don’t think I did not consider it. But how to even maneuver without getting beaten by the others? I had tried throwing hints to the guy who checked my boarding pass – “Gee, I’m a little nervous I might actually miss my flight,” I said with just enough desperation in my voice and yet the dignity of someone who wanted to let him know, “Heh, heh, I used to be a Premiere Executive, you probably know me. Isn’t this ridiculous that I find myself in this demeaning position?”
“Step over there,” he said, directing me to a little open area next to where the line resumed. I figured any minute now he would let me through the ropes. I glanced back and smiled.
“Ma’am, the line is over there,” he said disgustedly.
Anyway, I missed my flight. Actually, that’s not right. If they just would have pulled the person to whom they gave my seat, off of the plane, wheeled the jetway back into position and re-opened the door, I could have made my flight.
Another woman going to Philadelphia was also bumped and we quickly forged a bond based, at that point, on the fact that we both used the same curse words.
Like the rookie that I am, I first insisted on trying to catch a flight on another airline in another terminal, despite the fact that a new one-way would have cost approximately $1,200 and I was wearing new sandals.
Hobbling back to my original gate, sweaty and defeated and with seemingly no chance to get to Philadelphia, my new best friend formulated a plan that had us taking a cab to Midway Airport. She knew Southwest would have availability because she had been paying attention to their constant commercials which advertised hourly, affordable flights and she booked reservations for both of us.
So giddy was I that I was not going to miss potentially one of the bigger sporting events in my lifetime, that by the time we got to Midway we were exchanging phone numbers and making plans for her return flight to Chicago.
The fact that this airline does not assign seats and there appeared to be twice as many people at the gate as seats on the plane, did not deter us. We merely stormed the plane as graciously as we could and arrived in Philadelphia with enough time for me to make the game.
I was even cocky enough to take the train to my downtown hotel because my friend told me that traffic, especially in the rain, would be a nightmare. Then she insisted on walking me to the train, where she all but pinned instructions to my shirt.
When I got out at my stop and paused to figure out once again where I was going, a flight attendant who had been on the train and had overheard my conversation with a Blackhawks’ fan, lead me in the direction of my hotel.
Through the kindness of strangers and dumb luck, I made it to the game. One of those days that had disaster written all over it, actually turned out to be a really uplifting one.
Coincidentally, the Blackhawks had one of those days, too.
With the Stanley Cup Finals between the Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers heating up and the series returning to Chicago tied at two games apiece, it’s only natural that as a reporter, my thoughts turn to one thing.
The pregame meal at the United Center.
A word first, about pressroom food. It’s usually bad. Of course, sportswriters seldom if ever care about this because A.We’re not paying for it and B. Most of us have no discernible taste as evidenced by the wardrobes of the male of our species, which consists primarily of ill-fitting polo shirts given away at golf tournaments circa 1987.
I’ve seen sportswriters, without the slightest concern for personal safety, ingest the lunch leftovers as they’re leaving the press box at 1 a.m. I’m guessing even Rick Bayless wouldn’t touch his own concoctions unrefrigerated and congealed some 12 hours later, but not us!
I will say that for the most part, the food has gotten better over the years. When I covered a certain Southern NFL football team in the early 80s, we had two choices for lunch each game – hot dogs and cheese soup.
Now I personally won’t eat a hot dog that has not been boiled or grilled within the boundaries of the Greater Chicagoland area for the simple fact that all other hot dogs look and smell funny to me, and anyone that serves a hot dog with a choice of ketchup or brown mustard clearly doesn’t get it.
The hot dogs in that NFL press box were grayish and I’m not sure any mustard was offered. The other choice, the cheese soup, was, well, just that, I believe – some Kraft singles melted in a vat and called soup.
It was a scary scene.
When I covered the Bulls, we would all watch with great interest before games as assistant coach Tex Winter would go through the food line first because Tex absolutely loved press food (and no doubt, hospital food) and it was fun watching Phil Jackson and his assistant Johnny Bach make fun of him.
“Go ahead Tex,” they’d say pointing, “try that green stuff,” and then collapse in giggles.
It is often more fun guessing the origin of the pregame meal as it is covering the game itself.
