New Year, New Opportunities

Well hello there, 2014! Are we already in mid-February? Right, okay then… Life just keeps on moving, whether we’re ready for it or not.

2013 was a strange year for me, but I suppose all years tend to turn out that way. I would categorize 2013 as a “transitional year” for me; I graduated college in December 2012, and I didn’t feel quite ready to leap into the job hunting world, because I just had no idea what I truly wanted to do. I have a BA in Public Communication, and I can honestly say I loved my experience at Buffalo State and the program I was in. I felt like I was getting a good education and I enjoyed my classes and the content I was learning. A degree in the communications field can be great because it’s quite versatile, but what did I want to do with it?

I made sure to remind myself that I don’t have to be boxed in to my degree. All because I have a degree in Public Communication it doesn’t mean that I have to get a “traditional” PR job. In fact, traditional PR jobs is something that I never wanted. I’ve always been more interested in the writing aspect to public communication and I knew I wanted to pursue a career with a strong focus in writing. All I knew is that if I could find a job that would keep me surviving and happy, that is all I wanted. If it didn’t necessarily pertain to my degree, that was okay.

But…still. What did I want to do? It’s a question young adults are always asked, especially after they graduate college. I loved getting an education but I couldn’t imagine digging myself deeper into debt by pursuing grad school. Plus, I had that trip to Europe coming up in the summer, and I’m not sure if I wanted to head into any job interviews with me having to say, “Oh yeah, I will be in Europe for the month of July, I hope that’s okay.” For some reason I had a feeling that might put a strike against me during the hiring process. Plus, how could I think about getting a job and diving into the real world when I had Europe on my mind?

So Europe became my haven. Whenever I was asked the dreaded “So now what are you going to do?” question, I confidently answered, “Well, I am going to Europe for a month in the summer, so right now I’m just focusing on saving up money for that.”

And just like that, instead of being met with the quizzical-meets-judgmental stare that I usually got after I danced around that question, peoples’ faces instead lit up with smiles and enthusiasm.

“Europe! Oh my god, how exciting!”

“You are going to have a life changing experience!”

“I went to Europe when I was your age, it was the best time of my life!”

“You might never come home!”

“You might fall in love and get married over there!”

So maybe I didn’t get married (there’s always next time) and I ended up coming back home…but everything else certainly happened to me over there. Even though I knew it was going to be an amazing, life changing experience, nothing could prepare me for the profound impact traveling abroad left on me. Every single day I was there, I said to myself, “Yep. I need to keep traveling. I need to do this for the rest of my life.” I already knew that this wasn’t going to be my last big trip, and that I would somehow need to find a way to keep this going, well after this trip concluded.

I never expected or planned to have my trip to Europe help shape what I wanted to do when I came back home, and inevitably to the real world, but that’s exactly what it did. I kept a blog while I was there (this one, duh) and I loved recording everything that I had done while also reflecting on my experiences. Maybe I could do this for a living? Coming home from Europe, I discovered the vast and wonderful world of travel writing. I was inspired, encouraged, and motivated. I loved reading everyone’s experiences and I also loved seeing people making a living doing it.

While it still remains to be seen if I can or will make a living off my travel writing, I feel really happy and excited that I can more accurately pinpoint what I’m looking for when it comes to my career. I want to write and have the freedom to explore the world. I want to write meaningful content and inspire others, whether it’s to travel or to be a part of something much bigger than themselves. Now that we’ve turned the page to 2014, and I look at my “transitional year” in the rear-view mirror, I’m grateful that I can answer the question, “Now what do you want to do?” a little bit more accurately.

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Travel Epiphanies and Night Ferries

“Just one drink,” I say, as I’m looking at myself in the mirror of my tiny cabin on board an overnight ferry. My face is sunburned and my hair is frizzed, I had just spent three very hot and exhilarating days in London. I expected to fall deeply in love with London, for reasons I couldn’t really explain, and London certainly delivered any preconceived expectations and then some. My final day in London consisted of riding the tube to Camden, browsing all the open air markets, and then finally settling down on a grassy hill in Greenwich Park with a bottle of wine and friends. My new friends. People whom I’ve met about a week before in Dublin.

