From Sollentuna with love

Buses in the Stockholm county are red, except the ones that are blue. They’re so special that people refer to them as “blue buses”, instead of using their line numbers. In Sollentuna, an affluent suburb a 35-minute bike ride from downtown Stockholm only the 179 going to Vällingby is blue, the rest of them are red, including the 520.

mAbout 35 years ago, a fair-haired boy got off 520 at the Sollentunavallen stop. He crossed the street, and from the top of the hill, he could see the view over the 17th century mansion and the Baltic sea bay, a running track, and most importantly, the outdoor hockey rink.

It was his big brother who had got him into hockey to begin with, and the kid turned out to be so good that when he was seven, the instructors at the hockey school considered him too good to play with the other kids, and directed him to the youngest junior team in town. The others were two years older but he either didn’t notice it or didn’t care.

The track field got a bandy and skating rink next to it, and they built a new outdoor rink next to the old one. A new indoor arena was built but by then the fair-haired boy was already an international star and the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

His name was Mats Sundin.

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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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