Ann Hodges got hit by a meteorite in 1954. But she never played in the NHL like our son will someday.
We left Denver Wednesday and made our way by jet plane to Chicago, home of deep-dish pizza and deep-water concrete boots, for yet another hockey tournament.
This time, our future NHL phenomenon is skating at the U.S. Hockey League’s annual scouting showcase, which is a fairly big deal in the world of hockey. Gabe was very nervous about this event — much more than normal — but he’s playing extremely well so far, if you can trust a father’s judgment when it comes to evaluating his own son’s skills (I wouldn’t). Objectively, he knocked a few kids loopy and scored three goals and four assists in the first three games, which probably makes him the point leader on his team for the moment. The serious-looking pro scouts who wear the black jackets and sit in the stands scribbling notes on their clipboards make Gabe even more self-aware than his regular teenage self, but mostly, he’s having a lot of fun playing with some of the top players from some of the top teams in the country.
I wish I could accurately describe why we love these hockey-related events so much. From the outside, they probably don’t look like much fun. They’re less of a vacation and more of a frenzied blur as we race to the airport and hotel with all our gear stuffed in the trunk, then spend the next three to four days rushing to and from games in the early morning and late at night. The hours between games are punctuated by quick dashes to the nearest restaurants — usually cheap fast-food restaurants, I’m sorry to report – to keep the budding talent fueled up for the next game. When we’re not eating, we’re often zipping around on frustrating hunts for the nearest Target so we can find Gabe some orange juice to gulp down while the ice is Zambonied. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we have time to take brief naps, or maybe see a movie. Occasionally, we even get to do some sightseeing, but it’s rare.
Instead, we typically experience North America’s greatest cities — places like Chicago, Toronto and Fargo, North Dakota — almost exclusively through their hockey rinks. I don’t recommend it because, to be honest, they’re all very similar: cold, slightly sour smelling and filled with hundreds of anxious parents whose kids are headed to the NHL with ours. In fact, if everything goes according to the parents’ plans, someday all 30 NHL teams will be staffed solely by the kids we know.
Watching our kids play together in the NHL is going to be a lot of fun, not just because we’ll be getting free tickets to pro hockey games, but also because we’ll be able to sit in the stands drinking beer and doing what we always do, which is to quietly yet authoritatively criticize other players’ glaring weaknesses. You can’t believe how bad the other players are, or how baffling it is that coaches keep picking them for teams. Sometimes it seems like the worse a player is the more likely he is to be picked for a really good team by a coach. It’s painfully clear to us parents that hockey coaches aren’t that smart and truly don’t understand hockey as well as they should. That’s obviously why they pursued careers as hockey coaches instead of real jobs as journalists, accountants, lawyers, stay-at-home moms, doctors, metalworkers, computer programmers and janitors. Nobody knows more about hockey than a hockey mom or dad, just ask one if you don’t believe me.
There is one way in which coaches might have one up on our family, though: They always seem to be able to find the rinks by game time. We’re terrible at that part of a hockey trip. We used to get lost all the time, most famously in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where we somehow managed to drive from the airport almost back to the U.S. border before we realized our mistake and turned around. That night, we arrived at the hotel about four hours later and 10 times more pissed off than the rest of the team. Another time, we arrived for an important game in Toronto early in the second period. Once, we got totally, absolutely and completely lost but still arrived on time because I hit speeds of 85 mph while driving the mini-van through the suburbs at 4 a.m. I won’t say what city we were in, just in case the police there are looking for me.
We’re better at finding rinks now, because we finally purchased a Garmin GPS unit. Now when we get lost, the stern, faintly Germanic voice of Gurdy Garmin — Gurdy’s our affectionate nickname for Gertrude — orders us to make a turn here and a turn there, and before we know it, we arrive at the rink, usually just about on time. God bless Gurdy, I say; she might be an irritating bitch, but she’s probably saved our marriage many times now.
There’s no rational explanation for living this way, of course. It’s expensive, aggravating and time consuming, and the odds that any hockey player — no matter how good he is — will get a college hockey scholarship or make it to the NHL are about the same as getting hit by a meteorite.
But here’s the thing: People do get hit by meteorites. Or, at least one person was hit by meteorite. It happened in 1954 to Mrs. Ann Hodges of Oak Grove, Alabama, while she was sleeping on her living room couch. The 8.5-pound meteorite came crashing through the ceiling, bounced off some furniture and hit her in the hip and abdomen. Turns out Ann lived across the street from the Comet Drive-In Movie Theater, which probably explains why she doesn’t look more shocked and surprised in the photos they took of her after this remarkable accident.
I hope nobody in my family ever gets hit by a meteorite. It looks painful and scary. But it is nice to have a shooting star to wish on. I also believe it’s important to have a dream to follow. More than anything, though, it’s nice to spend time with our son and one another as we travel from hockey rink to hockey rink, even if we argue too much about whether to turn right or left, go north or south or eat at Wendy’s versus McDonald’s.
Yes, we could save the money we spend on hockey — and it’s not a small amount — for college, or retirement, or even for a trip to Italy. But would a fat bank account top seeing my fundamentally insecure 14-year-old boy struggle to suppress a proud smile after he scores a key goal at a big tournament and then privately re-live that goal again and again with him in stop-action detail at the dinner table? Would being able to quit work at age 65 instead of working until we drop dead beat watching him chuck bigger, taller, faster, stronger players into the boards to steal the puck and race down the ice? Would a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Rome be more memorable than all the time we’ve spent being with our son while traveling to and from rinks in planes, trains and automobiles?
I doubt it very much.
That’s why I’m already looking forward to our next trip — wherever it takes us — even though this one’s only half over.