Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Big Surprise



Nadine's husband John turned 40 today, and a milestone birthday like that requires a celebration. So she decided to surprise him with a little party, and I was more than happy to help with the festivities.

Main problem with throwing John a surprise party? Getting him out of the house. John is, dare I say, pretty much a couch potato (or more like computer/video game potato), so throwing a surprise party isn't the easiest thing in the world. Their puppy Sasha has been attending "Puppy Kindergarten" and Nadine originally thought her "graduation" was the weekend of John's birthday, which would get both of them out of the house so I could set everything up. Once she realized graduation was the weekend before, she went to plan B - an hour long massage at Burke-Williams spa. She definitely wins Wife of the Year for that one!

While she was getting him out of the house, I helped by getting a sign made for the front door celebrating the end of John's "youth." Nadine originally had just the text in mind, but I had a great photo from Easter two years ago that I thought would make a fun background. So with some help from a very friendly tech at Kinko's (there is nothing those people can't do!), we got ourselves a photo quality poster.



Our guests arrived and snacked on some chips and dip while we waited for John. I was a little worried he'd see the sign on the door, turn around and head to the nearest bar without ever walking in! But apparently his massage relaxed him enough to make a grand entrance. So relaxed that his shirt was buttoned crooked!



And of course, I had to get some video.... John's a pretty mellow guy, so he took it all in stride.

video

He's also the only person I know who brings out a sharpening steel and a 10" chef's knife to cut a birthday cake...then goes to lick the blade. Are we sure he's actually 40?



Sasha, who is in the puppy "I wanna love/jump on everybody" phase, was actually very good during the party. Bailey and Ziggy were happy upstairs until things calmed down a bit, which made Miss Sasha the center of attention, and she got belly rubs from everyone. She apparently also likes her beer....probably due to her Canadian heritage (she's part Newfoundland).



And she's a true "Daddy's Girl."



Bailey and Ziggy came down later to say hello. Everyone loves Bailey, but he was more concerned with cake than attention. He's normally very good about not begging, but chocolate cake with raspberry filling and sweet icing is too fun to miss!



He got a tiny bite, and managed to get a couple of quick licks of icing off one piece when we weren't looking. Guess it helps when your head is just the right height to reach the table?



Many thanks to all the friends and family (including canine ones) that helped make John's 40th special. Now he can get back to the computer....

Pocketful of Sunshine

2009 has not provided much top-down weather so far this year, so it was great to get out in the sun today!! Nothing is more fun that cruising in a freshly washed convertible with the sun on my face and the wind in my hair!



Yes, I'm actually driving and taking my own picture (hence the look of deep concentration). Probably breaking some laws too... And yes, this is the outside temp gauge in my car. Ninety degrees and sunny people! Welcome to my California!!



Off to meet Nadine and help her set up for a big SURPRISE.....

Friday, February 27, 2009

Airport Aesthetics



I'm finally heading home after a long week visiting our Novato, CA office. The people are great there, the scenery is beautiful (when it's not raining), and I had a lot of fun with the field reps. My apologies to Frank Harrington, though...seems the wiring in his Subaru can't handle the draw from two laptop computers and I fried the dash wiring to the cigarette lighter. Ooops! Like I told Frank, I try to leave everyone I ride with a little memory of our time together. Unfortunately, his is a repair bill....

So now I'm waiting at the Oakland airport for my old friend, Southwest Airlines, to take me back to LA, hockey, and sunshine. Oakland used to be a real crappy airport, very outdated, with lousy food choices and too-narrow aisles. In the past couple of years, it's had a major makeover, including a new terminal just for Southwest. I applaud whomever designed the place, and their efforts to make it feel less like an airport and bring a little bit of the San Francisco Bay inside. Here's a beautiful example....



Of course, I also love the fact that one of my favorite sights in any city is right next to my gate...



So now I'm all caffeinated and ready to roll. Weekend, here I come!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Body Shop Humor

I don't think there are many more difficult businesses to run than a body shop. Demanding customers, picky insurance companies, parts vendors galore...it all can get a little much. So maintaining a sense of humor is critical to daily survival.



