Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Riding The Zamboni

Yesterday, I rode the Zamboni.

If you're from a foreign country, such as New Zealand or Alabama, that may sound like a euphemism for some sort of salacious act, but it's not. A Zamboni is the machine used to clean and re-surface the ice between periods of a hockey game. Here's a picture of a couple of them in action before a game.

How did I get to ride the Zamboni? Good question. Allow me to explain.


My birthday was Monday. I was - and am currently - fifty-two. MY WIFE, marvelous creature that she is, wanted to do something wonderful and different for my birthday. So, when I awoke on Monday, she greeted me with a Ring Ding into which a candle had been stuck. That was certainly peculiar at 7 o'clock in the morning, but more was ahead.

She then handed me a gift bag. I reached in to get whatever was there. My hands found a coffee mug with a Boston Bruins logo on it. Inside of the mug were two tickets to the game versus Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Very nice, if a bit puzzling. I'm a fan of all sports, so hockey is among them, but it isn't my favorite sport among the "major four" North American sports (baseball, football, basketball, hockey) and MY WIFE knows this. As great a game as it can sometimes be, I'd have to say that hockey finishes fourth out of four on a fairly regular basis. When I was younger, it was sometimes higher, but so was I.

Anyway, I expressed my honest thanks for the mug and the tickets. The Bruins are hot stuff again, in first place in their division. They have a real chance to win the Stanley Cup, which would be the first time in over 35 years. The seats were in the loge, fairly costly. It would be a fun evening, for sure.

MY WIFE then said, "If you went to a hockey game, what would you like to do most of all?"

I knew something was up, but I couldn't imagine what. I thought about an answer to the question, but I was drawing a blank. I had just awakened, hadn't had any coffee, and also needed to take a whiz. She saw the vacant look in my eyes and re-phrased the question.

"What do they have at hockey games?"

I thought about it for a moment.


"Well, yes, but what else?"


"And what do they use to clean the ice?", she said, as though prompting a not-particularly-bright four-year-old.

"A Zamboni?"


The light was still a ways off from dawning on Marblehead.

She exclaimed, "You're going to ride the Zamboni!"

To say I was dumbfounded would be an extreme understatement. I was not only dumbfounded, I was bemused, flummoxed, befuddled, wondering, confounded, puzzled, astonished, and also totally excited. I had no idea how this was going to happen, but if she said I was going to ride the Zamboni, I knew it was the truth. When MY WIFE wants to make something incredible and fun take place, she will make it happen. She had previously shanghaied me, by the dictionary definition, and we spent a couple of days aboard a boat named The Golden Slipper in Boston Harbor. Not once, but twice, she had pulled off major surprise parties for my birthday without me having even the faintest idea of what was about to happen. If she said I was riding the Zamboni, then riding the Zamboni I would be.

I had woken up five minutes ago and now I knew I was going to be gliding over the ice at TD Banknorth Garden in front of more than 17,000 people tomorrow night. Life is exceedingly strange some mornings. I kissed her, then went to take that whiz.

After I returned from the bathroom, MY WIFE explained that she had previously attempted to do this for me, as a Christmas present, but wasn't able to make it happen at that time. However, she had kept at it and found out that the day after my birthday was a game night, and that the slot for riding the Zamboni that evening was open. Apparently, the Bruins sell rides on the Zamboni every night during the season. In order to ride it, you need to make a contribution to the Boston Bruins Foundation, a charitable organization run by the team. MY WIFE made a donation, so I was going to be the lucky fan who got to ride the Zamboni between the first and second periods on Tuesday evening.

Oh, I guess I left you hanging at one point. If any of you were wondering why MY WIFE put a candle in a Ring Ding, it's because it looks like a hockey puck. See?

MY WIFE is unique, and I love her dearly.


We had to be at The Garden by 6pm for instructions. The game was scheduled for a 7:00 start. MY WIFE met me at the west entrance to The Garden at 5:45. We entered and went upstairs to level four. We had been instructed to meet Liz Serpico of the Boston Bruins Foundation, at their table near the entrance to the loge seats.

After introducing ourselves, she explained that we had to be back at her post with approximately 10 minutes remaining in the first period, at which time we would be taken into the “backstage” area of the arena to await my ride. She had me complete a waiver form absolving the Bruins from any lawsuits should I somehow fall off of the Zamboni, get sucked underneath it, and become part of the ice surface for the second period. Then we went to our seats.

