Strangers In A Strange Land

California — knows how to party
California — knows how to party
In the city of LA
— “California Love”/2Pac

Saturday, April 3, 1999

“Go west,” they all said. “Go west and find the promised land,” they said.

Right now the only promised land is a comfortable bed and some extra sleep, as the idea of getting up at 7:00 am to go over to Disneyland has just gone the way of the 50 goal scorer.

So I turn back over and figure that I’ll get some more sleep. I mean, who could blame me. A day on the town in L.A., Barkan at the Bash, near death, fun, sun and everything else.

9:00 am PST

Alright, it’s time to get up. Of course I had to be helped by a phone call from Machnik asking what’s on the agenda for the day. I was sort of hoping that some more sleep was on the agenda, but I never told Mike that Disneyland was off the schedule.

We make some quick tentative plans to meet at 11:00 in the lobby of the Hilton and take the day from there. We figure that’s enough time to do some things and still get over to the Pond because of some sort of Championship that’s going to be played at 4:00 pm.

9:30 am PST

You know, California ain’t that different. Batman Beyond is still on the tube at 9:30 in the morning.

11:00 am PST

I head on downstairs and I find Mike waiting for myself and Heather and we are about to make some plans as we also wait for Scott, Lisa, Lee and Tim.

We remember that Pops has gone off to play some golf with Jim Connelly and we wonder aloud about how many mulligans he has already taken.

While we wait for everyone I make my way down to the business center of the Hilton in order to find a box of some sort. You see, when you go to a Frozen Four, one of the main objectives is to take home something that is special. Something that no one else has. Something that is a one of a kind object.

Let’s call it a memento of the trip and of the Frozen Four. I have seen people take the same approach. I have seen the ESPN2 signs at the Dane County Coliseum taken for mementos. I have also seen larger mementos taken as well.

Last year at the Fleet Center, the NCAA put up banners. Big ones that named the schools that had won the NCAA Championship and the years in which they won them. I had thought long and hard about how I could get my hands on one of them. Never managed to do it last year. But I did see a few ambitious people pull it off, absconding with the Wisconsin banner.

Back to the story though, I needed a box to send some souvenirs home, since my suitcase just wasn’t large enough for all the things that I had bought and acquired on my trip. Plus, that Ulu-Knife of the authentic Alaskan variety, had a warning on it:

“This Ulu is extremely sharp!!! It will not be cleared to carry on an airplane. Please pack it with your checked baggage.”

But alas, the business center was closed because Easter was the next day.

So I head back up and we are assembling and getting ready to go. We had thought about going back into L.A. for a little while, but didn’t think we had enough time. So we settled on going to an outdoor mall about 15 minutes away.

Seemed like a good plan. I mean, we were antsy, hungry and just wanting to get out and enjoy some sun. Still no warmth, but plenty of sun.

We arrive at our destination and the eight of us start to walk around. Heather and I look for the information center because we have this brochure that says that there are coupons available there and being the thrifty people that we are, we have to have these in case we want to buy something.

But we decide to eat first. What else is new with this crew?

We think about going into Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant, but it doesn’t seem like there are enough items on the menu to satisfy all involved. So we venture towards another restaurant.

We find a nice seafood restaurant that everyone seems to agree on and we head on in and sit down.

Food — it’s such a wonderful thing. And when one goes to a restaurant, sometimes your eyes are a little bigger than your stomach. Just ask Scott and I.

We peruse the menu. We stop and look. One thing crosses my mind. I look up. Scott looks up.

The Big Kahuna

Yup. We are thinking Big Kahuna. An entire chicken, a slab of ribs, corn on the cob, shrimp kabobs, rice pilaf, potatoes, plus more. Mmmm…. more.

But for some unknown reason we are both hesitant. We don’t know if the two of us can do it. For some reason it seemed to be a problem with the two of us. Trust me when I say that it usually isn’t a problem with us, but we hesitate.

Our waitress doesn’t help.

“Oh, it’s real big. It’s a lot of food.”

So we decide to enlist help from around the table. We find an able and willing volunteer in the USCHO Big Kahuna, Tim.

We are all set. It’s time for the Big Kahuna.

20 minutes later, we find out why it’s the Big Kahuna. It’s, well, big.