This vehicle is a total loss that the insurance company is taking too long to pick up. So the shop posed it outside for everyone driving by to see. Wonder how long it will be before word gets back to the owner!

Helpful hint to all the insurance people out there...be kind to your local body shop, or incur the wrath!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rain or Shine

In these rough economic times, I'm happy to involved in an industry that has at least some job security. As long as there are cars, there will be auto insurance adjusters, and I'll be training them. And Progressive is kind of like the US Postal Service...we deliver come rain or shine, wind or snow, uphill and downhill.....which means my life doesn't stop.

So immediately following Tip-a-King, I headed to the Burbank airport for a Sunday evening flight to Oakland, CA in preparation for the start of a week-long visit to our Novato, CA claims office. This is what I saw from the window of the plane upon landing in Oakland, accompanied by a warning from the flight attendants to drive carefully.



By the time I arrived at the Embassy Suites in San Rafael (about 30 minutes away), I was wet, tired, and just ready to fall into bed (which I did). It rained most of the day Monday, and I slept 10 hours straight after a busy day in the field.

At least I woke up to this on Tuesday morning...



Unfortunately it's not going to last. More rain in the forecast the rest of the week. But there is a silver lining...the raindrops make pretty pictures....



And I still have a job...so I guess I should be happy to play out in the rain.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tip-A-King

Tip-A-King is an annual "meet the players" event the Kings run to raise money for their charitable organization, the Kings Care Foundation. My first one was a couple of years ago, and one of the first hockey events Nadine and I attended. I have to admit I was impressed. First off, very few professional sports give their fans such access to their players, so I credit the NHL with understanding their fan base and encouraging this type of thing to keep people involved while raising money for good causes. I truly believe it's one of the reasons hockey fans are incredibly loyal, although smaller in number compared to more popular US sports.

I was also how struck by how gracious and friendly the players are. The level of violence and fighting in hockey gets scrutinized a lot, and it's part of the appeal of the sport. But off the ice, these guys are some of the nicest, most caring people you'll ever meet.

So I thought I would share some of my favorite photos and stories from this years' event. If you're on Facebook, I have all my player photos posted, so check them out. But these are my ultimate favorites.

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This is Drew.

If you've read my blog for more than a week you've heard about him. Constantly. I love him, and so did everyone else at this event. He had the longest line, and probably signed more autographs than anyone in the room. How can you not love that smile? As his defensive partner Sean O'Donnell told me, you just look at him and wanna hug him...and his smile lights up a room. I'm looking forward to seeing him for many years to come.

Patrick O'Sullivan (Sully) is the first hockey player I fell in love with, first player I put on a jersey and still one of my favorites to watch.

He had a booth by himself, and no one else was in line when I went over there, so we got to chat for a bit. I asked him why no one else was keeping him company, and his answer was that he didn't mind. Not surprising since he's the most quiet guy on the team (at least publicly).

This adorable creature is John Zeiler.

He's a 4th line guy, real high energy player and fast skater. His job is to pester the other team into making mistakes, and he's great at it. He's one of the more outgoing guys to talk to, and we always take a great picture together. He's totally huggable!

Meet Matt Greene.

He looks every bit the big, strapping Wisconsin dude he is. He's Drew's roommate at home -- apparently a job that makes full use of his incredible sense of humor. Our conversation went like this...

Me: "Did you ever buy Drew that birthday cake?"
Matt: "Are you kidding? Last thing that kid needs to do is eat more (smile)."
Me: "And drinking a beer in front of him at the yard house...you know he's legal in Canada but not here. Kinda mean, don't you think?"
Matt: (smirks) "I'd do it again in a heartbeat. He deserves all the grief I can give him."
Me: "But you know his line is longer than yours, right?"
Matt: "Just give me a minute while I go take care of that (big grin)."

How can you not love this guy?

No it's not Aqua Man, it's Derek Armstrong!

