The 3 train back to the future

On a recent Friday night, Risto Pakarinen was sitting on a half-empty 3 train going uptown, his legs stretched out and his black-and-yellow hoodie unzipped. He was on his way back to Harlem where he and his friend, Ari Lepisto, a fellow Finn, were spending the night. 

They were in town to check a few items off Lepisto’s bucket list, heavily slanted towards sports events. It wasn’t the first time the duo had done it. A few years ago, when Lepisto wanted to cross out “watching a Premier League football game” off the list, Pakarinen joined him on the trip to Craven Cottage in London to see Fulham take on West Bromwich. 

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Lauri Mononen – taistelija, taiteilija

“Tanssii kuin perhonen, pistää kuin ampiainen”.

Ensimmäisen kerran kuulin Muhammad Alin kuuluisan kuvauksen itsestään Hockey Sports Shop -urheiluliikkeessä Helsingin Oulunkylässä. Taivaskallion kupeessa ollut liike ei ollut ihan tavallinen urheilukauppa, sillä sen olivat perustaneet HIFK-pelaajat Lauri Mononen ja Reijo Laksola.

Syksyllä 1978 Ali oli kovan paikan edessä, sillä hän oli helmikuussa, heikosti harjoitelleena, hävinnyt raskaan sarjan MM-tittelinsä helpoksi vastustajaksi arvioidulle Leon Spinksille. Koko maailma odotti uusintaottelua ja Hockey Sports Shopissakin oli Ali v Spinks -matsin juliste.

Late matki Alin kevyttä askelta ja sanoi tanssivansa kuin perhonen.

“Ali voittaa,” Late ennusti, koska hän toivoi Alin voittoa.

Laten ennustus toteutui, ja Ali voitti Spinksin. Ali jäi eläkkeelle ainoana nyrkkeilijänä, joka oli voittanut raskaan sarjan tittelin kolmesti – mutta teki sitten paluun ja hävisi Larry Holmesille.

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R is for Risto

The family legend is that when I was born, Dad looked up “Risto Pakarinen” in the Helsinki phone book, and noting the absence of the name in the mightiest phone book in the country, he decided that it was a good name for a son.

A little special, you see. Not just another John Smith (although, back then, being called John Smith would probably have been even more special in Helsinki).

So Risto it was.

And like most of us, I take my name personally. Every time I’m traveling, and I see signs that have “Risto” in them, I take a photo, and claim ownership. In Gothenburg this week, I saw a restaurant called “Ristoria” and sent the photo to my friends and I used to do that with every single “ristorante” as well, but it got a little tiresome. For years, even decades, I also often made the same joke of my being a secret restauranteur, and that my partner’s name was “Rante”. That, too, got a little tiresome – or so I was told.

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The 520 to the stars

All buses in the Stockholm county are red, except the ones that are blue so people talk about the blue buses as “blue buses”, instead of using their official line numbers. In Sollentuna, an suburb a mere 35-minute bike ride from downtown Stockholm, only the 179 that goes southwest from the commuter train station to Vällingby is blue, the rest of them are red.

About 35 years ago, a ten-year-old, fair-haired boy got off a red bus number 520 at the Sollentunavallen stop. He crossed the street, and had he taken a moment to take in the view instead of running down the stairs, he would’ve seen a 17th century mansion at the end of a Baltic sea bay, but his eyes were set on one thing only: the outdoor hockey rink.

The outdoor rink is gone now as is the other outdoor rink that was built next to the first one. Both are now indoor rinks, the first outdoor rink being now the “arena”, the second one a very cold practice rink.

On the red-brick walls of the arena there are two large ceramic images of local sports stars. In one of them, the one closest to the stairs that take you to the bus stop, there’s Kajsa Bergqvist, clearing 2.02 in women’s high jump at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

The other image, next to the entrance to the hockey rink, is a large photo of Mats Sundin in a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, carrying the puck down the ice.

And from there, Mats has the best view over the bay, that view he may have missed when he took the bus from Viby to Sollentunavallen, the sports center.

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The Phantom and I

Twenty years ago, my phone rang and a nice American lady at the other end informed me that she had a job offer for me. I accepted it on the spot, obviously, having been through several rounds of interviews and a visit to the company’s offices in the Stockholm Old Town.

I hung up, and got back to work without telling anyone. In fact, I kept the secret for another week, waiting for my frustrating boss to say something idiotic so that I could just quit my job right there, in a Hollywood movie kind of way. (He didn’t, so I gave my notice that Friday).

But that evening, I drove to the local pizza place and while waiting for the pizza to be ready, I went to the video store next door, and rented a movie to celebrate my new job.

The pizza? Pizza Bolognese.

The movie? The Phantom.

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Door 22: Breaks

The biggest thing about Christmas has always been the Christmas break. First, there were the school days and the break that was weeks long, that sometimes felt almost too long.

Then, in the university, it was suddenly even longer, with the lectures ending in early December so, with careful planning, I could take off to my parents’ by mid-December the latest, after my last exam, and then return in mid-January.

My salad days.

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End of day

“Estimated Delivery: By End of Day”

Is it end of day yet?

It’s dark, the sun has set

Is it end of day yet?

It’s time for dinner, soup with baguette

What about now, is it end of day now?

It could be, but it’s not, no way, no how

It’s not the end of the day, no

Until DHL delivery man says so

Door 6: Finland

A long time ago, yes, back in the 1980s, somebody told me that I was one of those people who wouldn’t live in Finland for the rest of his life. I don’t remember how we got to that topic, but I think it came totally out of the blue. The fact that I still remember it tells you how surprised I was to hear someone say something like that.

Naturally, I was pleasantly surprised, in case you’re wondering.In Finland – like many other, especially small countries – making it out of there is a small sign of success.

I’m not sure of that’s what my friend meant and I don’t remember us having a big debate on what it meant to be Finnish, or whether I’d leave the country voluntarily or not.

We probably just went back to talking about Springsteen or the latest James Bond movie, or something similar.

Turned out that my friend was right. I didn’t live in Finland for the rest of my life. I got a job in Sweden and moved to Stockholm.

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Door 4: Campfire stories

These days, news travel fast. We still get the morning paper, and we read it at the breakfast table every morning, always sharing the different sections the same way: News and Culture to Wife, Sports and Stockholm News to me, and if we see anything we think might interest Son and Daughter – who read comics – we’ll give the article to them.

Often when Wife tells me about something she read, both Son and I will have already heard it. Now, my excuse is that I’m a freelance writer so I tend to spend too much time reading my RSS feeds and scrolling down my social media timelines. Son? Well, he’s a teenager.

News hasn’t always traveled that fast. Back in the 1980s, of course, you couldn’t find a video stream, legal or illegal, to any sports event online and even the TV sports news had to use still photos from boxing matches in America.

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