In Disney World commercials, a kid walks into the theme park where Mickey, Donald and all the characters are lined up waiting to greet her. You know, the kind of magical thing that never happens when you actually go there. Unless you went with us this weekend to Pittsburgh.
Lindsay, Alison, Emma and I arrived from Canada and Maryland on Friday afternoon. That night we weren’t at dinner 20 minutes (or one drink) before Robert Bortuzzo walked in the door.
Let’s be honest. How many people in how many places would get excited about this? How often is that one person in that one place when it happens? Well that person is Alison and that place was Meat and Potatoes and I honestly thought it was the highlight of the weekend on the first night. It helps that Borts is 6’4″ and can clearly be seen from across the room. We ate (good food, great atmosphere) and presumably he did the same. Alison did not fall down when passing his table. The trip was off to an excellent start.
Afternoon games are the best because you just wake up and hockey. Saturday morning we managed breakfast before warm-ups, which found Lindsay getting politely razzed by everyone at Consol for her Stamkos shirt. Pittsburgh people are the friendliest even when they’re giving you a hard time. When warm-ups started everyone remembered Steven looks like this:
… and gave Lindsay a pass. Don’t worry, she had on her Crosby jersey by game time. If you watched the back and forth of the game, you saw Crosby score first and probably heard us screaming. Geno had two goals plus the first star post-game on-ice interview.
James Neal did what he always does when I go to Consol (both times) – win it in extra frames. Last time was a shootout, now overtime. He must know how mad he makes us sometimes – he’s that boyfriend who you keep breaking up and making up with. As Emma would later say, “James Neal is every mistake I made in my twenties.”
After the game, we went to Primanti Bros. You’ve all probably been there and we knew to expect the unparalleled marvel of multi-tasking: fries inside a sandwich. America, Land of Innovation. What we didn’t expect were $4 jumbo beers – how does anyone stay sober in Pittsburgh? Yuengling practically flows from fire hydrants in the street.
After sandwich coma and a change of clothes, we did even more eating at Butcher and the Rye. You should all travel with Lindsay and Alison – they make reservations at the best places. In less time that it took Borts to be wished into existence the night before, Brendan Morrow and his excellent hair appeared. We appreciated it for one moment… except he now plays for the Blues.
You can wish a lot of failure and heartbreak on an opposing team. We wished food poisoning – and didn’t wish hard enough, based on the next day’s game. We were busy planning knife-throwing crimes in case we saw David Backes. Sorry Sochi puppies, but we hold a grudge. Steve Ott was there too – enough of a directional beacon for hockey anger.
We were a bit stuck downtown and ended up at bar called Olive or Twist twice. Tumblr informs us that once upon a time, a lucky bachelorette party stumbled upon Neal and Crosby there. (We hope the bride to be hadn’t signed her pre-nup yet.) We got only a sad guy on a sad guitar acoustically serenading us with slow-jam versions of 90′s pop songs. His ballad version of “Bye Bye Bye” was a momentary bright spot. There was in fact a bachelorette party near us – no Penguins to save their day, only Hootie and the Blowfish covers. Still we were 2-for-2 on NHL sightings. Well done, Pittsburgh.
Sunday was another morning of breakfast and hockey. Penguins warm-up skate is always a highlight and they could make good money selling tickets for just that. The game… was the game. A strangled 1-0 loss. Welcome to the stretch and the playoffs, where tension takes the place of fun! At least we had giant burgers from Burgatory and cleaned out the PensGear store to the tune of Robert Bortuzzo’s only shirt sale possibly ever. (Mostly kidding.) We did get a Matt Niskanen intermission interview to match my new shirt and some incoherent shouting about turtles.
We nursed our mild depression before calling up @TheChadPGH to join us for dinner. The hotel even gave us a ride in a van with a giant chocolate chip cookie on the side, and right outside the restaurant they were filming Aaron Paul’s new movie. Got all that? Dinner, Hollywood, Cookie Van. We are VIP.
Chad was already at The Urban Tap and I have to think he wouldn’t trade what happened next for dinner with any other four girls who are not, say, SI swimsuit models. It was that memorable. We ordered more freakishly underpriced Yuengling and within minutes, Alison said: “I think Lee Stempniak is here.” Yup. That was it – 3-for-3.
As we were still laughing, a tall skinny guy in a light dress shirt came in. Really tall, like almost as tall as… and right behind him, a shorter, stockier guy in a dark blazer. With hair like a Ken doll.
Me: “Crosby just walked in the door.”
Live reaction shot of me and Chad, hacked from a security camera:
Lindsay, Alison and Emma:
Life, in general:
That’s it. I didn’t faint and the floor didn’t swallow me. Impressed? You should be. Everyone turned to look – there’s no being sly in this moment. Sure enough, Crosby and Borts again, joining Stempniak and Brian Gibbons. Like normal people on a normal Sunday in a normal life where Sidney Crosby wears jeans and is not behind a pane of glass.
This is where Chad became a rescue worker in a potential disaster, keeping us focused, talking, alive. Good thing because without him who knows what we would have said. And how loudly. Why does that matter? Because just behind the pole Lindsay was leaning against – Brandon Sutter. He’d been there the whole time. We didn’t realize until Borts walked by, squeezed between Lindsay and the table and yelled, “SUTTSY!” Now, BSutts is Alison’s favorite. Borts is on the list, and that’s rare enough, but truth be told he is no BSutts to her. For Borts and BSutts to be talking within arm’s reach… this is Christmas, people. It’s every birthday you ever had. If Alison were shot from a cannon into a bucket of jellybeans it could not have been more perfect.
Just when we thought Pittsburgh had really over-delivered, there was one trick left. The first open table was, of course, right next to the Penguins. WHO GETS UP FROM THIS TABLE? Who finishes eating and thinks, “I’m leaving to do something better with my Sunday night?” The hostess pointed us that way and Chad’s reaction was just, “Oh my God.”
(You know I was the first one over there for the best seat. I can fly.)
We spent the next four hours having an amazing girls + Chad night with the lovely backdrop of Sidney Crosby. Borts too, of course, and Gibbons, Stempniak, Craig Adams showed up, Zach Sill, I think that’s it. (Edit: Also Deryk Engelland.) BSutts dropped by. We pretended to care about the basketball game on TV, I accidentally ordered grilled lettuce for dinner (with cheese) and we kicked the keg of Yuengling. There was some dreamy sighing and a comment or two about Sid wearing a blazer with sneakers, but we managed to be quite coherent-ish. When it was over, Crosby and Borts left first then other people trickled out.
Now, I know most of you are thinking “WHERE ARE THE PICTURES?!” Even my husband looked seriously disappointed when he said, “You sat near Sidney Crosby for four hours and didn’t even talk to him?” He is not impressed by my motivation to (re-)marry up.
We didn’t ask for pictures. We didn’t interrupt or talk to them. We didn’t even discuss whether or not we would. They were having fun (and so were we, plenty of it) being regular people. It would have been awkward to interrupt, and even more so to sit nearby for hours afterward. So while I will normally talk to a tree, and I did talk to Gibbons and Sill later, you’ll have to take our word that it looked like this:
And most of the time like this based on where the tables were:
Plus a lot of this:
And for the finale, this moment from In The Room:
Trust us: whatever you’re thinking, it was 87% better than that. It might not have been the night for the best Instagram photo of all time – but there’s always next year’s 2nd annual trip.
Tags: Evgeni Malkin, james neal, Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, steven stamkos