We sat in Loge 6, which is a section more-or-less behind one of the goals. They were great seats for a hockey game. We were high up enough to have a magnificent view of the entire ice surface, but also close enough to actually hear some of the sounds of the game, such as that made by skates shaving ice when a player put on the brakes before hitting the boards.

I had been to Bruins games before, of course, but not for a few years. And this was MY WIFE's very first professional hockey game. I had forgotten what an intimate game hockey can be. What I mean is that, unlike some other sports, a hockey game continually brings the action close to the spectator. The physics of the game, and the construction of the rink, tend to make much of the action happen on the edges of the playing area, near to the fans. When players chase after the puck, their faces often are right up against the glass partitions that serve as a barrier, and fans in the first row often pound on the glass at that point, usually when an unlucky opposing player is trapped there. Fans probably feel more a part of the action in hockey than, say, basketball. Rarely does a Kobe Bryant or Paul Pierce get physically interacted with by the rabid crowd.

As we watched the game unfold, I had one eye on the clock. Stoppages in a hockey game are usually fewer than in most sports, so the game clock tends to move rather quickly. I wanted to be sure we made it to our designated spot at the appointed time. When a whistle blew at the 12-minute mark, we said, “Excuse me” to the other folks in our row and left. I assume they wondered why we were apparently leaving the game with only 8 minutes having elapsed.

Back at the charity’s table, we were met by a young woman named Stephanie. She would be taking us downstairs to the Zamboni. We had to wait for the other lucky rider to show up. There are actually two Zamboni machines used during each intermission, and I would be riding one, he the other.

To my delight, the other guy turned out to be a grown-up, too. I was somewhat worried that a little kid might be the other rider, in which case I would look somewhat goofy by comparison. Well, goofier than usual, anyway. He was also there with his wife. In addition, they had brought their three-month-old son to the game, dressed in a baby bruin costume. Too cute. Here’s a picture.

Stephanie now led us down into the bowels of The Garden, and a fascinating quick tour was given. She pointed out where the opposing team bus parks, and brought us past various locker rooms, food prep areas, and storage spaces. The Garden is used for multiple sports, of course, and when the rink is not in use, the famous parquet floor of the Boston Celtics has to be laid down for basketball games. We were shown where they kept it stacked, and it was quite odd to see and recognize various parts of it in its unconnected fashion.

With the backboards down, MY WIFE took the opportunity to slam one through the rim.

And then, the Zambonis!

I was told that I would ride the orange Zamboni, with the other fellow on the yellow one. As it neared intermission, they rolled out into position and we climbed on-board with the drivers. My driver was a real personable guy named Paul, a Zamboni operator at The Garden for the past 14 years. Here he is.

I asked him how he got the job. So far as I knew, there wasn't some sort of Zamboni school you graduated from with job placement services as part of the deal. He explained that he had been part of the "bull crew" (the guys who change the playing surface from ice rink to basketball parquet, and vice-versa) for a few years when one of the Zamboni operators retired. He, and 12 or 13 other guys, applied for the position, and were taken to a skating rink in the North End of Boston to see how they'd do on the machine. Paul had never driven one before, but he was a natural. He got the job. As he confided to me while chuckling, he doesn't even skate, so he figured my being in his care, while out on the ice, was like someone who doesn't swim taking me out to sea.

Here's the view, from under the stands, as we prepared to make our entrance.

The Zamboni machine is about 10 feet long and 5 feet wide (my best guess) and the seat I rode in was perhaps 7 feet up from the ice surface. As we entered the arena, I felt somewhat like a pageant queen riding in a parade. I wondered if I should be waving at the crowd. I decided not to. Another thing I decided was to take our camera out onto the ice with me, rather than have MY WIFE shoot pictures of me riding. I figured a birds-eye view of the proceedings would be interesting.

Here are a few shots showing what I saw as I rode.

I've got to tell you, it was a total blast being out there. I felt surprisingly at home being in the center of the arena with 17,000+ staring down at me. My ego is even bigger than I previously thought.

As I rode around, other folks were taking snapshots. Then, they announced my name and showed me on the Jumbotron. I got this self-portrait.

