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Reflections From the Road: Flyers 7, Capitals 1 December 21, 2008

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

When the alarm went off at 7 AM, I came swimming out of my sleep thinking, “Huh, what?…Alarm?…Saturday?…Oh, yeah, road trip.” I got out of bed, showered, and got dressed in full Capitals regalia. One change: I opted to wear A*Men for my cologne instead of Lucky You. Other than that, I dressed as I normally do to Verizon Center: cloak, rave lights, cards on my belt, the whole ensemble. I’d been advised by some fans to tone down my outfit, but I would have none of it: this cloak doesn’t run.

Before I left home, I had a word with Archangel Raphael, to ask for safe travels. I then asked Archangel Michael for personal protection in the enemy’s arena. His exact words to me were: “If anyone lays a hand on you in anger, I will have failed. And I don’t fail. I’ve dealt with some of the nastiest, most evil enemies of the Light, so I think I can handle keeping you safe from Flyers fans.” He was as good as his word, too, as it turned out. Little did either of us know that it was a Capitals fan I’d eventually have to worry about.

The weather was extremely foreboding: gray skies, rain haze, and enough of a breeze to make it uncomfortable. The early part of the bus ride was full of lively hockey chatter, a trivia contest, and the customary first-goal drawing. I drew Victor Kozlov and Sean Collins, and I didn’t like my chances that much.

We took I-95 straight through, and I remember casting a slightly homesick eye on the Baltimore skyline. I haven’t been back to Baltimore City since I moved down here to Washington a couple of years ago. I still remember bringing everything I had in my office with me to Camden Station, and buying a ticket to Union Station, one way. It was the first–and so far the only–time I’ve ever ridden the Camden Line. There are some things about Baltimore that I definitely do not miss. Yet, every time I pass the city on 95, and see that familiar skyline, I can’t help but feel a little bit homesick–even though I know that I’ve chosen to become an adopted Washingtonian, and even though I know that, in all likelihood, I may never again call Charm City my home. The colorless, mournful sky only added to my sense of loss, and I can’t remember if my eyes stayed dry or not.

The conversation flagged a bit as we approached Harford County, and I remember seeing a lot of the familiar exits of my youth roll by: Joppatowne, Edgewood, Riverside, Aberdeen, Havre de Grace. It’s been a very long time since I last set foot in Harford County, my home in those combative, lonely years we refer to as “adolescence.” I’ve been through there many, many times, but always in transit: I’m either on a train bound for points north, or I’m on 95 and not venturing off the interstate. As we rode past the Ironbirds’ ballpark in Aberdeen, I had to wonder what, if anything, was left of the Harford County I knew growing up. You can’t go home again, true enough, but would I even recognize the neighborhood? Not that it mattered–we drove on, as we had a hockey game to catch. As we crossed the Susquehanna, I was struck by the reflection of the sunlight on the river. It had a greasy, feeble look to it, as if the sun itself didn’t want to be out of bed today.

Most of the trip through Cecil County was occupied by the trivia contest. One of the questions was to name every player who’s played for the Caps so far this season. It says something, I think, that there were several players who slipped my mind. Either we’ve had a whole lot of players don Capitals sweaters this season, or my mind’s not as sharp as it was…or I needed a cup of coffee. Hey, Chesapeake House has a Starbucks! Cool! We took a brief layover to get out of the bus, walk around a bit, and–in my case–grab my usual at the coffee shop. The barista couldn’t believe I was asking for eight shots, and gave me a very amusing look when she placed it on the bar (wish I’d had my camera!) As we left Chesapeake House, I remember joking, “Next stop, the City of Brotherly Shove!”

We arrived at Wachovia Center at 11:30, which was a little early. No angry mobs were there to greet us, and we got inside without incident. I remember the guys at the turnstiles giving me some good-natured kidding: “Hey! No capes in here!” It was said with a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin and a bit of a laugh, but they scanned my ticket and waved me on through without incident. There was a piano player near the entrance who was playing “Linus and Lucy”–and doing a very good rendition of it, I might add–as we walked in. He saw all the red jerseys, and started up on some twisted tunes–close to the originals, but bashing the Caps in a couple of places. You get that on the road, and you just have to let it roll: they’re just supporting their home team, and it’s not personal.

