Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Hockey Life: Yesterday morning

Now that Colin's hockey season has ended, we've gained some free time on Saturday mornings. As a result, we've found ourselves making more trips across the Gandy Bridge, bound for one of three hotels near the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa.

Yesterday, for instance, was the perfect example.

With another Western Conference team visiting Hockey Bay to play the Lightning -- this time it was the surprising St. Louis Blues -- that was enough of a reason to make the trip. We don't get to see teams like the Blues all that often, so any time one comes in, and the timing is right, it's a hockey-hounding no-brainer.

That's why we got up early, so to speak, and found ourselves joining nearly 20 hounds and hockey fans at Cotanchobee/Fort Brooke Park waiting for Blues players to head over to the rink for the morning skate. Getting autographs, though, is just part of the drill.

The park, you see, is one of Colin's favorite places to hound. Mine, too. There are plenty of places to sit and the shade from trees can provide a respite from the ever-increasingly warmer days of spring. For Colin, it's the playground area that holds the most appeal. Between players, he can climb, slide and run across the apparatus, always within earshot.

On mornings when we do well, like we did with the Blues, our hounding adventures expand to other ways to spend quality time together. One such way is for us to go "train hunting."

Seeing that we both like trains, we've come to learn when and where to see the hulking diesel locomotives that haul freight and passengers. From a small rail staging yard nearby to Tampa's Union Station, we often see trains, or at least freight cars, within 10 minutes of scoring our last autograph of the day. Our established tour, though, takes us north to Brandon, riding parallel to tracks, and then back to Ybor City, the return trip providing a much closer look at the rail lines.

Yesterday's adventure, however, involved something new. As we headed back from Brandon, I noticed a spiraling column of black smoke rising in the distance. At first, I thought it might be coming from a controlled burn. As we got closer, I realized that the smoke wasn't coming from an open field, but an mixed-use area of light industrial and residential properties.

As we got closer, we started to hear the scream of sirens and the loud drone of a fire engine dodging traffic at a stoplight to our left. A glance to the right confirmed our suspicions, as we saw bright orange and red flames dancing from the porch of a house.

"So," I asked Colin, knowing full well the answer that was coming, "wanna go to a fire?"

"Sure," he said, "let's go."

Early in my journalism career, I covered the police beat, meaning I reported on and wrote about crime, bad accidents, court proceedings and, occasionally, fires. At any "scene," I know the drill -- don't park too close and don't get in the way. Those instincts kicked in as we drove near this scene, so close, in fact, that I told Colin to cover his nose and mouth with a handkerchief as we drove down a smoke-filled side street, one away from where the fire trucks were rolling in and getting set up. Some habits, I guess, die hard.

After parking the car, we headed toward the scene, maintaining a safe distance from the action, but close enough to hear the crackling of flames, and watch firefighters connect hoses to trucks and then direct giant streams of water at the flames. Within moments, the fire was snuffed, with firefighters quickly transitioning to mop-up duties and keeping the houses next door soaked to eliminate any risk of damage.

I noticed, too, that no ambulances had arrived and firefighters didn't seem frantic, telling me that no one had been inside the house and that, thankfully, no one had been hurt. The police officers that arrived were relegated to diverting any traffic that stumbled upon the area. Combined, those brought a sense of relief.

As we walked back to the car, Colin summed it up the best: "I never thought that a day of hounding would include watching a fire. It sure has been an exciting day."

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