Checking a hockey bag with the Ottawa Airport luggage guy was a conversation starter. “Marc Messier just went through,” he said, assuming that I would recognize the name of the five-time Stanley Cup winner. I looked at him doubtfully. They say everyone has a double somewhere and this probably was just my hockey-playing lawyer buddy Rob. “Did anyone ever say that you look exactly like Marc Messier?” I asked him, making conversation as I soaped myself (not him !) down in the shower.
“All the time,” he answered. “Even when I insist I’m not they still always say… “Come on, dude, you’re Messier.” But then it hit me that airport security would be checking passports and Marc Messier probably hadn’t handed his off to Rob. Maybe I’d be able to catch Messier before he headed off to the frequent-flyer Business Class lounge to have breakfast. I wanted to question him about a dirty move he had pulled on Larry Robinson one time when the Edmonton Oilers had knocked off the Montreal Canadiens. He had raised his stick as if to take off my idol’s head. It was during the 1980 playoffs. It still bugged me.
I had to content myself with a watery concession stand coffee as we waited for our United Airlines flight. After being led back to the window seat in the plane’s last aisle, I waited for almost one-and-a-half hours before a flight attendant came by and asked me if I wanted something to drink. I felt like a Coke, and then asked if they were also distributing little packages of peanuts or crackers or anything at all. She looked down on me as if she had caught me holding a lit cigarette, frowned slightly and answered, “No.”
I’ll bet Marc Messier was getting better service up in the Business Class section.
The Old-Timers’ hockey team with whom I would be playing did not have a limo service to greet us at the Houston Airport but Dave G. had arranged for Mike, his longtime cabbie, to pick us up. Mike was a personable laidback black man who filled us in with some news from the night before, an incident in which hit-and-run drivers got into a shoot-out with the cops who had been pursuing them. I listened intently to the story, but also couldn’t help but be distracted by the neon billboards along the route. One advertised the upcoming gun sales that would be forthcoming until Christmas, while others offered the services of bail bondsmen, who would, for only a reasonable rate of interest, put up the money for you to stay out of jail until your trial. I was happy to be in a Texas cab and not a jail cell. It was October 2nd, and the afternoon thermometer registered 93 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dave’s house in Houston proved to be as welcome as an oasis in the Gobi Desert. “What are the names of those trees?” I asked, pointing out the species that lined both sides of the street of his fashionable, not-far-from-downtown neighbourhood.
“I honestly don’t know,” Dave admitted. He had lived here for eighteen years, but then I silently excused him when I thought of Dave’s line of work as a Texas oil financier. His latest project was gathering investors for an oil-fracking adventure. In Dave’s list of priorities, the name of a species of tree was far down the list.
“We play tonight at 9 o’clock,” Dave told me as he showed me around his place. His side lawn seemed to be about half the size of a soccer field, and he had indeed provided a soccer net for his three sons to practice their free kicks. His backyard, in between his house and his office, contained a basketball court. Dave seemed to have been using his time wisely, even if it hadn’t been for memorizing the names of neighbourhood trees. “The rink has been closed down for eight months, however. Some sort of insurance battle over who was responsible for the upkeep. You know how Americans love to spend time in court. The ice might not be the greatest.”
The temperature must still have been in the high 80s as we pulled out of the driveway that night on our way to the rink. “Make sure you check out that bookstore before leaving.” Dave pointed out a funky-looking building with a ‘Kaboom Books’ sign on it. The bookseller shared space with another merchant, only his establishment was entitled ‘Set ‘Em Free Bail Bondsman.’ It didn’t take long until we were on the highway and once again my eyes were drawn to an anti-littering billboard warning everyone, “Don’t Mess With Texas.”
“We’re on the I-20,” Dave informed me. “On this freeway you can go all the way to L.A.”
In case I jumped the gun, I was soon reminded that we weren’t in L.A. yet. One more billboard advertised :
“Country Music that you love.”
Well, I thought, at least Gordie Howe and I have something in common. Playing hockey in Houston. I can compare myself to Gordie now… well, without the talent,wealth and fame, of course.