The Fan Club members ended up assembling behind the Caps’ cage for warm-ups, and we did have to move aside for a couple of ticketed seat holders who were very, very polite, when you consider that we were fans of their opponent and sitting in their seats. We made pleasant conversation, intercut with me maing a few common-ground quips (hate the Penguins, don’t much care for the Rangers, think Sabres fans are obnoxious, etc.) There were no unpleasantries at all, and I made my way up to the concourse after warm-ups without incident–not even a Harry Potter reference.

One thing I did notice about the game was how much Christmas music they played throughout. They even had a special intro set to Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24),” which was almost worth the price of admission all by itself. (I LOVE that song–love it, love it, love it.) It was a marked contrast to the Caps’ musical choice this December. I really wish the Caps would have done more Christmas music during the season this year, or at the VERY least, at the last game before the 25th. (The Grinch in a Blues jersey didn’t work for me the other night. Sorry.)

As for the game itself, there’s nothing I can say that won’t be better said by other writers. My personal road record falls to 1-2, and I’m 1-1 in Philadelphia.

But that’s not what you surfed over here to read, was it? You wanted to hear about how bad the Philly fans were, right? Well, this is the shocking part.

On the concourse, I was listening as hard as I could for any HINT of trouble directed at me personally. Nothing: the Flyers fans pretty much left me alone on the concourse and in the comfort stations. I actually got more than a few compliments from some of the Flyers faithful, and one fan who asked what the cloak symbolized. I offered her a card for this blog, and it was accepted. Literally the only verbal jab I got directed at me personally was one lone “Harry Potter” call coming back from the second intermission. One. That was it. I’ve gotten more of those–and more abusive–from fans at Verizon Center. (“Harry Potter sucks!” the other night at the Blues game, to wit.) Everyone else was either curious, complimentary, or just content to leave me alone.

True, the Flyers fans did their dead level best to make it known that this was their house. We got our lumps from the fans around us, but you tell yourself that it’s just your team they don’t like, and not you personally. So when one of my fellow Caps fans started mixing it up verbally with some of the Flyers faithful in the next section, I tried to yank him down into his seat, and once he was seated, I reminded him that he represented the Capitals and the city of Washington, and to be a polite guest. Whereupon he threatened to punch me in the face.

It was the only threat of violence I got the whole game. And it wasn’t from a Flyers fan.

What I got from the fans in Philly was, from my experience, the typical crowd reaction you get on the road. Some words got exchanged here and there, but that was strictly business. However, NEVER–not once–did I detect any personal hostility from the Flyers faithful. Now, I’ll grant that it did get awfully lonely toward the end of the game with the Flyers cruising and the fans yelling, “Start the Bus!” (Great line, by the way, guys! Would any of you Flyers fans object if I used it on the Penguins?) But it was never personal, and I never once feared for my safety.

In fact, I’m going to go so far as to say that, on an individual level, I got more respect in Wachovia Center than I sometimes get in Verizon Center. It pains me to type that, but it is what I felt at today’s game. I heard “Harry Potter” once, and that was the end of it. After that, it was all impersonal, generic Caps-fan-bashing, which you have to expect–and let slide–on the road. One-on-one, I got a lot more curious and complimentary comments than I got negative ones. So, after allowing for the expected denunciation of visiting fans, my opinion of Flyers fans remains where it was at the last game I saw there, and that is fairly high.

The mood on the bus was melancholy as we set out for home. We’d just traveled 120-plus miles to watch this game. We had then witnessed what I believe is referred to, in Net slang, as an EPIC FAIL. We now had 120 more miles to go to get back to Washington. Worse, traffic was crazy for a Saturday night–we hit several slowdowns on I-95. I wasn’t much for conversation, so I retreated to my iPod, and VNV Nation’s album “Futureperfect.” (I’ve about overdone it with the TSO this December, so I needed a change of pace.)

