My Flight with David Poile

When I opened my laptop, I felt a familiar jolt of terror. It's a particular terror totally endemic to my generation: the feeling of turning on your laptop in class and having the Facebook page of the girl sitting behind you still open. Except I didn't open my laptop to Facebook. My last open window was a text-based baseball management video game. And because in this game I am the General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays (and because my Toronto Blue Jays are a collection of speedy defense-first Canadians), I had named my character "David Poile." It's a small private joke that suddenly had the risk of becoming a big public disaster, if the name "DAVID POILE" reflecting in my aisle's window was seen by the man sitting directly behind me, who is the real David Poile.

I knew David Poile was sitting behind me, because I recognized his voice when we were grounded for an extended time on the tarmac before takeoff. He was talking on his phone about negotiations that would send some Predator to Tampa Bay. The hold up in negotiations, apparently, was whether Lightning GM Steve Yzerman would yield to the demand of a first-round pick.

I considered turning around to offer a brief "Hi. Go Preds." but my distaste for bugging celebrities in public caught up to me, and, in a moment of indecision, I just gave an awkward glance over my seat and quickly retreated. This confused act probably tipped him off that someone unsavory enough to blog was on board, explaining his seeming paranoia later, while walking through the concourse.

During the remaining time on the runway, I debated in my head which impending free agent could be Tampa-bound. On the one hand, the Lightning desperately need a franchise defenseman, and Ryan Suter would be a perfect fit. On the other hand, it seems pretty far fetched that Poile'd be holding out for a high pick for an unrestricted free agent-to-be. That would make the likely culprit Alexander Radulov. But are the Lightning really a candidate for Rad? It seemed plausible--Stevie Y has availed himself as a high-risk kind of GM. Maybe I'm way off. Anders? (It was, of course, Anders.)

Before the plane took off, Poile begrudgingly turned off his cell phone, but only after the flight attendant's second pass through the cabin. I knew he turned it off because the iPhone push notification noises ceased happening every 15 seconds. Pretty 16-year-old girls and NHL GMs: there's more in common than you think.

When we reached cruising altitude, I had my brief moment of fear as his name pops up on screen. But even after I closed that window, there was much more to give me away. My desktop background is a picture of Pekka Rinne, and the desktop itself is littered with Preds-related images from a season's worth of blogging (including one of Poile himself after his 500th win in Nashville).

Then I realized, beyond even those images, there's a unique culture jamming opportunity here. What subtle protest should I affect? Lean my seat back as far as possible in protest of the impending Radulov trade? A kind of "you take my favorite player, I take your leg room" brand of personal vengeance. Or maybe something more oblique, like blasting a playlist of familiar Bridgestone Arena pre-game pump-up songs? I could just feign getting up to go to the bathroom, only to drop to my knees in the aisle beside his seat, begging him to bring back Antti Pihlström. Or maybe I would give my best William Shatner in the Twilight Zone impersonation: "Stewardess, there's a...Russian...winger...on the wing! You've got to believe me!"

Of course I did none of this. I won the World Series with the Blue Jays and took a nap. I was struck, however, by the ease with which video game David Poile spams the Mariners with trade requests -- doing a week's work in a few minutes -- and the obvious discomfort of real David Poile behind me, both because some weirdo kid kept turning around and grimacing at him and because he could seemingly barely stand to have his phone off for the two hours it takes to fly from New York City to Nashville (that's the closest you'll get to an Eklund-type scoop in this piece).

I obviously grasp that there is a difference between the NHL 12 "be-a-GM mode" and real life, but I'll never really understand the nature of the difference, exactly. It's the fundamental misunderstanding that informs the tone of all fandom. And so a brief moment of humility for me: the Predators GM and a particularly obnoxious Predators' armchair GM from the internet, together in a confined space, stripped of the instruments of their trade, only one relaxed enough about the team's future to sleep.

We deplaned and I called my mom: "We landed." David Poile called Steve Yzerman: "I'm giving you the first shot at this."

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