Highway 99 was as dusty and flat as always. We drove through Central Valley farmland, past almond groves, herds of dairy cattle and vineyards, only to flip through talk radio and crack jokes.
We were on our way to the big “No”, Bakersfield’s Highway 99 rival in more than just hockey. Sure, hockey games between the Bakersfield Condors and Fresno Falcons are always a nasty affair. Fans yell and scream and hope for nothing short of a blood bath on the ice. Americans more than just love the Ridley Scott film, Gladiator
. Many of us relish the toughness of a sport in an arena that pits men with sticks who punish each other for 60 minutes. Blood on the ice is a bonus that invigorates the tamest of hockey fans, and is rarer these days.Fresno Whiffleball
Sure, some of my readers are pacifists, They’re folks who scream “Food, not bombs!” and they will ignore this article. But there is a Highway 99 rivalry and hockey is a great way to display such competitiveness.
Myself? I’m of a fiery competitive spirit. Give me a game of checkers and I will trash talk as I try not to lose. I once played chess regularly with a combat veteran who was also a schizophrenic. When he was focused he fought chess just like a war. He hunkered in his chair, his eyes focused like a cat. He read playbooks and offered game strategies that escaped the game board itself. He wore big feathery hats, or a favorite Indiana Jones hat; he offered beer, or sat with Hustler magazine, trying to throw off my game and my attention as we sat in a courtyard in downtown Bakersfield in the mid-1990s. He pitted himself with middlegame strategies that were as mystic as the spiritual themes in Gladiator
. “Toss some sand in the East to hide the sandstorm coming in the West…” and so on…
Find the rubber chicken
Although I play less hockey these days, the same spirit is abundantly there. And I brought it with me as I entered Fresno to see game two between the Bakersfield Condors and the Fresno Falcons.
With me were several fans: kids from Dirty Spanglish, Dude on the Ice, and Matildakay. chingpea was going to try to attend but couldn’t get off work early enough to make the trip.
Meeting us in Fresno was Mike Seay
from Dorktown.net. He and I
both write trash talk hockey blogs here in the Central Valley uplifting the local ice hockey teams in our hometowns. Mike wore a hat and brown jacket and we sat and ate some grub across the street from the Save Mart Center before walking over to the game.
The Save Mart Center itself is a huge facility that stands like a big mall out in the middle of the countryside near Fresno State. According to Mike that’s all going to change as an actual mall type atmosphere is supposed to spring up around the complex. Inside, the stadium is massive, though less friendly with an almost hospital quality: bare, clean, stone, bright. The rink itself was like a big empty hospital room where the Falcons perform cold surgery on their victims, Bakersfield no exception. No banners from the rafters like there are in Bakersfield.
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