The Suite Life

“Right now we are alive and in this moment I swear we are infinite.” The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The other day I got a message that my Mom called me at work. I always get a little nervous when my Mom interrupts me at work. My first reaction is that somebody has had a stroke or something, so it was even odder when the news turned out to be good.

“Sorry for calling you at work, dear, but I just got a couple of tickets to the Jets game Thursday night!”

She was referring to The Winnipeg Jets, our NHL team that left our city in 1996 and was resurrected in 2011 by relocating the Atlanta team. My Mom is a huge hockey fan, and grew up listening to Hockey Night in Canada on the radio Saturday nights after spending all Saturday afternoon outside with her stick, skates and puck. When the Jets used to be here, my brother and Mom would get one of those mini-packs with 8 or 9 games a year. I usually went to one of them with either my brother or Mom, but I wasn’t what you’d call a big fan. My game has and always will be baseball, and once the World Series ends, I kind of go into hibernation mode, sports-wise. Sure, I’ll tune into the Grey Cup and Superbowl, especially if a group of friends are getting together to watch it, but other than that I lay dormant until catchers and pitchers report. (Even just writing those words catchers and pitchers report sent a shiver of goosebumps over me. I know. I’m weird.)

But I was so excited for my Mom. I immediately said, “Great. Who are you going to ask? Aunt Betty? (a devoted hockey fan), either Rob or Kathy? (her two neighbours across the back, also hockey fans)”.

There was a pause, and then she said, “Well I was hoping you’d be able to go with me.”

Sure, I would have fun. It would be my first NHL game (albeit a pre-season one) since the original Jets left, but surely there was someone more worthy than me who would get more out of it? But then she dropped the kicker: “It is in one of the suites.”

I said “Yes” before I even knew I did. A suite! My Mom works with someone who’s father has a suite at the arena, and I guess she gets tickets once in a while to the games. I’ve never ever sat in one of those, so that in itself would be worth the evening out.

The night of the game came around and my Mom and I got down to the arena in good time. We had our tickets scanned and then made our way upstairs to the suite entrance. No questions asked! We were ushered into the sancta sanctorum. Immediately everything got quieter. There was plush carpet in the hallways instead of loud tile. There was a little private bar with one person in line, and the washrooms. Let me tell you about the washrooms. They were clean and spacious and underused. A guy could get used to this suite business, I tell you.

I was told before going that not every suite is treated equally. It all depends on the company that hosts the night. A friend of mine got tickets to a suite one time, and as she walked down the hallway she looked into the other suites as she went. Some had hot trays laid out with chicken fingers, nachos etc, and some even had a dude in a chef’s hat waiting to carve you some beef or pork, but by the time she got to her suite she had to check her tickets twice. The door was locked and she had to get an usher to unlock it. The lights were out and there was no sign of food anywhere. Eventually someone came ’round to ask if she wanted to order anything, and by the time the food came, it was well into the final period. She said no one ever did come into the suite (other than her and her husband) and she advised me to go down and get my own food to avoid this same situation.

Our suite was sponsored by three different companies. A poultry company, an HR firm, and some mysteriously vaguely titled company that could have been anything. We didn’t even know which company we were “representing” and when we went into the suite there was just us and maybe four dudes standing in the corner drinking beer. I just nodded to them and moved into the room. What’s the protocol here? Do we introduce ourselves? Do you ignore each other? It seemed like ignoring was the way to go, and I was just as happy with that as the friendly approach. I wasn’t there to make friends, I was there to watch some hockey and hang out with my Mom.

And then all of a sudden, I got my bearings. There was the rink, down below, all lit up for the evening. It was actually quite breathtaking. Not nearly to the same scale that one feels the first time stepping into an unfamiliar ballpark, but still: the scale and the sound of it all leaves a mark.

The suites are set out so that there is a couch, a lounger, and a coffee table, as well as a kitchenette with a sink and a long table to put out food. You can’t actually see any of the hockey from this part of the suite: for that you have you go to the front of the suite where there is about 12 seats that overhang into the arena. Our tickets had actual seat numbers on them, so we quietly and respectfully moved to those seats and got settled. We had about 10 minutes before the anthems and the puck drop. I asked my Mom if she wanted to get a drink, but she was already halfway out of her seat, heading back to that private bar we passed on the way in. In addition to the assigned seats, there were four spots were you could sit on bar stools and have a wee counter space in front. The view of the game was just as good from there, and you could spread out a little. Since no one had claimed two of those spots and they didn’t have numbers on them, I moved up there before my Mom came back.

“Great idea!” she said as she saw the spot I staked out.

“How much were those beers, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Well, I gave him a $20 and he gave me a toonie back, so what does THAT tell you?”

Nice one, Mom. At least our tickets were free.

The game started and we enjoyed the action. Watching a hockey game with my Mom was like watching it with a 12 year old. My Mom knew all of the players and their back stories. “This guy probably won’t make the team. That guy is coming off an injury. I don’t like how that guy handles the puck….” etc etc. I didn’t know enough about the game to know whether she was correct on all things, but I enjoyed the banter and it was such great fun to experience this with her.

During the first period, a guy showed up and laid out some snacks: a huge basket of popcorn, a hot-tray full of taco chips, nacho cheese, beef, onions, etc. In addition to the four original dudes, our suite had filled up with a motley group of spectators. My Mom and I started to try to profile our fellow suite-goers, and I realized then that my Mom and I share the same observational quality that is often found in writers. How many of these blog posts have been about me going into a situation and describing what I see from my own particular point of view? My Mom took a creative writing class back in the 1980’s at our local community college and wrote a few short-stories, Alice Munro style. (*Editor’s Note. Nobel Prize Winning Alice Munro, thank you very much.) They were never published, but I imagine there is a drawer some where in her house with a few manuscripts still kicking around. You never know when the creative impulse will grab you. Did I ever tell you about the morning when my wife sat down and wrote 30 poems? It happened.

