Wait, somebody's already used that lede? Shoot.
Like any good saga, this one begins MONTHS ago -- like, still-living-in-Miami months ago -- when I randomly discovered That '80s Show. Basically, it's an autograph signing/meet-and-greet with athletes from the 1980s, and this one was featuring about three quarters of the Miracle on Ice hockey team. And it was being held in New Jersey, an hour away from where I live, in December. Um, twist my arm! It immediately went into my mental calendar. I planned on going, come hell or high water. (Lol, oh, little did I know.)
Several months go by and, lo and behold, my internship (in Colorado) gets extended through the end of December. But when have I ever let a little thing like that get in my way of something I want to do?! I gathered up my airline miles, cashed in a half day off of work won in the Halloween costume contest, bought tickets to meet three of my favorite players (Jim Craig, Buzz Schneider and Mark Johnson!), and prepared to fly home for a weekend (on Friday the 13th). Craziest thing I've ever done? ...Er, yes, probably. (What does it say about me that I have to seriously think about the answer to that question?) But I did this responsibly!
And then disaster struck. During my layover, I checked the event's Facebook page only to see that 20 minutes earlier, the event had been postponed due to an impending snowstorm.
Y'know, there's something about morosely eating McDonald's in the Dallas airport that makes you question your life choices.
The airline wouldn't let me just turn around and go back to Colorado Springs, so I spent a few days at home for no real reason. I DID marathon all three Toy Storys with my dad, though, so it wasn't a total loss. But whatever. Let's not talk about it.
This past weekend was the new date for the event, which was a great silver lining for being home! Mark Johnson had canceled, though, and Jim and Buzz were now going to be there on different days, which meant trekking into New Jersey TWICE, but whatever! It was happening! I was psyched! And on Saturday, I woke up to my dad telling me that Buzz the car had just gotten a clean bill of health from his mechanic just in time for me to go meet Buzz the person. Perfection.
My plan was to take the LIRR into Penn Station in New York City and take the subway to Port Authority, where I'd catch a NJ Transit bus to where I needed to be. Everything was going like clockwork until I hopped off the C train at Port Authority and realized...
My phone was gone.
I effing got pickpocketed! For the first time ever! In my home city! I can't even explain to you how angry I was. Still am. Forever will be. UGH UGH UGH UGH UGHHHHHH.
Thankfully I managed to keep my head and immediately headed for a payphone -- 'cause apparently they still exist! -- to call my parents. They had my phone suspended and disabled and whatever the heck else, while I now faced figuring out New Jersey sans communication, internet and Google maps.
I managed to remember which bus I needed and which stop to get off at without a problem... but never fear, problems abounded as soon as I got off the bus. I'd Google mapped the route from the bus stop to the venue before I left my house and thought it looked super easy... but lol, not so much. I was lost, man.
So there I was, wandering around Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, without a cell phone, in a cold drizzle. I asked four different people I ran into for directions and, I kid you not, each of them barely spoke English. I found myself walking along a highway without a sidewalk, and slogging through muddy puddles, and slipping on ice remaining from last week's deep freeze... and, since I didn't have a phone, I didn't know what time it was. I had budgeted a ton of extra time into my schedule, but I had no clue how long anything had taken once I left Port Authority. It was a very real possibility that I wasn't going to make it in time for Buzz's 2:00 signing start time. Or, y'know, that I'd get hit by a car. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.
But at long last, I found the venue. Soaking wet and borderline emotional, yes, but I finally arrived. And at 2:02, no less! I picked up my tickets, bought a photo to get signed, and headed inside. The signings were done in groups hour by hour rather than all at once, so from 2-3 it was Buzz, Dave Christian, Eric Strobel, Mike Ramsey and Neal Broten. And hey, there they were!
|Note all the Devils fans lining up for Broten. :)|
I had a little bit of a wait before my ticket was called, but it wasn't too long before I was approaching the table. Buzz is seriously the most friendly-looking person on the planet, so without even thinking I greeted him with, "Hi! How are you?" Because, you know, that's a totally normal thing to say when meeting one of your heroes. He signed my photo, and I got the guy behind me in line to take a photo of us together. :)
I may've looked and felt like a drowned rat, but I totally couldn't care less! :D (That also happens to be Eric Strobel in the background.)
And then I opened my mouth.
"I don't mean for this to sound creepy... but I named my car after you."
