Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Heading to the Home of Chicken Wings

I'll be heading to the mainland in a couple of weeks for the first time in nearly five years and I've been thinking quite a bit about what it'll be like when I get there.

I got my first taste of the "States" a couple of months ago when I spent three weeks on Maui and saw hordes of haoles everywhere I went. I was amazed to see white people all over the place, and even more taken aback that I didn't know any of them.

If you have never been to Saipan or lived on an island then you might not know what what I'm talking about. See, I've been one of the minorities out here for just about half the decade and I know most of the white folks (or at least know of them) who live our small island community.

Basically, if I don't know a white guy or girl on Saipan, chances are that they're either new teachers, doctors, lawyers, or visiting from a ship (take your pick). Not so in Maui. We're talking white folks everywhere.

I almost felt compelled to introduce myself and welcome them to the island but it wasn't my island. Ai Adai!

That wasn't the only difference. I also had my run of the local supermarkets. In a word, Wow! I had forgotten what it was like to get whatever you want whenever you want it. And bulk food? Man, it was great.

Everything was fresh and ready to go, and tons of it. It was weird not to have to horde things that were in stock because you never know when they'll be available again.

These aren't knocks on Saipan, mind you. I know what life is like here in the CNMI and I love everything about it. I made my choice to stay here because of all that there is to offer, not in spite of what is lacking. If I wanted everything to be different I would move.

Anyway, those were a couple of differences but not all of them. Perhaps one of the most noticeable things was traffic. Sure, there weren't any serious snags on the highway, but I was stuck in traffic when they closed part of a road during a wildfire.

Yes, I was on a cell phone and waiting in traffic for more than an hour! I know that's nothing for the Guam folks, but literally you can drive from Saipan's northernmost tip to the southernmost tip any time of day in half an hour.

The only thing that holds up traffic is when there's a huge funeral procession that congests long stretches of road. The worst is when they hit the single lanes, but that's all part of the culture and one of the reasons why I'm here as well.

I can only imagine what it'll be like to get behind the wheel in Buffalo, New York. I've driven cross country three times, up and down the west coast from Vancouver, British Columbia to Los Angels and from Toronto to Key West on the East coast.

I've spent a lot of time driving but my speed demon ways that had me rocketing down the 33 on my way to Elmwood Ave. have been eroded by my tropical surroundings to allow for the more relaxed style of Saipan's roads.

Speeding here makes no sense. Even if you zip by someone on the fast part of Middle Road, you're bound to catch up with them at one of the next traffic lights. All that means is that you can sit back and relax. Nobody cares if you're a couple of minutes late anyway. Again, another reason why I love this place.

That will not be the case when I return to my beloved Buffalo, New York, where your horn is an extension of your middle finger. Actually, people back home aren't that bad. In fact, the most obnoxious of driver will probably be the same guy helping you when your car gets stuck in the snow. It's like penance.

Another thing that I won't enjoy in New York is the company of the people who I've become close to over the past few years. It's not like I need to carry around a security blanket of peeps ala Linus, but I can't walk into place without knowing at least someone here.

My ex, who sounds an awful lot like Grover from Sesame Street when she's drunk whether she admits to it or not, asked me who I'll be hanging around with when I get back.

It was a good question, but aside from just figuring that I'd look up the old gang and hand out, I really hadn't spent much time thinking about it. During one of our semi-sarcastic conversations she laughingly doled out "Who do you really think you're going to go out with, anyway? You kind of ditched all of your friends when you left."

Shit. She's kind of right. I mean, when I first came out here I called my friends to tell them what a great place Saipan was, but over time we kind of lost touch. I remember faces and a lot of first names, but lately I've been trying to remember the last names of some of my hockey teammates and couldn't.

That sucks, but I hope they'd understand. I was wondering what I would say to them if I saw them out. Maybe I'd get lucky and they would have forgotten my name as well.

It should be easy too. I mean, it's not like I'm on a TV commercial, had a radio show, wrote for the paper, or played for the national soccer team in New York. Not like I'm anything special here, but I'll be just another ugly face in the crowd over there.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Let's Go Buffalo!

At about the time when I decided to I start writing a blog about Buffalo I stumbled upon a blogging section of The Buffalo News, and I still enjoy reading the comments from area readers.

I believe that their takes on any given subject reflects the “word on the street” and makes me feel more closely connected to my fellow Buffalonians (Buffaluvians, Buffalovites). It’s the same reason I always read the Letters to the Editor section. Once in a while I throw in my two cents, like what I did just before adding this to my blog.

What you’re about to read is what got me a little worked up because it is at the very crux of what is wrong with professional sports in North America. I pose this simple question: Would a business be considered failing if it doesn’t turn a profit? I say Yes. Not all agree with me.

