I am a big fan of the movie This is Spinal Tap. This might be the funniest and most endearing comedy of all time. I’ve seen this movie so many times, I can practically recite the thing by heart. What I love most about this film is that it seems as though it took absolutely no effort on the part of any of the actors, because all they did was have fun playing the rock stars they had always wanted to be for real. It looks as though everyone had the time of their life just going out in front of the camera and trying out any old line they could think of off the cuff. The movie is so well improvised, David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) become real people you really cared about, and you actually forget they are really characters in a mockumentary. Even after the movie came out, the three of them continued to play concert halls and release new albums, and the line separating fiction from fact became blurred. For years, many people believed Spinal Tap was a real band that had thirty-something drummers die under mysterious circumstances, because everything about the film was so perfectly done.
God bless the almighty Tap! One of my favourite scenes in the movie is when the boys make their way to Cleveland for what is going to be yet another not-so-successful show. They charge out of their dressing room full of vim and vigor and they wander the halls of the arena looking for the stage, but they just can’t seem to find it. Even after getting specific instructions from a janitor, the band keeps circling around and around the backstage area looking for a way out.
Derek is so pumped up, he even shouts out, “Hello Cleveland!” which quickly became one of the film’s most enduring catchphrases. They eventually find their destination after what seems like an eternity, much like a certain Cleveland bus driver. You see, the NHL’s Cleveland Barons had their own looking-for-Cleveland moment just a few years prior, only this time it wasn’t all that funny. May I present you today’s Hockey Hall of Shame induction, Cleveland’s Bad Bussie. But first, a little background information.
The city of Cleveland had been rejected for NHL membership three times before landing the transplanted California Golden Seals in 1976. The move was met with some serious reservations, namely the fact the World Hockey Association had just called it quits in Ohio. Even though the Crusaders boasted solid teams featuring former NHL stars such as Gerry Cheevers, Paul Shmyr and Gerry Pinder, they never built a solid fan base, so the Crusaders moved to Minnesota in 1976 to become the second incarnation of the Fighting Saints. The Crusaders’ home rink, the cavernous 18,544-seat Richfield Coliseum was situated in the middle of nowhere, smack dab in between Akron and Cleveland. No one was really all that surprised when most people stayed home instead of trudging out to the hinterland of Ohio in the dead of winter. “The rink in Cleveland was 26 miles out of town, a two-lane road to get there,” said Gary Simmons in an interview I conducted with him a few years back. “It used to take me 45 minutes just to get home after the game and I lived eight miles away… It was a beautiful rink, a state-of-the-art rink, but it was just way out in the middle of nowhere and it was just brutal.” The Coliseum was so far away that there was a time every year when the parking lot lights could not be turned on because they interfered with sheep breeding in the fields nearby. So yeah, the rink was really, really far, so far in fact that even bus drivers, who are supposed to have intimate knowledge of road maps and important city sights, had trouble finding the joint.
In early October 1977, the Barons were the guests of honour at a meet-and-greet luncheon with over six hundred fans. Unfortunately, when the guests arrived, the Barons were nowhere to be found. The tables reserved for the players remained empty as management tried to explain the embarrassing delay without actually knowing themselves what the hell was going on. General manager Harry Howell joked about how he “told the people in our front office the team had to be more visible this year. I didn’t say invisible, did I?” Someone in the crowd quipped: “They’re probably lost. None of them have ever been to Cleveland before.” [iii] In fact, the team was lost. After more than two hours of meandering through the streets of Lord-knows-where, the now-angry and embarrassed hockey team finally made it to the luncheon. “We had a bad bussie,” explained Wayne Merrick. “He took us through every plant and steel mill in town. We couldn’t believe it. He didn’t even know where the freeway was.” [iv]
So, if you’re ever in Cleveland or in the surrounding area one day, and you find yourself being driven around by someone who insists on taking the scenic route to the arena, you too may be a victim of the Barons’ bad bussie.
[i] Beddoes, Fischler, and Gitler, Hockey!, 82-83.
[ii] Beddoes, Fischler, and Gitler, Hockey!, 89.
[iii] “Barons late for own lunch,” Lethbridge Herald, October 5, 1977.
[iv] “Barons late for own lunch,” Lethbridge Herald, October 5, 1977.