Last week I spent a few days in Nashville, Tennessee on both business and pleasure. It had been several years since my last visit, and I was overdue to meet with several University of Dayton School of Law alums who are pursuing their careers in Music City, USA. I also made arrangements to get together with a couple of Vanderbilt Law School classmates of mine, and to have coffee with a young lady named Kirsten who will be completing her undergraduate studies at Vanderbilt next year. More on her in Part 2.
I graduated from law school in ’97, but have been back to Nashville on a couple of occasions – most recently in 2011 or 2012. I was not prepared for what I saw on this trip. Downtown and the west end – where Vanderbilt and Music Row are located – have exploded. I have never seen so many tower construction cranes in my life. On West End Avenue and Broadway alone, I counted 32. High rise hotels and condominiums are sprouting like April tulips in Holland. Traffic – which I considered pretty bad 20-plus years ago – is horrendous now. Students, tourists, and young adults these days zip through town (risking, quite literally, life and limb) on sidewalk rental scooters. It’s noisy, crowded, and … booming. Business and times are good.
My law school friends (Elizabeth and Kris) and I had made plans to meet for dinner on Wednesday evening. I checked my email that afternoon, and discovered that Elizabeth had written to me and Kris a couple of hours earlier: “All – I hate to throw in a last minute wrinkle but any interest in following up dinner with a NHL playoff game? I’ve gotten pulled in to go since one of our client’s (sic) has some of its people going (low key, cool people) and there are 2 spots left. Y’all are welcome to them. Tim—these are 1st and 2nd row on the glass seats. I know nothing about hockey but can attest these are fun. Game starts at 8:30.” A subsequent email noted that we could also get our pre-game dinner and drinks (for free) in the Lexus Club within the arena.
Now, I have never been to a hockey game in my life. I don’t know many of the rules beyond “icing,” “off-sides” and a couple of penalties. But I love sports, and Nashville’s love affair with its NHL franchise (the Predators) is well-known. First row seats? Playoff hockey? Free food from the Lexus Club? Sign me up! I wrote “aye,” Kris did the same, and our plans were confirmed. I met them both in the lobby of the building where they worked and we ambled a couple of blocks west to the Bridgestone Arena, catching up as we went. Life has been very kind to both. Their law practices are extremely successful, both are partners at an extremely prestigious and well-regarded firm, and their spouses and children are thriving. Elizabeth started working at the firm right out of law school, while Kris began at a different firm, which ultimately merged with his current employer. He travels extensively for his mergers and acquisitions practice, and Elizabeth is swamped in her health care law practice. We discussed old times, fellow classmates (“do you stay in touch with so-and-so? How are they doing??”), our children’s interests and career or educational trajectories, and our spouses. It was fantastic. It affirmed what I’d remembered from those days – I was blessed to be surrounded in law school by some phenomenal, generous, and humble classmates.
Once the game began, however, I was a study in sports spectator concentration. There was a hockey game to experience, by gum, and I was going to take it all in. We were just a few feet from the ice, the cursing, the sweat, the speeding puck, the slashing sticks, and the high-speed collisions, with only a thin sheet of plexiglass to protect us from being obliterated. I spied the names on the jerseys whizzing past: Forsberg, Arvidsson, Rinne (well, okay, Rinne didn’t “whiz past.” He is the Predators’ goalie). I hadn’t been surrounded by so many Scandinavians (in this case, Swedes and Finns) since I lived in Norway in 1977!
The puck dropped and the game was on. I couldn’t take my eyes off the hyperkinetic ballet unfolding before me. It was the most spectacular combination of grace, skill, and (sanctioned, for the most part) violence I have ever witnessed. It was mesmerizing. Even the controlled chaos of line changes (when one group of players, exhausted from “sprinting” on the ice for a couple of minutes, leave the ice for a “line” of substitutes who enter) was a thing of beauty. The passing, the puck handling, the goal-tending, the tactics executed during a penalty killing period were amazing to behold, especially for someone who’d never seen it live and up close before. The most stunning thing I witnessed was when a 6-foot 2-inch, 200 pound, unsuspecting Dallas Star winger was blindsided by a 240 pound defenseman for Nashville moving at full speed. It happened no more than 15 feet away from me, and I thought for all the world that the Dallas player was either decapitated, or – at a minimum – had his spinal cord snapped like a crispy bread stick. I was amazed when the injured player hobbled off the ice five minutes later under his own power.
When the game was over (a 3-2 Dallas victory), Kris asked me, “So … what’d you think? Did you enjoy it?”
“I think it was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever witnessed. Great food, great action, crazy fans, athletic skill at high speed, a near decapitation. Who could ask for more?! Just one complaint,” I said.
“Oh? What’s that?”
“You’ve ruined all subsequent hockey games for me now. None will ever live up to this experience.”
“That’s true, Tim,” Kris replied. “You’re welcome.”
Next time: “War and peace in Music City, Part 2”