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Olympic View from a Barstool
Vonetta Flowers (left) and Spc. Jill Bakken power up in the push zone for their 80-mile-an-hour ride down the Winter Olympic bobsledding track. Bakken, the driver, and Flowers, the brakeman, won the first gold medal presented in Olympic women's bobsledding Feb. 19, 2002. Photo by Petty Officer 1st class Preston Keres, USN.
Credit:  Wikimedia Commons

I remember the days when watching television was a special occasion.

Every year, my horse-loving girlfriends and I counted down the weeks and days until Velvet Brown and The Pie (from the 1944 film “National Velvet) would finally grace our home screens.

No matter if it was a long-awaited movie, a new nature show, or a rare sporting event such as the Olympics, the ritual was always the same. We popped popcorn (the old fashioned way - shaking a greased pan over a flame), flipped the caps off glass bottles of Coca-Cola, and positioned ourselves on the davenport directly in front of the black and white set. During the pre-VCR era, television was a one shot deal - watch it now, or miss it all.

Nowadays, some might assume that I am anti-telly because I don’t own a tube of my own. No, I don’t have a “Kill Your Television” sticker slapped on the back of my pickup. I do enjoy watching certain programs, but I still prefer television as a special occasion not a lifestyle.

I refuse to sit and zone out on a flashing screen as a daily distraction from real experiences. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “American children and adolescents spend 22 to 28 hours per week viewing television, more than any other activity except sleeping. By the age of 70 they will have spent 7 to 10 years of their life watching TV.” This stat does not include time spent playing video games or other electronic media - a terrifying thought.

Not owning my own idiot box means that I have to work for my TV. Finding a place to watch a Colts football game, the Scripps Spelling Bee, or a grand slam tennis tournament always turns into an adventure. Should I head to the Bank Bar in Wilsall, the Commercial Bar in Townsend, the Stockman in White Sulphur Springs, the American Bar in Stockett, the Two Dot Bar, or my nearby Martinsdale’s Mint?

While I’m out hunting for a flatscreen, I might as well stop for a hot springs soak, or take a trail run up in the Little Belts, or go for a ski...

Or maybe its “Dancing with the Stars” night. Now, it’s time to toss a parka over my pajamas, slip on my mukluks, make a mug of hot tea, and venture over to my neighbor’s house to catch my favorite series. I do have an open invite, and it’s a beautiful snowy night for hike under the stars. The last time I made this prime-time trek, I ran into a wide-eyed, antelope buck walking down the empty streets of Martinsdale. When the antelope realized he wasn’t the only one awake in town, he stopped and snorted right at me; it was a wild and magical meeting that made professional ballroom dancer Derek Hough’s gyrating hips seem tame.

And I’ll never forget the 2002 Winter Olympics. At the time, my friends Terry, Mo, and I were driving north up the Alcan Highway headed to Anchorage for my first Iditarod Sled Dog Race. On the truck radio, we listened to the beginning of the men’s Gold Medal Championship hockey game between Canada and the United States.

Somewhere in the middle of the Yukon, we finally came upon a roadhouse open for business. The snow-drifted parking lot was packed with vehicles. Perfect timing, we all said to each other. We could grab a bite to eat and watch the end of the hockey game on their TV.

When I opened the door to the bar, the entire mob of lubed-up Canadian hockey fans turned to see the late arrivals.

“Where are you from?” the waitress asked.

All eyes were still on us.

“We’d like three bowls of beef barley soup,” I said. “And a couple beers...”

When in the Yukon watching the Gold Medal Hockey final between Canada and the US, it’s wise to do as the Canuks do.

Of course, Canada beat the USA 5:2. The TV ratings for this match were the highest rated in Olympic history. It was a fun and rare treat to be undercover Americans witnessing Canadian hockey fans in a moment of glory on their own turf.

I’m excited to cheer for the USA in the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics. I’ll be watching from a handful of televisions yet to be determined.

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