After spending a few hours lying on the grass, talking, drinking, observing, and laughing, we force ourselves out of London and onto a ferry bound to the Netherlands, where we will continue our adventure together in Amsterdam. I’m tired, and already feeling a little boozy from my wine. While already declaring that it will be a quiet night on board, I make no effort in my appearance, and I sheepishly leave my room in a t-shirt and yoga pants, wearing no makeup. I see some familiar faces, and we convene by the bar in the lounge. Someone remarks that the bar drinks are overpriced, and it makes more sense to buy bottles of liquor from the duty free shop on board. I shrug and buy myself a glass of wine, as I don’t expect to hang out for very long before returning to my cabin.

As we were one of the first passengers to arrive, the deck is completely empty. The chairs and tiny tables are strategically attached to the deck with wire, but we figure out how to arrange a little sitting area for all of us. Slowly, my travel mates find their way to the deck and we begin to chat about what we all did in London. Soon, everyone becomes generous with their bottles, and paper cups filled with nothing but alcohol are passed around. I can’t tell if it’s from drinking or being on open waters, but I start to feel dizzy. As I sit around and look at my little group, I am taken over with pure happiness and amazement at how well we are all getting along, despite being strangers just days prior. Somewhere along the line, I relent and buy myself my own duty free bottle and have been taking swigs out of it for who knows how long? How long have we been out here? What time is it? Don’t we have to be up pretty early tomorrow? Who cares? It’s a vacation, dammit, and I’m enjoying every second out here on this boat deck. Tomorrow morning can wait.

After a while, I worry if we are being too loud and disturbing the other passengers. I turn my attention away from my crowd, only to see that we have become the center of a ring of other passengers, who have been happily watching our antics for god knows how long. Instead of the scowls I expect, I only see people drinking and smoking while shaking their heads and laughing at my crew. A few eventually decide to come join us. An employee makes his way on deck, but instead of telling us to quiet down and go back to our rooms, he exchanges smiles with us and asks if he can take any garbage or empty glasses.

The night carries on, people keep coming and going to the duty free shop to replenish, regrettable photos are snapped on smartphones, and I sit there thinking how I’m so glad I decided to come out for “just one drink”, instead of curling up on my cot and catching up with my friends and family on Facebook. Somewhere, on that ferry, mid-transit between London and Amsterdam, I fell in love with everyone I was traveling with. I felt so lucky that somehow, by fate, we all unknowingly decided to travel together. We crossed the boundary of simply being companions while abroad, and were now, undoubtedly, friends. No more awkward icebreaker conversations, we were instead freely conversing and divulging; without worry of any judgment from someone you don’t quite know yet.

It was that night when I had my first “travel epiphany”, where the profoundness and magic of travel really came flying at me and hit me in the face. It wasn’t when I saw Big Ben and the London Tower for the first time in person, nor was it when I had my first pint of Guinness at Temple Bar in Dublin, as wonderful as those moments were. No, it was there, on the deck of that ferry, sitting in a metal chair, resting my elbows on a table littered with paper cups, empty bottles, and ashtrays, that it really hit me that I was in the midst of something truly special that will stay with me forever.

I got up from my chair to stretch my legs, to prepare myself for what was already making itself into a very long night, when I looked over the railing and noticed that we hadn’t even left port yet.

Lamenting Lindy

It’s been eight months since Lindy Ruff coached the Buffalo Sabres. A considerable stretch of time, but to say that I’m completely over his firing would simply not be true. A lot has happened since he’s been fired; the Sabres, again, missed the playoffs, the NHL carried on, with trades and transactions, and new rules were implemented. Fans went about their lives, watching hockey, watching the playoffs, and enjoying the summer offseason.

To say I’m an avid Sabres fan would be an understatement. I was the type of fan who would plan my social life around hockey season. I’d always be down for hanging with my friends, as long as it meant after a game. Of course there would be times when I’d miss a game to go out and do something else, but checking my phone for score updates was a must. I even made sure to book my trip to Europe this past summer until July, making sure that I wouldn’t miss the playoffs. Going to games were special events, included with my ritual of arriving at least an hour early so I could watch the pre-game warmups and snap pictures of my favorite team.

But now, for the first time I can remember, I don’t plan my social life around the games. Hell, there have been a few times where I’ve completely forgotten the Sabres were even on. I’ve never been so blasé about the Sabres. My younger brother and I have regularly attended Sabres games for the past several years, and a few days ago, he mentioned he got tickets to Monday’s game against the Dallas Stars. And for the first time since, oh I don’t know, forever, I am very hesitant in attending. And it has nothing to do with the fact that the Sabres are playing absolutely dismal hockey, and are completely unenjoyable to watch. It’s because I really don’t know if I can handle seeing Lindy Ruff coaching behind the opposing team’s bench.

