Strangers In A Strange Land

Come out to the coast
We’ll get together
Have a few laughs.
— Bruce Willis, “Die Hard”

Friday, April 2, 1999

It’s a gorgeous day in southern California. The sun is out, but the temperature could be a little higher for my liking. Still, things are going to be busy today.

There are no games to be played, so this is the day when all of us plan on doing something.

There are a few things going on — the the Hobey Baker and the Humanitarian Award, to name two.

But I have decided to forego the ceremonies and meet up with a friend in Redondo Beach. He owns a business there and in my other life, I do plenty of business with him.

So I set out to Redondo Beach.

9:45 am PST

I have negotiated the freeway system for the last 45 minutes and it wasn’t half bad, to tell you the truth. The traffic flowed, at 80 mph, and no trouble whatsoever.

I take the last road to my friend’s office and as I crest the hill is one of the most beautiful sights that I have ever seen — a clear view of the Pacific Ocean and the blue sky.

My friend and I converse for a while. It’s a Friday, so what comes out of his mouth?

“Let’s get out of here and hit the beach. I don’t feel like working today.”

Who am I to disagree with my host?

10:00 am PST

We’re on our way to the beach. Doug is showing me the sights around Redondo Beach. He takes me all around, shows me the industry, all the sights.

11:30 am PST

I have never been to a Hawaiian restaurant ’til now. Fine meal, if you ask me.

1:00 pm PST

It’s back to Anaheim, knowing that Kristine Pierce of RIT has won the Humanitarian Award and Jason Krog the Hobey Baker. Remember when I said that friendly conversation is one of the best places for information? Well, guess what I found out about the Humanitarian last week? And what I found out about the Hobey earlier on?

2:00 pm PST

We’re ready to head on out. I go to Mike and Heather’s room and meet up with them and our good friend Todd Cioffi. Todd’s parents live in the area. He has unknowingly been volunteered as our tour guide for the day.

We are in search of fun in the California sun.

(to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies:)

Let me tell you a story ’bout a man named Jay
A bored Engineer…no game will play today.
So on the off day of the Nash-nal Championship
The ECAC writer went on a little trip…

Road, that is..freeway…P-C-H

Now ol’ Jay, he doesn’t have a care
Arrowhead Pond? Let’s drive away from there!
So he packed up his friends like they was family
They hopped in their cars and drove to Beverly…

Hills, that is…careening cars…movie stars

A Todd Cioffi original.

Downstairs we find Kevin Beattie, Danzer and Doug Spencer (the media relations guru of the WCHA) waiting for me. We’re thinking of checking out Universal Studios. But there is a little confusion.

As usual with a lot of people, everyone wants to do something else. And nobody as formulated a plan. Also, everyone is looking at me because I actually have a car, so naturally that means where we go is partly my decision. Let’s see, when was back in high school?

At this point, Kevin, Danzer and Doug decide that Disneyland is to their liking because we’re not sure when we’ll be back in Anaheim and they have things that they have to attend to, so our group of 11 has now shrunk to eight: myself, Mike, Heather, Scott, Lisa, Lee, Dave and Todd.

We’re also wondering where Todd Milewski, Paula Weston and Chris Lerch are. Scott mentions that they are working on stories for USCHO, but most of us think they’ve killed each other. Except me, I think Chris is at the practice at the Pond.

As I mentioned, each of us has things that we want to do. Some of us want to see the beach, some of us want to see Beverly Hills, some of us want to see celebrities, some of us want to see Universal Studios, some of us want to get souvenirs, some of us want to go to the Viper Room, some of us want to go to Hollywood — well, you get the picture.

So what do we do? We just hit the road. Heather, Lisa and Lee pile into Todd’s car and Dave, Mike and Scott pile in with me. I think I got the raw deal in all of this, but that’s just me.

2:55 pm PST

The traffic on 22 has hit a standstill before the road to Long Beach.

3:35 pm PST

So this is what real L.A. traffic is like. We have moved about two miles in the last 40 minutes. (Pops is fast asleep on his required midafternoon nap.) We find ourselves next to Todd’s car — he motions us that we’re getting off the freeway to take the scenic coastal route, because there’s a big accident up ahead and we’ll just sit here for the next hour otherwise.