Scott, Tim and I ignore the rest of the world and the ones around us keep their elbows tucked so as not to get them eaten and we pile it on.

But we can’t finish it.

I mean, the three of us couldn’t finish it. That just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. I felt ashamed, I had lost face. We could not finish the Big Kahuna.

And then from out of nowhere, Lee comes to the rescue, like a hungry knight riding on a white horse.

“Uh, you guys gonna eat that?”

1:45 pm PST

We have to get a move on it because I had told Pops that I would meet him in the lobby at 2:00 so that we could head over to the Pond for the game.

I’m late. I run into the lobby and there is Dave. He’s frantic. He thought that I had left without him. Now would I do that?

I run upstairs to change and Dave, Paula and I head on out to the Pond.

4:00 pm PST

It’s time to rumble. All the marbles are on the line now as the Black Bears and the Wildcats face off.

We sit back, relax and take in the press box atmosphere.

We find out something very impressive when we are in the press box. Turns out that the L.A. Times contingent is passing around the USCHO Frozen Four preview. Needless to say, Dave and Paula are beaming from ear to ear when they see the crew reading their stuff.

In a classic battle as the Championship goes into overtime, where Maine wins it.

The mad dash for the press conference is underway. I stay in the press box and sort things out. Say my “thank you”s to everyone involved in making it a great event. Especially the hosts in Alaska-Anchorage. Steve Weakland did a superb job of running the thing and the others involved were outstanding as well. So my hats are off to Steve, Beth Burr, Julie Kluge, Ed Carpenter, Dave Fischer and a lot of other people I know that I am forgetting.

We get finished with the press conference and we convene downstairs to get on back to the hotel. Any hope of getting back into L.A. for the evening is pretty much shot because of the overtime as it is already almost 9:00 and we haven’t finished putting up stories, etc.

I go downstairs and look for those I am supposed to meet and I pick up a few stragglers. There’s Bernie Corbett and Kevin Beattie looking for a ride but we can’t seem to find Dave.

We finally find him. He says he was trying to hunt down quotes. Me, I think he was after leftover cookies.

We get back to the hotel and try to decide what to do. It’s late, Scott has to edit and post and there are too many things going on.

We decide that we have to do at least two things. The first is obvious — find things to eat. The Big what? The second is to get boxes for our mementos.

Kinko’s is the place to go. We head out in two cars and there are six of us. Mike, Scott, Tim, Lee, Dave and myself and we find our Kinko’s, get our boxes and then search for the important thing that we have to do.

Unfortunately it is late, and at midnight there aren’t too many places open around Disneyland. Except for the old standby — Denny’s.

So we eat and head on back to the hotel. It’s late and we all have flights in the morning.

After three days of pure fun, we can’t take it anymore and realize that we just aren’t as young as we used to be (that’s not a poke at Pops either).

Sunday, April 4, 1999

7:00 am PST

Time to get going and packed up. I have a noon flight out of LAX and we have to get going to the airport to check in and all of that good stuff.

8:30 am PST

The phone rings. It’s Scott.

“I need a computer!”

USCHO’s work is never done.

9:30 am PST

Dave, Mike, Heather and I head on out to the airport. We are a little sad in that we had a good time and that the West Coast will be missed. I think that our biggest regret was that we didn’t get to see everything that we wanted to. But then again, one can only do so much in a four day span with hockey thrown in.

10:00 am PST

Not bad time to L.A. from Anaheim and that leaves us time to find things to eat. And that we do.

10:30 am PST

We pull into the Hertz rental return and realize that it’s almost over. We all wonder what our handsome reward will be. Then we realize that we are not on Road Rules.

The shuttle bus churns towards the terminal. Who knows when we’ll be in L.A. again, especially for the Frozen Four? We know that we’ll see the same people and friends next year. And we’ll make some more friends in Providence as well.

You think back and you realize that you had heard so much about California and that people talked about it incessantly. You wonder just what you will think of the strange land when you arrive.

Yup. The USCHO crew survived the Frozen Four in California. Indeed, we were Strangers In A Strange Land.

Many thanks go to all those involved with making this a memorable Frozen Four experience. From all the fans that read USCHO to those involved in bringing USCHO to you. See everyone in October.

The soundtrack for this adventure is available on USCHO Recordings.