When Southern Hospitality Greets a New Yorker

Greetings from Dallas, Texas, USA. The biggest state in the 48. Alaska is the biggest state of the 50.

Just to give you an idea how big this state is, my cab driver from the airport told me it takes over 12 hours to get from Dallas to any of the southern cities, like Corpus Christie. I think that’s almost the equivalent of driving from NYC to Raleigh, North Carolina or Montreal, Quebec.

As for the flight over, I usually sleep on the flight. The air pressure usually knocks me out. I’ll wake up about 20 minutes prior to landing. This flight…the turbulence was so bad, the plane jerked and it almost concussed me because my head hit the side of the head rest so hard. This was literally the worst turbulence I had ever experienced. That storm in the central states…that’s no joke when you’re up in the air flying over it.

Usually when you’re looking out the window, you get to see breaks in the clouds and see the land below. I didn’t see land until the flight descended. The sky was a huge blanket of white (at least during the 2 hours I was awake…that’s all I saw).

So since I was awake for half of the flight, let’s just say I was jet lagged. Crazy! I know. It’s only a 4 hour flight. But if I don’t sleep during the flight, that jet lag sets in.

dallas 1Getting in after 4PM meant I needed to take a cab directly to the hotel, which is just down the street from American Airlines Center, and only 2 blocks from the grassy knoll, the book depository and the Sixth Floor Museum (aka the JFK Museum to us Northerners).

After I checked in, dropped off my bags and brushed my teeth, I headed to Founders Grill. If you are ever in Dallas, this is a must stop, especially if you are a foodie. I got the tilapia roma with mac & cheese and a Caesar salad. When I ate the salad, I literally thought this was the best Caesar salad I had ever had. When the meal came, the tilapia roma was absolutely amazing. I’d pass on the mac & cheese next time, but the tilapia roma is apparently a favorite amongst visitors of the Founders Grill.

After dinner, the hotel shuttle took me to American Airlines Center (for free). The hotel driver gave me a small tour of the area so I would know where to go on Friday when I did my touristy stuff.

I had heard about the AAC plaza having a fan fair prior to games. When I walked through, it was just like walking through the plaza outside of Prudential Center…but better.

Kids and parents were out playing all of the different hockey games. The band…PHENOMENAL.

Inside, trying to find my section, I came across an acoustic act playing. I was like…OMG…THIS IS THE BEST! I love how Dallas embraces their homegrown music. Then again, I hear Austin is an amazing place for music. Dallas…of course, they would have amazing music acts too. Even if it is just local.

One of the greatest pieces to the AAC puzzle in finding my seat was a man holding up a sign saying, “How Can I Help You?” I’m not sure if all arenas have this, but this was a godsend. He not only helped me find my seat, he also helped me find a cab after the game.

dallas 3Now, if you were watching the game last night, chances that you saw me several times is 100%. I was sitting in the first row behind the bench. Why? To relive a memory from 2005-2006 when Jaromir Jagr was a New York Ranger.

Back when he was a Ranger, there was this spot at the end of the bench where he always sat. There was no glass in that spot. I could literally reach out in front of me and touch him.

He would always sit in that spot. It was very rare he moved down the bench from that spot.

Last night, I was sitting in the middle of the bench. The first player to sit down in front of me…that was a little weird.

The last time I sat behind the bench, Vernon Fiddler was playing for the Phoenix Coyotes and he was sitting in front of me. I had a lot of pictures of him because he was right in front of me.

dallas 5Last night, when the players came out to start the game, Fiddler sat down in front of me. I was thinking…whoa, this is odd. Just weird that the last time I was behind the bench, Fiddler was sitting in front of me playing for Phoenix. The next time I sit behind the bench, Fiddler is sitting in front of me playing for Dallas.

He did kind of give me this look like he knew me from somewhere but couldn’t place it.

dallas 2Now, I had noticed this season that Jagr now shifts down the bench. So it was good to get a shot of him sitting in front of me, like he used to do back when he was a New York Ranger. Kind of makes it feel like this hockey thing has now come full circle…ending things where I started back in 2005, right behind Jagr.

For those who don’t understand why I like the spot behind the bench, it’s for one reason only. THE COACHES.

I roll my eyes when players make eye contact and smile. It happens every single time. Then they start tweeting about the experience without ever saying it was me. I then have to call them out on Twitter for doing it by saying I’m not interested. Trust me, there are things you guys would be amazed were behind some of the tweets these players tweet out. I get caught on a road trip…players start tweeting things that I’m doing…without ever saying it’s me. I read the tweets and I’m like, WTF?!?!