Thinking we were smart, we were in the carpool lane. That meant we had to negotiate through six lanes of traffic to get off the freeway and onto the local roads.

I can do it; I’m a New York City boy. And to the astonishment of the others in the car, I make it. There’s Todd waiting for us on the median. Free at last, free at last!

On the Pacific Coast Highway, mostly we’re wondering just where Todd is leading us. Ladies and gentlemen, to your left — pawn shops. To your right — check-cashing stores.

Uh, Todd, are we wearing the right colors here?

Pretty soon we are where I was earlier in the day — Redondo Beach. We arrive and seeing as how I was just there this past morning, I honk the horn as we pass Jay Leno’s house. Then I save the surprise for last.

I get Todd to pull over at the last house along the beach and run on over to his car. I lean in and I exclaim:

“That last house there is the beachhouse in Beverly Hills, 90210!”

Everyone just stares at me for a moment. Then they look at the house. Then my eardrum is shattered by Heather’s scream.

The next thing I know, Heather and Lisa are taking off like bats out of hell toward the house, cameras in hand.

This is a good place to park the car.

We examine the place where Kelly, Donna and roommate number three spent all of their time. Earlier on, Doug had mentioned to me that the reason they stopped filming at the house was because the neighbors started to complain about the excessiveness of the shoot.

The street that we are on is pretty narrow — one lane in each direction — and when they came to shoot, the trailers filled the entire street. Being the last house on the block, they were able to send some compensation towards the direct neighbors, but eventually it wore thin. Thus, the end of the beachhouse on 90210.

I take this opportunity to do what comes naturally. Go put my feet in the Pacific Ocean.

Dave, Lee, Lisa and I head down towards the beach. I have this great urge to push one of them into the ocean, but I don’t think that David Hasselhoff would like that too much since the beach is closed for swimming. I am also afraid that Mario Lopez will come by and pummel me from his bike.

So instead I played nice and stuck my foot in and then watched Lisa almost get sucked into the surf while I was taking a picture of her.

That done, and my craving for the ocean satisfied, we head out once more. We need to make a stop since we have been in the car for about three or four hours — or maybe it just seems like that — so we follow the third rule of going to events.

We will find places to…

On second thought, let’s leave that to your imagination.

Did I mention that the weather is not what it usually is for this time of year in southern California? With the wind blowing it sure didn’t feel like we were in California at all. We’re all dressed for the part, but we feel just like USCHO headquarters in Minnesota.

To quote Soundgarden, “I’m looking California and feeling Minnesota.”

We’re driving up the coast on our way to famous Muscle Beach. I have heard that it’s an interesting place, and now we’re going to find out all about it.

At Muscle Beach, the wind is whipping all over the place. It’s cold. It’s high time I looked for a pair of windpants, but I just suck it up and keep going.

Because of the weather there aren’t any of the sights that we expect to see. No bodybuilders, no people blading, nothing much going on. Very quickly then, it’s time to go.

But first, we have to get some souvenirs. Rather, Pops has to get some souvenirs.

Those in hand, it’s off to Santa Monica. We’re headed for Todd’s parents’ place to check out the ocean again.

We will find places to…

Arriving at the Cioffis’, we are greeted by the security guards, who do let us in. We meet Todd’s mother. Without hesitation she shows us around, and we find places to…

Of course there is no end to embarrassment as the baby pictures are out. But what catches everyone’s eyes is the ocean from the terrace. What an unbelievable view!

On a clear day, we’re told you can see Catalina Island, but not today. Are they filming Baywatch today? No luck, but we stay for a little before departing again, ready to make L.A. our city.

Todd’s mom recommended we take Wilshire Boulevard into town, and we’re wide-eyed tourists at this point. Scott, Dave, Mike and myself look around for the Nakatome Plaza.

Then, one of those moments that you don’t like to face too often.

I am following Todd and out of the left side of my vision is a car speeding out from a cross street. Mind you, there’s a red light, but — yep — he’s going right through.

In the blink of an eye, this car figures out the light is red and manages to stop halfway through the opposing two lanes of traffic. That car didn’t hit anything, but the car coming the other way had to make some pretty good maneuvers.

It wouldn’t have been so bad except for the fact that the opposing car is doing almost 55 down Wilshire, a 30 mph zone. Because of that, he has to swerve — head-on into Todd.