One local team whose name I will not mention because they might not serve me again, often feed media members grilled cheese sandwiches that we’ve theorized were toasted in prison using Wonder Bread and an iron.
Which brings us to the Blackhawks.
I believe sonnets have been written about the Hawks’ press food. If not, they should be. The mere thought of it makes me want to cry because it’s like someone really cares about us.
Served on real plates with silverware and linen napkins, it’s the best-kept secret in sports and it really shouldn’t be.
My friend Bob, a sportswriter from Detroit who likes to eat a lot (likes to eat and likes to eat a lot), was coming to Chicago last year to cover the Hawks-Red Wings playoff series and I decided to do him a favor.
“Just thank me,” I told him in a preemptive phone call.
“What for?” he asked.
“Just listen, do as I say and don’t ask any questions,” I instructed.
I then proceeded to tell him that because I would not be there to direct him, he should bypass the regular basement press room meal, which tries but can’t compare, and go directly to the 300 level press box, where he would be met by waiters in uniform carving prime rib and roasted turkeys with soft fresh rolls and choice of horseradish; delectable side dishes that would include gourmet macaroni and cheese with lobster – lobster! — grilled vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes with skins included. Oh, and did I mention the shrimp cocktail, and the cheese and fruit trays?
Sure, the place lacks ambience as we all eat standing up at tall tables, some of us balancing our plates on garbage cans, but quibbling about that would be in horribly bad taste, and we eat leisurely and happily as if we’re real people in a real restaurant.
The rookies in the group will often hastily grab a Haagen-Daaz ice cream bar from a nearby cooler, clearly unaware of what is to come between the second and third periods. You can always tell who had ice cream because there is a discernible pause as they observe in awe when the desserts are wheeled in, inhaling deeply as they calculate the five-figure calorie counts they are about to ring up.
Then in comes the finale – fruit tarts and mini-éclairs and mocha mousse delights; a tray of giant freshly baked cookies with peanut butter cups and white chocolate chips under a heating lamp so that, god forbid, they should not lose their warmth; brownies and cheese cake and more cookies and cake – the supply constantly replenished, of course.
And then, last week, a sundae bar I’d like to have at my son’s bar mitzvah – with more than a dozen toppings including my personal favorite — giant malted milk balls.
Bloated and semi-nauseous, we stagger back to the game, fighting off unconsciousness despite the thundering roar of the United Center crowd, and contemplate our sins.
On the night of the game last year for which I prepped my friend Bob, my phone rang.
“Don’t yell at me,” he said.
He then started whimpering about how all the writers he was with from Detroit told him that the basement employee cafeteria was the place they were supposed to eat, that they seemed like they knew, that he wasn’t thinking clearly, blah, blah, blah. I think he had a couple grilled cheese sandwiches.
He was now standing before the carving station, phone in hand, nearly in tears, because he knew he could never get it back.
To this day, he cannot speak of it. But I can. And as the Stanley Cup Finals capture the fascination of hockey fans around the country; as the series prepares for its most critical contest in the series; as my colleagues and I prepare to describe the splendor of competition at its very apex, I cannot help but focus on what brings us all there.
And hope against hope that they have the sundae bar again for Game 5.
A lot of people have been asking me why I have fallen off the blog map.
OK, maybe three people have asked but they have been rather persistent. I guess that award-winner on the splendor of Twinkies and other Hostess products two months ago was not enough for you people.
It’s not that I don’t love writing about mostly nothing. There is nothing more freeing for a reporter than to abandon all sense of responsibility and any hint of relevance when she sits down at her computer.
I guess this must be what people get out of tweeting and if I could hiccup in 35 words or less, I might like it. But I mean, really. How could I possibly do justice to the Ho-Ho with those limitations?
So I will now confide in you the real reason I have not blogged much lately.
I’m too tired.
My husband Rick thinks it’s a real problem. Not a medical problem, mind you. That would make him feel really bad if, say, I actually had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It would actually make me feel good to have an excuse for my persistent exhaustion but yeah, yeah, I know, it’s a very serious problem and nothing to joke about and I wouldn’t feel good at all. But I’d like to just have a tiny bit of satisfaction.