This has been going on for years.

At any rate, THE COACHES. I like to see what the direction of a team is based on watching what a coach does and says on the bench. I’ll admit, the ones to watch and ‘read lips’ are the assistant coaches. They basically dominate what is happening.

Want to know what’s on those pieces of papers the coaching staff carries around? The lines. That’s all that’s written on it…the lines. Well, at least for Dallas that’s all that’s written on it. For other teams, I’ve read something else on those pieces of paper.

Want to know who’s really coaching the team? The players.

Want to know what made this trip PRICELESS? Watching Jagr coach his line…clipboard and all. He doesn’t just tell the forwards on his line what to do, he’s telling the defensemen what they need to do. He does more coaching than the Dallas Stars coaching staff combined does. No joke.

Back in 2005, he didn’t do that. Today, watching him play hockey differently than he did back then…this is worth every single penny that went into that ticket behind the bench. Granted, I almost want to say, Jagr’s play is predictable to me. He doesn’t carry the puck in. He passes it. Want to know why he’s responsible for so many turnovers? The other team anticipates that he will pass the puck in between the two blue lines. Hell, I anticipate it. I think if he actually carried the puck in (or dumped it in, informing his teammates that they need to chase it)…that would surprise everybody.

Ugh…my former hockey writer self is starting to takeover this post.

dallas 4Want to know what I really think of the Dallas Stars…winning is luck for them. I think I’ve been spoiled by effective hockey for the last 5 years. That comes in the name of the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers. I’ve seen power plays that worked like magic. Dallas…I see a sloppy power play where players are too far away and spread out. They need to be closer in so they can at least see where the other player on their line is. Actually, they just need to study the way the Devils’ power play was performed during the 2012 playoffs. That was a thing of beauty…and it was effective. Dallas’ power play is all over the place. It doesn’t work.

That’s another thing…a player can make a smart, effective play, but then someone else on their line isn’t synched up with the rest of their line and they’re constantly not where the puck was going to be…and they end up chasing the puck or looking over their shoulder like, “Oh, was that meant for me?”

I do a serious SMH when I see that. I even think, “D’OH! Even I knew that was going to happen.” Stars lack that synching up. What happens later on down the road? NO STANLEY CUP.

Jamie Benn once commented that ‘they’ never knew where Jagr was going to be. Actually, I know where he’s going to be on the ice. He isn’t that sporadic on the ice. He knows where you’re going to be…why don’t you know where he’s going to be? This is starting to look like a Kladno talent or something, because even Patrik Elias knows where everyone on his line is going to be, even if it’s not his regular linemates. You just have to watch him, because he knows where you are and he may see you have an opportunity before you do. Jagr is the exact same way.

Don’t get me started on the defense. They are getting better, but they chase the puck too much.

Which leads me back to the players coaching themselves on the ice…it’s too much chatter, not enough ONE GOAL, ONE PHILOSOPHY. I see they’re not speaking the same language. Everyone’s talking, thinking they have the better solution.

This is why I sit behind the bench, to really see and understand what is really going on. Since I’m not covering the game anymore and I’m not in the locker room, I can’t stand there and pick apart each player’s brain to figure out what the muddled mess is. Sitting behind the bench…I can just witness it for myself.

Saturday’s game, I decided to go for another favorite spot in the arena…one of the corners. This trip, I wanted to a) relive the Jagr past and get a sense of what in the world is going on with this team, and b) analyze each player’s play. That corner spot allows me to see things that players pray I never see. If you have alcohol pouring out of your pores, I’ll see it. If you have an attitude problem, I’ll see it.

Now, I’d like to talk about the fans.

I always prefer to not sit with or near fans. Or I just won’t talk to fans. Why? Because I spent 5 years covering the game of hockey and I look at the game very differently than the fans do. Keep in mind that my professors of hockey included Martin Brodeur, Jacques Lemaire and Brent Sutter. Not too many people can say they understand the game of hockey by learning from some of the greats (once again, Jacques Lemaire, anybody?).

Here are a few things I heard while I was sitting in the front row…

“I just want to marry Dillon. That’s all I’m asking.”

I listened to the older ladies with 20 something year old children gushing over #68. Jagr this, Jagr that. Jagr this, Jagr that. Oh, how handsome Jagr is. Oh, how sexy Jagr is.

I swear to god…that was not me. I don’t have a 20 something year old child.