He burst out laughing, actually looking utterly delighted. "Oh! I sure hope it's still running!"
"Oh, it is, it's a good one! It's definitely living up to it's namesake!"
Still grinning and chuckling, he said, "You just made my day!"
And you, Mr. Schneider, just made mine. (Which totally isn't saying much, considering how craptastic it had been up until that point, but that's so not the point.) I made his day! Sheesh. So, uh, that went far better than I'd imagined it would! I smiled to myself all the way home, even as I had to awkwardly use a payphone in the middle of Penn Station.
Yesterday, I headed back out there way too bright and early, armed with my dad's iPhone and a renewed paranoia about every person I came into contact with. Since I now sort of knew where I was going (and had Google maps at my disposal! Woop woop!), I made it to the venue with close to an hour to spare, though windswept to within an inch of my life. Seriously, New Jersey, what the heck? But hey, there was no walking along the highway, no ice, and only minimal puddles!
I decided to sit in the lobby and kill some time before heading into the show. After about half an hour I hopped into an empty elevator, and when the doors opened on the correct floor... there he was.
Jim Craig. Standing right in front of me. Waiting for my elevator.
Like I said in this post, if you want to feel like your stomach dissolved, run into your favorite athlete unexpectedly.
We made eye contact. Smiled at each other. I got off the elevator, and he got on. We had a moment.
I was totally content with my experience already at this point, but y'know, I figured I might as well get what I came for! So I headed inside to wait and was greeted with the sight of about a million people more than the day before. And I finally had the wherewithal to take some appropriately bloggy photos.
Unsurprisingly, there was quite a wait to meet Jim, but I'd also purchased a ticket for a photo opp (necessary, yes? Yes). Those were being done before he started signing and, due to the crowds and some general confusion, I ended up being the last person to get a photo with him. They'd actually brought him to his seat already, and had to bring him back just for me. Heh, whoops? :)
I was surprisingly calm, considering that meeting this guy is on my bucket list. But he's so. freaking. nice. After a lifetime of meeting fans, it'd make sense that he's kind of over it... but he isn't. He was insanely friendly and his smile looked totally genuine. When I walked up to him, he greeted me with, "Hi! How are you?" Like, uh, exactly what I'd said to Buzz the day before. Cue Twilight Zone music. I somehow gathered my brain cells enough to respond, "I'm good! How are you?" So, y'know, he said he's good too, and then the photographer did his thing!
Drowned rat in one, windswept in the other, and I still don't care!
Afterwards, he turned and shook my hand. "It was nice to meet you."
Yet again, my jaw scraped the ground. "It was nice to meet you too."
He smiled. "Have a great day!"
Well, Mr. Craig, I didn't get a phone stolen from me today and I'm going to be getting your autograph within the hour. So I'd say my day is going to be A-OK!
Of course, I didn't actually say all that.
(I wonder if he was that nice to everyone. Not to say that I'm super special or anything, but I was a girl there by herself in a room mostly full of older men. And his kids are right around my age, so I wonder if I was meeting Jim Craig the dad. Or maybe he's just well-practiced enough at this kind of thing to know how to put people at ease. Whatever it was, I was thrilled. THRILLED.)
After that, it was a whole lot of waiting. Autograph tickets were numbered, with the idea being that they'd call numbers to minimize waiting time. Well, after 45 minutes, numbers 1-40 had been called. I was ticket #59, and there was a guy near me with #123. Sheesh, talk about time management, folks. That left 15 minutes to get through at least 80 people. Cool.
So, the autograph signing basically turned into an assembly line. I got my photo signed at 11:59, and there was no real time to chat with him. :( That was a major bummer, especially since I didn't actually say anything when I was one-on-one with him. But he was so wonderful that I'm finding it hard to stay too upset!
And with that, this nutso epic finally came to an end. I finished off the weekend with a pint at an awesome Irish pub in Times Square with some of my study abroad friends, and it was great. :)
All in all, I don't think I'm a fan of the whole autograph signing "show" thing. I mean, they charged money for everything. Want to get into the event? Money. Want an autograph? Money. Want it personalized? Money. Want a photo with the player? Money. And let's be real, it was a ton of effort too. So this is definitely not going to become a regular thing for me at all. But to meet the players I met? Heck, I'll treasure these memories forever.
Verdict: so, so worth it.
(...And if you have an old iPhone that's looking for a new home, gimme a holler. For realz.)