I see this happening, so I brake to a stop. Todd sees it as well, and stops as much as he can, but I can tell that he’s bracing for impact.

Fortunately, none came.

The speeding car had swerved out and back into the opposing lanes, avoiding hitting Todd by a fraction.

With Scott and Mike’s wives in Todd’s car, naturally there was a lot of apprehension in those five seconds. But thank your lucky stars that everything worked out okay.

7:15 pm PST

With close call in hand, it’s time to continue through L.A. We reach Beverly Hills and of course we have to go to Rodeo Drive. It’s about three blocks long but it is a pretty amazing sight. I felt like having an espresso with a twist of lemon (say it in your best Bronson Pinchot accent and you’ll get it).

The other thing that I wanted to do was drive down the street with all the palm trees. Just like you see on the movies and TV all the time. We find the street, which turns out to be Beverly Boulevard, and the tune of “I Love L.A.” goes up.

Passing the remaining sights, we reach the House of Blues. It is time to find things to eat and eat them. It is also time to find things to drink and drink them. And it’s time to find places to…

We find out that Rusted Root will be playing tonight, so it’s a packed house. But somehow we manage to get in for dinner.

There’s just one hitch. Since we don’t have tickets for the Rusted Root show, we have to be finished with dinner by nine.

8:05 pm PST

We sit down at this table and begin to order. Todd starts to spin tales of the House of Blues. The stage, the bar that swings open, the faces on the ceilings, etc. It is a cool place, there is no doubt about it.

9:05 pm PST

We’re still chatting away and eating food and there doesn’t seem to be anyone to kick us out of our seats. Our waiter, Charlie, tells us, “Hey, this is my table, you stay as long as you want.” He’s cool, too.

Of course, Lisa and Heather get pictures with him and he winds up taking pictures of all of us at the House of Blues.

10:00 pm PST

Some souvenir shopping and we’re on our way once again, to Hollywood and the sights.

We pass right through the intersection of Hollywood and Vine. People have said so much about it, but it wasn’t anything spectacular at all. It was just an intersection. No big deal. But, hey, we can say that we’ve been there.

We find Mann’s Chinese Theater. I had been to Mann’s when I was a kid, but I don’t remember much. It’s all that it’s cracked up to be.

We’re on the Walk of Fame, so we take a walk around and look at some of the stars on the sidewalk.

And then it’s off to hunt for souvenirs, coffee and places to…

Dave hits the motherlode of souvenirs and proudly shows off his purchases. We walk around for a little while longer but everything is closing up around us.

11:59 pm PST

Time to head back to Anaheim and get a good night’s sleep. There are plenty of things that people want to do. Dave has a morning round of golf scheduled with Jim Connelly and myself. Me, I’m trying to raise some people to hit Disneyland at eight in the morning before the championship game.

We let Todd go back to his brother’s place and all seven us try to pile into our rented Mercury Sable. Lee wants to ride in the trunk, but we pull him out of it and hit the road, getting back to Anaheim in one mushed-up piece.

Saturday, April 3, 1999

1:00 am PST

We’re back at the Anaheim Hilton. It’s too early to go to bed, but we catch wind of a rumor.

The incredible Jon Barkan is in town and is attending his farewell blowout. Barkan Bash, here we come!

That is, Lee and I head down to the Barkan Bash. Scott has some editing to do (USCHO’s work is never done) and we arrive to find that the rumor is indeed true.

In living color, there he is, the man, the myth and the legend — Jon Barkan.

The tenth annual Bash was supposed to be the last one, and Barkan was not going to be able to make it because of his new commitments to the Atlanta Thrashers. But there he was, spinning his usual web of stories as he recounted the best moments of the previous nine Bashes.

Anyone and everyone usually winds up at a Barkan Bash at one point in time if they attend a Frozen Four. Tonight was no exception. People from all parts of the country with different allegiances were there. A good time had by all, until…

2:30 am PST

A security guard knocks on the door.

Seconds later, the Bash has been bashed.

It’s time to head to other places. Fortunately, Scott and Tim head on up with me to my room and what do you know? We have found things to drink.

4:00 am PST

We’re all set to call it an evening. I still want to make it to Disneyland in the morning. It’s going to be tough, but I’m going to give it a shot. Besides, the Wildcats and the Black Bears are going for the big prize in 12 hours.


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