No matter how ridiculous it sounds in the world of sports, deep down I always wanted to believe that Lindy would stay with the Sabres until he retired. Even when the logic no longer made sense, and there were no more arguments to be made as to why we should retain the longest-tenured coach in the NHL, I still couldn’t get behind firing Lindy.

At 23 years old, Lindy is the only coach I can really remember coaching the Sabres. I was seven when he was hired, and that’s around the age when I really started becoming a Sabres fan. As a child, I remember going to the games with my family, playing roller hockey in the streets with my brothers, going to Sabres carnivals at the arena and getting the players’ autographs, and staying up really, really late one night in June to watch Brett Hull cheat his way to a Stanley Cup and breaking thousands of Buffalonians’ hearts in the process. And Lindy was there for all of it. He was there to roll up his sleeves and go toe-to-toe to the then-coach of the Ottawa Senators, telling him “don’t go after our fucking captain.”

As the head coach, Lindy is the leader of the pack. The guy that everyone looks to. And as a fan, I felt the same. I’ve had my fair share of favorite players, and I’ve watched them come and go, but Lindy was always there. Always there standing behind the bench, arms crossed with a stern face.

Like an embodiment of the city of Buffalo, Lindy was a hardworking, tough hockey player. He’s a man who can be terrifying, yet also incredibly charming. Lindy’s a guy who can seamlessly crack a joke with a twinkle in his eye, or make a sarcastic remark, just before turning on a reporter who crossed the line with a question and becoming ornery, revealing the short-tempered side to him. And I loved him for it.

Change is constant in the world of professional sports. The shelf life of a player’s career is not incredibly long, and with millions and millions of dollars on the line, the shuffling of a roster and the replacement of the coaching staff is natural. Call me a sucker, but I truly loved how the Sabres seemed to be incredibly loyal to their guys. The philosophy of growing from within and sticking with your players was something special to me. Lindy being the second-longest tenured coach in all of professional sports in North America was something I was so proud of. Rick Jeanneret, the legendary sports broadcaster, has been with the team since its inception in 1970. My spirits soared when Ryan Miller announced his contract extension in 2008, stating that he wanted to remain with an organization that drafted him and he wanted to win a championship with a group of guys he came up the ranks with. These were all things that made me feel proud to be a Sabres fan.

To me, Lindy’s firing back in February signaled the beginning of the end to a lot of things that I hold special when it comes to the Sabres. Rick Jeanneret has announced his retirement for 2016. Ryan Miller is 33-years-old, and on the last year of his contract with the Sabres. The odds of him wanting to wait another several years as the team rebuilds itself into Stanley Cup contenders again are pretty slim to none.

Replace “Azkaban” with “Buffalo”, and this basically sums up Ryan Miller’s career so far.

For the past several years, I found myself desiring the Sabres would win a Cup based around all these guys. I wanted Lindy to have the glory of coaching a Buffalo-based team to a championship. I wanted to hear Rick Jeanneret go berserk as the seconds dwindled down while the Sabres were preemptively ripping off their equipment on the ice to celebrate a Cup victory. I wanted to see a straggly-bearded Ryan Miller skate around the ice while triumphantly lifting the Cup over his head.

While it was not surprising, Lindy’s firing devastated me because it meant it was time to come to terms with the fact that everything I romanticized and fantasized about the Sabres might not come to be. Things will always change…new players, new coaches, new management. These are all things that any sports franchise has seen and will continue to see. This isn’t news to the many Sabres fans who have watched the team since the 70s. But to this 23-year-old fan, Lindy was the only constant to my beloved team, and it’s only now that I realize how my love for Lindy and my love for the franchise itself had been so intertwined.

So as I file into the arena (an arena whose name has changed three times since 1996) on Monday, adhering to all my little pre-game rituals I set in place years prior, I’ll be mentally preparing myself not for Lindy’s homecoming back to Buffalo, but for officially saying goodbye to Lindy and letting go of something that first ignited my passion and love for the game of hockey.

(Photo by Karl B DeBlaker via AP)