Monday, February 24, 2014

You Can't Go Home Again

Goodbye old friend.(Photo by Michael Barera)
Let me start off by saying this is in no way a complaint, because it would be the stupidest, pettiest kind of complaining that I could do.  It's not a complaint.  At most, it's a nostalgic longing for a youth that probably never was in the first place.

My goodness, it's shiny.  Shiny and bright.  That was my initial reaction.  I hadn't been to Yost since the renovations.  I had been to Crisler, and I had been to Michigan Stadium, but I had not been to Yost.  The Crisler renovations really didn't mean a whole lot to me because I didn't spend a lot of time at Crisler*.  Michigan Stadium's renovations happened so slowly, that I had time to get used to them and other than the shadows and night games, I don't know how much they really impacted me.  It was a net positive, but nothing that went, wow, this is perfect either.

*-I think I went to three total basketball games at Crisler between 1996-2000.  I did get to see Brian Cardinal play for Purdue during his eight year residency, and I did get to see Brian Ellerbee execute a perfect psychological warfare plot of moving the Michigan bench chairs as close to the baseline as possible when the opponent was shooting on that side in the first quarter, only to then move them well back in the second half, creating the illusion of space.  If Tom Izzo could actually put Michigan State's bench chairs on the court during the first half, I know he would.)

But Yost, well, I spent a lot of time at Yost.  Between 1996-2006, I went to 105 college hockey games, of which 77 were Michigan games, of which 46 were at Yost.  If being a Michigan football fan is part of being something larger than yourself, being a Michigan hockey fan is like that, but smaller, more intimate.  There is definitely a metaphorical secret handshake, and you come to understand that not everyone will get it, but you also tell yourself the right people will and that's all that matters.  For almost all of those games, my college roommate Dave was along side of me.  So we have a whole complex series of in jokes and shared memories about Michigan hockey.

But, life happens.  You grow up, you get a job, you get married, you have a kid, Big Ten Network starts showing more and more hockey games and all of the sudden your trips to Yost become fewer and further between.  I was actually struggling to remember the last time I went.  My email archive tells me it actually may pre-date the Big Chill, so yeah, it's been a while.  My son had never been to Yost for a game, even though we held his first birthday party there (which also pre-dated the renovation.)  I had seen photos, I had heard the stories, but I had not actually been in there.

So myself, my wife, my son, our niece and nephew, and Dave, went to the game on Saturday.  Penn State was an easy ticket to get and sure enough, we had great seats in section 14 (up high, you could see all of the action.)  So when we went in, what struck me was that the front is largely the same building that it always was, where I went in 1998 to pick up my student tickets, the displays have been updated but still have that hand-made charm they always have had.  But then you walk down the corridor along the State Street side and it's just, it's angular, and bright, and shiny.  It is a clear celebration of Michigan's glorious hockey past, and I learned a bunch of things that I had either forgotten or taken for granted.  The execution is top-notch and should be saluted.  The Michigan bubble hockey game, awesome.

And then you enter the arena itself and it's just so bright and airy and open.  You can see everything, and nothing feels like it's closing in on you.  The seats are shiny, aluminium, and reflective, and the scoreboard is streaming HD video advertisements to you.  If you had no knowledge of what Yost was, this place would be amazing.  The uncovered windows restoring Yost to its original 1920s glory are just the icing on the cake.

And yet...

Yost was dark, dank, cramped, and angry.  It was cold and unwelcoming to friend and for alike.  And mind you, I only ever started going to Yost after the mid-1990s renovation, so it was actually nicer then than when Michigan began to reascend in the world of college hockey.  The wood bleachers were lived in, the things that had fallen beneath them were something no one should ever want to see (I saw the Facebook photo album, I can't unsee it.)  There was a raucousness, a rough edge, a hand spun feeling to being there, even if we had all learned the chants from one another.  It's so easy for students now to coordinate something like a Don Cherry night, and I am glad they do, because college is supposed to be stupid fun, but I hope the memories are the same for them, that they will have the same depth, the same meaning.  Because we cared about this place deeply, even when few others would have.  And it's still here, but it's not what it was, and maybe that's OK.  But the shock of seeing what was lost in the name of progress and revenue streams, well, I'll get over it some day.  But just not right now.