As with every city we’ve temporarily called ‘home’ over the last five seasons, I can’t quite picture myself ever being completely permanent here in Bakersfield. Maybe it’s the fact that Dave and I are both thousands of miles from our families, maybe it’s my need to be near fresh water, maybe it’s my innate fear of natural disasters. But in the journey of life that we are taking, this is the hockey-centered phase, and Bakersfield is a great place for us to set up shop and enjoy another season. Let me tell you why…
I’ve mentioned before that the sometimes monotonous, sometimes dangerously polluted weather in Bakersfield drives me a little crazy. At heart I’m a four-seasons girl, the smells and sights of a quarterly change make me feel in sync. But I’m no fool, and I do not dream of the long, frigid, snowy and really, really long winter my Midwestern homies have been enduring. It’s mid-March and I’ve been wearing flip-flops for some time now, we stopped using our heat (which we only had to use for a few hours in the evening) a month ago. I lay by the pool in my bathing suit last week and sweat profusely. Sure the summer is like a blistering, hellish inferno, but I don’t miss dressing like an Eskimo to attend games in the partially open-air rink in Crimmitschau or riding a bike while holding an umbrella during the rainy winter in Tilburg.
There is something to be said for the drums and soccer-style chanting in Germany or the always-thrilling use of flaming torches indoors in the Netherlands. The crowds are raucous and crazy and wild and drunk in that overly-enthusiastic way that Europeans posses at sporting events.
But here in Bakersfield, a.k.a. Condorstown, they have their own brand of hockey-lust. They come in droves, sometimes over 7,000 strong on big weekends, sporting paraphernalia while roaring with joy or booing with hate in their hearts depending on the occasion. Just like their European counterparts, these fans have a love for their team and a distaste for losing that makes it challenging to be the loved one of a player sitting in their midst. Challenging in the sense that I have to hold back from giving some people a serious piece of my mind. I just the mantra ‘it’s just a game, it’s just a game’ to bring myself back to a peaceful state of mind.
There are some differences though, positive differences in my opinion, that can be seen in the arena here. Firstly, no smoking in the arena. You have no idea what a room full of chain smoking hockey fans can do to kill the desire to attend games. I’ve had enough second-hand Marlboro Reds to last a lifetime. In California the law literally protects me from such smoke indoors. In Germany, all I could hope for was some kind of SARS mask.
Secondly, the people filling the stands here are MUCH more diverse. It’s not exactly a secret that hockey is still a very Caucasian sport, making even the golf scene of recent years look like the United Nations. But at the Rabobank I watch the game in a rink full of men, women and children from all over the skin-color spectrum. That kind of racial and ethnic diversity bodes well not only for the business aspect of a sport that struggles to grow in a NASCAR-flooded American market, but also for the future of the on-ice appearance of a traditionally rather white roster. Certainly there is more diversity within the ranks of players than ever before, but it definitely doesn’t represent the proportion of the Condor’s fans who are of color. Hopefully the young ones who are so excited by the spectacle that is Condor’s hockey get inspired and become players themselves.
Finally, did you happen to notice that I wrote men, women and children of all colors? The smokey, riotous atmosphere of European venues where Dave played weren’t necessarily the most ‘family-friendly’ places to be. In contrast, the hockey-portion of the games in Bakersfield are only the opening act for Dora or Scooby as far as the little ones are concerned. I, for one, only have eyes for the Zooperstars on that particular night of the season. (Sidenote: if you don’t know what the Zooperstars are, get with the times)
The ability to understand.
Living in non-English-speaking countries was an awesome experience, a humbling, exciting, adventurous experience that I hope to be able to continue someday. But after two years, being back to where the dominant language is my mother-tongue is very comforting.
I can understand everything. I can read road signs and ingredients and menus and newspaper headlines. Granted, I am proud of the efforts made by both Dave and myself to learn Dutch then German, but the full comprehension of fluency in a language is something you take for granted until you lose it. As far as hockey goes, I can read the team website, understand when the goals are announced and what the other wives are saying to me at all times. Certainly, the women of our team in Crimmitschau spanned three languages to come up with some kind of Czech-German-English mish-mash that was most easily understood after three bottles of wine…and we had some very interesting conversations late into many a night/early morning. But the effort was tiring and sometimes made for feeling a bit isolated. I even appreciate being able to understand insults that are hurled at our players in English, the imagination can really run wild when trying to guess at the meaning of angry German epithets.
The six months that we lived in Bakersfield in 2006 were a fun, exciting time. Dave’s team made playoffs, I had a job, we had great friends and we were preparing for our wedding. The friendships we made during that time endured, and when we arrived back here for the reunion tour it was comforting to see the Hofstrands, the Venedams, the Fahsbenders and the Ianieros. It is nice for Dave to be able to play with Balan and Andrew with Marty and Mark as his coaches, because people who move every 8 months like anything familiar. It’s nice to know your way around the town, know where to grocery shop and where to find the dog park, to feel a bit like you’re returning somewhere you already enjoyed once instead of arriving somewhere completely new.
The season is getting older, hopefully with the extended life of playoffs ahead of us, so pardon me if I wax nostalgic over our current position in life. With four more games, all at home, I hope to be able to fully enjoy the way this place has fit into our puzzle.