Some sports fans could care less whether or not their team makes money so long as it gets the big name players and competes in the postseason. At that rate, the fan will have priced himself out of his seat and detached himself from the game that he loves. Insanity.

Well, my intro is longer than I wanted it to be so I’ll cut it short. Here is what Tim Graham wrote about the current state of the Buffalo Sabres. You’ll find my diatribe soon thereafter.

Cam's deal could hurt Sabres

While most Sabres fans are wringing their hands over what will become of their co-captain centers, Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, and their leading goal scorer, Thomas Vanek, this summer in the free agent marketplace, Ryan Miller's stock looks like it will skyrocket.
Miller still has two years left on the contract he signed last summer, so he's not going anywhere yet. But if anybody needed further proof the All-Star goalie is underpaid, all they need to do is take a gander at what the Hurricanes gave Cam Ward today. Ward reportedly received Miller's contract, three years at $2 million, $2.5 million and $3.5 million.
Sure, Ward's name is on the Stanley Cup. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2006 postseason MVP. He certainly deserved more than the $684,000 he made this past season. The thing is, Miller has been the superior goalie, leading the Sabres to the Eastern Conference finals his first two NHL seasons, while Ward turned in an erratic sophomore campaign and didn't return to the playoffs at all. And let's not forget this was a goalie who got pulled postseason in favor of Martin Gerber before regrouping in Carolina's Cup run.
Ward's numbers were mediocre this season. His 2.86 GAA ranked 31st in the league. His .897 save percentage ranked 34th. He had 30 wins in 60 games.
Miller, meanwhile, was 20th with his 2.73 GAA and 16th with his .911 save percentage. His 40 wins (in 63 games) were tied for third, and the two who finished first and second, Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo, played 78 and 76 games, respectively. Miller also was sensational in the playoffs. His nine wins (fourth), 2.22 GAA (seventh) and .922 save percentage (ninth) all rated among the best.
The sense here is that neither Miller nor his agent, Mike Liut, are the type to stage a holdout for a new contract. When Miller signed his deal, however, there was a general understanding from both sides that he was being underpaid for salary cap purposes and that the contract would be restructured before it was up.
The Sabres' financial constraints just got a little tighter.
---Tim Graham

My Response to Tim Graham:

Tim, you should be an agent. Using "superior" when referring to a youngster like Miller comes across as a tough pill to swallow. Granted, the kid had a great season, but you should save “superior” when referring to Hasek, Roy, and Tretiak when they were at the top of their respective games.

It would be a crime for Miller to leave the Sabres, or rather if the Sabres let him go, but hold your horses for a second. The National Hockey League just came back and gave the City of Buffalo a heck of a lot of fun for the past couple of seasons when they revamped their system, but the problem was this; they didn't do enough of the revamping.

Apologies to the Jeremy Roenick sympathizers out there, but the NHL brass and the NHL Players Association should have cut the salaries even further (like at least another 25% further) than they did during pro hockey’s year in exile.

A lockout and two fast and furious years later and where are we heading?

What’s going to end up happening is that the NHL and the NHLPA will face the same problems sooner rather than later. If our owner says that increasing our budget will require a deep playoff run to make the team fiscally sound, then the league is up a frozen creek sans a sharpened paddle.

Isn’t that how hockey skated onto its thin ice before? Yep.

So now what?

I love the quote a ways back where a reader scoffed at the idea about present day sports making money for the owners. That struck me as a sad but true commentary on hockey, where the players are more important than the game itself.

It’s not so much about the owners as businessmen, turned fans, turned captains of happily sinking ships. Now the players are businessmen who would forsake the sport, or rather the “almighty” NHL, in lieu of a few extra dollars because “their friends are doing it.”

To those of us who love the sport and have dreamt about lacing up the skates and hearing our names on the public address at the Aud (yes, the Aud. I go back to that), it hurts.

It also hurts the next generation of hockey fans. Remember what it was like to sit in the Orange Section’s nose bleed seats back in the day? It made no difference if you could touch the cigarette butts that were hanging from the rafters, every seat in the Aud was a good one. You were right on top of the ice. Fans were ravenous. And so were the peanut vendors.

When big money was introduced to hockey it brought with it the need for even bigger money and, slowly but surely, the game began to change. Now the City of Buffalo has a jewel downtown that plays host to a number of community events as well as the hometown’s NHL franchise.

But at what cost?

Put the dollars and cents aside for a moment and think about the last game you went to at the HSBC Arena. Fans like my father who spent their hard earned dough to bring a family of five to catch Gil Perreault could afford to do so back then. And when we went to the arena they served just as much as a learning tool about the rules and the dynamics of the game.