We noted a group of underdressed (grubby!, according to my Mom) people who pushed their way down into the front row of seats. “Poultry people, no doubt” was my Mom’s observation. “They have a decidedly rural air about them.” Where did all this snark come from all of a sudden? There was some oddball sitting in our suite wearing the away team’s jersey and cheering every time something bad happened to the Jets. No one seemed to know who he was or which group he was with. And what about the two young blonde women who were in our suite but didn’t appear to be attached to any one group or person? More on them later.

I remembered my friend’s urging to go out and get our own food, and so with a couple of minutes remaining in the first period, I told my Mom to hold our spots and I would go out and get us something.

Leaving the suite area and entering ‘gen pop” was a jarring experience. First of all, you get frisked going in, (something that never happened in all the times (one time) I’ve spent attending suites. And then you’re not at all prepared for the crush of people as you enter the main concourse. I remember as a kid attending Jets games in the old arena and getting crushed but also remembering the smoke-filled air as you were allowed to smoke indoors between periods. No smoke this time, but the crush was worse than I remembered. I got into a line up that looked like it promised food, only to find out that I was in an alcohol only line. “Um, can I get a couple of hotdogs?” I asked hopefully, but the beer jockey just shook his head and pointed to the sign that said, “Beer”.

The next line promised pizza but I was getting a little worried because the rotating pizza cabinet, you know the one, was totally empty. The platters were still rotating slowly around, but instead of holding alluring slices of pepperoni, there were only crumbs. I was second in line when some dude showed up with three pizza boxes and unceremoniously transferred their contents over to the cabinet. Whew! I got two slices and made my way back out through the throng and up to the rarefied air of the suites only to discover upon my return that there were three pizzas laid out on the serving table next to the nachos.

I didn’t mind, as the slices I bought were bigger and I knew who owned them 100%. I still didn’t know the correct protocol of the suites. Who’s allowed to eat what? There were little triangles of paper in front of the food and drink with the HR company’s name on it. Was this a subtle yet douchey way to let the rest of us know that this food was for HR stooges alone, or was this simply an acknowledgement of which company paid for what? In the time it took me to go down and come back up, my Mom had clearly taken a liberal interpretation of the latter scenario. She had a bowl full of popcorn, a tray full of nachos, and she was drinking a Budweiser (clearly poached from the sidebar). I could see the look in my Mom’s eyes which said, “There’s no way I’m paying nine bucks for another beer. This is probably the only time in my life I’m going to get to sit in a suite for a hockey game and I am going to bloody well enjoy it.”

“Um, Mom, did you ask anyone about the food and that beer?”

“Nah. Who was I going to ask? Nobody cares.”

And she was right. Everyone was busy chatting and whatnot and my Mom and I (and the poultry people) were the only ones who seemed actually interested in the game below. I guess there are some lifestyles out there when “going to a hockey game” meant “going to drink beer and schmooze and give fuck all to the hockey game” and we were witnessing some of it right before our very eyes. Before I knew it, my Mom up and had another plate, this time filled with the suite pizza. This seemed a bit much to me, considering that we just finished eating a huge slice of gen pop pizza, but what did I know.

“Do you want a Stellas or a Bud?” said my Mom as she sidled off the bar stool over to the drinks table. They have Stellas here? I’ve never had a Stella’s before, but after spending an evening in our city’s Belgium Club this past summer I’ve grown curious. So I had a Stellas, on the house. (Or on the HR firm’s account, at any rate). And before long, I had another.

The game wore on into the second and third periods. I was enjoying it, but I was enjoying eavesdropping on the conversations of our fellow suite-mates even more. Those two women that I mentioned before now come into play. We were all drinking and eating the free snacks (except for the poultry people. Maybe they knew the rules and were respecting them), and these two women began to “chat up” some of the various men. They were “on the make”, as I think my Mom put it, and the men who were talking to them seemed to enjoy the attention. My Mom, now freer with her speech, said that they were “too old” to be dressed “that way” although I think they were both younger than me. Things got interesting when one of them struck up a conversation with a young dude in the neighbouring suite. There were little barriers between suites but you could certainly talk over them, and this lady made her best efforts to do so. Suite to suite convos must be the height of decadence, and I wouldn’t at all have been surprised to see one person “pass the Grey Poupon” as it very much were, to a person in another suite, but sadly reader I cannot honestly say this happened. What I CAN say happened was that this one woman got invited into the neighbouring suite by this younger dude (and by younger dude, I mean he was probably 18 at the most, the lady in her 30s) and I overheard the connection. The lady used to nanny for the young dude’s friend, so it got even creepier when the two of them started “making out.” (My Mom’s term, again). The other lady “on the make” seemed betrayed by this sudden reversal of fortune and consoled herself by “making out” with this older bald, bearded dude. I hope he had money, because if he did that was probably all he had going for him, sorry to say.

Needless to say, I had lost track of the score on the ice down below at this point. Is this just a typical night in the suites? Nobody knows. I CAN say that the game did go into overtime and although the Jets lost in the end, it almost didn’t even seem to matter. I drank free beer (and also really expensive beer), and the free beer tasted better. I ate free pizza (and pretty expensive pizza) and I can say the paid pizza was better, if only because I half expected a firm hand on my shoulder at any moment asking me what exactly I was thinking, and asking me to put that pizza and beer back. But you know what? That never happened, and the people in the suite didn’t know who we were, we could have been somebody. My Mom could have been an executive of a partnered company. Heck, even I could have been somebody, and for one night we were. For one night, in that moment, I swear we were infinite.

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