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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Personal Column

Dunkin’ Nostalgia

PC new yap soaks in old entertainment sphere

Hey, hey, Friartown!

Well, so far I’ve officially been a second-time Rhode Islander for close to precisely three months, having enrolled at Providence College. And thus far, I have not tired of concurring with the Providence College men’s hockey team’s introductory song that goes “Good to be back, good to be back…” over and over again.

But on Tuesday night, I just might have slammed down the hallmark of my homecoming. I made my first trip to a sporting event at the Dunkin Donuts Center in exactly 3,853 days by clinging on to the Friar Fanatic body and taking in some of the ever-heralded PC basketball action, quite pleasingly a 78-48 victory over Maine.

Yeah, that’s how much coming back to that venue meant to me. My previous extended stay at what was then termed the Providence Civic Center was for an American Hockey League playoff game back on May 9, 1997. My beloved Providence Bruins gave me a nice, palm-sized going away present before my family move to Michigan with a 2-1 tipping over of the Springfield Falcons that night. For the ensuing decade that I spent in portions of the Midwest, that moment dwelt comfortably in its own regal display case in my memory bank.

Call me what you will. Obsessed, quirky, drunk with wistfulness, whatever. I would prefer romantic. That’s kind of been my theme over the course of my quest to return to this region, given that I stopped enjoying my first home authentically when I was merely 8 years of age.

Indoor transcendentalism is what it is, at least in this particular case.

To put it simply, though, times have changed along with my comprehension of them. So long before I stepped off one of those Friar Fanatic busses an hour or so before tip-off, I figured my experience would be like Mike Lowell’s personal summary of the aftermath of last month’s Red Sox World Series triumph.

“You think you’re gonna react one way, but then when it hits, you don’t know what to do,” the now re-signed MVP told reporters during the champagne bath.

Naturally, that has held true for me a handful of times this calendar year, and it wasn’t too far from the truth when I followed the directions of my ticket stub and my elder peers to our earmarked student seats. I quickly noticed that they lay in horizontal earshot of the court, and between the same boards where my lifelong minor league hockey heroes do their thing 40-some nights a year.

I can’t say they didn’t warn me about the makeover blotches in the building. I had been warmed up plenty by checking in on the place and its inhabitants via the Internet -an innovation barely removed from gestation when I first departed the Ocean State- over the years. And, of course, this was only my second basketball-based excursion outside of a compact, ho-hum high school gymnasium. That, regardless, would have made for enough of an altered outlook on the Dunk, even if it were still the PCC.

But like I say, we have long progressed into a new millennium, and so the Dunk has acted accordingly. The grainy videoboard that in my former days could only accommodate motionless team logos and tongue-in-cheek animation clips has given way to a trendy, translucent Jumbotron with all the standard trimmings. The bland-looking, concrete concourses and restrooms have passed their torch to more inviting, vibrant modernized pavements and walls. The concession stands have a more diverse selection (you can’t call it the Dunkin Donuts Center if it doesn’t offer you an evening coffee and cream stick, can you?).

And as for my personal designation, I was stuck. Having fixated my vocational ambitions on sports journalism, I have all but eroded my cheering habits outside of the New England pros. Yet the only way I was getting in on the hottest ticket on campus was sitting amongst the Friar Fanatics.

Ultimately, I found a satisfactory median by quietly catching myself up with the arena and, as a new yap, taking note of the Fanatic customs. I quickly grasped, for instance, that standing is a must, save for timeouts, and that a full pair of lungs is advisable in case of a prolonged play in the defensive zone, which requires one of those bouncing “Oooooooohhhhhh,” choruses.

Then there was the new way to cheat traffic by slipping out of the arena before the buzzer. If you want to get back to campus sooner, rather than later, you’d better be poised to outmuscle your peers to the first round of busses. Not exactly as luxurious or romantic as standing by the nearest exit with your dad and then whisking out to the parking garage to flip on the post-game show.

Then again, it’s got the college life flavor. And it’s all a PC staple, a Rhode Island staple.

Good to be back, for sure.

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