Take that same family of five now. How much would money that many tickets set a fella back these days? Relatively speaking, it’s just not the same. He might, might be able to do that once or twice a season—maybe. And that’s if the boss gave him some tickets.

What you’ve got now is a large portion of the fans filling the seats based on their economic ability to be there rather than based on their actual level of interest in the competition. Not that that’s a bad thing (for the owners anyway).

But in all actuality it is kind of a bad thing. Here’s why.

Cheering is almost looked down upon at the HSBC now, save for the playoffs when people who really want to view the games shell out the dough to get in, the cheers are mostly reactionary to the goals and big hits.

But what about the seemingly meaningless game in the middle of the season against the league’s lousiest team when only 9,000 fans show up to the HSBC. That’s the game when that family of five might be able to afford the tickets.

That’s where the next generation of fans learns about the importance of clearing the zone on a penalty kill or the value of hustle along the boards—the importance of which may have unfortunately been lost on a few of our players this postseason.

With the big money and its subsequent mismanagement by the greedy owners and players over the years, we’ve seen North American hockey become a degraded product that is featured on the Outdoor Life Network (now Versus), and the owners wonder why.

We know what’s wrong with the sport. It’s not the goalies having oversized equipment and roaming around behind the net. It’s not that the nets are too small. It’s not the uniforms are too big and loose. It’s not that at all.

You don’t have to change the game to bring fans back to hockey or to open franchises in new cities. Don’t change the game, change the way the game does business. You almost had it right a couple of years ago.

The problem is that the owners pulled the legs out from its support base by removing the diehard, sports loving fan who couldn’t wait to buy a ticket to see the game in person, and they put the emphasis on filling the luxury boxes with businessmen who carry a passing interest in the hockey.

And why did they do it? Money. At first to line their pockets, but later to do the same for the players. The same players who were getting paid more than their owners could afford.

Some of them could care less about the cities for whom they represent. To them it’s just another jersey, another color of socks, a new roll of tape for the axe. Bring the game back to the hungry players and the hungry fans. Make hockey like it used to be. When snot nosed kids tried the cagey veterans, when the goalies ruled their creases, and when a family of five could pass along the tradition.

Then we won’t have to worry about whether or not the club makes enough to pay its bills and stay in town for the next generation of fans. We’ll even be able to buy a jersey with a player’s name on it because we know he’ll be around for a little while.

It’s a simple fix and it’s not asking too much from either side. It’s not like the owner of a fast food restaurant slashing his employees’ minimum wages checks in half. The players will still make extremely comfortable wages. The owners will make plenty of money. The fans won’t spend an arm and a leg to get to the arena. The seats will be packed. And what’s the result? The business of hockey will be profitable and it will grow.

As for my Dad, he still goes to the games. In fact, he’s at all of them with a smile on his face. He works there as an usher. He might tell you that he loves his job, but he’s there because he loves the game. His name is Jerry. Say “Hi” to him. Oh, and treat him well. He taught me everything I know about hockey.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Cat Herding and English Don't Mix

One thing I learned about living out in the Pacific is that conversations with people who aren't native English speakers can be kind of fun. My friend Angelo fished out this video for Jeff after his latest blog entitled Herding cats with Sisyphus.

I hadn't seen this cat herding video since it aired during the Super Bowl years back, so I forwarded the link to my Japanese friend. Her English is okay for conversation but she doesn't know all that much about the good ol' US of A.

When she sent me an instant message about it I couldn't resist having a little bit of fun with her. Read our conversation below...

*Editor’s Note:

Here’s a little lesson in Japanese that will surely help

1. Hai means Yes

2. Neko means Cat

3. Desho means Right

4. Honto means Really

5. Gomen Nasai mean I’m Sorry

6. Demo means But

Okay, here goes...

kimiko: neko desu

brad: hai

brad: did you watch the whole thing

kimiko: hai, just did. cat herding wa kidding desho?

brad: no, it’s a big business in the US

brad: only in the west

brad: in the dessert

kimiko: honto!!!!????

brad: hai

brad: they roam wild out there

kimiko: I thought just kidding for the video

brad: no

brad: where do you think all of the pet store cats come from?

kimiko: just born and come to pet shop... that I thought

brad: no

brad: if not herding the cats they would be all over

brad: maybe take over the country

brad: there is a big hunt every november

brad: they bring hunters from all over the world to hunt the cats

kimiko: I didn't know that

brad: a lot from japan too

kimiko: really!!

brad: hai

brad: you never heard of people hunting the big cats?

kimiko: no, hunting for pet?

brad: no

brad: for jackets

brad: and hats

brad: for pets, it's in october

kimiko: honto!!

