22 May 2013
Tuesday the word came down from management that Charlie and I along with Crawford and Bell would have to travel the four hour trip South to Helsinki for a “press conference.” Crawford and Bell are two of our three foreign players from America. The third American is basically a Finnish citizen and holds down a job here in Seinajoki at the local meat factory. He would not have to make the trip. This exclusion would probably have started someone smarter than me wondering about the real purpose of the trip. But, since it was my grey matter that was involved, I assumed we were heading down for some photos and interviews with all the other foreign players and coaches in the Maple League.
The day of the trip was Wednesday – a non-practice day. The president of our club, Jari, lent us his car and payed for gas and food. There would be no Finns involved in the trip. This fact did raise some red flags in me. Sending four Americans on a road trip to the capital of Finland on a time schedule was a good formula for problems.
I got up early that day and got ready and waited for Charlie to arrive with the car. At about 8AM there was a knock on the apartment door and we were soon loaded up and ready to pick up the players. We got them from their apartment, made a quick stop at the A-Market for some road snacks and were winging our say South out of Seinajoki on the main road to Helsinki. We were only about 10 minutes past our target departure time of 8:30.
The drive down was uneventful. We did make a quick stop at an “ABC” gas/restaurant place to relieve ourselves of morning coffee and stretch our legs. We were back on the road in no time. About 40 minutes out of Helsinki it began to spit rain. This reminded me that I did not bring a jacket and I was only prepared with a light Seinajoki Crocodiles T-shirt. Hopefully, this would suffice.
We hit the outskirts of the city with about an hour’s time to spare. We were armed with a Tom Tom navigational device into which Jari had pre-loaded the address of our conference’s destination. Soon we were in the heart of the city and thought we were pretty near our destination.
We wandered about with the car among grid-locked traffic that had five minute waits between traffic lights spaced only about 100 meters apart. People were everywhere and lanes were tight, buildings were tall and looming. Helsinki was truly a bustling city.
We missed what we thought was our right-hand turn. I have used these navigational devices before and they seem to delight in announcing your directional change precisely one second after you have actually passed your point of no return. This misstep, of course, is followed by a minute during which the device takes its time “recalculating” your new route. And, of course, the recalculated route by then has gone stale so that you have missed any future turns. We decided to abandon the Tom Tom, find a place to park and find the place on foot. By now, we had missed the small 30-minute lunch window where we could have gotten free food.
Out of desperation, we pulled into a small two-lane exit that came up from under a huge building. The winding, tunneled road seemed to go downward forever and finally dumped us out into a gated parking area where we were forced to take a ticket and park. We got our ticket and found a spot by wedging ourselves miraculously into a spot no bigger than what would pass for a motorbike spot in the US.
We found the elevator, noted our parking level for the return trip and took the lift up into a super-mall. We had no signal on the Tom Tom so we had to guess our way out back into the streets and then take a straw poll for which direction to travel. On the street, I was cursing myself for not having a jacket as the weather was very windy, rainy, and cold. We began wandering in what we thought was the right direction based on our last signal from the Tom Tom we had received while still in the car.
The next 40 minutes were spent on the streets in confusion. During this time, we ended up asking no less than four random pedestrians if they had ever heard of this building whose name we would point to on our wrinkled and soaked printed email document that had the address. Everyone seemed to know but the consensus (even from the Finns) was that the directions to find this place were difficult.
All hopes of eating were now abandoned as we ironically cut through a mid-park cemetery on our latest track. We went through gigantic malls again, encountered Finns that were so trashed they should not have been able to stand, and re-walked many of the same streets. One troupe of people we encountered in a mall was so blitzed they kept falling into us with a strand of about 50 balloons they were attempting to sell. Finally, after all of this we found a small clap-board on the sidewalk near a pizza place that announced the SJAL meeting.
We hit the elevator in the building, followed signs and were soon walking into the middle of the league president’s address. He was addressing a roomful of coaches and players who all seemed to have no issue with getting around in Finland. Each of us thankfully noticed outside of the room there were still some sandwiches and sodas of which we all loaded up on before going into the room and finding some chairs. The net result was that we were about 40 minutes late.
The indoor heating was thankfully running nicely as we listened to the president wrap up his talk. After finishing, he introduced three people from the US Embassy. They basically gave everyone a lecture that could have been summed up by saying “stay out of jail and if you end up in jail here is a number to call.” They did this in a polite way and laced their lecture with wild stories of past players that had beaten up Finns in bars, gotten charged with rape, and fathered children of mixed Finnish/American decent.
Next on the docket was a couple people from the Finnish Anti-Doping Commission. They went through a PowerPoint slide deck that must have been 30 slides that covered every conceivable side topic associated with substance abuse and sports. The booklet he passed out that listed the banned chemicals could have passed for a small lexicon there were so many entries. I felt a bit sorry for this guy giving the presentation as he was not a native English speaker and the room was filled with proto-typical jocks including one or two certified class clowns whose entire purposes in life were to direct attention to themselves. Those personality types mixed with a good dose of testosterone is not a good combination.
After this final message, we were released to what would have been an outdoor public relations type event. We were told that that, however, was cancelled due to the nasty weather. Just outside the lobby, however, we were lined up for a group photo. It seems there was some press there. That was the extent of the “press conference.”
Outside down in the plaza, they did have a couple small tents set up with propaganda for the league and such that probably would have been useful had there been actual people there besides players and coaches. We chit-chatted with a few people for about 15 minutes. One item of note that I found interesting was that an older coach approached me and asked if we had a coach named “Scott” on the staff. I told him that my name was Scott. He introduced himself by saying that we knocked them out of the playoffs last year in Oregon. It turned out he was a coach on the 4A Central High School team. This was his first year coaching in Finland and he had with him a nice young quarterback named Evan that he had recruited out of Western Oregon University in Monmouth. They were both on the Jaguar team here in the Maple League. We will face them later in the season.
All we could take was about 15 minutes of this outside stuff and we decided to leave for the car. No issues finding our parking structure and space. The parking permit stub revealed we needed to pay 18 Euros for our 3 hours of parking, which I thought was pretty expensive. Soon, we were back in the city fighting traffic and pedestrians trying to find our way North.
It literally took 90 minutes to clear the city. It was grid-lock traffic worse than I had ever experienced. At last we broke free and were really now moving on the road. We pulled into Seinajoki about 9PM that night. It had been a long and cold day. The “press conference” had really been just a few messages that could have probably been communicated via a couple of emails.