What was odd, in a very strange, meta-music kind of way, was how the album ended up being the perfect narration for the balance of the trip. I cued the album up at a traffic jam, and the slow strings on “Foreword” went perfectly with the standstill pace of the traffic in the tie-up. The angry, frustrated lyrics of “Epicentre” went well with most of the rest of the delay, and traffic began moving again toward the end of the song. During “Electronaut,” we were making good time, and there was something poetic about the rhythm of the oncoming headlights matched up with the beat of the music. It’s hard for me to put it in words, but the headlights seemed to be almost dancing to the music. That’s the best I can describe it. “Liebestod” went perfectly with the wait for the Fort McHenry Tunnel Toll Plaza. “Holding On” was up next, and the second verse was coming on just as the Baltimore skyline was in view on the right. The effect of the skyline and the music combined was more contemplative than Ronan Harris ever intended for that song, I’m sure. As the album moved to “Carbon”, we were south of Baltimore, in an area with a lot of street lights. That lent a certain extra weight to the opening lines about “a million points of light, ascending to the sky.” As the song progressed, and we drove south, there were fewer outside lights, until we were about–guessing–somewhere a little north of Jessup. The darkness outside the window made the final lyrics of “Carbon”–“By our blindness and stupidity, we kill everything”–that much more depressing. Depressing song, depressing scenery, depressing Caps loss–yes, I wept. “Genesis” was the perfect cure: we had hit the Jessup exit, and there were very bright lights overhead to light the road. And I caught myself contrasting “Carbon’s” “million lights that no one can see,” with “Genesis’s” “God saw the light, that it was good…” And it got me thinking about the nature of the light of humanity compared to the Light of God…but that’s a subject for another day. For “Structure”, I remember watching the traffic and the road, and seeing how it fit with the music (which, surprisingly, it did.) The last song before we hit the Capital Beltway was “Fearless,” and the lyrics of that song seemed to make the perfect conclusion to the trip (even though it wasn’t the end of the album). I did, however, manage to get all the way through “4 AM” just as the bus was arriving in Greenbelt. The atmosphere of that piece pretty much summed the whole trip up.

So now, here I am, at home, it’s quarter to one in the morning, and that Christmas shopping I said I’d do is going to have to be done tomorrow. So I have to get to bed.

Caps fans, I’ll see you next Friday for the Caps-Sabres contest at the Phone Booth.




1. The Frozen Fan - December 21, 2008

I’m so proud of my fellow Flyers fans. They demonstrated such poise, such maturity. [sobs slightly, overwhelemed with happy pride]

You may need to ask permission from the Sign Man (aka Dave Leonardi), since he is the keeper of most Flyer fan slogans. Next time you’re in the Wachovia Center, look for a man seated in the 2nd row behind the goal the visitors defend twice. He’ll have a large box of signs – that’s the guy to talk to.

Apparently in the old days at the Spectrum, fans could actually hear the sounds of the visitors’ bus coming through the zamboni tunnel. Hence, the cheer.

Sorry that the results weren’t what you were hoping for, but I’m glad to see that you had a good visiting experience overall. Best of luck Friday!

2. CapitalSpirit - December 21, 2008

It wasn’t the warmest of receptions, Frozen–it did get awfully lonely toward the end of the third, when everyone was looking our way and catcalling. That really wasn’t fun: our team was getting demolished 7-1, and all of a sudden, we had like three full sections showing their teeth. That was, however, strictly business, so I’m not going to take offense at that.

The crowds were as vicious as we’d feared, but the individuals were wonderful, and from what I heard, it never got violent.

I kept my promise, by the way, and did conduct a distance session for the Flyers shortly after the game. I can’t guarantee results, but I did make the intention.

Also, re “start the bus,” I’m curious. if the fans could hear the bus, could the bus drivers hear the fans?

Even for a Caps fan, it was a little depressing looking at the Spectrum on the way out, knowing that a piece of hockey history will soon be no more.

Good luck in Jersey this afternoon.–CS

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