brad: but they never get enough

brad: so they have to hunt in november to kill off enough of them

brad: so they don't get to be too many

brad: they scratch up all of the buildings and rocks

brad: climb up all of the trees

brad: some of the big ones even come into towns and drag dogs back into the wilderness

brad: once they even attacked a little kid

kimiko: wow... a Japanese traditional instrument use cat's skin

brad: that’s why

kimiko: dangerous ne

brad: do a google search for big cat hunters

brad: you'll see lots of sites

kimiko: honto

brad: hai

After a little while I couldn’t take it anymore so I spilled the beans. It would have been too cruel not to let her about truth.

brad: by the way

kimiko: hai

brad: i was just kidding about the cats

kimiko: huh??? honto?

brad: hai, it was a joke commercial

kimiko: ja, the video also kidding?

brad: hai, for a computer company

kimiko: I really believed you

brad: gomen nasai

kimiko: I thought what a lot of wild cats...

brad: demo, could you imagine if that was real

The funny thing is that if you Google “big cat hunters” you will see a lot of sites, but of course it's for lions, tigers, cougars, and big cats like that.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


When you are living the worst day of your life and you can't remember why you love Buffalo, remember how thankful you are that David Hasslehoff doesn't live here!

Welcome to Queen City Style

Shouts to Kevin at Queen City Style for popping on my MySpace and dropping a line. You should check out his page as well to see what he's got going over there.

Gotta like the threads that this guy has to offer. Check out the cool shirt I posted here (my fave) and the three at the bottom of the page. There are must haves for locals and tourists alike. If we want to promote the Queen City with pride then we have to take an active role in doing so.

Here's a suggestion, buy one of these for your relatives when they come home to visit you for weddings and vacations over the summer. You know they’ll be wearing them during their stay (which will help promote the city to the people already here), and they’ll be sporting them when they get to their transplanted city as well (where they’re bound to get questions about the shirt from friends and passersby).

See, it’s a total win-win. That’s how we can start promoting the city that we love, baby!

Now, will somebody puhleese send me some Zorba’s ova heah?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Welcome my fellow Buffalonians, Buffaluvians, um Buffalovites.....

Welcome to the latest blog about my hometown. The home of the Bills, the Sabres, the Bisons, and someone or something called Lop Ba Nick Box. I've been away for the past four and a half years but I still remember the taste of Jim's Steakout, Mighty Taco, and the almighty Zorba's!

Here's a little introduction from yours truly...

My name is Brad E. Ruszala. I grew up in Depew, New York but went to school in Lancaster due to one of those wacky school districting issues. My dad taught me how to skate when I was four at Fireman's Park in Depew (home of the fastest ice in Western New York) and I spent the rest of my youth playing hockey (and riding the pine) with the Depew Saints before representing the Lancaster High School Redskins in my Junior and Senior years.

From there it was off to the ARMY where I traveled the world with a rifle and a rucksack the size of a small house on my back. I've traveled across the States (actually driven cross country three times, not to mention the north-south trips) and been to Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Cuba, Japan, Saipan, Tinian (where I saw the bomb pits for the Fat Man and Little Boy), Rota, Managaha, and exotic Canada (at least their dancers were exotic).

I played hockey all the way until the night before I left for the Northern Mariana Islands, back in January 2003. Since then I have done a lot of living with my head in the clouds and my feet in the sand.

I currently write sports for the local paper and live the carefree life of a single white boy in the Pacific. Sounds nice, huh? Yeah, it's not too shabby.

Even with a year round tan and an ocean view apartment for $400 a month I still miss the folks back home (and yes, Buffalo is still back home) and our culture. Funny enough, before I left I only thought people who weren't white had all the culture. Looking back, that's a load of bull.

We do have culture! Honkey's unite!

Some of us can dance, but out culture isn't defined by the way we pop and lock. Just the fact that we head out for a few "pops" after a long day of work counts. And once in a while we hit the dance floor on the Chipewa Strip like there's no tomorrow. That's cool. Let it all hang out white boy.

A lot of us go to church on Sundays (and a lot of us don't), but we always watch the Bills. We come home to reunite with our loved ones for the holidays. We know the first day of spring isn't on the calendar. It comes out of nowhere. Even Don Paul can't predict it--that first day when you can smell it in the air. It's a little bit warmer outside and the sun is out. People are walking with a little spring in their step and their faces as marked with smiles rather than runny noses. You might crank the heater up in your car just to drive with the windows down, and the line for Delta Sonic stretches down the street and around corner as everyone washes the salt off of their cars.

Can't forget those days.

I love it.

I miss it.

I miss you.

My Buffalo.

I hope that this blog can be more than just for my memories. If you're away from home and want to share some Buffalo memories, feel free! Still in WNY and want to keep us updated? Please do!

Send photos, stories and more right here or to my email address...