Well, all good things must come to an end. After about 7 minutes of tooling around the ice at a blazing 8 mph, the ride was over. Paul drove our Zamboni back under the stands and I disembarked. MY WIFE was waiting for me. I hugged and kissed her, thanking her profusely for one of the most wonderful birthday presents I had ever received. She said that I didn't stop smiling a single moment while I was out there. I believe her.

Soon, with more better stuff.

(Some of you may be interested in learning more about the Zamboni ice re-surfacing machine. Here is the story of The Man Behind The Machine.)


Angie Ledbetter said...

Yeeeeehawwwwww, ride 'em, Cowboy!

David Sullivan said...

He, he...that was fricken' great. Wicked cool!! I've got to show Matt the pics when he gets home from school.

Edgar said...

Your fly zipper was open!

Anonymous said...

Even though your story was in Greek I loved every word of it.
Thanks for showing a picture of the Rings,I thought it was a euphamism...well why wouldn't I?

Honestly, the veri. word is:slystud I couldn't make it up.

Unknown said...

Jim! I had tickets to the game last night but I had to work late. The seats were in loge 15 - right next to where you would have pulled out. DAMNIT! Looks like a great time though.

lime said...

that is just too cool for words. your wife is an awesome lady, but you already know that. i love the picture of her going for the dunk and the jumbotron self portrait. you guys really know how to have fun.

Jazz said...

THE WIFE? She rocks!

And the Bruins will NOT win the cup. Not gonna happen.

Jeni said...

Damn that Lime and her comment anyway! She said almost word for word what I was gonna say! Talk about nerve, huh?
Yes indeed, Buddy Boy, you best really take very damned good care of that wife of yours cause I can't think of anyone who would think of a gift like a ride on the Zamboni for a birthday present. And to put the candle in the Ring Ding because it looks like a puck -very good imagery there! Now, wonder what she's gonna come up with to top this gift?
Keep having a Happy Birthday and also, Peace! Oh and my word veri is "hophi" -kind of appropriate don't you think?

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Absolutely wonderful - Your wife is truly unique - In fact, a diamond to have arranged such a cool gig!

I loved the Baby Bruin - how sweet and somehow peculiar as only sports fans can be!

And, this "...absolving the Bruins from any lawsuits should I somehow fall off of the Zamboni, get sucked underneath it, and become part of the ice surface for the second period", made me just ruin my keyboard with a coffee fountain!

Glad you had a fabulous time, Jim! Loved the account!

Saz said...

loevly story of your birthday surprise!! how lovely is your wife?

its so good you appreciate her!! glad you had a great day sul!

Ragtop Day said...

What a cool gift! THE WIFE rocks! But you already know that! The self portrait photo is my favorite - thanks so much for sharing your experience!

Michelle H. said...

Oh WOW! Jealousy runs through me. A fantastic gift to get from YOUR WIFE! Too bad the Flyers won, and too bad you didn't get a chance to run over them in retaliation.

At least you had one dream come true. As for the Bruins winning the Stanely Cup, don't ever talk such blasphemy again!

Anonymous said...

Jim! You are an excellent storyteller! (Not to mention incredibly lucky to have such a thoughtful wife!)

And, I think that your Jumbotron picture is one of the best self-portraits I've ever seen.

-Sarah (aka the voice behind the cubicle wall)

~j said...

THE WIFE rocks! what a wonderfully fun birthday gift...all the way down to the "hockey puck" cake.

Glad you had a great time. love the pics!

Pat - Arkansas said...

Yay, Suldog! What an experience! It's sort of hard (not!) to tell if you enjoyed it! YOUR WIFE is a clever, and very thoughtful, person. You're blessed.

Buck said...

MOST excellent! Who among hockey fans have never wished... secretly or otherwise... that THEY were either the regular zamboni driver at (insert arena name here -- Joe Louis, for me) or a passenger, just ONCE?? Livin' the dream, you were!

Like all the others...major kudos to YOUR WIFE for her love, imagination, thoughtfulness, and execution... and to you for yet another story well-told. I watched the highlights of the game last night on Versus but alas... you didn't make the highlight reel. You should have... given the final score.

Cath said...

You tell it like an excited 5 year old!
Glad you had a good time/

Balcony Gal said...

You rock. Did you have a theme song playing in your head while you were out there?

Jealous your wife touched the backboard. JEALOUS.

Karen said...

I loved reading this and I didn't realize it until the end of your story that *I* was smiling the entire time while reading! Fun, fun, fun!!

Fi from Four Paws and Whiskers said...

What a treat - so glad you had a great birthday - and high five to your wife for making it happen :)

Shrinky said...

Oh, you even had your name up in lights! That is sooooooooo cool! What a blast, your wife ROCKS!

Reasons said...

What a WIFE!!! Sounds bloody brilliant fun. Happy Birthday.

Gennasus said...

Great to see you enjoyed yourself but what came across most from this post is just how great YOUR WIFE is! Everybody loves her!!

Jane! said...

Thank goodness you signed that waiver because you don't know how many people have fallen under a Zamboni and lost a limb!
The picture of the Jumbotron is great - I would have totally missed an opportunity like that.

John-Michael said...

Jimhaving a non-stop, smiling, and happy birthday treat is as good as it gets! I am delighted for you, My Friend. And even more overjoyed that you know the serene wonder of that LOVELY ONE who Life gifted you with. You and SHE bless my very Soul!

I love You, SulDog!

Janet said...

I think the tour of the Gardens would have been at least as interesting for me as the Zamboni, because I'm weird that way. YOUR WIFE is an inspiration, and the Mountain Man is not allowed to read this post. Ever. Seriously. Last year he got the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. What? He ASKED for it!!!!!

Melissa said...

What a cool gift! You are a lucky man, she's a unique woman. Loved the photos. Looks like you both had a great time.

GreenJello said...

I love seeing you taking a picture of your picture on the jumbotron. :)

What a great present! You have an amazing WIFE! :)

Woman in a Window said...

As sweet as can be (except for the whizz.)

In Canada we are all born with zamboni fuel in our blood. Somehow the hockey thing missed me though.

Happy belated!

Chris Stone said...


Well I went down to my local arena.
I asked to see the manager man.
He came from his office and said, "Son can I help you?"
I looked at him and said, "Yes you can."

'Cause I wanna drive the zamboni.
I wanna drive the zamboni.

Since I was young it's been my dream
to drive that there zamboni machine.I'd get that ice just as slick as could be,
and all the kids would look up to me.

'Cause I wanna drive the zamboni.
I wanna drive the zamboni.
(Yes I do.)

The manager said, "Son, I know it looks keen,
but that right there is one expensive machine.
And we've got Smokey who's been driving for years."
About that time, I broke down in tears.

'Cause I wanna drive the zamboni.
I wanna drive the zamboni.
'Cause I wanna drive the zamboni.
I wanna drive the zamboni.
(Yes I do.)


hehehehehe. you have answered a question of mine. since i've watch zamboni clips on youtube.... now i know why there is always someone on board waving. i've never been to a hookey game tho. lol. but i'd certainly go if i could ride the zamboni!

Ericka said...

omg - best gift EVER - your wife ROCKS. i love the zamboni!!!!!

and the pictures is great - pictures of people taking pictures is kind of a thing in my family.

i'm glad you had a great birthday!!

Suza said...

Happy Belated Birthday Jim!! What a terrific gift from YOUR LOVELY WIFE. I love the picture of her slam dunk!

Being Canadian and having two brothers who played in countless hockey games I am more than familiar with your mode of transportation at the Bruins game. Such fun!

For a bald, toothless git with a crinkly neck and a limp you looked like you were having one helluva time. Here's to many more.

Oh... and if your wimpy dentist doesn't come through, I hear there is a male Massachusetts mastodon moaning for a mate. So it should be quick and painless. :-)

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Carolina said...

Okay, I'm sooooo glad you made a photo of the Ring Ding, cause I had no clue what a Ring Ding was and you had me wondering why she put a candle in what?
A Ring Ding, it could have been a metaphore for many things ;-)
Love the selfportrait! Quite an experience it must have been to be there. Also glad I misunderstood 'the ride'. As if they'd let you drive the thing!
You have a great wife!

Peter N said...

What a treat that must have been WOW! Your wife is SO great. thanks, Sul, for the email. I would have been here anyways, you Zaboni freak...just kidding.

