88 miles per hour

Fifteen years ago, a colleague of mine arranged a visit to the Swedish state alcohol monopoly’s lab. She was a member of their language task force that aimed to come up just the perfect words to describe the wines on the shelves, to make sure the way the words matched the taste of the wines so that the nakedly elegant wine truly was that and that people intuitively understood what that meant.

We weren’t there to taste wines, we were there to see how difficult it was to put things like taste into words, but the thing I remember the best was our cinnamon test. Each one of us got a little cinnamon, maybe a half a tablespoon, while we held our noses, waited a while and then, at the instructor’s signal, let go of our noses.

I’m sure you know, or can guess, what happened, but I’ll tell you anyway.

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Hjalmarsson hooked on winning

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Six years ago, almost to the day, the tiny village of Russnäs (population 90) in Sweden was bustling. Right at the intersection off the main road that leads to the big road that takes you to the highway, under the sign that welcomes visitors to the village, there was a big photo of Niklas Hjalmarsson in his Chicago Blackhawks jersey, with a message to the young man.

“Congratulations, Stanley Cup champion” it said in Swedish. Next to it, there was a tin-foil replica of the Cup.

The then-23-year-old defenseman had spent most of his two previous seasons in the AHL but had taken a permanent spot in the Blackhawks’ lineup that season. He addressed the villagers (and thousands of other fans) next to the playground where he had played as a kid, standing next to bales of hay and the Stanley Cup, his voice hoarse from a fun night with his family and friends.

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A brush with genius

These days, sports news travel at lightning speed on Twitter, but I have to believe that even in the era of Twitter, there still have to be rink rats, people who hang out at the hockey rinks and get close to the teams. They’re often either kids or people with special needs, and I think it’s because they seem harmless. And are harmless. And have the time.

I was one once. When I was a kid. I loved being at the rink, any rink actually, so I tagged along with Dad to his beer league and oldtimers’ games, and looked for pucks, and talked with the cafeteria people, and watched Dad and his buddies play.

The most famous rink rat in town was a man everybody knew as “Puti” and while he probably wasn’t homeless for real, that’s what we’d call him today. A homeless person. He was also special.

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Spread a little happiness

If you’ve seen “A Night at the Roxbury” you’ll surely remember the Butabi brothers’ funny moves to “What is love”, and if you’ve seen it a dozen times like Wife and I – it was the first movie we saw together – you’ll also remember the scene in which the brothers rush to the rich nightclub owner Benny Zadir’s office.

“We’ve got a meeting with Mr. Zadir,” says one of the brothers, played by Will Ferrell.

“Names?” asks the assistant.

“Doug and Steve Butabi.”

Then the assistant delivers the line that is one of the running jokes of the movie:

Are you two brothers?

Earlier in the movie, when Doug and Steve have tried to get into the Roxbury, the bouncer has asked them the same question and every time, they deliver their standard reply.

“No…”

[Pause] [Eye-rolling]

And then: “YEEEEES!”

But at Mr. Zadir’s office, Doug says something else: “Ma’am, I appreciate the setup but I don’t really have time for this.”

Sometimes, though, there has to be time, regardless of the setup. Here are my top 3 lines from our recent US road trip.

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This time it’s for real

For sixteen years, the Golden Gate Bridge has been something of a secret code in our household. A symbol of unity, if you will, between Wife and me, a testament to our way of sticking together. Well, not the actual bridge – even though it is an impressive sight and an impressive piece of engineering as it is – but driving across it.

I love to drive. Ever since I was a baby, the car’s been my safe place, and my happy place. The backseat was my domain, back there, I’ve read comics and made scientific experiments – such as testing which brand of glue dries fastest. Back in the day, there were no seat belts, especially not in the back, and there were no boosters or baby seats, I’d just lie on the back seat and take a nap when we drove to Grandma’s place.

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Notes on America, from America

About 25 years ago, I was an intern at a Finnish-owned company in Canada, and got to tag along my (Finnish) boss on a trip to the cottage country in northern Ontario. I got to tag along because I was a fellow Finn and almost a part of his family having spent the entire summer under his roof.

He thought it was just a casual gathering, a meet-up with some friends and acquaintances, but then again, he had only been doing business in Canada for less than a year.

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Play Dixie for me

Looking back, it’s always easy to connect the dots and see how one thing led to another. That’s how we take out the randomness and turn in a nice and clean story, because in truth, you never know where the road’s going to take you. You just keep on going, and while you may know where you’re trying to get, sometimes you make a right turn or get off an exit you hadn’t planned on taking, only to find out you ended up exactly where you should.

Both literally and figuratively speaking.

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7 things I learned driving from NYC to Toronto

IMG_22771. When the Hornblower gets to about 20 meters from the Horseshoe Falls, you will get wet, which is fine but the volume of falling water is such that it pushes so much air at you that you may find it hard to breathe. Tell the others in your group the Niagara Falls are, in a word, breathtaking.

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2. Sometimes the thing to do really is the thing to do and that’s why you should eat a bucket of buffalo wings in Buffalo’s Anchor Bar. (Don’t forget to tip).

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3. If you come across a Canadian dude at your local rink, and you see he’s holding a bandy stick instead of a hockey stick, go talk to him and help him find a hockey stick. Give him a ride home. Ask him if he wants to play some more hockey with your team, and if he says yes, pick him up with your car and give him a ride afterwards. You’ll become friends and you’ll go to Cancun together, and you’ll meet up somewhere else, and while you won’t see each other for fifteen years, you’re still the only person in the world to call him “Tiger” and you do stay in touch, and before you know it, you pull up in his driveway in Toronto. You both have nice families, and you barbecue and talk and have a great time and you realize how lucky you are to have (Canadian) friends like that.

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4. The best way to get rid of the habit of checking social media is to drive in North America, and only use the Tim Hortons and Starbucks wifi to get online. In just three days, your mind will come up with other things to keep itself busy. Paying attention to the traffic, for example.

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5. On Toronto’s Harbour Street, there’s the old Toronto Harbor Commission building which in itself may be good to know, but most importantly, try to stay as curious and inquisitive as the 13-year-old boy who points out to you the difference in the spelling of “harbor” on the side of the building and the street sign at the intersection – and also does a Jim Carrey impression.

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6. Even if you ate a bucket of wings in Buffalo, you don’t have to eat a 50-pack of the small donuts the Canadians call Timbits. A 20-pack will do just fine. After all, you didn’t choose the “suicidal” sauce in Buffalo, either.

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7. Canadians still call bathrooms washrooms.