I am tired when I wake up, which is when I first start thinking about going back to bed. I fantasize about napping most of the day, even though the rare times when I try, I’m terrible at it. By 3, I am in a daze, completely unable to operate heavy machinery or write a coherent sentence. By 7, I begin planning on going to bed early. And by 7:30, I collapse in a stupor on the couch that lasts for at least 10 minutes until someone needs me.
On weekends, I occasionally try to convince Rick that we should rent a movie and he laughs at me because so far in our 18 and a half years of marriage, I have never stayed awake for an entire movie. But if I’m really persistent, he will usually break down, get a movie I insist we will both enjoy, like maybe “Sex and the City: The Movie” whereupon I watch for approximately seven minutes before falling into a drug-like state that includes drooling and snoring.
Occasionally Rick wins and we get “The Hurt Locker,” both of us thinking that no way can I fall asleep with people getting blown to bits on surround sound, but alas, I didn’t make it to the first casualty.
A week ago, I took my daughter Amanda to an allergist and I ended up making an appointment for myself to come back the following week. I was very excited about this because I have never seen a doctor who asked more questions about a patient’s every twinge and pang and I wanted in.
But I never expected, when I answered his questions about snoring – in my case, apparently loud enough to startle the dog across the street – for him to suggest that I might have a sleep disorder and would be a good candidate for a sleep study.
A sleep study?
I could barely contain myself. I get to sleep and people study me? They encourage me to sleep?
I had a lot of unanswered questions.
Like, “Do they have those Heavenly beds with the comfort pillow tops like Westin hotels?”
“People Magazine? Oreos?”
Not that I necessarilyto have all those things but it would just make it nicer.
Who would be the person watching me? What if it was some really cute guy? Would I have to go buy new pajamas? Not wash off my make-up?
Would I have to wear those sticky electrode things all over my body that would make it difficult to toss and turn the way I usually like to? Would I end up getting even less sleep? That would stink.
With all of these thoughts consuming me, we were watching “The Biggest Loser” the other night when they showed before-and-after videos and in most of the before, contestants were seen either eating in their cars or getting into bed with alien-like oxygen contraptions over their faces.
I looked at Rick.
“Those are for people with sleep disorders,” he said smugly.
I never thought about that. That could really impair my sleep. I thought they’d just study me and tell me I needed to come in on a regular basis and sleep some more for them.
This was not going to work. And worse, it might even keep me awake at night thinking about it.
Then again, that would give me time to start blogging again.
My friend Jerry always comes through for me when I have a raging case of blogger’s block. Like today, for example, he didn’t even know he was helping me when he e-mailed to tell me, in a way only he could, that finding my blog again, after my sabbatical-length break, was like eating a Suzy Q years after stopping cold turkey.I took this as the supreme compliment that it was intended to be, mostly because I too used to worship at the Hostess temple.My mother would be somewhat embarrassed, I think, if she was alive to read this, as I imagine most mothers who were in their maternal prime in the 50s and 60s would be. And my husband’s mother and grandmother would be absolutely horrified as I don’t believe either ever allowed store-bought sweets into their homes (which explains a few things about Rick).My brothers, however, tell me that my mother had no problem bringing Twinkies into our house, though she herself was never actually seen eating one (or any meal, for that matter) and I can’t imagine she ever did sneak a bite as she possessed a much more sophisticated sweet tooth.In fact, my mother can be credited with elevating the Twinkie to somewhat higher standards by freezing them, a precursor, we think, to freezing Milky Ways and Three Muskateers, the thought being that anything tastes better and is more fun to eat when it is cold and also involves the risk of breaking a tooth.Twinkies, as I remember all Hostess products, were best consumed right after school, when a giant sugar rush was necessary and a nice companion to anything on TV from Clutch Cargo to Leave it to Beaver reruns to Gilligan’s Island to Dark Shadows. My husband Rick, a mere baby born two years after me in 1963, watched reruns of “Get Smart” and thought they were original episodes. My brothers, White Sox fans by birth, would even watch the last few innings of a Cubs game accompanied by a Twinkie and a milk chaser.Of course, the best Hostess product ever made was the Hostess cupcake. Even if you didn’t care for devil’s food, like me, the frosting-like cap on top, peeled off and placed to the side to be savored and saved for later, was well worth getting through the rest.But the real delicacy of all Hostess products has always been the vanilla crème center. No one, to my knowledge, including the brightest scientific minds in the country, has ever determined the exact makeup of the vanilla crème and it really misses the point to even wonder about it.My friend Bari is the only known person to actually hate what she called the gooshz in the middle and so, whenever possible, she would let me have it, never an easy proposition. In my mother’s brilliant freezing technique, you would peel away the sponge cake and be left with a vanilla cremesicle.
