I stumbled onto the bus and looked up to face a sea of red, red hats, red scarves, red jerseys. Little snippets of white peaked out here and there. I pulled my coat closer around me and walked towards the back of the bus, sliding into an empty seat with that old leather smell. As I skooched to the window seat to let my friends pile in after me, I realized it must have been almost five or six years since I had been on a school bus. But the familiar hum of energy vibrated from its passengers.
Seconds after pulling away from Andrew’s Corner Bar, down by the riverfront on the East Side, a cheer went up from some ladies in red: “Let’s go Red Wings!” And the bus roared back: “Let’s go Red Wings!”
This was my first Wings game, but I felt obligated to support the Jersey Devils, because that’s where I come from, after all. So I sat there, incognito, quietly wearing black and red and white as I tried not to show allegiance. And I cheered with the fans of my current town.
The excitement was palpable as we reached the Joe, fans scrambling to be inside the arena. In this dome, people chased the cold away with their general merriment. It was as though laughter and togetherness melted away the weight of the world. One thing was clear: coming to a Wings game was about more than sports; you were supposed to leave your stress and discontents at the door and just be present for the moment.
As we paid for some beers, the bartender took one look at my license and asked if I flew in just for the Devils game. I told her I came in on my private jet, with a wink and a smile. She laughed, telling me I should tell everyone who would listen I flew in just for the Devils. That made us all laugh.
We found our seats, up on the 22nd row behind several families who were allowing their children to stay up past their bedtimes for the magic of the Wings.
In the first few minutes of the game, the Devils scored two goals, sending my Jersey friend and me into an uproar. But the looks of Wings fans around us (including our other friends) sent us back down to our seats, full of giggles. We both moved to Detroit last summer, so we’re relative newcomers. We love our new city, but felt the same desire to nod at our hometown.
The game passed in a blur of chanting and noise and the kids causing their own ruckus with the nacho chips and candy. When the Wings finally scored their first goal, everyone around us jumped up to dance – and it was really hard not to join them. I felt like I was batting for the wrong team.
By the end of the game, I was openly cheering on the Wings, the underdogs losing by a point on home turf, jumping up and high fiving other fans around us.
Walking out of the Joe that night, I felt a sense of belonging. I felt like a Detroiter. And it felt good.