At the same time of listening to these older ladies gushing over Jagr, I realized they know nothing about his hockey. To me, that’s very disappointing. It’s not Jagr’s looks that makes him a legend or a god…it’s hockey. This is his love and his passion. If he doesn’t make you fall in love with hockey…then you don’t understand who Jagr is. He has this effect on both men and women.

If you’re noticing his looks and sexiness first…by golly…YOU ARE NOT A HOCKEY FAN. Any person who is a fan of hockey knows and respects why Jagr is a legend. It’s what he’s done (in hockey) that makes people fall in love with THE HOCKEY GOD JAROMIR JAGR. He’s not A GOD. He is THE HOCKEY GOD. Understand? HOCKEY GOD. Let me stress the HOCKEY part!

Good lord.

As for the little old lady I was sitting next to…she’s a Dallas Stars fan. It was her first time going to a hockey game. She had asked me why I was alone. I told her I had just flown in from New York to see Jagr play. She then responded, “You mean to see Dallas play?” I said, “No. I’m here to see Jagr play.”

She was actually amazed I came all the way from New York to see him play. Actually, everyone I’ve met in Dallas is shocked that I came all the way from New York City to see Jagr play. Why this is a shock, I don’t understand. I mean…I used to travel all over the world to cover the game of hockey. It was never about the team. If it was, I would have only gone to Europe when the Devils or the Rangers went. I’ve covered a lot of different teams over these years. There are certain players I know more about than others, because there’s something about them and who they are, how they play, that intrigued me.

Simply put…Jagr was the reason why I got into hockey to begin with. He made me fall in love with this game so much that I became a hockey writer 2 years later. It always amazed hockey players that I got into hockey that 2005-2006 season and then was a credentialed member of the New Jersey Devils press corps by 2008 (which is completely unheard of). This was Jagr’s ‘hockey’ effect on me. Why not revisit the reason why I fell in love with hockey after having to listen to all of this bullshit during the lockout that turned me against the game and so many of its players?

As far as Dallas is concerned, I have to say their hospitality has been amazing. It’s kind of weird walking into breakfast (without having that first cup of coffee) and someone telling you good morning…and they are not paid to tell you good morning.

Everyone is so nice here. From the cab driver at the airport all the way to the staff at AAC and the hotel staff where I’m staying. Everyone has been so nice and courteous.

I’ve been able to sample some of the good food Dallas offers, but the weird weather and the jet lag has kind of given me a lot of difficulties eating. My stomach has practically closed up and I’m struggling to get my food down. I keep telling waiters, “It was just too much food.” Technically, it is. It’s more than I would normally eat. But I know that most places expect you to eat everything. If you don’t, they think you don’t like your food.

I will say, that some of the best food that has ever touched my tongue has been in Dallas. From Founders Grill to the hotel’s biscuits during their free breakfast has been amazing! I didn’t sample any of the food fare at AAC. I may correct that on Saturday.

As for my Friday…I’m off to honor the memory of JFK. The book depository is a block away, along with the grassy knoll. I’ll be hitting up the museum, too. Maybe do a little shopping afterwards.

In case you didn’t know, this is the 50 year anniversary of JFK’s death. They will be honoring the memory of JFK all year long in the city of Dallas. To kick off this year, the media was talking about RFK’s son telling the world that his father believed that the reason why JFK was assassinated was due to mob retaliation. RFK, who was attorney general at the time, had targeted mobsters during that time. He didn’t believe the Warren report when it came out. He truly believed that the mob had killed JFK to send a message to Robert to stop meddling in their affairs.

That was a strong belief. Then again, if it was true, maybe the mob was linked to RFK’s assassination, too. The conspiracy theories are still amongst us because we don’t have the flat out truth. There are too many things that came out of JFK’s assassination that leads people to believe that something was amiss. I mean, have you seen that photo of Lee Harvey Oswald holding a Communist Manifesto and a shotgun? Looks like a bad photoshop job. I mean…really bad.

My driver from the airport and I were talking about Muslims and Christianity and he made the correlation that fear during the 60s was about Communists. After the Cold War ended, it switched to Muslims. It’s all a huge political propaganda scheme to keep people in fear to gain a political agenda. Amazing that this was what we were discussing, but it’s accurate. Considering in my travels I know the truth about Muslims, I also believe that Communism fear may be the exact same as the Muslim fear we have today.

Which leads me to believe…Lee Harvey was probably not a Communist…and he may or may not have had anything to do with JFK’s assassination. I think most people believe he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and he was scapegoated, taking all of the blame for the death of a president that was well loved.

So that’s how I’m spending my Friday…remembering my favorite president and trying to understand his death.

More to come…

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