The trip to the 2014 Eastside Thaw started like any other trip I’ve taken: with me starting late, getting somewhat lost (maybe that’s over-exaggerating, as I was still in my own county and state at the time. It was more like sidetracked), and altogether happy to reach the hotel which apparently every other polo player was staying.
I traveled alone, however, which was new and required me to build up a 3 hour long playlist just to make sure I had something to entertain me. It seems to have worked, as by the time I reached the hotel The Final Countdown was just finishing up and I walked into the hotel feeling like I was going to knock it over.
After dropping off my bags and bike I went through the normal routine of going to pickup on the courts (it was late, and cold, and I didn’t much feel like bringing my bike and changing clothes in the hope that I’d get thrown once in the hour that was left before the lights turned out over the enormous Frederick courts) and meeting those who were already checked in.
Alias was there of course, looking aware and nervous. I drew from the deck which signified what my team would become. I probably enjoyed getting the Jack of Hearts more than perhaps I should have, if only for the little writerly quirkiness of getting one of the mustachioed face cards and also one in which the heart played a role. Still, I had no idea who my team-mates would be as I was the first JoH to draw.
So instead of making clever, self-serving deprecations to my team-mates, I helped out where I could. Troy and I (mostly Troy) helped get a gate shut on the B court, I talked a little to Alias, and I said hello to the players I knew who were taking in the full size of the courts and wishing they had changed their gearing a bit.
But, like I said, the cold was creeping in on us so Troy and I decided to abandon the courts and get to the hotel. By this point Kyle and Yeager were in the vicinity and we eventually all found ourselves in the hallway with other polo players, drinking Hylon’s home brew, watching Squid do his best Nacho Libre impression, and generally trying to seem interested-but-not-interested in conversations.
I was then informed by Troy that my team-mates would be Ben Quigley from Raleigh (who I met almost immediately after) and Alexis.
Alexis “The Means” Mills.
And I think it’s safe to say that was the first time my heart gave me trouble over the weekend.
I’m not necessarily star-struck by any player in bike polo–it’s a goofy sport, after all. But I am perpetually worried about letting people down. I assumed that Alexis was quite used to winning, and seeing as though I wasn’t necessarily, that caused me some alarm. And then, on cue, Alexis stepped out of the elevator and I extended my hand to let him know I was his B player. He nodded and smiled and if he had any regret in his bones he didn’t show it. Still, I felt flustered, so I escaped the floor.
I went outside to find Russo enjoying a cigarette and decided to join him as he is, more than likely, one of the most interesting people I’ve come across to talk with. Soon we were joined by a few other players and conversations got deep and not altogether correct to report here, so I turned off my reporter memory and switched on my “enjoy the moment” memory, which worked. I found it funny to recognize every single person who came in or out of the hotel.
The next morning, after breakfast but before regretting it, the games started in earnest. I for my part achieved my goal of acting as a ref for as much as I could, being directed by Kruse at times and also chided by Alias and Kyle (in both cases I stood my ground as Joe R. instructed me, and unsurprisingly it worked, even when I made the wrong call in the case of Alias’ complaint).
When I wasn’t reffing I was playing, and for a guy who hasn’t played but once in the past few months, I played fairly well. Ben was more than a C player, and I was continually prideful of his performance on the court.
And as for Alexis; my fears were unfounded. I don’t want to ruin whatever reputation he’s got going, but I’ve never felt more comfortable playing alongside a world-class player. He made it a point to include Ben and I on plays, didn’t hog the ball, and was instantaneous in his forgiveness and dismissal of mistakes. By the second game I was feeling absolutely appreciated on the court and it made the day go by so wonderfully.
I was almost as happy (but not quite as much, as it didn’t directly include me) in the way that Lancaster chose to help run the tourney. Emilie and Erin both came down to watch but not play, and both ended up running the registration, match schedule, and questions of the players. They did this so well, in fact, that Alias was able to focus on other elements. That’s just how Lancaster folks roll, I guess. By being awesome, I mean.
My heart, however, wasn’t so much into being awesome.
By the middle of the day we hadn’t lost a single match, and my heart was sitting rather uncomfortably at 150 BPM. I found I was having the same sort of uncomfortable sensation as I had when I first went to the hospital, so I tried to pace myself on the court. I rolled back into goal whenever I could, breathed deep, and tried not to get too excited about what was happening (which is impossible to do, really). When we had a bit of a break I realized just how fast my heart was beating, and knew I needed to chill the hell out.
So, after trying to calm myself down (Russo was there talking to me, which I thought for sure would help me out), I decided to go the better-living-through-chemicals route and take the other half of my daily heart meds. In about ten minutes my heart returned to something close to normal, though it was still high and my body wasn’t at all excited by anything I wanted to do. iddle of the day I was really having some troubles. I could feel that the old timepiece wasn’t calming itself down between games, and my heart rate was maintaining a high of 130 bpm and a low of 125, which isn’t going to do much for my longevity.
Still, I played well (for me) from that point forward. I watched as these sudden teams, full of people who haven’t played together (and sometimes perhaps not even met before) managed to work out just how to do so. The emotion on that first day was remarkably polite, I’d say. Sure, people were yelling at refs like they always do (and perhaps moreso, as part of the mission of the tourney was to train refs), and tempers occasionally got high. However, the people at the tourney were all smiles off the court, there was an old-friend spirit throughout, and I’m sure shaking off the winter felt glorious, if not exhausting, to most.
By the time the light failed and the court produced some of it’s own, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. My team made it all the way to 4th place but stopped there, which was perfectly acceptable to me, as this was the highest I’d placed in a tourney outside of my own state.
To boot, Yeager’s team placed 1st and Troy’s team placed 2nd, so Lancaster pretty much had folks in the top 5 teams for the day, which in itself is something to be so very proud of.
Horse, Hylon, Rod and I all went for Indian food nearby the hotel/courts, ate about half of it, and went back to the hotel where, unsurprisingly, I had a hard time even finishing my beer before going to bed. I dreampt of nothing, though according to Horse I at one point said “One” over and over. Who knows. Who knows.
Tomorrow: day 2.