Some years back, when I was maybe 12 years old (let's say 1986 or so), Coca-Cola ran commercials that I absolutely hated. In the summer, Coke would run commercials reminding viewers of the "fun of winter;" scenes included sledding, skiing, ice skating and the like. And, worse (much worse), in the winter, Coke ran ads reminding us all of the fun of summer. On our old tube TVs would appear images of happy people surfing, riding bikes, hanging out at the beach or whatever.
I hated the summer ads (the ones showing winter fun that ran in July or August) because they aggravated what I now know is Seasonal Affective Disorder--and, yes, I really do have it. I'd see winter scenes in July--the kind of scenes we couldn't possibly have in Dallas-Fort Worth--and panic about the end of summer and the onrushing and inevitable darkness of January. Yes, it was that bad.
But the other ads, the summer-fun ads that ran during winter, were way worse. Those just teased and taunted me, even though I was living in a place where we could have 75-degree days in January. We could also have 25-degree days in March, and those were the ones I hated. Seeing summer fun in the dead of winter was just too much for me. As for "winter fun," I was pretty sure that it didn't exist, and, in any case, I sure didn't know what it was.
But today, finally, I found out just how much fun winter can be. Having failed at skiing and being generally too lazy to haul a sled to a hill after a snowstorm, I took up ice skating last year--at the age of 35--as my "winter sport." I liked it well enough, and I'm sticking with it--but it didn't do all that much to pull me out of my winter doldrums.
Today, though, I had the skating experience of a lifetime. Thanks to my lovely wife's vivacious little sister and my brother-in-law, I had the truly once-in-a-lifetime chance to skate on the temporary rink at Fenway Park. I hardly have words to describe this experience--it was (sorry, but it's true) magical.
First of all, I had never skated outdoors before, and it way beats skating indoors. The crisp air and blue sky were a vast improvement over generally stuffy, overcrowded rinks. Beyond that, I got to skate on a real NHL (and NCAA, for that matter) ice surface. I sat in an NHL penalty box to tighten my skate laces. I passed the point--I managed to get around a few times--where Marco Sturm scored the winner for the Bruins in the Winter Classic on New Year's Day. Honestly, the Bruins connection (and the BU-BC connection) excited me more than the fact that I was at Fenway Park.
Still, it was incredible just to be on the field at Fenway, even if I was tottering on metal blades. I have to really concentrate when I skate, but from time to time, I'd look up and think, "There's the Green Monster!" Or, "There's the Pesky Pole! And Ted Williams' red seat! And the press box with 'Fenway Park' stretched across it! And the Prudential Center in the background! And I'll never, ever see Fenway or Boston like this again." I was skating on the infield, probably right to the edge of the base paths, with the pitcher's mound right beside the rink. Amazing.
I heard a father tell his young son while the two were on the ice, "Remember this day because it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience." Sadly, I think he was right--I can't see Fenway converting into a winter wonderland again anytime in the near future, unless the NHL or NCAA decides that the Fenway games were such a success that they should happen regularly. And, in a way, that might spoil the fun and the incredible atmosphere I experienced today. Maybe this sort of opportunity shouldn't come around every year, although I'd do anything to be there if it happened again next year.
What struck me about today was the happiness inside the park. Boston can be a dour city, especially in winter, and its residents can be a bit, well, cold this time of year. But today, folks in Fenway were happy. More than happy, actually--simply overjoyed, almost floating on air (when they weren't falling on the ice.) Tickets for this event were very hard to get (thanks again, Christine and Steven), and those of us who got the golden ducats took advantage of every second we had in the shadow of the Green Monster in the park that dates back to 1912.
As probably the only adult on the ice--and very nearly the only person, period--who was a beginner skater, I even developed a small cheering section (two or three guys, total strangers) who followed my skittering path around the ice sheet and congratulated me--sincerely--when I stepped out of the rink. That was exceptional and as rare in Boston as a Yankees-Red Sox game with empty seats. But it gave me a good laugh and probably gave my little fan club a better one.
The Winter Classic and the BU-BC game have brought some needed attention back to hockey in Boston after the Bruins had an unexpectedly good season--their best in a decade--in 2008-2009. Boston will always be a Red Sox town in terms of cheering interest, but it is at its sports heart a hockey town and always has been. The declining fortunes of the Bruins in the '90s and '00s took some fan enthusiasm away from the NHL franchise, but college hockey is still very popular and kids and adults alike play the sport regularly.
I'm hoping that this month's spate of hockey activity will continue the reawakening of hockey passions in this city. The Bruins could help by snapping out of their funk, but if the Winter Classic and the NCAA game encourage folks to strap on the skates and hit the rink for the first time in years, all the better.
As for me, I still need a lot of work on my form (as you can see from the photo above taken by my lovely wife), and it'll be a while yet before I'll have the skills to join a low- (or non-) contact hockey league, which is my ultimate goal. But today was simply spectacular, one of the greatest and most memorable moments of my life. And I finally understand what those winter-fun Coke ads were all about all those years ago. Maybe in the heat of the summer, I'll miss snow, crisp winter air and ice skating.
OK, probably not. But I'll always relish the memories of sliding around the ice sheet in the glorious winter wonderland that was Fenway Park on Jan. 10, 2010. For that, I'm thankful. Pardon the pun, but I can honesty say that skating at Fenway was just about the coolest thing I've ever done.