PRAGUE — There’s no way anyone going on this Belfast-Prague-Liberec-Prague excursion wasn’t psyched out of their minds for the trip. There’s also no way a writer whose dealings with foreign cities stopped at Quebec wouldn’t have some reservations about new territories and a new language.
This one just didn’t think he’d have his, “I’m a goner” moment so soon in.
So we arrived on Sunday night, and it was beautiful. I actually slept for a little more than 14 hours as soon as I got to the hotel and got up just before 10 a.m. for the 11 a.m. practice. I called a cab, wrote down the address for the arena, which was about 15 minutes away tops, and enjoyed some very limited conversation with the driver, who knew just a few words of English. Either way, I would soon be at Tesla Arena.
No I wouldn’t.
About 15 minutes into the ride the cab pulls into some sketchy alley-ish place. There’s a mechanic on the right, and a guy smoking a cigarette down the street.
“No,” I say calmly, though I’m naturally worried.
The cab driver points to the address I had written down. “Yes.”
“Sorry, but no,” I say, growing more concerned with each passing second. “Hockey.”
“No ‘okay.’ Hockey,” I say, air-stickhandling. “Hockey.”
By now I figure I have seen my family and friends for the last time. That guy down the street is smoking his cigarette and wondering what the hell is going on. Or is he? Maybe he’s in on the ruse too. I try again.
“Hockey, please. Hockey.”
That’s when I remembered the conversation I’d had a day earlier with my last cab driver about Czech players.
“Dominik Hasek! Jaromir Jagr!”
He drove me to the arena, which was maybe 45 seconds from where we were, and I have just now gotten the blood back in my face.