Never underestimate the power of ice hockey.
I just got back from a quick trip to Canada. I had gotten so used to seeing my breath at night and regretting my decision not to wear a parka every time the breeze hit me that I wasn't quite ready to let go of that yet -- and Pittsburgh was warming up.
I must thank the Penguins for a wonderful stay.
With no team in the playoffs, Canadians, who emerge from the womb in hockey skates (pretty tough on their mothers), must choose an American team to root for or they'll lose the will to live and hurl themselves off an escarpment like very polite lemmings.
If that team is Pittsburgh's, and you are from Pittsburgh, you automatically become a celebrity in Canada. You may be invited to join a conversation, quaff a free beer or tend goal for a youth team. (Leave your good teeth home.)
I am the only sentient creature in Pittsburgh who doesn't give a rat's rear about sports. I do realize when one of our teams is doing something important, like winning the Super Bowl (I hear the amateur fireworks from my bath). Simply because I'm fully conscious for some portion of each day, sports news finds me like ketchup finds white pants.
But after frantic packing and a long drive north, I wasn't thinking about hockey. It was nearly midnight, and I was thinking about passports and dental floss.
(I remembered both but forgot padded bike shorts, an oversight that would come back to bite me later on -- I won't say where.)
After crossing the border into Niagara Falls, I found myself standing in a dazed stupor in the lobby of a hotel, weighted down with luggage but free of brain function.
"You look like you've had a long drive," said the chipper desk clerk, a nice way of saying, "You have rubbed off your makeup with your hair."
"Where'd you come from?"
Good heavens, man, have you no respect for the dead?
"Pittsburgh," I said.
"Oh! Well, you'll be glad to hear that your Penguins won tonight, 7-4."
I blinked at him for a few seconds, wondering if he'd just switched to French. "What?"
He repeated the news, and I remembered that somewhere in the darkness outside Erie, my companion had received a text message: "Hat trick."
"Hat trick," I said helpfully.
"I believe that was Malkin, but I'm not sure. I can look that up for you!" The clerk hustled over to his computer. "Yes, Malkin had the hat trick," he confirmed a moment later. I had been in Canada no more than 20 minutes, and I was having a conversation about hockey.
But my eyes stopped rolling when further discussion of the game led to a free upgrade to the Presidential Suite.
The next day, we came out of a restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake to find a piece of paper on the car's windshield and a couple waiting for us. Uh-oh. Had they backed into the car? Or was this an ambush to rough us up over tariffs and softwood lumber?
They had seen the Pennsylvania tag and Pittsburgh sticker. The note on the windshield said, "GO PENS, EH! ENJOY YOUR STAY." They wanted to congratulate us on being from Pittsburgh. Or on our role in making the Pens win. They were very friendly.
I began to wish I'd brought a Pittsburgh sweat shirt or Pens jersey to wear; we wouldn't have had to pay for a single Labatt's all weekend. Someone might have bought us an arena.
The last thing we did before heading back over the border was stop at Cows for ice cream. Cows has a lot of cow-themed merchandise, including a mug with a picture of a cow in skates and a Penguins uniform named … Sidney Cowsby.
There are many good reasons to travel to Canada. But if you go now, wear your Pens hat.
It's an instant icebreaker.
Samantha Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .