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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Unimportance of Punctuality

Those of you who spend any time around me at all know, or will realize upon a moment's thought, that being "on time" is not of tremendous importance to me. It's not that I'm inconsiderate of others, and it's not that I'm just a slack bastard who can't get anywhere "on time." I set out my junior year in high school to earn a perfect attendance award, and I did it. After that, I moved on to other challenges.

Punctuality is a highly over-rated quality. I had a friend once whose philosophy was, "Early is on time, and on time is late." But, in cases where it is vitally important to be at a specific place at a specific time, arriving early is almost always just as bad arriving late. In music, being early is possibly even worse than being late. On an infantry maneuver, being early could get you killed by your own troops. In social situations, it is rude to show up at someone's house early - they may not be ready for you. In most cases, it simply isn't all that important to show up at a specific time.

At work, my philosophy is if showing up "on time" is anywhere near as important as what I do after I arrive, it's not worth showing up at all. I don't work for the German railroad. This attitude caused me a lot of grief when I was in the military. The Army's prevailing attitude was, if a formation was called for 6:30, you were supposed to be there at 6:20. That would have been fine if the Army was as diligent about releasing us from duty on time. They wanted us there early but had no qualms about keeping us late - even when there was absolutely nothing for us to do. I got out after my first hitch. As far as I'm concerned, punctuality cuts both ways.

I'm jealous of my time. It's the only thing I cannot get more of. I can arrive at a given location at a set time when I feel that doing so justifies the opportunity cost. But, that is rarely the case. You can't even say that firemen or medics need to be "on time;" they just have to show up fast when called - not at a particular time. Getting somewhere fast at random times is far different from merely showing up at a place at a particular time day in and day out simply because it's "time" to be at work (or where ever).

You can probably blame my entire attitude toward punctuality on the medical field. I used to show up for doctor appointments slightly early like they always ask you to. Not once was I ever called in at my scheduled appointment time. Never. I may not get paid as much as a doctor, but my time is just as valuable. We each have but 24 hours in a day. Thus, I started showing up for medical appointments between five and fifteen minutes after the scheduled time. Oddly, this neither increased nor decreased my wait times. But, it certainly eliminated the stress of trying to get to a doctor's office "on time."

Gradually, my casual attitude toward time slipped into all other aspects of my life. This was mainly because I found that whenever I showed up "on time," everybody else was late. I decided that I'd rather hurry to catch up than hurry up and wait. You can argue that friends should drop whatever they're doing to be sure they meet each other "on time." Conversely, you could argue - as I do - that when the purpose of getting together is to relax you shouldn't create more stress by demanding punctuality from each other.

In Saudi Arabia (and, I understand, all across the Middle East) as well as Spain, Mexico, and a number of other whole countries, punctuality isn't even an issue. When I lived in Saudi Arabia, I had a room-mate who was probably never late to anything in his life. One afternoon he suffered a massive coronary and died, ironically, what I suppose you'd call an untimely death. In five years, I never once heard of an Arab falling over dead of a heart attack - and they smoke. I also never once heard an Arab utter the words "late," "on time," or "punctual." The Arabs may be on to something.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ice Hockey and Fighting

We are a hockey family. At our house, we say football is the contact sport for people who can't skate. Any 200+ lb. knucklehead can carry a big ball from one end of a grassy field to the other. Try "carrying" a 3" puck on the end of a stick while ice skating. And, oh yeah, while other people are crashing into you and using their sticks to take the puck away. That, my friends, takes skill. So, I get a little put off when I hear people talk about going to hockey games just to see fights. It's as though they don't think hockey is worth watching without fights.

I've heard a lot of people say they don't understand hockey; they get the fighting, but the rules of hockey itself are too complicated. They aren't. The goal is to shoot the puck into the opposing team's net. How much simpler can it get? There are rules, of course, but they are few and fairly intuitive. You cannot, for example, whack opposing players across the head with your stick. If you do, you'll be sent to the penalty box for 5 minutes.

The one and only rule you should really understand is the off-sides rule, and it's pretty simple. You cannot go across the opposing team's blue line until after the puck has crossed the blue line; if the other team moves the puck back out, everyone on your team must go back until they regain possession of the puck. In other words, you can't plant a couple of players next to the other team's net and leave them there for the entire game. If you understand that, you can watch hockey and you'll know what's happening at least 90% of the time.

Back to fighting. If both benches at a football game started brawling on the 50-yard line, it would be headline news. At hockey games, fights are common. There's a reason for that. Hockey is a non-stop game which moves fast and involves a lot of on-going physical contact. Generally, barring a penalty or lost puck, play continues without stopping until someone gets the puck into a goal. Players rotate on and off the ice constantly because, frankly, nobody can play at full speed for more than a few minutes at a time - but the game doesn't stop. A new "shift" jumps onto the ice and picks up play on the fly. Unlike football (or most other sports which stop frequently), in hockey you don't get much time to cool off physically or emotionally. Getting slammed into the boards and whacked with the butt end of a stick can piss you off, especially when you're tired. A little irritation piled on top of a close game can push players to take a swing at each other. Fights in hockey are a direct result of emotional intensity combined with physical exertion. They are not "part of the game." They are a by-product of the game.

There's more than enough violence built into the game without fights. Last year a player got his throat slashed by another player's skate. Plenty of players have died after being hit by pucks (rubber gets extremely hard when frozen, and pucks move well over 100 mph). Plus, you've got ten guys skating around with sticks at over 30 mph in an area confined by a wall of wood and glass. You know there's going to be contact. You need to see fighting on top of all that?

Do I think fighting should be completely eliminated from hockey? Not necessarily. I have played hockey in a no-checking league where fighting would have gotten a player kicked out of the league entirely. Frankly, I think the games were somewhat MORE interesting without the intentional contact because we relied solely on skill to move the puck. There was still contact, but we couldn't deliberately crash into each other. As a result, tempers tended to stay fairly calm and fights were non-existent. But, knowing that a fight would get us into serious trouble did tend to make us back off a bit in play. I'd hate to see professional play similarly restricted.

Still, I also hate to see the semi-amateur leagues like the SEHL and SPHL use fights to lure crowds of wrestling fans into ice rinks. If you want to see fights, go to a boxing match. If you just like watching overgrown guys bang into each other in the mud, you've always got football. If you want to see some intense play by some very talented athletes, go to a hockey game.