I’m 2,700 miles from home, my business is finished for the day, and all I want in this world at 3:00 Pacific Coast Time on Wednesday is some manner of sports bar within walking distance of my Orange County, California, hotel, one that will afford me a plausible shot at watching the Capitals and Penguins on the NHL Network. It’s non-NHL Network cable television in my hotel room, and at the hotel bar. I know that with my laptop I can purchase access to the game, but this is a big game, and I’m just not much of a hockey-watching-on-computer-screen kinda guy. I also want to roam a while out in the dreamy California spring air in pursuit of televised puck. And I want a big bar flatscreen rendering of it, and a pretty barmaid keeping me in puck sodas while I watch. And I really like the idea of taking in this game on the premature side of happy hour.
It’s a very weird thing to my very East Coast orientation to be pursuing a big hockey game in the middle of a weekday afternoon, but I relish the novelty. The concierge downstairs informs me of a joint named JT’s about two-and-a-half miles away. There’s a good chance of finding a specific sporting event among its satellite options, he informs. I have my mission, and I embark on it with optimism.
I have no rental car, though — an office colleague is arriving in the evening with one for us to share — so at 3:00 sharp, armed with excellent directions for the bar, I begin hoofing it. I like the mildly long journey required; it’s symbolic of my devotion for hockey, I tell myself. If I write about this experience, I decide early on in my walk, I will wildly exaggerate the paradisaical conditions: my miles-long march will be under a searing and unrelenting Pacific sun, rather than the skin-caressing, soul-rejuvenating, I-just-may-not-board-that-return-flight-home, seduction-spring-scented air washing over the pedestrian all the time out here.
In truth, it was a long walk to the bar. But it was wondrous. I passed Lady Gaga look-a-likes and recreation junkies who remind me on every visit to the Golden state that so many seem to prosper here while spending so little time in offices. As I drew closer to JT’s I grew impatient with traffic lights that halted my progress. At last I turned a final corner and spotted, off just ahead, the big bar. I could have called ahead to inventory the TV options, but for some reason I wanted to preserve ignorance as part of the drama and allure of this project.
Inside JT’s an expansive bar area is empty, a lone, California-attractive, twenty-something barmaid looks bored, and above her left shoulder, mounted on a brick wall, is 50 inches of high definition. It was offering ESPN and college hoops minutiae upon my arrival.
“What can I get for you?” Samantha asked as I sat down immediately in front of the screen.
“Hockey,” I replied, “and I can make it very worth your trouble.”
“Call me Sam,” she returned, “and lemme see what I can do.”
Sam was exceptionally attractive, with long flowing sandy blonde hair and all natural curves in a region known for manufacturing them, and her bar’s menu, well populated by Pacific seafood and Kobe beef, well flirted with my lunch-missing tummy. But the nourishment needed by my hockey heart wasn’t going to endure ESPN and hoops at such a critical hour; if need be I was going to cab it back to the hotel and have a matinee date with Steve Kolbe and room service.
Sam grabbed the sports section of Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times and scanned its televised sports listing. Then she disappeared from the bar. Maybe she needed approval from management, or perhaps she was going to attempt the channel switching herself. This was very much a sitting-on-eggshell moment for me. What if the Caps and Pens played another classic and I missed it?
Additionally, I’d awoken at 6 in the morning and gone at it hard in the hotel fitness center, and with the afternoon’s lengthy walk I was feeling my age. I really didn’t want to move, and I had the bar pretty much to myself. Sam was prepared to enthusiastically pour mini-pitchers of 20-plus varieties of drafts for me. JT’s boasted an impressive wine list as well. I had the perfect setup if I could just locate the game. I wondered if the Caps-Pens being on the NHL Network made my quest more or less longshot than were it broadcast on Comcast.
Suddenly the flatscreen above me began an exciting channels migration. In some back room Sam was puck-advocating on my behalf.
And she found it. Familiar NHL Network faces arrived on the screen and were apparently previewing the game with Penguins and Capitals logos emblazoned on the studio set. Sam returned behind the bar, and in that moment she appeared to me in possession of all the dreamgirl beauty of CJ Parker sunbathing at Laguna Beach.
I sent a text message to the Capitals’ Nate Ewell and Kurt Kehl: 3k miles away, but I’ve hockey-fied a SoCal bar with the game.
Technology was never more my friend than on Wednesday, and what a great game I saw. Sam seemed indifferent to it, but I didn’t care. The bar swelled during the 6:00 portion of happy hour, and when Mike Knuble completed the shootout comeback the drinks up and down the bar were on me. A coast and continent away I was very much at home.