Starkey: Holiday spirits crushed by NHL
It's a hockey blight in Pittsburgh.
It is Monday, Dec. 10, and the Winnipeg Jets are supposed to play the Penguins at Consol Energy Center — you know, the building that sucked $47.6 million from taxpayer pockets on the understanding that at least 41 hockey games per year would pump cash back into the local economy.
The mission is to take my usual game-day walk to the arena and assess the lockout's collateral damage along the way. It is 6:15 p.m. — rainy, bitter and nearly barren on a night that would normally be bustling with eager Penguins fans.
Too bad player union chief Donald Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman couldn't have come along to spread some holiday cheer. Shoot, all the players and owners should be here. We could have gone caroling …
Our side's right
We can't split uuuup 3 billion bucks
You'll just have to waaait for dropping pucks
Weep in heavenly peace
While we conceive the best way to fleece (you)
Did somebody say weep? Here I am at the Souper Bowl, catty-corner from the Consol, where manager Jess Santavy, 28, wonders how she'll keep up with the mortgage on her new South Side home.
Santavy is serving all of six customers tonight. How would it be different on a hockey night?
“Do you want to see me cry?” she said.
On a hockey night, more than 300 patrons and 25 employees would pack this place from wall to wall.
Tonight, it's just Santavy and the cook.
“I've lost about 30 percent of my income,” she said. “I'd hate to have to leave, but a lot of people here are talking about getting second jobs, if not new jobs altogether.”
I wonder, what would she tell Bettman if he walked in?
“I hope I'd be wearing my T-shirt that says, ‘Bettman's a Jagoff,' ” she said. “But I know neither side cares about us.”
Souper Bowl will close at 9 p.m., five hours earlier than game nights.
A slap shot away, at Café Fifth Avenue, bartender Elyssa Leff is counting money near the end of her shift. A place that would be turning away customers if the Jets were in town has just one right now.
“Actually, that's my husband,” Leff says.
Standing under larger-than-life posters of Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury, Leff, 45, tells me she might take home $150 on a game night. She will pocket a fraction of that tonight. Mother to a 14-year-old, she estimates her income has been cut by two-thirds.
Leff's first thought when she heard games were canceled through Dec. 30?
“There goes Christmas,” she said.
She isn't sure what to make of the latest negotiations that began Wednesday, hoping only that some semblance of a season can be salvaged.
At TGI Friday's, attached to the arena, manager Brian Dunkle tells me there would be a 1 1⁄2-hour wait on a hockey night, and he would be overseeing 30-some workers.
There is no wait tonight. Just lots of empty tables. Eight employees clocked in.
Meanwhile, at Mitchell's on Third and Ross, Jim Mitchell figures his joint, the oldest restaurant in Pittsburgh, would have been filled hours ago. It would do a brisk postgame business, too.
Tonight, there's ample space and quiet for a chat.
“I can't even begin to tell you how much (the lockout) has cost us,” Mitchell said.
Another popular pregame stop is Sammy's Famous Corned Beef on Forbes, which looks festively inviting with its fogged-up, tinsel-lined windows framed by holiday lighting.
Must be a party inside.
Or not. The entire crowd could be reduced to a bad movie title: “Four Men and a Bar.”
One of them is Donovan Greenway, 34, a partial season-ticket holder from Ohio Township.
“I'm not renewing,” Greenway said. “I'm not going back.”
He's one of the rare exceptions, of course. We all know hockey fans are the most loyal of all.
Outside the arena, two Duquesne Light trucks clog the street. Workers are popping open manhole covers, looking for the cause of a power outage.
What would they do if a hockey game were going on?
“Well,” a worker tells me, “we'd probably have to wait.”
And so we shall.
Happy holidays, NHL.