One of the few real veteran players on the team, "Army" is always the MOST fun, and will do anything to make people laugh. This year the event theme included carnival games, and Derek was a good sport and volunteered to do the dunking booth! Nadine managed to get him wet, and I came close. I love that Army is such a great sport! In most fans minds, he's still one of the captains of this team, even if he isn't wearing a "C" or "A" on his jersey.

Another new kid on the block this year is Jon Quick, our superb young goalie from Milford, CT.

I'd never met him before, so I had no idea what to expect, and he was my favorite surprise of the event. Not only did he ask my name, but he commented on the sequins on my jersey (yes, I took the bedazzler to it)...and liked them! I volunteered to do his jersey, and he said we could talk to the equipment manager about it, but then we discussed it more and decided that if I did his, Greener and Army would get jealous and want theirs done, all hell would break loose, and I'd end up bedazzling everyone on the team. OK, maybe not..

On to Anze Kopitar, our $47 million dollar man and the face of the Kings franchise.

If I wanted to have babies and be guaranteed they'd have blue eyes and curly hair, he'd be the man to have them with. Shame he's not my type, because based on this photo we make a cute couple.

These two tall handsome men are Denis Gauthier (left) and Jack Johnson.

And what girl doesn't like being surrounded by tall handsome men? Denny is new to the team this year (a trade from the Flyers organization) and Jack is a fan favorite. Jack also missed the first half of the season with a separated shoulder, but he's all healed up now and happy to be back in the line-up. And we're happy to have him there!

And last but certainly not least, our adorable mascot Bailey. During a lot of the ups and downs this season, he's been the one thing keeping the fans going with all his antics in the stands and on the ice. I have pretty high standards for my mascots (growing up watching the Philly Phanatic - the best mascot on the planet!) and Bailey is one the best. Plus he's fuzzy and huggable, as this adorable little boy discovered.



Now I only have 364 days to wait until the next Tip-A-King!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Pestered by Coyotes....

For some reason, my boys have been unable to win at home since the All-Star game, and that trend continued this afternoon against the Phoenix Coyotes. Losing to the Coyotes especially hurts because they're one of the worst teams in the Western Conference, and we really needed the two points in the standings a win would have given us. I guess being coached by former King Wayne Gretzky gives them some insight on how to beat us at home.

On the plus side, Sully got a goal assist tonight and continues his point streak, so I have something to congratulate him about when I see him at Tip-A-King tomorrow.

Now for the opposing team Hotties. The Coyotes made the first choice pretty easy, combining looks, GREAT hockey hair, and aggressiveness into one package.... #13 Daniel Carcillo. Plus I have a soft spot for him because he's one of Sully's best friends from their years in junior hockey playing for the Mississauga Ice Dogs of the Ontario Hockey League. That was back when Sully had all his teeth :)



And second, because leadership looks good on a man, is team captain - #19 Shane Doan. He really won me over during the All-Star game - brought his kids, who are totally adorable, and celebrated with them in style. Now that's a great dad!



Drew retains his lead in the Lucky Jersey Contest...although it wasn't lucky enough to bring us a win tonight. Now the boys are off on an extended road trip, so we won't see them again on home ice until March 5. But if it's anything like our last road trip, where we won 4 of 5 games, it could be the best thing to happen to us this season. Because I still believe we can make the play-offs....

Travel safe boys....and GO KINGS!!!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Salvage Art

I spent today in tow yards looking at totaled cars and thinking about my friend Tammy. She's a trainer buddy of mine who also happens to be an outstanding photographer. I remember we were visiting Austin, TX for her birthday last year, and while we were walking around town, she would spot interesting buildings with peeling paint, or cool architectural features. Taken from an unusual perspective, they turn into a kind of abstract photo art. So I thought I'd give it a try myself. Amazing what you can find in tow yards....





Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Field Trip: Hemet, CA

I started a week full of Riverside area ride alongs today with a trip to Hemet, CA. The day started out rainy before clearing up, so while I was in the car with my rep Jeff, I got a little inspiration by learning more about the fine city of Hemet.

http://www.cityofhemet.org/tourism


Among other things, I learned about "Ramona," the oldest continuing outdoor drama in the United States and the "Official Outdoor Play of the State of California." Who knew? Maybe I need to spend more time in Riverside!

Across from our last body shop of the day is Camelot, this huge retirement community that looks like a castle. I guess that explains how Hemet ranked among Money Magazine's 2006 Top Places to Retire!



And I met another awesome body shop dog! This is Bruno, a very playful and loveable Rottweiler. Bruno kept me more than entertained playing fetch with the tennis ball, although he does have a little slobbering problem and the ball was pretty much soaked!



The "Adventures in Adjusting" tour continues tomorrow...let's hope without the rain!

Monday, February 16, 2009

So Near, and Yet So Far



Another edge of your seat game tonight from the Kings, and another loss in a shoot-out, this time to the Atlanta Thrashers. While we picked up a point in the standings for getting to overtime, we're still 5 points away from a playoff spot, and slowly running out of chances as the season starts to wind down. Only 8 home games left, which might be a blessing in disguise since we played so well on our last road trip.

In spite of the loss, both Drew and Sully had great games. Drew had an assist on the Kings first goal, and another one later. Sully also had 2 assists, although his shoot-out luck has been rotten this homestand - another miss tonight.

Atlanta's team is absolutely full of hot men, so we have some Opposing Team "Hotties of the Night." The most obvious is team captain Ilya Kovalchuk, who in addition to being gorgeous scored 2 goals tonight (although he also missed in the shoot-out, so Sully is in good company).



Vyacheslav Kozlov is also great looking, and had the best hockey hair on the team to boot.



And then we have Jordan LaVallee from good old Corvallis, Oregon, who kinda reminds me a bit of Drew. Not as good looking as Drew, of course....but close.



Speaking of Drew, he still holds the Lucky Jersey Contest lead 4-2.

Our next two games are "on the road" but still inside California - Anaheim on Wednesday, and the dreaded San Jose Sharks on Thursday. Then we have another afternoon game at home on Saturday. If I can just survive this week...and some wins would be nice too! GO KINGS!!!!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

St. Valentine's Day Massacre

I don't know whether it was the holiday, the 1 PM start time, or something else, but this afternoon's game agains the Edmonton Oilers was complete madness there for a while. The Kings got off to a lousy start in the first period, and things quickly got physical. Before the end of the first period, there were 3 major fights, an assortment of minor roughing penalties and 3 airborne pucks (all of which flew into our section). Jack Johnson absolutely leveled Edmonton's Sam Gagner before being sent to the dressing room. But the best fight by far was our own Raitas Ivanans vs. Zack Stortini. Clothes came off in this one...check out the video!

video

During the second, we got it back into gear. Drew in particular had a great night!! Aside from a B.S. penalty for roughing (Shawn Horcoff punched him in the face and Drew defended himself), his goal in the 2nd period started the Kings on a comeback towards an eventual tie in regulation. As a result, he was named the Number 3 "Star of the Night" by the sports media. I even got video of the goal, so I had to share! Way to go, Drew!!!

video

Unfortunately, we failed to score in overtime, and lost the shoot-out as well. Final score: Oilers 3, Kings 2. But all was not lost...at least we picked up a point in the standings, so we're still in the hunt for a playoff spot.

And instead of checking out the Oiler hotties tonight, I thought some photos of our own boys would be more fun. Here are some of my favorites, taken during the pre-game warm up skate.


Kyle Quincey (27), Anze Kopitar (11) Derek Armstrong (7) and Alexander Frolov (24)

Brad Richardson (15) and Patrick O'Sullivan (12)

Drew Doughty (8) and Raitas Ivanans (41)

Jack Johnson (3), Raitas Ivanans and Anze Kopitar

With no win tonight, Drew retains his lead in the Lucky Jersey Contest, 4-2.

Next up...the Atlanta Thrashers on Monday, 2/16.