Debbie said...

What a great wife! That's all I kept thinking as I read this. Must have made for a very memorable birthday.

Chris Stone said...

oh and, Happy Birthday! lol.

San said...

And I thought you were kidding about riding the Zamboni. Your wife is fantastic!

BTW, I do hail from the foreign country of Alabama, but I happen to know my Zambonis from my Frappucinos. That's what happens when you marry a guy from Michigan.

Joanie M said...

Your Wife is SOOO creative! That is AWESOME. Who hasnt wanted to ride a Zamboni? Glad you had an awesome 52nd b-day. Here's to many more!

eileen said...

What a great birthday surprise! You're a lucky man :)

Harris said...

Badass! Happy Birthday.

My former Dig colleague Paul McMorrow wrote a story about Paul the Zamboni Man. The Dig's old stuff has all disappeared from the internet, but Paul keeps clips on his blog. Check it out:

Scroll down for "The Ice Man Cometh."

CSD Faux Finishing said...


I think one of the best parts of all is that you continually referred to it as The Garden :) Those pictures from the ice as well as you taking a picture of you on the jumbotron are something that only few can ever claim to have done. Not much cooler than that. YOUR WIFE is the awesomest ever, seriously! Terrific, once in a life time, way to become a kid again for ten minutes, super duper birthday gift!!! Thanks for sharing the story & pictures :)

La Belle Esplanade said...

This was a great article. Thanks for sharing.

Melinda said...

WOW Sully, YOUR WIFE seriously rocks! What a fantastic birthday surprise!!!

I'm totally jealous, but very happy for you at the same time. How amazing it must have been to see parts of the arena that most people never get to see. Thanks for giving me the heads-up about your story, I've been very much out of the loop for blogging lately due to insane job responsibilities. It's always a treat sitting down to read your posts :)


endangered coffee said...

happy birthday, and oh yeah, excellent Zamboni story.
Man, I got a lot of catching up to do.

Unknown said...

That is the balls. Happy B-day, Suldog.
Murph (who turned 55 yesterday 3/4)

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday old man. What an awesome adventure. You married a great girl... but you knew that.

Ruth and Glen said...

Hello Suldog.

Stopping by to tell you how much we enjoy reading your blog.

We’re Over The Road Truckers and want you to know that your Blog has
provided lots of entertainment for us out here on the road.

Our favorites: Mr. Sulgdog’s Wild Ride and The Vibco Company.

Ruth & Glen

Hilary said...

That was so cool. I used to love the Bruins when I was a teen and that would have just been the ultimate gift. Your wife is such a thoughtful gift-giver. The photos were great. Thanks so much for sharing.

Anonymous said...

That is one of the best birthday presents ever. Congratulations on earning your Zamboni, er, wings!

i beati said...

Her is the thing - your wife is a doll, and a most romantic lady

you are the luckiest of the lucky and what a way to celebrate your life!!

Lastly it had to be the Flyers - My team!!!Sandy

Sharfa said...

Yippee-ki-yay, mo'fo'!
Lucky dog!
I agree, ya got a wonderful woman there.

phlegmfatale said...

Verrah cool - riding the Zamboni! I manage apt where a female NHL Zamboni driver used to live. Was really cool. Here's a post about how I found out her other car really WAS a zamboni:

Susan English Mason said...

You are very fortunate to have such a considerate and caring dear wife. I enjoyed this post very much. The ring ding with the candle added just the right touch.

tshsmom said...

You have a very creative WIFE!!

Harris said...

You're welcome!

Shammickite said...

You finally wrote a post that made me want to read every word instead of giving up halfway through.

Dev said...

Happy belated birthday! It sounds like you had a pretty amazing one. My birthday is next month, can THE WIFE come and give lessons to my loved ones about how to give the most awesome of awesome of presents? I'd appreciate it ;D

Christina RN LMT said...

w00t! What a fun experience...I envy you! But hey, you deserve it...:)

TonyZamboni said...

Thats was a sweet zamboni ride I bet. I drive a zam for the Washington Caps practice facility, not the highest paying, but definitely the coolest job in the world. & not bad for a college kiddo. I hope I get called up to the "show" and get to cut the ice during an intermission, now that would be sick!!!