You can fry an egg on the sidewalk here in T.O. and hockey is about the furthest thing from everyone's minds (I'd personally kill for a patch of ice to lie down on, but that's just me). The most important hockey event of the summer will not be taking place here in Canada, but in Nassau County New York next Monday, where residents will be voting "yes" or "no" on a referendum that will either send the Islanders packing, or allow Nassau County to build them a new arena using tax dollars.
The New York Islanders have been the most maligned hockey team in the NHL for over two decades. The on-ice product has been horrific; the ownership situation so putrid that all anyone can really do these days is laugh.They have been the laughingstock franchise for a generation of players who would rather wait tables than sign a contract to play there. And this team once hoisted the Stanley Cup for four consecutive seasons back in the early 80s. Despite all this they are still beloved by their fans, but patience has worn thin over the years and many die-hards have all but given up. Myself included.
I spent 17 years as a resident of Nassau County. I was a homeowner and a tax payer and Democrat in what has to be the reddest Republican bastion this side of the Mason-Dixon Line. The Republican machine has long had a stranglehold on Nassau County politics, and they've played a big role in the Islanders' fate over the years. Now, it's finally come down to the wire, where residents will get to decide whether they can handle an annual $13 tax increase to build the team a new arena. Thirteen dollars...You can't even feed your family at McDonalds for thirteen dollars anymore.
Before I was a homeowner and a taxpayer and even a Democrat, I was an Islanders fan. This goes back to childhood. When a sports team gets you when you're young and impressionable, they get you for life. Much as I'd like to flip a switch and say, screw it, I don't give a crap anymore, I can't. I care about what happens to this team and what's going to happen next Monday with that stupid referendum. I call it "stupid" because it could have been avoided if not for all the controlling, narcissistic egos in the middle of this mess, collectively thinking that they're going to show each other who's boss. It's all boiled down to political posturing and a game of "chicken" that will end next Monday with either a future shovel in the ground, or the closing of the book on an era of hockey on Long Island. Yes, the parades and victorious seasons are a distant memory, but there was always something about that team that held my heart, no matter how stupid things got. The frustration and thousands of dollars spent on season tickets eventually got the better of me, but for a good many years, the Coliseum was my home away from home. I watched a lot of hockey there, saw many memorable concerts, and even worked my way towards a graduate degree next-door at Hofstra University while the Islanders were pretending to be a competitive team.
Even though I no longer live in Nassau County, I have to admit it would kill me to see the team leave. I've joked with friends recently that I hope the team winds up in Quebec City, but I don't mean it. Their place is right where it's always been - on Hempstead Turnpike. I could easily make peace with watching them play in a new building; the Nassau Coliseum has seen better days. But I think watching them become the newest incarnation of the Quebec Nordiques would give me a permanent case of heartburn. It's different than the Atlanta-Calgary Flames/ Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets situation; two hockey teams failed in the city of Atlanta; the Islanders knew tremendous success, but still managed to bungle so much. If you never learn from your mistakes, you deserve what you get. I believe that wholeheartedly, but I still don't want to see the team leave.
If I was still a resident of Nassau County, I'd vote "yes". Not because it would kill me to see the team leave, but because it would be the only "fuck you" I could muster against the Republican Machine. Their unyielding, unbending attitude (sound familiar?) is going to be their undoing. And when the dust settles, they're going to be the only ones left standing in the middle of a dust bowl that used to be a vibrant, thriving community. I left; so did many other people. And it wasn't because of my frustration over a hockey team. The middle class way of life World War II veterans built for themselves in places like Levittown, East Meadow, Massapequa and other enclaves no longer exists. Many people have been priced out of them by soaring property taxes and even more ridiculous home prices. The sad fact is, there is no such thing as a "middle class" anymore, especially not in Nassau County New York. And, I fear, not anywhere else in the United States.
The Islanders situation is just a symptom of what's really wrong with life in America right now. And regardless of whether you vote "yes" or "no", there isn't much anyone can do to fix it.