But any way you ate a Hostess treat, getting to the gooshz was unquestionably the best part, actually doubling as an after-school activity in the event you didn’t have a friend come over. If it wasn’t scooping out the Twinkie, it was unrolling the Ho-Ho, the younger Hostess generation’s cupcake. Created in 1967 (the Twinkie dates back to 1933 and the cupcake’s seven squiggles and vanilla crème version in 1950 – I’ll bet you didn’t know how educational this was going to be when you first started reading), the Ho Ho sits high atop my personal all-time Hostess list and, I’m not embarrassed to admit (well, ok, a little embarrassed), easily leads my list of all Hostess products consumed in adulthood.I do have to say, however, that discovering a few years ago that Ho Ho’s no longer came wrapped in aluminum foil but in some white, plastic, air-filled packaging was a disappointment from which I’ve never quite recovered.Two final Hostess notes — Suzy Q’s? Never understood the point. Seemed a poor cousin to the cupcake. And the Sno ball? The cousin you never spoke of. My brother Richard claimed they had a slight effeminate quality and that anyone caught with a Sno ball in his lunch box would be promptly beaten up.My brother Barry, who passed down his intense hatred of coconut to me, merely shudders at the word Sno ball and like a giant jar of Skippy to the kid with peanut allergies, my mother would never subject us to it.And there you have it.Thanks, Jerry. Feel free to read Melissa’s columns on ESPNChicago.com
I’m not pretending I’m not curious about what Tiger Woods will say in his big press conference, Friday. A statement of this magnitude, after all, needed to be announced two days in advance and I’m guessing that wasn’t done to make sure they had enough time to get extra bagels and coffee. So, yes, I’ll want to hear it.
But do I really require an apology, as all of us – fans, media, family, friends, sponsors, mistresses – are sure to get one? And if I do get one, does it mean anything? It kind of reminds me of when kids are toddlers, still in that biting/hitting phase (except for mine, of course) and no matter what a child does, up to and including taking a large chunk out of another child’s body, there is always the same reaction.“Say you’re sorry,” the mother or preschool teacher will implore of the biter.The little monster will dutifully comply, of course, usually with a big grin, until he gnaws on his next victim five minutes later.
So no, I don’t need to hear Tiger say he’s sorry unless, perhaps, it is accompanied by racking sobs and so convincing a performance that it moves me to tears as well. And somehow I don’t expect that.He does owe his wife an apology but sorry, I don’t really care that much about that either. Certainly, I do not celebrate another woman’s pain. But I have to wonder, aside from marrying a professional athlete in the first place, if there wasn’t some sign, some warning, some little indication before this past Thanksgiving that something was amiss. Say, I don’t know, the fact that your husband always spoke in a husky whisper whenever he answered his cell phone on the road.They are saying that Elin Woods’ presence or absence will be very telling, Friday. I’m not so sure. I mean, even if she is planning to stay with her husband, why go through the indignity of standing there next to him when she could be hanging out on the yacht or something? I’d be on the yacht in a heartbeat.Friday’s apology/statement (naturally, there will be no questions allowed) is really not as big of a deal as it appears.
Rather, it was inevitable unless, of course, Woods planned to live underground for the rest of his life. There was going to be a re-entering into public life and onto the PGA Tour and thus, there was going to have to be THE press conference. I just wonder if Woods is actually naive enough to think this will put the whole situation to rest.And I wonder if his fans are naïve enough to buy it.